1,000 Years Of Rim Country History


by Stan Brown
rim country museum historian
Standing on the threshold of the third millennium and looking at the milestones for the last thousand years, is an exercise in retrospect. As the years narrow to the present, dates of apparent significance become more frequent. However, there are certain obvious forks in the road, which have determined what we have become today.


The first half of the millennium was dominated by a civilization we call "the ancient people." These sophisticated pueblo and cliff dwellers reached their apex around 1250 AD, and by 1350 all but a few stragglers had left the Rim Country.


After a few hundred years of respite, while the ecology recovered from drought and over use, new groups of Native Americans took possession of central Arizona. They were the Yavapai entering from the west and the Apaches entering from the north and east. For several hundred years the world of these two groups was bothered only by rivalries between bands, but by the 1850s the Rim country was hemmed in by white trappers, surveyors and explorers.


The Arizona Territory was formally established in February 1863, and by December a government had been set up west of the Rim country at Fort Whipple.

In 1864 gold was discovered in the Bradshaw Mountains, Prescott was settled, and miners and ranchers began to pour into that area.

This was an invitation for Rim country Indians to raid their herds, which were easy picking for sorely needed food. Those raids brought retaliation, and citizen armies began to invade the Rim country intent on destroying the Apache stronghold. 1864 is a milestone because it marks the beginning of a bloody war that raged throughout the area until the 1880s.


By 1874, the Indian bands had been captured or had surrendered. They were placed on reservations, first at Rio Verde and then at San Carlos, although a few small units remained in hiding in Rim country canyons and forests.

With the elimination of Apache power in the Rim country, white settlement quickened.

In 1874, Bill Burch built Payson's first cabin, and began prospecting for gold and silver. Other miners soon followed, and in 1881, a mining camp named Marysville, three miles west of Payson, had 100 residents.

Meanwhile, ranching families from California, many of whom had gone there from Texas and the east after the Civil War, began bringing small herds of cattle into the area. Stores were built in Green Valley to accommodate the ranchers, and Marysville declined as a population center.

The mines did not prove as rich as hoped, and while lone prospectors still eked out a living, rich grazing land became the primary lure of the Rim country.


In March of 1884, the Green Valley settlement opened its first post office, and the town was renamed Payson in honor of the United States legislator who made the post office possible.

That same summer, several of the local ranchers started a calf roping contest and horse racing event that soon became the August Doin's. As this full-blown rodeo developed, it rapidly became Payson's logo, and was known far and wide as the social event of the year. Ranch families came from all over to enjoy one another's company and the week-long activities.


In 1889, Gila County broadened its borders to include the Rim country, which had, until then, been part of Yavapai County.

The Rim country's seat of government became Globe instead of Prescott, where the Yavapai County seat was located, and the development of roads and mail routes through the Tonto Basin eclipsed roads going to the west. The switch between counties ever after affected the lives of people in the Rim country.


Near the turn of the century, military rule on the reservations was relaxed, and the native people began to drift back to their homelands. Those who arrived back in the Rim country found that it had filled with white settlers since their grandparents had left it. The Apache/Yavapai people camped at several locations around Payson, and began earning their living working for the settlers. They made significant contributions to the Rim country, not only aiding pioneer families as woodcutters, laundresses and cowboys, but by serving as the primary workers on the area's developing roads.


In 1905, the U.S. government established a system of national forests as a means to manage America's natural resources. The influx of tens of thousands of cattle and goats and sheep during the 1890s had caused overgrazing and erosion.

From this point on, ranchers no longer had unlimited access to public lands. Grazing permits and limits on herds were developed, sheep were required to stay in designated driveways and goats and hogs were eliminated from public lands.

This created an inevitable tension between the U.S. Forest Service and the ranchers, but many of the Payson Ranger District supervisors won the respect of the local people and became part of the community's lively affairs.


In 1910, the Roosevelt Dam was completed, and it was dedicated in February 1911.

The Apache Trail had been created to allow for the dam's construction, opening up a wagon and automobile road from Phoenix to the Tonto Basin.

Until the Apache Trail was built, supplies had to be carried to the Rim country by pack mules over the old Reno Road, built by the military in 1868, or from the north over the Rim.

With the dam acting as a bridge, cars could now cross the Salt River. The Tonto Indians, supervised by the old scout Al Sieber, built a road from Roosevelt to Payson, and a new era of travel opened for the Rim country. The construction of the dam also brought notoriety and employment to the area.


In 1918, when author Zane Grey began his 11 hunting seasons in the Rim Country, he brought a new notoriety to the area.

Since then, Grey's old hunting grounds, which were the inspiration for several of his stories, have become an attraction for thousands of fans each year.

Some of Grey's stories were made into movies and were filmed on location in the Rim country.

The film crews carried word of the Rim's beauty far and wide, making the arrival of Zane Grey in the Rim a millennial milestone.


It was 1922 when Grady Harrison began producing the first electricity in Payson on a small generator.

At first, it was just for his family, but one by one, his neighbors asked him to hook a line to their homes so they too could enjoy electric lights.

Over the years, he bought bigger generators, and eventually moved them to his new garage on the southwest corner of McLane and Main Street. When his little company was bought out by a public utility in 1947, his customers numbered 65.

The beginning of electricity in Payson also was the beginning of a new way of life for Rim country residents, who had, until then, shaped their lives around the sun and what little light kerosene lamps could provide.


The State of Arizona planned to build a highway along the Verde River to connect the state's north and south regions until a coalition of enterprising businessmen from Payson, Pine and Gisela formed the Northern Gila County Chamber of Commerce.

Together with representatives of Mesa and Winslow, they lobbied to have the new road cross the Mazatzal Mountains. A leader in the movement was Harvey Bush, and when the group won approval for the new route -- though it was a rugged, gravel road -- it was named the Bush Highway.

This milestone represents the first direct route over the mountains from the Valley of the Sun, cutting time from the previous route over the Apache Trail and Tonto Basin.


Payson's first landmark industry came to town in 1951 when the Owens brothers moved their sawmill from the forest to its location on the Bush Highway at the corner of Main Street. There, the lumber operation provided employment for many in the town, especially men from the Tonto Apache tribe. The town now had an opportunity for employment that could make a difference in the lives of many families.


Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in Payson's history happened in 1958, when an effort to straighten, widen and reroute portions of the Bush Highway led to the paving of the road from the Valley to Payson.

This huge undertaking poised the Rim country for unprecedented growth.


In 1972, after a long political struggle by members of the Tonto tribe and local sympathizers, the Apaches were granted their own reservation by an act of Congress. Having almost an acre for each person, the 90-member tribe began building houses and a more prosperous future. More recently, the tribe ventured into big business when it opened the Mazatzal Casino on the reservation just south of Payson.

The opening of the multi-million dollar business has shaped the growth and development of the town and allowed the tribe to play a key role in the community's future.


On the heels of the official recognition of the Tonto Apache Tribe, Payson -- which had been a settlement for nearly 100 years, was officially incorporated as a town. This year marked the creation of Payson's town government, and a new era in the community's coming of age.


The closer we come to the present, the more events present themselves for consideration as millennial milestones. However, wisdom comes more easily in hindsight, and it is likely too soon to objectively evaluate the area's most recent turning points.

One, however, will surely appear on the list, and that is the 1999 establishment of the Green Valley Redevelopment District.

The formation of the district represents a new consciousness that is developing in Payson residents and the town's government. It's based on the philosophy that planned economic growth and the preservation of our historic past are absolute musts if Payson is to live up to its heritage, and its residents are to pioneer the new millennium.

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