Before there was Payson there was Marysville, the mining camp that would have become a town if there had been more gold in them thar hills. The location is about 3 miles southwest of Payson's golf course, just off the Doll Baby Ranch Road. However, nothing is left of what had been the dream of many.
In the earliest days of the Rim country settlements people came up a road put through by the Army during the Indian War. It avoided Ox Bow Hill, coming around it to the west. The trail branched up to City Creek going to the Mormon settlement of Mazatzal City. A branch to the right went to Green Valley (Payson) and passed by Marysville on the western foot of Marysville Hill.
If you have a "treasure hunter" you will find square headed nails scattered just under the topsoil, but little else.
In the 1870s prospectors began moving into these hills looking for gold. They found traces of the rich metal in the washes and streams, and followed those traces to where they petered out. There they would locate the vein in the side of the hill and begin digging a shaft. By 1880 a camp was established near a spring, later called Grimes Spring. That spring was soon tapped and a system of pipes brought the water to the camp. During prohibition, several decades later, that canyon spring became the site of a bootlegging operation.
By 1880 the flurry of mining activity caught the attention of two families in Miami who had come from Texas and were working in the mines. They were Emer and Margaret Chilson and their children together with Margaret's brother Joe Birchett and his family. Enterprising young men that they were, Emer and Joe realized there was more money to be had selling merchandise to the miners than there was working the mines themselves. They opened a mercantile store in Miami and at the same time heard about a promising boomtown 80 miles to the northwest. Emer and Margaret moved to this mining camp and on May 1, 1881 they opened their second store. Since the place did not have a name they proceeded to name it after their daughter Margaret Mary Chilson, calling the town Marysville. The name stuck.
Like other mining camps of the late 19th century, the buildings of Marysville were mostly wooden platforms on which canvas walls and roofs were erected.
Prospectors were staking out claims all around Marysville Hill, and up and down the nearby East Verde River. By 1882 the mining camp had become the largest community in the Rim country, with a population of between 100 and 300 miners and their families. Reports vary. Emer Chilson's journal of transactions reveals that his store became the main supply center for surrounding ranches as well as for the prospectors.
Names of the earliest Rim country settlers immediately begin to appear, including Burch, Chilson, Cole, Craig, Gowan, McDonald, Middleton, Nance, Nash, Pyeatt, Vaughn, Vogel and the famous government Army scout, Al Sieber.
Sieber had spotted many of the gold outcroppings during his years as chief Indian scout under General George Crook, and spent his retirement staking claims throughout the Payson area.
When an Indian outbreak occurred in the summer of 1882, local families took cover and the Chilsons closed their Marysville store to take refuge in Globe. When they returned they found the store had been looted. It was obvious by then that Marysville had peaked and the population was shifting to a settlement east of there, along the American Gulch, called Green Valley. The Chilsons decided it was a good time to sell their store.
In trade for the store and several thousand dollars Emer and his brother-in-law Joe Birchett purchased the Golden Wonder Mine from Lafayette P. Nash. Nash had come some years earlier and staked a claim for that mine. At first it was nip and tuck. Bob Lincoln reports that his grandfather, John Robbins, acquired a one-third interest in the mine when Chilson and Birchett could not come up with the payment of $2,000. Robbins held that interest in the mine until his death in 1936, and Mrs. Robbins later said the families had shipped over $60,000 in gold to the San Francisco mint.
The families worked the mine from their new base in Payson (not named as such until 1884), and the Globe newspaper Silver Belt reported they took from $18,000 to $20,000 in gold from it, "with no better reduction appliances than a rudely constructed arrastra." More than 60 arrastras were in use throughout the area.
An arrastra was a crude grinding mill, consisting of a stone lined pit with a vertical pole fixed in the center. To that was attached a horizontal pole, and large flat stones were chained to it. As the contraption turned, the stones were dragged over chunks of ore dumped into the pit. A burro harnessed to the arrastra had the job of walking in circles to effect the crushing of the ore. The remnants of these mills can still be found along the banks of the East Verde River and American Gulch, north of the Marysville site.
A few holdout prospectors still lived near the spring at Marysville for some years. The late Sarah McDonald Lockwood told me that when she was about 6-years-old (that would be 1904) she had seen several houses there still. However, the location of Marysville melted into the ground with time, and its location is all but lost.