The first settlers to come to the Rim country were looking for gold. The California rush had run its course and prospectors were looking for new veins of precious metal in other western states.
Soldiers, and scouts like Al Sieber, who had fought the Indian War in central Arizona, publicized word of "remarkably rich gold-bearing float rock."
By 1875, while angry Apaches still lurked in the surrounding hills, William Burch and John Hook built the future Payson's first house, a log cabin where the golf course is today, and staked a claim to the first mine, called The Golden Waif.
By 1878, Sieber with his pals, William St. Johns and Sam Hill, were headquartered on Ox Bow Hill and staking claims there and along the Sierra Ancha. That same year, Charlie Clark and a party of prospectors arrived in Green Valley on their way to Leadville, Colo. They camped near Burch's cabin along the American Gulch, and discovered the food most plentiful. Turkey and deer came to drink in the swampy area every morning, and they decided to lay over a week to put up a supply of jerky.
One day, they followed the stream west and by afternoon had killed 10 deer. They hung them up to bleed and headed back to camp for their pack animals. On the way they found so much gold-bearing rock along the gulch, it was decided to stay and lay out claims.
"The whole world is heading for Leadville," Charlie Clark wrote, "and Leadville cannot possibly have anything better to show than we have here ... We are in an absolutely virgin country, with high grade ore lying all around us."
On a trip to Phoenix for supplies, they could not refrain from telling about their good fortune and showing their samples around. As might be expected, when they returned, they were accompanied by 20 others who began prospecting in the vicinity of Green Valley. Among them was Lafayette P. Nash, who soon lay claim to a mine west of Green Valley he named The Golden Wonder.
By 1881, more than 300 men were employed in the various mines of the Payson district, with new hopefuls arriving daily. This gold rush resulted in a mining camp three miles west of the Burch cabin. The camp's merchants Emer and Margaret Chilson bestowed the name of their daughter Mary on the community, calling it Marysville. The Chilsons had discovered what other merchants would discover, that there was more money to be had selling goods to the prospectors than in the actual mining.
One of the earliest of the prospectors, Charlie Clark, had not made any money from his mining claims but Arizona had laid claim to him. He never went on to Colorado but became a prominent resident of Globe.
The gold soon wore thin, and Marysville dwindled. Chilson traded his store to L. P. Nash for the Golden Wonder Mine and moved to the new village of Green Valley developing along the American Gulch. By the time the 19th century decade of the '70s turned into the decade of the '80s, cattle ranchers were rapidly laying claim to the Rim country's marvelous grassland and mining was losing its importance.
No less disappointing was the rush to find diamonds in the Rim country. Trails were blazed to the promontory named Diamond Point and a camp set up. The treasure turned out to be quartz crystals, traded for centuries by the Indians, but with no market value in modern times.
Many of the gold-bearing veins occurred in a coarse-grained rock (diorite) that weathers readily, and leaves free floating gold in abundance. This surface ore was collected and hauled on burros to the East Verde River where water was available to work it. At the height of the gold rush, there were at least 80 animal-driven arrastras, ore grinding stones, up and down the river. State Mine Inspector Douglas Martin has been quoted as saying, "Far more money was put into the mines around Payson than was ever taken out." It takes more volcanic rock than we have around here and the sedimentary formations of the Rim country contain only small intrusive veins of precious metals. However, there was enough mining activity in the area to leave numerous open shafts that pose a deadly danger to hikers who are not careful.
Some of the place names in the Rim country got their handles from the prospectors. For example, Ben Cole worked a claim one-and-a-half miles south of Payson, but whenever he came to town folks avoided him because he was infested with lice. Thus his camp came to be named Lousy Gulch. Walker Moore was a partner with L. P. Nash in the golden Wonder, and gave his name to a canyon that maps simply title "Walk Moore Canyon." The Gowan mines, which are west of Payson and developed into 11 different claims, are named after settler David Gowan of Natural Bridge fame.
By 1886, practically all the properties were shut down except for occasional renewed flurries of activity. Periodically new corporations were formed to try again for gold in some of the old mines.
George Randall, father of Payson teacher Julia Randall, came to Payson from Colorado as superintendent of the Grand Prize Mine on Webber Creek. Like the Ox Bow, Gowan and Golden Wonder mines, the Grand Prize has been reopened and closed several times over the decades. However, most mines continue to fall under the infamous quote passed down from Payson area prospectors, "These mines are like women. They show you enough to lead you on, but never produce."