He was a man on the run who befriended a grizzly bear in the wilderness. Thus, he came to be called Grizzly Adams, and the story was good enough for a television series, The Life and Time of Grizzly Adams. It was also good for the economy of the Rim Country. Dan Haggerty, a former animal trainer, played the part of Adams in the original series, and the project was the creation of Sunn Classic Pictures out of Park, Utah.
While grizzly bears used to roam our forests, where only black bears in assorted colors forage now, the animals imported for the filming were probably the first grizzlies in Arizona since the 1920s. After choosing the Payson area for filming the story, Sunn Pictures involved many local people playing bit parts. The John Haught ranch served as the location for the first films in the series, Christopher Creek had its day in the Sunn Film classic, and Payson's Main Street got into the act as did the old blacksmith shop in Pine where the opening scenes of the movie were filmed. Other scenes were shot on lower Houston Creek. The animals were quartered at Bert Sprague's ranch in Star Valley, and included two black and tan grizzlies and one brown bear.
Filming of the series was completed early in January 1977, and it went on to earn more than $30 million in the first six months of its release. At the time it was the fifth highest grossing, independently produced film in history. The National Broadcasting Company broadcast the series for 10 seasons, and it was always in the 10 top-ranked shows.
As the filming came to a close, Bert Sprague had put a suggestion into the minds of the Sunn Classics managers. He was president of the newly formed Northern Gila County Historical Society, which had already negotiated with the county to lease the old Payson jail on McLane for a museum. Why not move the Grizzly Adams cabin to that same site, and make it one of the museum's attractions? Sunn Classics thought it a great idea, since the Forest Service required them to remove the cabin and put the site they were using back to its original condition.
The film company even said they would make a cash donation to have the cabin moved, though there is no record that the donation ever came through. Instead, the men of the historical society, mostly retirees, put their shoulders to the logs. They removed the cabin, log by log, from its original site.
Heber White of Christopher Creek donated his truck, gas and driver to transport the logs to Payson. Once they were reassembled, there was much restoration to be done. The roof was absent, the windows and door had to be replaced. Payson High School teacher Bob Walberg rallied five of his shop students, and they got good training as they put a new roof on the cabin before the rain and snow arrived that winter.
Historical Society members also went to work furnishing the cabin with antique table, bed, chairs and a fireplace. The jail and the Grizzly Adams cabin became Payson's first museum, and were open to the public with volunteers on hand to tell the stories.
As years passed, the historical society negotiated to acquire the old Payson District Forest Ranger office and family house as a site for their new museum. Giving up the 25-year lease option they had with the county, they turned the old jail over to the Sheriff's Posse and relocated in what is today's Green Valley Park. The plan was to move the Grizzly Adams cabin again, making it part of the new Museum display. However, the logs had disintegrated from dry rot and when they tried to disassemble it, the cabin simply fell apart. Thus was the vainglorious demise of Grizzly Adams' cabin in Payson.
It was some years later that Globe native Ben Navarro, stunt rider and director of the Grizzly Adams series, returned to Payson looking for the old cabin. He wanted to shoot a full-length film entitled "Grizzly Adams, The Legend Lives On." Not finding the cabin, he consulted with Ira Murphy who explained the sad end of the original cabin. Undaunted, Navarro built a new cabin and moved his film cast and crew to the Swiss Village Inn for a week's filming in the area. When the Rim country scenes were completed, a golf tournament celebration was hosted by the film company and the Payson Chamber of Commerce.