Ola Smith Grew Up In Payson, Part 2



Last week we were reviewing the life of Tonto Apache matriarch Ola Smith, who lived with her family both on lower Rye Creek and Indian Hill in Payson.

Married at 13 she had her first child that same year. Ola's second daughter was Bonnie (Curtis). Both girls were born at home, with no doctors to assist.

When Ola was ready to deliver her third child, she went to the home of her good friend Geraldine (told by Geraldine's aunt, Mrs. Pearl Morrison).

Geraldine had always played with the Indian kids, and even spoke some of the language. Her friend helped deliver the baby girl, and Ola proceeded to name her Jeri for her friend.

After Jeri (Johnson), Ola also bore a son, Ivan.

While Ola was born too late in history to be taught the Apache traditions, she had one advantage.

Because of better conditions she did not lose her children as previous generations had. While living on lower Rye two of her brothers and one sister were buried near the campsite. Death also visited the camp on Indian Hill, and a number of the tribal members were buried on the slope that is now covered by buildings. When someone died, the traditional way was to burn the house with all the possessions of the deceased in it.

Even though Ola was married and a mother, she was still a girl at heart. As the families began to move off the hill, she and her playmates sometimes burned down their houses, pretending someone had died as an excuse.

Ola was on the edge of a new age. Her parents lived off the land, but by the time she was growing up, the stores in Payson provided many of their needs. When she was an adult and someone from the reservation was heading to town, she eagerly went along so she could visit her favorite, Wal-Mart. She remembered the faith of her parents.

As a child on Indian Hill she and her playmates would see lights going back and forth on the Mazatzal Mountains. They were told the lights were made by the Gaan, the Mountain Spirits. Those mountains were the sacred dwelling places of the Gaan, as was the Natural Bridge. There was a sacred spring in the foothills to which they would go when gathering acorns. One must say a prayer to go in there and if the proper gifts were not offered, that person would become lost never to return.

The gift for a woman was to drop a white stone into the spring, and the men a blue stone. The stone must be one's very own, never borrowed and belonging to someone else.

But Ola knew these old customs were dying. She did not have anyone to pass on to her the old stories. She confessed she did not know the Creation stories and only a few of the legends. She did remember some of the names for places and people. Apache names are very descriptive. Fossil Creek was "Blue Water," Flowing Springs was "White Water," the East Verde camp was "The Cedar That Stands On A Hilltop," the Natural Bridge was "Two Lands Joined Together Over A River." Various places along the meadow and slopes south of Main Street were called by several names. "Yellow Streak In The Water," "The Place Where There Are Gray Rocks," and "Where Lots Of Yellow Flowers Grow." Each place had its story and its traditions.

Some people had secret names that could not be translated, but everyone also had a name that described each, such as "He Who Has A Red Forehead."

Ola remembered that her people also had names for the residents of Payson by which they could identify them among themselves, not understanding English names.

There was "He Whose Hand Is Always Up," "He Who Has Big Ears," "He Who Has One Eye," and "He That Is Paralyzed In The Throat And Looks Only One Way." That last one was merchant William Hilligas.

Ola Smith fell victim to the plague of alcohol.

Lena Hampton reported, "One day Ola saw me going down the street and she was higher than a kite. She said, ‘Lady, give me your shoes.'"

Theresa Boardman, who delivered Ola, said it was a great day when "she got religion" and no longer cut up on Main Street. That happened when Ola Smith put her faith in Christ under the ministry of J. O. Martin. She became his first convert.

Later her son Ivan, along with others would build a church building for the tribe on their new reservation with lumber donated by the Kaibab Mill. Ola's four children continued in active leadership roles among the Tonto people, and she lived to rejoice in 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Several months before she died she commented on how life had become easier but not necessarily better. "It used to be nice, but now they're cutting down too many trees, and there are too many people moving in. Now they are stingy with everything, even the acorns." Some current folks would agree with her.

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