Early Inhabitants of Arizona's Rim Country
A prehistoric Native American tribe known as the Mogollons that moved into Arizona from New Mexico about 300 B.C. were the original inhabitants of Arizona's Rim Country. The origins of the Mogollon people are a matter of speculation. The Mogollons lived in loosely connected villages and made clothing from fur and feathers. They hunted with bows and arrows, and grew corn, squash, and beans. Rim Country is filled with Mogollon artifacts and ruins. The Mogollons occupied the region for centuries, but by 1500 A.D. the Mogollon culture had been absorbed two new Native American Tribes that migrated to Rim Country, the Hohokams and the Pueblos.
Not long after the Mogollons faded from the scene that the Apaches also arrived in Arizona's Rim Country. The Apaches were an athletic people, much more interested in hunting than gardening. They lived wherever their bows and arrows led them. The Apaches were here when the Spanish Conquistadors passed through, and they were here during the civil war when Union soldiers arrived to secure the region from Confederate intrusion in Arizona. The soldiers dubbed Rim Country “Apacheria”.
After the conclusion of the civil war, these soldiers turned their attention from Confederate intrusion to securing the region for settlers. Miners and ranchers began to move in and it created conflict with the large population of Tonto Apaches. A major campaign was launched including soldiers from many forts, camps and posts. Troops radiated out from Tonto Basin in a thorough search for “hostile” Indians. With superior firepower and overwhelming numbers of mounted cavalry, they easily defeated the Apaches who were forcibly herded to reservations in the south.
Fort Reno and the Tonto Apaches
The Arizona Territory was formed in 1863. At that time the modern-day Payson and the surrounding area was the last stronghold of the Tonto Apaches and remained closed to non-Apaches. Few people dared to venture through the area for fear of the Tonto Apaches and many of those who did lost their lives. The picture to the left is of the Upper Cliff Dwellings at the Tonto National Monument in Tonto Basin near Roosevelt Lake. The site is a National Park that can be toured throughout the year.
The U.S. Army was dispatched to the area in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue the Apaches in order to secure the region for ranchers and miners looking for silver and gold. Eventually the Army determined the only way to secure the area was to build a fort in the middle of Apache country. Fort Reno was completed in 1868 in the lower Tonto Basin. This fortress provide protection from the Apaches. The Army called this beautiful area rich with spring fed creeks, pines, oaks, and tall grass “Green Valley”. The soldiers had views of the Mazatzals to the west and the majestic Mogollon Rim to the north.
The Tonto Apaches continued to inhabit the area until they were conquered by General George Crook and his troops in 1873. Crook was dispatched to the area in 1871 by President Ulysses S. Grant under orders to end the fighting between the Tonto Apaches and white setters. Crook embarked into the area with 5 companies of cavalry totaling 1170 men and 300 friendly Apache Scouts.
Crook preferred to negotiate terms rather than engage in battle. He was an outspoken critic of failed federal policy and strong proponent of Native Americans, but remained a loyal soldier. General Crook knew that a flood of setters were coming west and believed the only way to avoid conflict was to move the Apaches and other tribes to reservations. Once the Apaches were subjugated, most of them were forcefully moved to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Others fled or were never found.
General Crook was ordered back to Arizona in 1882 to fight in the remaining Apache Wars. Geronimo and a band of Apaches had fled the San Carlos Reservation and resumed fighting. Crook pursued Geronimo for 4 years without success.
Early Green Valley (Modern Day Payson)
The first white settlers did not appear in the area until 1876. The original settler and founder of Green Valley was William Burch. By 1878 there were about 20 miners working the surrounding hills and more settlers continued to arrive. Others settlers established cattle ranches. A civil war settler named William Mcdonald arrived in the area used the rock of the walls of ancient Indian ruins to construct a fort to protect against remaining Apaches. The townspeople named the fort, Fort McDonald, and took refuge in the fort from Apache attacks when necessary.
In 1882 the first sawmill was established near where Sawmill Crossing is today. The forest trees were harvested and dragged to sawmill with ropes. The trees were milled to provide boards for the houses in Green Valley. The town had a settlement population of 42 by the end of 1882. Early businesses included a 2-story hotel, livery stable, the Payson Brewery Company, general store, restaurant, 16 to 1 Saloon, a ham and bacon store, blacksmith shop, and a mercantile business. In 1884 the first rodeo was organized by Charlie Meadows and John Collins Chilson. This rodeo has become the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. The main road leasing into Payson doubled as a race track for some of the world’s fastest race horses.
