All Our History Went South



Newcomers to Payson sometimes ask how old the town is, and gasp to learn it was not incorporated until 1973. In fact it was December 6 of that year when Payson was able to have its own government and was not simply “in the county.”

Of course, from the time settlers began to build houses in 1880 along the American Gulch (Main Street) the settlement was simply “in the forest,” squatting on Federal land. Not until 1930 was it declared a town site, set aside from the National Forest and placed under the jurisdiction of Gila County.

During the latter years of the last century, the descendants of pioneer families had no local repository in which to place their historical papers and photos. Consequently such valuable memorabilia were handed over to the Arizona Historical Society and Arizona State University.

When I became a member of the Board of Directors for the Northern Gila County Historical Society I found it grievous to have to go to Tucson and Tempe in order to uncover the history of the Rim country.

A town as exciting historically as Payson and a territory as steeped in tradition as the Rim country needs to have its own historical library and repository for the safe keeping of its past.

So the Historical Society began its own research library, and dedicated it to one of the Rim Country’s most dedicated historians and authors, Marguerite Nobel.

The Marguerite Nobel Research Library is fast becoming a premier source of information for students and scholars seeking information about the Indian wars, the mining and ranching industries, the settlement and development of the Rim country communities.

Increasingly, families and scholars are contributing papers, family histories, photos, scrapbooks and anything else you can think of that relates to our historic area.

We consider the Rim Country to embrace the territory within a 50-mile radius of Payson.

Here are a few examples of how local folks have shared important documents and information with the Research Library.

Many persons whose roots are deep in the Rim country give their time and memories for oral histories. We sit together in their home for an hour or more while they tell those marvelous stories and recount the facts of families and events from days gone by. As time permits, we have those tape recordings transcribed, and then the subjects are cross-indexed for future reference.

An increasing number of persons are contributing family histories, often loose-leaf notebooks containing genealogies, letters, essays, photos and the like. These include the Randall, Gibson, Belluzzi, Armer, Beard, Ellison, Gordon, Harer families, and many others.

Sometimes the contribution is simply information about an individual, as Sharon Dening gave memorabilia about Augustus Packard; Doris Taylor with additional information about Nan Pyle; Charles Croxen with information about his ranger father Fred Croxen; John Dryer about Earl Stephens, and on it goes.

Dick Pierce of Scottsdale is working intensively on the Battle of Big Dry Wash, the routes taken by the renegade Indians and the histories of the ranches that were attacked. He continues to share his maps, photos, and research information with us.

Eldon Bowman has shared studies and maps he accumulated while tracing the General Crook Military Road and the Stoneman Road, both significant military trails on the Rim.

John Wills has filled a large gap to help complete our collection of Arizona Highways magazines, generously contributing 39 rare issues.

Others have come forward with various issues needed to fill the collection. Mrs. Dave Ricker graciously continues to give the library a list of the contents of every issue of the magazine as they come out, highlighting those articles that relate to the Rim Country.

Jerry Nikolas is collecting the history of Beaver Valley and has begun to contribute his material to the archive.

As Max Partch cleans out his papers and library he passes significant items on, including the recent gift of a photo portrait of the beloved teacher Julia Randall taken in 1986. Betty Partch has donated four years of scrapbooks she kept on the activities of the Historical Society. Marge Templeton allows us to copy her annual collection of obituaries, and we have them back to the 1960s.

Bob Lincoln wrote a lengthy letter describing the history of the Golden Wonder Mine, information gleaned from a relative who had held an interest in it along with the Chilson and Burkett families.

Cheryl Sigsbee, a descendent of the family that figured in the Pleasant Valley War and the 1882 Indian raid, has contributed five original letters from the Sixby and Rose families from those times.

The library has a number of scrapbook collections, including those of Nan Pyle, Ralph Fisher, and Lena Chilson Hampton.

Recently Dixie Jones and the Tonto Cowbelles contributed their beautiful collection of scrapbooks that contain the history of that organization and significant material on pioneer families.

Books are also part of the collections, including several complete sets of Zane Grey novels.

Al Ayers has been going through his personal library lately and making significant contributions of books on Rim country history. So on and on it goes, as people graciously continue to add to the over 32 special collections, extensive photo files, oral histories, video presentations, books, journals, magazines, maps, public records, clippings and scholarly papers that make up the material held by our research library. The library is called a “research” center because the delicate materials are preserved and kept for those who are seeking specific information. These have included archeologists doing research for the State or ADOT, historians preparing books on the Apache people and the cultural conflicts during settlement, local people seeking information about their relatives and forefathers, history buffs tracing Rim country events, and Main Street business owners wanting the history and photos relating to their buildings and property.

In the last several months I have spent different times with a history professor from Oregon and a researcher from Stockholm, Sweden, who are writing books on the Apache wars.

Every week, without exception, your historian receives a number of calls and letters requesting help in finding this or that. Often the request sends me on a treasure hunt on their behalf, and out of the search may come one of these articles in the Roundup.

Readers are invited to contact me with your questions, but also with the thought of contributing relevant material to the research library.

Perhaps the types of material mentioned above will stimulate you to dig in to those boxes of family papers, photos, and scrap books.

We understand many do not want to part with the originals, so we frequently make copies for the archive and return the originals to the owners.

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