These are days in which "growth or no growth" is one of the biggest topics of discussion in the town of Payson. It is interesting to note that the earliest settlers of the town eagerly sought growth and did all they could to promote Payson as a place to live and work.
The earliest promoter was John Hise, a surveyor by trade who came here in about 1882 and established the first mercantile store on Main Street. He saw the need to establish a townsite, and with the help of blacksmith James Callaghan, he laid out the town in lots. An argument among the several local ranchers arose as to whether the town should be called Green Valley, Long Valley or Round Valley.
Hise settled the issue by getting support for the name Union Park. However, within a year or so, March 4, 1884, through Hise's efforts with a friend in the U.S. Congress named Payson, a post office was established in the village. Hise's suggestion was accepted when they honored the Congressman by naming the post office after him. The moniker of Union Park soon faded into oblivion.
John's son Frank Hise was the first postmaster, but after about 18 months the family moved to Tucson where the boys took up the cattle business. John was subsequently appointed Surveyor's General for the Arizona Territory.
Soon Payson's most prominent developer arrived on the scene. August and Wilhelmina Pieper had come from Germany and operated a store in Globe before arriving here. They bought the little mud house along the American Gulch, and its original owner named Sidles moved to Los Angeles. Pieper began an extensive development, laying squatter's claim to all the land up and down Main Street that was not already claimed. His land holdings went as far east as today's Payson Regional Medical Center, on both sides of Main Street.
While building their permanent home, henceforth called "the Pieper Mansion" at the corner of the Globe Road (south McLane) and Main, the Piepers developed several businesses. These included a mercantile store, in which the post office was housed, a saloon, a dance hall and a livery stable. Mrs. Pieper rented rooms in the "mansion." Payson's first Saturday night dances were held in their building and the tradition of the Community Christmas Tree got its start there.
It was not long before the saloon included a restaurant. Pieper's herd of cattle and horses grazed the pasture along the wash, and he began to sell lots along the north side of Main Street to some of the early families.
He also sold considerable acreage west of McLane to the Chilson and Hilligas families. The Pieper's son Earnest took over their businesses, and Payson had its first real estate and development company.
Meanwhile, the 1882 outbreak of renegades from the White Mountain Apache Reservation had left a trail of death through the Rim country.
John Meadows and his son, Henry, were killed in the attack on their Whispering Pines Ranch (called Diamond Valley then). They were the first to be buried in Payson, and the Pioneer Cemetery was established.
Another Meadows son, Charlie, continued to operate the ranch with his other brothers and sisters.
In 1884 Charlie and a few of his cowboy buddies started a calf roping contest down in the meadow near Main Street. It was August, a time between roundups to play a bit. The tradition caught on, and what was then to be called The August Doin's drew larger and larger crowds from all over the region, continuing as the Payson Rodeo to this day.
Charlie himself went on to become a champion rodeo contender all over the country, joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and traveled the world. Before he left Payson, however, he threw a fabulous wedding party for his sister. Maggie Meadows and her girlfriend were both to marry local cowboys, so Charlie proposed a double wedding on horseback, to which the entire community would be invited. Promoter that he was, the event ended with the wedding parties riding out to the Houston Mesa where they were given a gift from Charlie. All the Meadows' cattle they could rope and brand were to belong to the two couples as a start in their ranching careers.
This wedding on horseback has so captured the imagination of members of the Northern Gila County Historical Society, that plans are being laid for an annual festival on Main Street called "Arizona Charlie Meadows Day." It may well include more weddings on horseback, although without the offer to round up local cattle as a wedding gift.
(To be continued)