Naming of the Town of Payson
Up until 1884 the Town of Green Valley relied on horseback mail carriers bringing the mail from the Flagstaff or Globe post offices when the town decided it needed a post office. The Town contacted U.S. Representative Edwin Lewis Payson of Illinois who was the Chairman of the Congressional Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. Payson arranged for Green Valley to receive a post office. However, because there were other Green Valleys in Arizona the new post office was named Payson after the representative who established it and the Town of Green Valley was also renamed Payson.
Before Payson was established as a townsite it was known as Green Valley. In 1884 Payson, Arizona began a tradition of annual rodeos that spans the two world wars and into all or part of three different centuries. Until the completion of the Beeline Highway in 1958, the mountain town of Payson was one of the West’s most remote settlements. It was hidden from the rest of the world below the majestic Mogollon Rim and above the lower Tonto Basin.
Most of Arizona including the Tonto Basin was open range. The ranchers in the Rim Country region let their cattle roam free and the cattle mixed with those of other ranchers. At the annual general roundup, the calves of each rancher were branded with their owners' brand.
Payson became the hub for the local ranchers and their cowboys. It became tradition for cowboys to match skills with their rivals in competitions to determine who was the best. This informal competition was not known as a rodeo until much later. Although these competitions took place for years prior, the 1884 Competition is the one that launched the Payson Rodeo as an annual event and has been known ever since as the - World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo."
News of the event spread by word of mouth and it quickly grew into a large competition with attendees from all around the region. However even after automobiles were in use the trip to Payson from Phoenix to Flagstaff took a day or more. Even into the 1950’s the Payson rodeo and the town of Payson remained a well-kept secret outside of the region. For those aware of Payson, it was considered the bootleg capital of Arizona and a great rodeo town.
With the completion of the Beeline Highway in 1958, the fame of the Payson Rodeo went statewide. Even then Payson’s Rodeo fame was mostly limited to Arizona and it never received national acclaim. The tradition continues in Payson, Arizona every year and the Payson Rodeo remains the world's oldest and longest continuous running rodeo.
Prolific author and television producer, Zane Grey is another prominent figure in the regions history. Zane Grey was a dentist by profession in New York, but was a natural writer and wrote in his spare time. Grey eventually left dentistry and wrote full time. It was not long before Zane Grey's works made him a household name. 112 of his works were adapted for film and television.
Grey was an avid hunter and fisherman. Grey primarily wrote Westerns, but he also published eight fishing books and was a regular contributor to outdoor publications. Grey fell in love with the Mogollon Rim area and built a cabin here in 1929 which he would visit in the fall to hunt and write until 1929.
In 1929 he brought a film crew to film a bear hunt unaware that the Arizona hunting season had been changed. He attempted to get a special license but was denied. This disagreement led Grey to vow to never return to Arizona. The cabin was left abandoned for over 30 years. Eventually, time, the elements, and vandalism, reduced the cabin to a tattered shell.
In 1963, the cabin was purchased and restored by Bill Goetti with the intention of turning it into a summer place for his family. After Mr. Goettl died, his family turned it into a private museum. When people say they have seen the “original” cabin, this is generally the cabin they are referring to.
In June of 1990 the Dude Fire burned the cabin to the ground along with 58 other homes, 28,000 acres of forest and, most tragically, took the lives of six firefighters (see page on the Dude Fire). Over the years some attempts were made to acquire the property but in 1998 a partnership purchased a large parcel of land, including the site of the cabin, and began to subdivide it. The Zane Grey Cabin Foundation was organized, with Dick Wolfe as president, and this organization led a successful campaign to raise the funds necessary to build a replica cabin on property owned by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, Inc. The replica is a faithful copy of the original made from local Ponderosa pine trees. The replica was dedicated in 2005.
The replica of the Zane Grey Cabin now sits along a lake in Green Valley Park in Payson next to the Rim Country Museum. Visitors are able to tour the cabin which has been restored to look like Zane Grey's original cabin built in 1921. The cabin also contains many historical belongings of Zane Grey's.
Payson's Railroad Tunnel to Nowhere
North and east of Payson in the early 1880’s there was an attempt to bore a hole through the Mogollon Rim to facilitate a train route from Globe, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ. The vision called for 180 miles of railroad track including passing straight through the colossal 2,000-foot escarpment of the Mogollon Rim. The purpose of the railway was to move ore from Globe to Flagstaff where both the Pacific and Atlantic Railroads intersected.
