Back When ... Goats Grazed Along The East Verde, Part 1



This is the story of John Francis Holder, one of the Rim country's early settlers, who is credited with starting more post offices in Territorial Arizona than any other person.

He married in Mississippi and had five children before his wife died. In 1875 at age 29 he married a second time, to Sarah Ann Gypson, and they moved to Texas where they had two children, Spyas and Martha (called Mattie).

In 1880 the family moved to New Mexico where six more children were born: Frank, Eugene, Ogden, Allen, Thomas and Watson.

It was a lawless time and the Holders felt their lives were threatened there.

In the summer of 1896 they came to Arizona, having traded their cattle for goats.

They came over the Mogollon Rim and settled along the East Verde River, buying squatters rights from several families already there. Soon their 3,000 Angora goats covered the hillsides along the area known today as Beaver Valley. The family found a ready market in Globe for the mohair. Mohair is the technical name for the fleece of the Angora goat. It is usually white, growing in ringlets to about ten inches in length. Among animal fibers, the luster and durability of mohair is without equal. Almost immediately upon arriving in Arizona, John F. Holder was granted permission to establish a post office, which he simply named"Holder," operating from September 1896 to August 1897. The location proved to be too remote for the horse mounted mail carriers, and the Holders began getting their mail in Payson.

His two brothers and their families, Willis and Sidney, joined John and Sarah and established ranches nearby. Sidney made his home on Sycamore Creek, the wash that empties into the East Verde just below today's bridge on Highway 87. A spring came out of the hill where he built the ranch house, and provided water for the family.

In the year 1900 Sydney's wife Carrie and their four-month-old baby Olive died, probably of diphtheria. They are buried at the site of the ranch, and the graves continue to be marked by a white picket fence that can be seen from the highway. Later John also buried his mother-in-law Mrs. Orr near the other graves. That same year, 1900, John and Sarah's 12-year-old daughter, Arminta, died, as well as an unnamed baby who might have died in childbirth or soon afterward. They were buried outside the ranch house along the East Verde River, and their grave remains marked there today. In the midst of so much trouble, John and his sons were building a new house several miles down river, at the location we call Flowing Springs. He had bought squatters rights from an early family in the region, the Sidels, who had moved to Payson after the threat of Indian attacks made them fearful.

The Sidels in turn sold their Payson holdings to the Pieper family, and moved to California. The Holder family moved down to the new location during the summer, but not before Mae Holder was born in July. The new place was close to the mail road between Pine and Payson, and John established a post office there on June 25, 1900. It was named Angora, and the family also operated a store. John sold the Beaver Valley place to another family, who in turn sold it to Bert Belluzzi, son of another early pioneer family. Bert received an official homestead paper on the Beaver Valley property in 1916. The old Holder house burned down, and the Belluzzis built a house on the site, which only recently has been demolished. It was here at Angora that John Holder began hiring Tonto Apaches to help with the goat herd. "Watt," as the youngest son was called, born in 1895, said he could not remember whether his father employed Indian herders in Beaver Valley, but did recall them at Angora.

These native people had several traditional camps along the East Verde near there,and with this added help the Holders expanded the size of their herd to over 5,000.

The adobe store and post office at Angora became a center, serving Indian families from the East Verde camp downstream. The money they earned from the Holder brothers was in turn spent for food, clothing, and trinkets at the store. John was a friend to the Apaches and led the way for other neighbors to hire them as well. John also discovered he could trade items from his store for Indian baskets, which he took to Globe along with the mohair. He traded the baskets for staples to supply the store. When the John Holder family moved to Angora, the brothers established a school there. It met in the store and the teacher was William Holder, one of the older boys. He was married and had a child, Ethel, enrolled in the school.

John's boys by his first marriage had come with the family to Arizona, and had begun families of their own. There were 14 children enrolled in the East Verde School, and nine of them were Holders. The other five were from a family named Cockran. The next year, 1901, ten Holder children were enrolled; the Cockrans had gone and were replaced by four Shirley children.

It was during this time that the Grand Prize Mine was operating under the supervision of George A. Randall, father of well-known Payson teacher Julia Randall. She was only a few years old at the time, but the mine families were living along Sycamore Creek between the Sydney Holder Ranch and the East Verde River. The other children at the East Verde School were most likely from those mine families.

After 1904 the school ceased to exist, and in 1906 the Mine closed for the time being. (To be continued next week: the Holders give up Angora and move to Gisela)

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