Over the river and through the woods marks the old mail trail, a 50-mile path running from Camp Verde to Payson. The old trail was named for the men who traveled on a daily basis in the late 1800s and early 1900s, delivering mail between the two communities.
"These men rode sometimes for as many as 18 hours per day, wading across rivers and crossing through canyons, all to deliver the mail," said Lynn Gardner, one of the many people working to dedicate the trail.
The trails committee of Camp Verde, Strawberry, Pine and Payson is at the very inception of proposing their dedication trail, still pursuing letters from local Boy Scouts, Pine-Strawberry Horsemen and Gila Trails Association in order to convince the Forest Service of the trail's historic significance and importance for use.
"It requires a blessing from the Forest Service before any work may be done on this effort," Gardner said.
Initiated six months ago by the Camp Verde Cavalry, the Trails committee hopes to make the trail accessible once again, which has been destroyed by erosion and overgrowth.
In 1884, a request for mail service was made to carry mail by horseback from Camp Verde to Payson, a 50-mile journey, made first by Ashton Nebeker.
The route started at the Camp Verde Sutler's Store, heading southwest to the Verde River. Near Rutherford, the rider would cross the Verde River then proceed down through the canyon, making a drop-off in the Strawberry Valley and then in the community of Pine and on to Payson.
Making three round-trips per week, 63 men, some starting as early as 16, worked the mail trail during its 30-year existence. They carried more than just letters and packages; they lugged the Montgomery Wards and Sears catalogs to perspective buyers; became the medicine men for the sick or wounded on their routes and delivered booze to cowboy friends.
Rain or shine, these dedicated men traveled across any terrain in any condition, earning a mere dollar a day, room and board. There were no fringe benefits, insurance, sick leave or bonuses to keep these men getting up for work each day, just a job to be done and a love for the open road.
On June 30, 1914, C.C. "Tuffy" Peach delivered the last of the mail, ending the existence of the mail trail and same-day service.
Now, over 85 years after that last ride, historical preservation of the trail is being sought.
"The state only accepts 10 to 12 trails for preservation each year, so we have our work cut out for us," Gardner said.
The committee not only wants to glorify the trail, but also all of the old mail stops. Plaques will be designed for the old post houses the Old Stone House in Pine, what is now Bud's Plumbing in Payson and the old general store in Camp Verde.
"There are tons of old mail trails all over Arizona," Gardner said. "Most of them now have private property on them or a highway going through them. We need to join our efforts to preserve this one."
Anyone interested in getting involved in the trail's preservation should call Gardner at 476-4658.