Cowboy Hall Of Fame Close To Reality

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Terry Morris is on a roll.

While many wait an entire lifetime for a dream to come true, it has happened twice to the director of the Payson Public Library in the span of just a few months.

Her first dream came true in January when the town broke ground for a new public library in Rumsey Park.

Now, after a 10-year wait, Morris' dream of a cowboy hall of fame right here in Payson has become a real possibility.

After a hiatus of seven years, the idea was recently revitalized when Morris convinced the Northern Gila County Historical Society, which operates the Rim Country Museum at Green Valley Park, to take on the project. While some Arizona communities have museums that highlight their local cowboy heritage, the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum the official and legal name of the new venture will be the only one that features the cowboy heritage of the entire state.

The idea originally came to Morris at a library conference she attended in 1991. The subject of one of the seminars there was community identity.

"It really piqued my interest," Morris said. "This gentleman was saying that heritage is an integral part of every community and it needs to be spoken to.

"It just kind of evolved from there. Payson's heritage is a cowboy, ranching heritage, and I think it's important for people to capitalize on what's special about their community."

Serious planning began in 1992 with the filing of Articles of Incorporation, but a number of issues and complications put the project on hold until Morris approached the historical society last year. When the society endorsed the idea, she turned over the organization's long-dormant bank account containing all of $517.11 and signed on as a volunteer.

A Hall of Fame Committee has been formed with historical society board member Phyllis Windle and Jeanne Westphal, who is with the Arizona Office of Tourism, as co-chairpersons. To date, the committee has established an organizational chart, and is developing both business and fund-raising plans.

As envisioned by Sharesse Von Strauss, historical society director, the hall of fame will be housed in a Main Street location separate from the Rim Country Museum. Rumors are already swirling about a tour of the Oxbow Saloon the committee and historical society board took two weeks ago.

According to Von Strauss, the Oxbow is only one of several options the society is exploring.

"No, the historical society is not at this time buying the Oxbow Saloon," she said. "There are (other) choices. Do we purchase vacant land and build or do we buy an existing building? There are pluses and minuses to both, and each is being carefully explored."

While those involved in the venture have so far focused on organizational and procedural matters, a vision of what the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum might one day become begins to emerge as a consensus of the thinking of Von Strauss, Morris and town historian and Rim Review columnist Stan Brown, who also will be involved in the project.

While better-known Arizona cowboys such as Tom Mix and Rex Allen will certainly be included, the working cowboy and the early rodeo cowboy will be equally prominent.

"I imagine having all types of artifacts illustrating the lifestyle of the working cowboy," Morris said. "It was the ranchers who settled Arizona, and this would be their history. But it would also be the history of rodeo, an event that was originally designed to provide entertainment after all the cattle were gathered."

Brown sees the hall of fame as an opportunity to feature some local cowboys as well, including "Arizona" Charley Meadows.

"His dad and brother, who were killed by Apaches, were the first ones buried in the Pioneer Cemetery," Brown said. "Charley started the first rodeo and went on to be a rodeo star. He joined a wild west show with Buffalo Bill, and then had his own wild west show."

Von Strauss said she hopes that support for the hall of fame will come from local businesses, as well as state and national corporations such as Justin, Wrangler and Remington.

And of course, there is, as always, a great need for volunteers to help on such sub-committees as communications, building, fund-raising, marketing and historical research. To find out more, call the museum at 474-3483 or Von Strauss at 474-8392.

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