Payson Was Under Attack



As soon as white settlers entered the Rim country, Apache attacks on them began. In the ten years from 1867 through 1876 sixty skirmishes were fought in and about Payson and the Tonto Basin. These resulted in death to a number of army troops, some settlers and about 200 Apache/Yavapai people.

By the mid-1870s, Apache control of the area had been broken, and white settlement was begun in earnest. All Indians who did not settle on reservations or become allies of the whites were considered hostile and subject to being killed on sight. However, for the next ten years settlers never knew when renegade Indians would break from the reservation and raid their ranches or pack trains.

This psychological stress caused settlers to "suffer from a dread of Indian attacks," according to Revilo Fuller. Writing from the short-lived Mormon settlement of Mazatzal City, ten miles west of Payson, he said, "We never knew when we went to bed at night what the dawn would bring" ("Rim Country History," page 110).

In the spring of 1879, local settlers ran for cover again. George Hance of Green Valley (Payson) reported to the Prescott ("Miner") that Henry Sidle's place (today called Flowing Springs) had been burned, ranchers shot at and the cattle driven off. The same raiders killed eight of the Houston brother's horses as they grazed on the Houston Mesa. A few days later, Indians ambushed two riders near Baker's Butte on the Crook Military Road, and one of them was killed. Sometimes the rumors were false, but folks were on such "pins and needles" they ran for cover at the slightest warning.

After Henry Sidles' place was burned, he moved into the village (Payson) and had Paul Vogel build an all-mud house along the wash that could not be burned. That house was later bought by the August Piepers, and lived in while they built their permanent home on the corner of the Globe Road (McLane). That mud house still stands, and is Payson's oldest structure. It became a fort for town folks during the bloody July 1882 outbreak. C. P. Wingfield reported (Arizona Historical Review, January 1931), "When the people of Payson and vicinity heard of the Indian attack, they forted up at the Sidle place, an adobe house on land now owned by August Pieper. The married men and families held the fort while the single men did scout duty."

The communities of Pine and Payson designated dance halls and saloons as places for "forting up," and built other defenses as well. In Pine, Allen's Fort was a log structure erected in what is now an open field south of Highway 87 at Hardscrabble Mesa Road. It was torn down in the 1980s after one hundred years of symbolic protection.

In Payson, the residents erected Fort McDonald atop the peninsular rock overlooking today's public golf course. It was so named because William McDonald, one of Payson's first settlers, owned the land. Stones of an ancient pueblo were regrouped to form a protective wall from which families could defend themselves as well as observe the possible approach of an Indian war party from every direction. Remnants of old Fort McDonald remain in the yards of the houses on Ft. McDonald Circle.

The 1882 Indian outbreak from the reservation began on July 6th, and culminated July 17th in the Battle of Big Dry Wash on the Rim north of Payson. As the war party made their way up the East Verde River, they raided the Meadows Ranch in Whispering Pines, stealing the livestock, murdering the father, John Meadows and mortally wounding his son Henry.

The two men became the first to be buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. Lafayette P. Nash of Pine had been the postmaster at old Camp Reno since the previous April, and was among the first to learn about the danger because army units were rendezvousing there in their pursuit of the Apaches. He sent a rider dashing to Green Valley to warn the settlers, who then forted up. The rider went on to Pine and Strawberry, where the wife of L. P. Nash and his children remained.

It is not confirmed that the raiders went as far as Strawberry. The Nash's daughter-in-law, Mrs. William Nash, later reported the family story of what happened:

"A rider came to their house and told Mrs. Nash that bands of Apaches were raiding the ranches. Of course Mrs. Nash was terribly frightened. She decided that if they were all to die she would dress her two children in the prettiest clothes they had and lay them on the bed, and wait for the worst to come. Then she put out all the lamps and the fire in the fireplace.

"During the night she heard skirmishing, and commotion around the cow barn. After a time all became quiet and Mrs. Nash was sure the Indians were creeping up on the house to kill them and burn the house down. She waited and morning came, and they were all alive. All the Indians wanted was the cattle, which they took. The children lived to wear their pretty clothes on a more pleasant occasion."

Today we no longer fort up for fear of the Apaches, who are good neighbors. Instead we fort up against criminals, add jail-bars to our houses and fear to walk the streets at night. Living "in dread fear," as Revilo Fuller put it, is still part of daily life.

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