Payson Almost Became An Army Post

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In this season of honoring the veterans of America's armed forces, we recall that Payson itself was once the center of a war.

Future veterans marched here from their post on a significant mission. It was the spring of 1868 and the snow pack was melting, sending rivers to their banks.

A detachment of the cavalry rode along Tonto Creek and headed up the basin they called Tonto Valley. They hoped to be able to cross the feeder streams that were rushing down from the mountains on either side. Their mission was to locate the best place for a permanent military camp, to be named Camp Reno after Civil War hero General Jesse Reno, killed at Turners Gap in 1862.

They knew they were in the heart of Tonto Apache country, and that is just what they wanted.

"Let the posts be planted in the homes of the reptiles at any expense, roads made there, and it is the end of the hostile Apache in Arizona ..."

That was said in Prescott's newspaper, The Arizona Miner, June 8, 1868. Since the previous fall, the Army had been building a military road from Fort McDowell, following Sycamore Creek through the Mazatzal Mountains. (This is the approximate route taken by today's State Highway 87.)

At Sunflower Valley (so called much later) the road veered east around Mt. Ord and into the Tonto Basin.

There, where a spring gave plentiful water, a temporary post was built in mid-April. From one of the temporary camps along the way, the following communique was sent to the Territorial Capital in Prescott: "In a few days a scout will leave for Green Valley, which is to be Camp Reno instead of the first place located. This valley is 10 miles from Meadow Valley [probably Spring Creek, the site of a large Tonto Apache camp.] (Green Valley is) a splendid place for a post and to hunt Indians ..."

The idea was to place this military post half way between Fort Whipple in Prescott and Fort McDowell in Phoenix. It would be 150 miles from Fort Grant, north of Tucson, and the plan was to place another fort between Reno and Grant.

Later, two forts were placed in that location, Fort Thomas and Fort Apache.

It was the middle of May 1868, when the troops precariously followed Wild Rye Creek around the Sierra Ancha foothills, expecting an Apache attack at any time. Coming into Green Valley from about three miles to the west, they viewed the ideal spot for their military post.

They believed this location would serve the purpose of driving Apaches and Yavapais out of Arizona's central mountains.

So it was that 134 years ago last June, Payson, then called Green Valley, almost became a military garrison.

By August, the army had completed a rough military road to Green Valley, but the Apache hostilities were intense. The military could not keep their cattle herd in tact, and there were continuous skirmishes which left many dead on both sides.

By November, the commander of Fort Reno was still under orders to establish a permanent post in Green Valley, but in addition to the Indian threat, the supply line to Fort McDowell was simply too long. Green Valley proved too isolated, and by July 1869 the idea of a permanent post here had been abandoned.

The permanent location for Camp Reno was left in the Tonto Basin, near today's Punkin Center. However, Indians and the supply line proved too much even for that post, and it was abandoned in 1870. Immediately the Apaches burned what was left of the post.

Even though a main road was not developed into the Payson basin at that time, the soldiers wrote of the wonders of this place. The Prescott paper announced, "There are already big stories of gold being around (Green Valley), but until I have sound proof I will not try to excite anyone. All who want farms should come out and take a look around; there are no toll gates on the road, as yet, between Prescott and here ..." (Ibid.)

The ranchers and miners did come, after General Crook rounded up the Yavapai and Apaches onto reservations several years later.

Then, within less than 20 years, the Indians also returned. They did not have to encounter a military post in Green Valley, but found the pioneers friendly for the most part, and the two groups have lived together harmoniously ever since.

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