Former Mischief Maker Traded Trouble For A Badge

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A visit with Gila County Constable Eddie Armer is a visit with the living history of the Rim country a very colorful history.

As constable, Armer is an elected peace officer. His responsibilities are similar to those of the sheriff, but his duties are to concentrate on the Justice Court system.

If you meet Armer during the course of his daily routine, you are likely being served a summons to appear in court. As an officer of the court for Northern Gila County, Armer has come full circle. There are plenty of Payson residents who figure it's a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Armer said.

The office Armer occupies in the Gila County Sheriff's building on Main Street sits just about where his boyhood bedroom was. Growing up in the heart of Payson, he figures the entire community raised him.

He tells a tale of shooting Anna Mae Deming's cocker spaniel with a slingshot. When Anna Mae got a hold of the young Armer, she paddled him. Then, she told his mother and she whipped him again. In spite of the community discipline, Armer never felt abused. Instead, he said he felt loved by the whole town.

As a youngster, he ran with the likes of Ronnie McDaniel (now Payson's Regional Justice of the Peace), Doc Dimbat (now a Department of Public Safety officer), Errol Owens, Duke Hayley, Danny Haught and Melton Campbell (the late chairman of the Tonto Apaches).

"If you saw us together, we was up to something," Armer said.

Armer said his best tale of trouble is of a time when he was 6 years old, and he and a buddy decided to build a fire in the county yard, between a 5,000-gallon diesel tank and a 5,000-gallon gas tank so no one could see them.

Armer's father and Sheriff Howard Childress arrested the young vandals and threw them in the county jail at McLane and Main Street, he said.

The two terrified boys sat in their cell and feared the worst, while Childress and the elder Armer sat outside laughing.

"The door was never locked, but we didn't know that," Armer said. "I never started fires again."

But he did find other mischief to get into, like throwing rocks at the downstairs windows of the Winchester to annoy the ladies who worked there, tipping over outhouses and stealing chickens.

He even took on Mrs. Fuel, his third-grade teacher, and paid for the deed with hard work.

One Halloween, Armer and his buddies went looking for a treat from their teacher. She didn't have any treats, so the boys played their trick. They took all of her wood and stacked it up against both of her doors, blocking her exit, Armer said. The sheriff once again rounded up Armer and his buddies, and this time made them move, split and neatly stack all of Mrs. Fuel's wood.

"We didn't have drugs," Armer said. "I never drank or smoked your dancing girls don't like the smell of cigarettes or alcohol on your breath."

After years of trying to "beat 'em," Armer decided to "join 'em" when he was about 24 and had a 1-year-old son at home. He was drag racing in his '59 Ford and was stopped by Dick Lewis, an Arizona Highway Patrol officer.

"Instead of a ticket, I was going to ride with him for three nights," Armer said.

The first night, the pair reported to the scene of a fatal accident. A young child had been standing on the front seat next to her mother and was killed in a single car accident, Armer said.

She had blue eyes, blonde hair and a bright yellow dress," he said. "I can still see her."

Armer said he went home, held his son and cried. Then five months later, he joined the Arizona Highway Patrol.

After more than 14 years of service, mostly in Tempe, Armer retired and moved home to Payson.

He was first appointed as constable in 1990 and has been elected by the voters of Northern Gila County twice, most recently in 1998. He will be up for re-election in 2002.

Armer likes his job and works hard to give back to the community that he said gave him so much. And he has a bit of advice for the mischief-makers of today: "Enjoy life while you are young," he said. "It gets a hell of a lot harder and more serious as you get older."

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