In August 1883 work began on drilling a 3,100 foot tunnel to ascend the Mogollon Rim. 42 men labored all summer. After running low on funds twice the railroad was abandoned. The project failed, but today the entrance to the railroad tunnel keeps the story alive and sits above Washington park as Payson's railroad tunnel to nowhere. Had the project been succesfull it would have connected Payson with the rest of the southwest.
Payson’s Tradition of World Class Cowboys
In 1884 the sport of Rodeo was born in Payson and it has not missed a year since that time. Some of the world's most famous cowboys and cowgirls got their start at Payson’s Annual World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo. Listed below as some of the early contributors to what remains as the longest running rodeo in the World.
Arizona Charlie Meadows
Arizona Charlie's family arrived in Payson in 1877 where his family established a homestead at Diamond Valley Ranch. Renegade apache raids on their homestead claimed the life of Charlie’s brother and father. The family also suffered with the decline of the cattle market. However, Arizona Charlie helped found the Payson rodeo in 1884. He went on to take his cowboy skills worldwide as a showman in wild west shows. He performed with such famous cowboys as Jack London, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and Rudyard Kipling while traveling throughout Europe, Australia and Asia.
John Collins Chilson
The Chilson family was among Payson’s founding families having arrived in the area from Globe-Miami in 1878. John Collins along with Arizona Charlie Meadows co-founded the Payson Rodeo in 1884. This cemented him in old west history as the Payson Rodeo is now the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo and a sanctioned PRCA event.Shape
George Cline (1886-1976), hailed from the cowboy country of the Tonto Basin. George Cline was a distinguished cattle rancher who also owned some of the world’s top race horses. The Cline family continues to reside in Tonto Basin, Arizona.
George was an accomplished roper and earned the title of Arizona Calf Tying Champion during the Payson Rodeo in 1916. He went on to win the World Championship Bull Tying Contest in Phoenix in 1919. Then he traveled cross country in 1923 and took 1st place in calf tying at Yankee Stadium in New York City. He then won the team tying, calf roping, and wild cow milking events in both Cheyenne and Denver on the way back to Tonto Basin. George returned to New York City in 1925 to become the first man to rope a calf in Madison Square Gardens.
Joe Bassett (1911-1973) won many Payson Rodeos. He won the title of World Champion Team Roper in 1942. Joe was an excellent cowboy both in the arena and out on the range. The two-time World Champion performed in Madison Square Gardens. He remained among the top 10 in the Rodeo Cowboys Association for 7 years. The following year he was privileged to perform at Madison Square Garden, New York as a World Champion Team Roper. Joe was also a distinguished Quarter Horse Racer in Arizona. He also won the nation’s top quarter horse race, the Invitational Quarter Horse Stake Race at Los Alamitos, California.
Payson’s Lee Barkdoll ( 1902 – 1938) was from Bisbee, Arizona and moved to the area when he was a teenager. Lee worked as foreman of the Bar T Bar Ranch in Deer Creek south of Payson. Lee was a rodeo fan and champion. He competed in wild cow milking, calf roping, and team roping all over the state of Arizona especially in his home town of Payson at the August Doin’s.
Floyd Pyle was born in Star Valley just outside of Payson in 1891. He worked as a cowboy from an early age and his roping skills were legendary. He was also known for braided his own rawhide reatas rope.
Floyd also worked as a government hunter of mountain lions, often killing more than 50 lions a year. He was known for capturing the first live mountain lion to put in the San Diego Zoo. Then he captured both a bear and a lion alive for famous author Zane Grey when he ventured into making movies. In one of the movie’s scenes, Floyd roped a leaping lion in midair as it leapt from a high boulder.
Dick Robbins (1900 – 1983) was one the Payson rodeos most colorful cowboys. He was known by spectators and competitors alike for his quick wit. He traveled the rodeo circuit with his rope horse, Tacky, and roped with famous cowboys such as Ben Robbins and Lee Barkdoll.
Volumes could be written about the Payson residents buried in Pioneer Cemetery. The first person to be buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery was John Meadows, killed on his ranch at Diamond Valley by renegade Apache Indians in 1882. The graves that follow tell the story of Payson’s colorful history such as founders, battles, feuds, horse tramplings, miners, bootleggers, distinguished residents, and much more. There are also a few graves marked unknown whose stories will never be told. For someone interested in discovering the history of Payson, Pioneer Cemetery is a good place to look.