The Tonto Basin is one of the Rim country's dominant features, flanked by two beautiful mountain ranges, the Mazatzals and the Sierra Ancha (Broad Mountain).
This long valley, created by Tonto Creek, has been home to farmers and ranchers from prehistoric times to the present. And today an increasing community of retirees enjoys its beauty.
Across the river from Punkin Center, and 14 miles up into the mountains, is a place called Greenback Valley. It holds a fascinating history of war and pioneer settlement.
Here was the homeland of Tonto Apache bands, whose freedom of several hundred years was being interrupted by the invasion of the U.S. Army in 1865. It was the first week of December when a large company of the Arizona Volunteers, all Pima Indians, searched the area for their traditional enemy the Apache. They were commanded by 2nd. Lt. William A. Hancock and the Pima leader was Antonio Azul, chief of the tribe.
The Pimas were allies of the U.S. Army throughout the Apache War. A two-day storm had left the central mountains packed with wet snow, and the detachment of soldiers was cold because the blankets they had were worn out.
They climbed out of Tonto Basin to penetrate the Sierra Ancha, determined to make a surprise raid on a Tonto camp.
They soon discovered two Rancherias (as Apache camps were called), but they were abandoned for the Indians had been warned of the military's approach.
Then, on the morning of Dec. 7, Chief Azul spotted smoke from an Apache village, and the soldiers halted to observe the beautiful valley below.
Moving quickly to descend upon the encampment, they captured one woman and one man, but the other Tontos fled through the snow and into the forest.
Lt. Hancock was searching one of the wickiups (grass and brush houses) that had collapsed under the weight of the snow, when he found a $100 greenback note and an envelope containing a letter under the litter.
It had apparently been stashed in the hut by an Apache who had raided a mail carrier somewhere to the south. Having no use for the paper money, the Indian had left it behind, but on the way back to Ft. McDowell the soldiers agreed to name the place Greenback Valley.
William Hancock left the army the following September, but remained at Ft. McDowell as superintendent of the post farm and justice of the peace. After that he became the post trader at Camp Reno, a mile south of the highway at today's Punkin Center.
When that outpost closed in 1870, Hancock returned to the Salt River Valley. He was a civil engineer by trade, and received a contract to survey the Salt River Valley Canal. The next year he surveyed the town site of Phoenix, and built the first house in the town. He also erected the first store in Phoenix on the northwest corner of Washington and Montezuma (First) Streets.
When Maricopa County was created in 1871, Governor Stafford appointed Hancock its first sheriff. At that time, the family of David and Josephine Harer lived in Tempe, having come there in 1865 from Tulare, Calif.
Like so many who sought to escape the tribulations of the Civil War, they had moved first from Arkansas to Oregon and then to California. In Tempe he developed a hog farm, furnishing hams and bacon to the Hayden Trading Post. The 49-year-old Harer met Hancock in 1872 and shared his dreams of having a hog farm in the mountains where the acorns were plentiful.
Hancock described the perfect place, Greenback Valley, and soon Harer was on his horse headed over the Reno Road to inspect his hoped-for Eden. He bravely rode into the Apache camp, for the Indians had not yet all surrendered to the U.S. Army.
It would not be until 1874 that the fierce chief Delshay, whose camp was a few miles to the west of Greenback Valley, would finally meet his demise. Yet somehow Harer was able to make friends with the Tonto Apache, and even enlist their help in building a stick and mud house beside the creek.
The lush, well-watered valley with its forest of oak trees was perfect for a hog farm, and Harer began bringing his herds over the mountains to his new farm.
By 1875 the Indians had been pretty well subdued and David Harer brought his family to Greenback Valley, to be the first white settlers in the area. He had induced his son-in-law, Florence Packard, to join him, giving him squatter's rights to half of the valley.
In 1888 Alice Lorinda Harer, one of David and Josephine's eight children, married Edward Charles Conway. They became ranchers in the Greenback Valley and Tonto Creek area, and their story is one to hold for another time. Suffice it to say, Conway family members have been residents of Greenback Valley ever since.
When the Tonto National Forest was established in 1905, a policy was established to remove all hogs from the forest.
The construction of Roosevelt Dam began in 1906 and what was left of the Harer herd was consumed by those laborers. It was then the Harer-Conway families began to run cattle, and since a government survey had been made, they were able to patent homesteads for all 560 acres in Greenback Valley.
Meanwhile, William Hancock, who had named the valley, became the first postmaster in Phoenix (February 1871 to August 1879) and his house served both as the post office and the county courthouse.
Subsequently he served as district attorney for Maricopa County, public administrator and coroner, probate judge and the first superintendent of schools.
He was sort of a one-man show in Phoenix. He surveyed the sections of land first occupied by the Mormons of Mesa, located a number of early canals in the county, and promoted the development of water storage and irrigation on the Agua Fria River.
Hancock died at the age of 70, March 24, 1902, and is buried in the Pioneer's Cemetery in Phoenix. The valley he named has retained its title to this day.
David Harer retired to Gisela, and died there at the age of 85. He is buried in the Tonto Basin Cemetery.