Fund-raisers to support the August Doin's, that traditional name for Payson's summer rodeo, are more peaceful today than they were early on.
At first money was not needed. Cowboys and ranchers from the area simply came together between spring and fall roundups to match their talents in roping, bronco riding and horse racing. But by the turn of the century money was a factor, because the rodeo had become such a big public attraction and prizes were offered. It was then that an idea surfaced to provide financial support for the rodeo. Gambling.
A special permit was issued for open gambling to be carried on throughout the rodeo week. The permit was given to the highest bidder and the profits went to support the rodeo. Some years there was a big tent set up just west of the 16-to-1 Saloon, where the Ox Bow Inn and Saloon are today. Other times there were gambling tables up and down Main Street from the Globe Road to the Pine Road. The tables had precedence over traffic, which was blocked for the most part. When some outsider was winning too
much money in the tent, local folks were able to shut him down by cutting the tent ropes and letting it come down over everyone. That also became the way to end the game when players became abusive.
Cheating was frowned on in the same frame of reference with cattle rustling. Carroll Cox reported in Mountain Aire, Vol. 1, No. 3, that as late as 1940 a gambler was almost lynched when he was caught cheating. The rope was already thrown over the limb of a cottonwood tree on Main Street before the constable broke up the necktie party. He saved Payson's reputation, for there never had been a hanging here.
Shootings a-plenty, but no hangings.
Often a rancher would come up with a new way to gamble, like George Felton. He placed a half-dollar on each of his stirrups, and took $100 bets that they would still be there under the soles of his boots when he finished his race. He usually won. Another favorite game was the dollar toss, first gold, and later silver coins were used. The winner was the one who got closest to the line. The winner took them all, of course
The most exciting way to gamble at the August Doin's was to bet on the horses in the daily race down Main Street. The races were very personal because everyone knew the horses and their owners. They had been observed doing the rodeo thing on their ranches as they rounded up cattle, roped, branded and broke in new horses. An effort was made to match the horses evenly for a race, and the betting ran high. There was no starting gate. The riders lined up back of the line and were told to start approaching at a walk. They were to stay evenly spaced and all together until the starter gave the signal. Then the spurs were applied and they were off.
Not every rider was a gentleman. One time when a rider threw his whip into the face of a rider overtaking him, the cheater won but his fate was sealed. The loser made a flying leap from his saddle and they both tumbled to the ground. Spectators gathered around to cheer the fight, and since the race was disqualified the bets were transferred to who would win the fight.
Another notable event happened in August 1897. Nearly everyone present had made bets during the principal race of the afternoon, but when it ended the losers refused to pay. They claimed one rider had fouled the other rider's horse and said all bets should be called off. A fistfight broke out and fifty men slugged one another wildly. The deputy sheriff stood on the outskirts of the crowd, waving his arms and shouting, "Stand back boys and given 'em room." Eventually all quieted down and it was agreed the bets would all be called off.
Payson became notorious for drunken cowboys and the damage they caused during the August rodeo. Local constables were charged with keeping order, and after the Rim country became part of Gila County in 1889, there was a constable on duty here. Their roster over the years reads like an anthology of early settler families.
They usually had other businesses to keep as well as their law enforcement duties, but the first full-time constable was James Lovelady. He was elected in 1919 when the town had reached a population of 200. He was followed by his son Walter Lovelady, who served from 1924 until 1950, except for a two-year interlude 1936-38. He developed a now-famous way of handling drunks, rabble rousers and cheaters at gambling. He would handcuff them to trees, car bumpers and telephone poles. There was no jail in Payson to hold them. On any night during rodeo week these pilloried offenders were scattered all around town. Lovelady with his wife and daughter would go about checking on them, and as they sobered up they were released. If the crime was worthy of a trial, they remained shackled until the sheriff could arrive from Globe.
Today's Rim country residents are happy to share in more sophisticated ways to finance the rodeo. The gambling, wild-west antics on Main Street and drunks shackled to poles might ring some nostalgia from old timers, but most folks are glad for a calmer day.