The Christian Rissers Of Payson History



Risser is a name with a Payson tradition that dates from 1912, when Dr. Christian Risser III arrived to serve as the Rim country's first permanent resident physician. He served an area of a 50-mile radius around Payson, and made many of his calls on horseback in all kinds of weather.

In 1919, Christian Risser IV was born, delivered by his dad in the home the family had built at the corner of Oak and Main. They called him Christy. In 1933, Dr. Risser died of pneumonia, suffered after traveling in a cold rain from a call in Tonto Basin. The family moved to Tempe, but during the 14 years in which Christy was growing from infancy to youth, many exciting things happened in the boy's life.

The late Dr. Risser IV recounted what it was like to be a growing boy in Payson, in an interview I had with him February 14, 1994. He recalled, "We boys circled around the town for three or four miles, out in the bushes, and we knew every rock, every crevice and every cave, like kids do. I had a lot of fun. And there were Indian ruins on practically all those hills. We went through all those and turned over the rocks and picked up all the stuff we could pick up." He said that metates and arrowheads and ax handles were "just part of the countryside."

He recalled the Tonto Apaches who lived on Indian Hill, and how "one time my dad gave (Henry Chitten) some medicine, told him to take three teaspoons a day for a week and he'd be well. In a couple of days he got sick, and my dad asked him what happened. He said, 'Well, you said to take three teaspoons a day and I'd be well in a week, so I decided to take more and I'd get well quicker.' " He doubled the dose.

A number of the Tonto Apache children were his playmates. He got into a fight with one of them. "I was thinking, he's not well fed, and I'm well fed. We're about the same age, and I ought to be able to lick him." But during the ensuing fight Christy had a second thought, "Boy, I've figured this out wrong." He was licked. Later the two went on being playmates, though the Apache brought his brothers along.

As a boy, during the Great Depression, Christy milked cows, bottled the milk and delivered it around town. "I think I grossed about $30 a month. I divided it with my mother because she washed the bottles."

Young Risser was witness to a Payson bank robbery. His father had developed a small cattle ranch near today's Aero Drive, and their house was about where the Payson Funeral Home stands. From his room, the lad observed two men climbing the telephone pole and snipping the wires to Pine and to Globe. Not long after that they heard a loud explosion. The bank robbers had blown the safe in the commercial store on Main Street. He recalls, "That must have been around '28 or '29. They got away with the money, and showed up in Winslow. There they bought some cars, paid cash for them, and then went back and robbed the car dealer of the money they had paid him." Apparently the robbers were never caught.

Christy remembered accompanying his father at times on calls of mercy. One time a cowboy at the Bar-T-Bar ranch on Deer Creek had a skull fracture when a horse rolled over on him. The road there was little more than a wagon rut, and to reach the man, they had to walk much of the way through washes and timber.

Another time, his dad was called to the Haught ranch in Little Green Valley, where one of the clan from Pleasant Valley had come to request a doctor. They wanted to know if Dr. Risser would go over there, to which he responded, "Of course." He figured the fellow with the message would take him back, but the messenger balked. He did not want to go out in the winter weather again. One of the Haughts "pulled out a gun and said, 'You are going! You are going to take Dr. Risser back there. Just get on your horse and take him!'"

They made it, and the doctor stayed with the Haughts in Young four days, until the sick one came through the crisis. On the way home, in a moonlit night, he and his horse hit a smooth wire fence "and all of a sudden he felt himself floating backwards like a slingshot." Horse and rider picked themselves up and continued on to Payson.

Even though Arizona had become a state in 1914, Dr. Risser continued using birth certificates left over from territorial days. Thus Christian Risser IV had a unique certificate that said he was born in "Arizona Territory" in 1919.

After his father died, Risser moved with the family to Tempe and attended high school there. He graduated from the university and went on to the same medical school his father had attended.

Today there are six Christian Rissers. Christian Risser the 5th is Payson's well-known opthalmolgist, and his son is Christian Risser VI. Truly a Rim country tradition.

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