The Main Street Cattle Drive



In the first half of this century there were few fences, and the cattle all ran together from the Tonto Basin to the Mogollon Rim. At roundup time, each rancher would send "reps" to join in a community roundup. They could tell by a mother cow's brand what brand to put on the new calf, and each cowboy would brand his neighbor's or his own. That way they could spread out and rope whatever calves they found on the open range.

In Tonto Basin, the community herd was driven to Globe for shipping to market. The herds from ranches in Gisela, Round Valley, Rye Creek and the East Verde were brought through Payson. When these wild cattle were brought out of the mountains, basins and canyons, ranchers like the Taylors, Chilsons, Colcords, Randalls, Browns and Coles would put their small herds together west of town to make one large herd. There, they camped for the night, and the next day drove the herd east along the Doll Baby Ranch road and into Payson. It made quite a spectacle to have this cattle drive going down Payson's Main Street, to say nothing of the dust.

When they planned to drive the herd to the railhead in Holbrook, the second night's camp was made in Star Valley at the Ogilvie Ranch. By the third night the herd reached Little Green Valley, the fourth night's camp was made at the Hunt Ranch in Gordon Canyon, and the fifth night was spent at the OW Ranch on Canyon Creek.

From there, they climbed the Rim and drove the herd to Holbrook for shipment. Sometimes a buyer wanted the cattle loaded at Winslow, and the herd would be driven up the East Verde River, over the Rim, and along the old Moqui Trail. The largest ranch in the area, the Chilson's Bar-T-Bar, also used this route to move their herd back and forth to summer range near Hay Lake on the Rim.

When the herds were driven up the East Verde, the cowboys would camp at the Belluzzi's Rim Trail Ranch. The animals were kept in "traps," barbed wire enclosures large enough to hold 400 or 500 head of cattle. Remnants of the old wire can be found today embedded in the trees along the Rim Trail and the East Verde's upper waters.

When World War II began, 69 young men from the Rim country went to war, most of them cowboys, and the big cattle drives were no longer feasible. By then, cattle were being shipped by truck, and in 1945 the big Chilson spread sold out, moving its headquarters to Hay Lake.

Forest Ranger Clyde Moose, who was stationed in Payson before the war (from March 1937 to April 1940), recalls that it was during his tenure the cattle drives through town ended.

"They were preparing to make their last drive from the Bar-T-Bar," he wrote in his memoirs. "I stood in the back of my pickup and used the cab for a desk, and counted over 1,000 head. I told the young trail boss, 'This is the last herd of any size that will ever be driven through the town of Payson. You should have someone take a picture of them as they pass through town.' He told me later he did not get the picture of them. He just hated to bother anyone that early in the morning."

Times have changed the ways of the cattle rancher. Most of Arizona's cattlemen admit the end is not far off. They simply cannot make a living on range cattle, and the evidence shows in how many Rim country ranches have been subdivided in recent years. Public lands, making up a large percentage of Arizona, are increasingly off limits to livestock as environmental groups pursue their goals.

The Clean Water Act and the environmental laws affect where ranchers can graze their cattle. The most lush forage areas, along the creek bottoms are off limits. No matter where you turn in the West, something is "endangered" and falls under the Endangered Species Act, and grazing allotments are frequently retired or bought up by groups other than ranchers. Gone are the days when cowboys could leave notes on their front door, like this one left by Floyd Pyle at his ranch under the Rim:

"Here is a message to neighbors and all travelers and tramps: When you're going through this country and come upon this camp, just make yourselves at home, friends, if I am not about. The door may not be open but the latch-string is always out. You will find bacon, beans, coffee, milk and butter on the shelf. So don't leave this place hungry, just pitch in and help yourself. You may have to carry water and cut a little wood, but the axe is in the woodpile and the creek is running good. There is hay out in the stable; you can find your horse a bite. There is a bed for you to sleep in if you want to stay all night.

"But there is one thing I will say, boys, when you are ready to pull out, there is a lot of junk around here that I would hate to do without. There are bedrolls, tents and blankets. There are cartridges and guns. And a lot of things here in my charge that belong to native sons.

"So when you ride away, boys, just use a little sense. For I've never locked this cabin and I don't want to commence."

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