Irish Immigrants Find Rim Country At End Of Rainbow


by Stan Brown
special to the roundup
There was a song often sung by the adventurers who left the "civilized states" behind and came to the western territories. It went like this: "Oh, what was your name in the states? Was it Thompson or Johnson or Bates? Did you murder your wife and flee for your life? Oh, what was your name in the states?"

On the Arizona frontier, settlers did not care nor ask where you came from. It was what you did in the here and now that counted.

Because of the famines and political turmoil in Ireland, many immigrants came from that land, and many of them were among that host that came to central Arizona's Rim country. So St. Patrick's Day is nothing new to the land below the Rim.

Where did this March 17 celebration, that has so infiltrated America, come from in the first place?

St. Patrick was a Roman citizen who, at age 16, was taken captive by Irish raiders, escaped to France at age 21, entered a monastery school, became a Christian, and developed a compelling passion to return to Ireland and convert the people who had enslaved him.

He rose in the Church hierarchy to become bishop of Ireland at a time when terrible ethnic wars were raging, which many thought signaled the end of time. Two centuries later, Patrick's love for the Irish people, and his sacrifice in bringing Christianity to them, brought him official sainthood in the Catholic Church. Our local Irish connection carries down today, and at this season of the year it is well to recall it.

Henry Armer, who was born in Ireland in 1824, was one of 13 siblings. He immigrated to Oregon and in 1861 married Lucinda Hebard. Completing a long odyssey, they ranched near Roosevelt, and the descendants of their 10 children brought a little bit of Ireland to Payson.

James "Bud" Armer married Mary Margaret Chilson, of that early Payson ranch family. Mary Margaret's dad, Emer, had named the mining camp of Marysville after her when Payson was still called Green Valley.

Another son of Henry and Lucinda's, Fred, gave Payson a fourth-generation Armer, Eddie, who has served as Payson's constable for some years.

Most of Payson's Irish counted Texas as their home, looking back no further than that. But some were proud enough of their heritage to keep it alive.

Patty Walsh, the bachelor who operated the Ox Bow Mine, felt St. Patrick's day was a good time to come in and celebrate at Pieper's Saloon. There was no ore milled from the Ox Bow from then until later in March.

James Callahan (or, more accurately, Callaghan) was the blacksmith who became known for strangling a bobcat that jumped on his back through the boarding house window while he was having supper. Callaghan left his name on a mine several miles west of Payson, which became the location of a "hippie" encampment during the 1960s. In recent years the Forest Service burned the buildings and cleared the area, leaving only Callaghan's open shaft in the side of the hill.

The most indelible Irish imprint on Payson was left, perhaps, by two lasses who were registered nurses and accompanied the legendary Dr. Risser on his rounds.

Theresa Boardman was born a Haley, and proudly wore a shamrock pin on her green dress each St. Patrick's day. This Irish girl from Tombstone, Arizona Territory, became the wife of Bill Boardman, and their mercantile business was well known during Payson's early 20th century. Theresa was also known for her compassion, her friendship with the local Tonto Indian families, and her services as midwife and nurse.

After Dr. Risser died, Theresa became the only medical assistant in the area, but never would accept payment. She was a shining example of St. Patrick's compassion for others.

Then there was Beryl O'Connell. This Irish girl from Chicago had become a nurse, but in the process, developed tuberculosis. On doctor's orders, she joined the many who came to Arizona and were cured.

Beryl presented herself to the Goodfellow home at the Natural Bridge, a place she had heard about back in the Midwest. She asked to be hired as their laundress, but soon she and Harry Goodfellow were in love and were married.

It was a Scotch-Irish union if ever there was one. She brought her professional nursing skills to bear in the Payson area, leaving a loving Irish touch wherever she went to serve.

The traditional image of hard-drinking Irishmen celebrating St. Patrick's day was not always how they did it in Payson. Perhaps a fitting way to celebrate would be to begin March 17 with a prayer written by St. Patrick in the 5th century:

"I sing as I arise today. I call upon the Father's might, The will of God to be my guide, The eye of God to be my sight. The word of God to be my speech, The hand of God to be my stay, The shield of God to be my strength, The path of God to be my way, I sing as I arise today."

How can you beat an Irish blessing?

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