Here is the story not of "The Little Engine that Could," but of "The Little Railroad that Could Not."
In the wake of the Civil War, railroads were the mighty force promising new wealth for an America seeking recovery. Veterans with official titles like Captain and Colonel were jumping into schemes, and one of them was a Chicago lawyer named Colonel James W. Eddy. He had supported Lincoln and gotten elected to the Illinois Legislature. However, the West beckoned and he came this way to work as a mining engineer even though he had no training for the task. After several years prospecting around Globe and the Rim country Col. Eddy realized there was a need to link the mines of Globe with the transcontinental railroad to the north. Lumber from the pine forests of the Mogollon Rim would find a market at the mines, and the ore from Globe as well as coal found near San Carlos would find a way to markets on the northern railroad. Eddy was not alone in such a dream. Competitors in Tucson were hoping to link Globe with the Southern Pacific Railroad, but the people of Globe preferred a connection with Flagstaff.
In January 1881, Col. Eddy began raising capital for his proposed Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad. He traveled to the East where he convinced the magnates of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad to invest in the project. They would purchase $30,000 in bonds and receive a bonus of $24,000 in stock. In fact, everywhere Eddy went he gave investors Mineral Belt shares in exchange for their capital investments. At the same time, a survey for the road was begun. It would run from Flagstaff across the Mogollon Rim to the head of the East Verde River. There, a descent of over 2,000 feet had to be negotiated. Col. Thomas King was the engineer who designed a 3,100-foot tunnel that would angle through the top of the Rim to permit a 750-foot drop with a 2 1/2-percent grade. From there, the relatively gentle slope of the East Verde River Canyon would enable the roadbed to descend the rest of the way into Payson. The line would then traverse the Tonto Basin, go up the Salt River to Pinal Creek and follow that valley into Globe and Miami.
In August of 1883 the tunnel was begun, with a work crew of 42 men supervised by Captain Tucker. The men received no cash, only stock certificates and their board. Several stone houses were erected in the East Verde canyon at the highest point where springs emerge to begin the river.Those ruins can still be seen today on the west bank of the canyon. Above that point, the river gorge has always been dry, and the workers had to hike a good portion of a mile from there up a side canyon to the tunnel site. On Sept. 29, the engineer reported, "The camp at the tunnel is lively and in healthy operation.
The hill is faced off in good shape and the tunnel is in 50 feet."
Excitement had been growing throughout the Rim country in anticipation of the wealth that would result from the railroad. The nation had experienced a financial collapse in 1873, but by 1880 Indian threats in Arizona had subsided and people were coming here with high hopes for new opportunities.
Under the Homestead Act, 160 acres of government land was made free to anyone the prospects of silver and gold mining seemed good, there was plenty of lumber, and an abundance of grass and water for livestock covered the landscape. All that added up to boom times.
Now with the promise of a railroad to connect markets north and south, it seemed that nothing could hold back prosperity.
The citizens of Flagstaff were also exultant over the prospect of becoming the primary supply center for the Tonto Basin.
The Weekly Champion, on Feb. 9, 1884, stated, "It is claimed that a thousand people in this section are cut off from any communication with the outside world for the lack of mail service. This is a matter of great importance to the businessmen of our town, as well as to the people of Tonto, and calls for prompt and direct action on the part of residents on both sections. Flagstaff is the natural market for the people of Tonto, and the Mineral Belt road will more directly unite the interests of the two sections."
Fred Haught, the forerunner of that Rim country pioneer family, had come from Texas by way of Colorado and built a log cabin in the East Verde Canyon, right where the proposed railroad would come over the Rim. He notified his relations back in Texas of the lush grazing land for their cattle and the prospects of wealth from the Mineral Belt Railroad. In 1885, Fred's father and brother, Sam Haught Senior and Junior, brought their family and joined Fred on the East Verde River, settling at the mouth of Dude Creek. Their plan was to build a store and saloon there, where the trains would stop to take on water, but after five years it became evident the dream would not materialize. The Haughts moved down to Rye Creek and established their H-Bar Ranch. The irony for the Haught family is that the Texas property they left behind later became downtown Dallas.
In Pleasant Valley and throughout the Tonto Basin, a premium was placed on the land. An influx of ranchers, bringing horses, cattle, goats and sheep, not only created conflicts over the range but opportunities for rustling. There were no fences and no cattle allotments in those days. With livestock running loose all over the area, the temptation for some was to come to this land of promise with nothing but a horse, a rope and a running iron. In a short period, a person could start his own ranch operation with stolen cattle and horses. The people of Payson and Rye Creek fumed at the rustling of livestock by the Tewksburys and others, and it was not long before the infamous Pleasant Valley War was under way. In no small sense, it resulted from the boom times brought on by the promise of the railroad.
Had that dream come to fruition, Payson would have been a railroad town. What then would have been the talk about development?
To be continued. Next week what happened to the dream?