This week, many Rim country families will have relatives or friends visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Let me suggest one of the short drives you could take them on: a trip back into history.
We shall begin our drive at the Rim Country Museum in Green Valley Park, at the west end of Payson’s Main Street. Here is an excellent place to become acquainted with our local heritage.
Driving eastward to the highway and turning left you will be on the road that goes to Strawberry, State Highway 87. Eight miles from the museum, and not far beyond the bridge that crosses the East Verde River, you will spot a white picket fence to your left. It is a way off the road, but you can drive in there to the old home site of Sydney Holder on the banks of Sycamore Creek.
The Holder families lived here around the turn of the 20th century, raising angora goats and farming the flats along the creek. Sydney’s brother John Holder and family settled the land along the East Verde all the way from the bridge up to Beaver Valley.
In 1900, the John Holder family lost their 12-year-old daughter Armenta to diphtheria, and that same year the disease claimed Sydney’s wife, Carrie, and their 4-month-old baby, Olive. Carrie was just 28 years old, and is buried here with her baby within the picket fence.
Up until the 1970s the gravesite was cleaned and maintained by Carrie’s granddaughter, Vera Fuller Wilson. Even after she and her husband moved to California in 1969, they returned annually as a pilgrimage until she died.
Notice the large concrete slab near the graves. This is an unmarked grave of Carrie’s mother, Mrs. Orr, who died about the same time as her daughter. One fellow camped here and used the slab as a floor for his tent. When he was told he was camping on a grave he quickly folded his tent and left.
This is a good place to contemplate the early life of pioneers in this area, and appreciate the hardships they faced so far from medical help or city comforts.
As you leave the Holder graves, continue north along State Route 87 through the quaint town of Pine. Antique shops will tempt you to stop before you continue climbing the mountain to the little community of Strawberry.
This village is located at an important junction, between the trail that led west to the Verde River and the trail that headed north to Flagstaff. John and Sarah Lowthian came from Missouri sometime before 1880, by way of Los Angeles, and were probably the first white settlers in Strawberry. It was John’s brother Isaac who named the area after the ground cover of wild strawberries found there.
As you have come from Pine, turn left at the Strawberry Lodge and drive west on Fossil Creek Road a few miles, to the Strawberry School. This is the oldest original schoolhouse in Arizona, and if it is open you will want to go in and browse through the museum. A very active and concerned community of neighbors has restored the school.
The old Strawberry Cemetery is just up the road beside the school. A small sign points to the cemetery, and is easily missed. This little graveyard was much larger at one time, but most of the burial sites could not be identified. The plots that are distinguishable have been set aside and the rest of the cemetery disappeared under the surroundings.
John Lowthian and his daughter Livie are buried here. One of the identifiable graves carries the name Lowthian, and may be that of Sarah. Another is labeled “Prather.” The only thing known of him is that he died working out in the field. Another grave marks the burial of 10-year-old John Wingfield, who died in 1889. Sarah and James Wingfield had 10 children, but when she died in 1904 only three of those children were still living. A gunman murdered their eldest son, Clint, in 1899, at the Camp Verde store he owned. It is overwhelming to imagine the continuing grief of these pioneer families who lost their loved ones so early and so often.
Upon your return trip you will want to appreciate the history of the village of Pine as you pass through it once again. You may have time to stop at the Pine/Strawberry Museum there, housed in the old stone church building.
Founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who were sent by their elders to settle the area, families named Fuller and Allen and others arrived in 1879. The year before that, a number of Mormon families had settled farms south at the junction of the creek with the East Verde River. The threat of Indian raids caused them to move up to Pine with the others after several years.
Continuing your return trip to Payson, you will pass the Control Road on your left. It is a passable gravel road, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s along an old pioneer trail. To follow that would take you some 30 or 40 miles east, past a number of summer communities under the Rim, and you would emerge on State Route 260 at Tonto Village, not far from Kohl’s Ranch.
Continuing on Highway 87, as you go down into the valley of the East Verde River and cross the bridge, you not only are passing the old pioneer settlement of Angora again, but to your right along the river is the modern subdivision of East Verde Estates. This community of full-time as well as summer-time families was once the property of a band, or family, of Tonto Apache people. They had camped there for generations, and after the Indian Wars were over they were given title to a section of land by the U.S. Government in appreciation of the Tonto Scouts who had served in the army. During the Great Depression, the Tontos had to move closer to the work that sustained them, such as building roads, working in the mercury mine at Slate Creek, and being employed in the sawmills. Their spokesperson Delia Chapman (her English name), who held the title in her name, sold the land to private parties for $500. After that, the area began to be developed as a subdivision.
Soon you are entering Payson again, with memories of important Rim country places to share with others.