In 1922, the pioneer lady known as Grandma Platt dictated her memoirs to her daughter, Bessie Chilson Carpenter. That letter appears in "The Rim Country History" and a hand-written copy is held in the archives of the Rim Country Museum. That document, together with other family documents, provides us with a delicious insight into the life of the matriarch of the Chilson family.
Margaret Ann was born Feb. 16, 1851, to Elizabeth Cole and John Birchett, in Burleson County, Texas. She was orphaned when very young, and was raised with her siblings by the grandparents Cole. When she was 8, the family moved into dangerous Comanche country, and she carried a gun for protection while walking to school.
During those years, the children's grandfather was ambushed and shot by Indians and the family's horses and cattle were stolen, but the family stayed through the Civil War.
After the war, they left Texas for Downey, Calif., and there, at the age of 15, Margaret Ann Birchett married 24-year-old Emer L. Chilson. In California, they had five children: John C., Lillie Dale, Charles E., Margaret Mary and Napoleon W. (later nicknamed "Boss"). It was at that point in their family life they decided to return to Texas, but upon reaching Globe-Miami in Arizona, they were persuaded to stay and become involved in the Globe mining district that had recently been organized.
The year was 1878. They had a house built for the family, made of adobe and bear grass.
Margaret wrote, "My husband Emer Chilson helped to put up the first ore mill in Miami, Arizona. My sixth child, Guy, was the first white child born in Miami."
Thus, the Chilsons were already making their mark on the history of Gila County, although Gila County was not created until February of 1881. It was cut out of Maricopa and Pima Counties. In those days, when survival was a struggle, neighborliness was essential.
"I had no white neighbor woman," she wrote, "but fine bachelor neighbors. The morning after the baby was born, the men sent me a breakfast composed of fresh fish from the Salt River, hot rolls, beefsteak, rabbit, quail and such things."
When Emer worked at the Silver Nugget Mine in Richmond Basin, Margaret Ann cooked for 16 men and the children hunted small nuggets of gold in the waste dump.
Back in Miami, the Chilsons organized the first school and housed the teacher. Emer and Margaret's brother, Joe Birchett, opened the first mercantile store in old Miami, realizing there was more money to be made selling to miners than being a miner. That same year, 1881, they established a second store in a new mining camp 80 miles to the northwest, and called the place Marysville after the Chilson's daughter, Margaret Mary. The remnants of Marysville are barely evident today, three miles west of Payson, a mile south of the Doll Baby Ranch Road.
In the summer of 1882, an Apache outbreak from the White Mountain reservation terrorized the Rim country, and Emer took his family back to Globe for safety. While they were there, Margaret gave birth to their seventh child, Irene.
The Indian scare ended with the Battle of Big Dry Wash on top of the Rim, and the Chilsons returned to Marysville. They found the store had been robbed of all its merchandise in their absence, which was enough to make Emer decide to give up merchandising and return to mining. He traded the Marysville store to L. P. Nash for a nearby mine called the Golden Wonder. However, it was soon evident the mine would not feed his large family. Jesse, the eighth child, had been born in 1884.
Emer and his older sons worked in the mines as far away as Bisbee, as well as working at nearby ranches. They also began raising some cattle of their own, the beginning of an illustrious future in cattle ranching. The family now based itself in Payson, but in 1891 Emer died leaving Margaret Ann with six children.
Lillie and Guy had preceded their father in death.
Later in her retirement she would say, "I have had all my six children near me all these years, though they are all married. They are the flower of my life and I love to be with them. I feel they are worth all the work and hard struggles of the early years. My sons are well known and are prominent cattlemen of northern Gila County."
Indeed they were. The Chilson family developed a number of ranches in the Rim country, and added much to the local lore as they intermarried with other pioneer families.
Margaret's later years read like a real-estate business as she and her sons parlayed their holdings. The "home place" became known as the NB Ranch, at the mouth of Pine Creek on the East Verde. She sold that to Guy Barkdoll for $400 and kept a room there for herself until her sons "Boss and Charlie traded cattle to Bill McDonald for the old Burch place." That ranch included today's Payson Golf Course and north toward Burch Mesa.
Leaving the NB Ranch, Margaret moved to the town of Payson, living at first in the Hilligas house, next to the Lone Pine Hotel. Later she "proved up" on the Burch ranch, meaning she obtained a patent on the land, placing it in her own name.
Later she traded that ranch to her son-in-law Guy Barkdoll (Irene's husband) for property south of Main Street. In addition Guy paid cash to Charlie for his interest in the Burch place. Margaret's son, Jesse, built a house for his mother and himself at 703 W. Main, "saying he would never marry."
But he did, falling in love with local teacher Lena Chipman. He built a house next door to his mother's (705 W. Main) where he lived until his death from cancer. Margaret Ann had remarried and became "Grandma Platt." She died in 1941 at the age of 90.