Theresa Boardman Was The Only Rim Nurse -- Part 1



The Boardman family left an indelible mark on the growing town of Payson.

J. W. and Mary Boardman built the first rock store at the corner of Main and the old Pine Road. Their sons Bill and Guy carried on the mercantile business in Payson well into the middle of the 20th century.

It was Bill Boardman's wife, Theresa, who brought comfort and healing to countless Rim Country settlers.

Theresa Haley had come from Globe as a bride after receiving her training as a nurse.

Harry Brown freighted her furniture here from Mesa, a 12-day trip in a wagon pulled by eight horses.

She recalled that they called the freighter "Whispering Harry." It was a local joke, because he cursed his teams so loudly as they came up Oxbow Hill, it could be heard clear into town. But it also meant, everyone knew when Harry's freight wagon was getting near.

Theresa Boardman arrived in Payson in 1912, the same year as Dr. Christian Risser, the area's first resident physician.

Almost immediately she became his nurse-assistant. For the next 40 years she played a key role in caring for the sick throughout the Rim country. Not only did she assist Dr. Risser, often going to a far-flung ranch where she cared for patients through their crises, but when the doctor was out of town she became the only medical help available.

Dr. Risser died in 1933, and Boardman said "There was a big funeral, and not a dry eye was in sight. You know something is wrong when cowboys cry. We just thought our town was going to die too."

After that there was no physician to take Dr. Risser's place, and, according to the Rim Country History, "for many years (Theresa Boardman) was the sole medical help for many of the area citizens."

Many were the nights a loud knocking came to the Boardman's front door on Frontier Street, calling her out into all kinds of weather for help.

The most frightening times were when epidemics swept the countryside.

"Oh boy," she said, "I'll never forget when the smallpox broke out. If that had been black smallpox there wouldn't have been enough live ones to bury the dead. Then we had scarlet fever. Billy (her husband) went down, grown men went down with scarlet fever. Doctor said it was a miracle he lived."

In addition to complicated child births and the onset of diseases, she told of fights, drunken cowboys, and shootings.

Sometimes after confronting what she called "wild men" it was so upsetting she would have to go home and hibernate for several days. But in retrospect she said in retirement, "It was great. When you look back on it all, it was fun."

Boardman consistently refused any remuneration for her services, except on one occasion. In her own words, "I went out with Doc one time and when we got home he said, ‘How much do they owe you?' I said, ‘Doctor, they don't owe me nothing. They ain't even going to be able to pay you, and you're the one that's needed here.' I never charged them for whatever I done. I couldn't. I wouldn't think of such a thing. They didn't have the money. The only money that I ever accepted was when that guy at the Oxbow Mine had to amputate his thumb. So I had to sign the papers because that went in to the Industrial Commission. My name was on it; they had to pay me. I got $10. I took it and didn't feel a bit guilty."

Boardman made sure that her family store was stocked with home remedies, which were a major source of medicine for the isolated Rim country.

"We had castor oil, Doan's Pills and Lydia Pinkhams," she said.

Then there was bootleg whiskey. She admitted that there were times she resorted to Payson bootleg to help needy patients.

This product actually kept Payson economically alive during the days of prohibition, a time when the bottom had dropped out of cattle prices.

One summer the Harrison and two Boardman families took a holiday in La Jolla, Calif. While there, someone found out they were from Payson and said, "You folks make the finest whiskey in America." The ladies were quick to assure him their families were not bootleggers.

The fellow said, "Maybe not, but we all know about Payson Dew." The Rim country visitors could not help but feel a little pride.

In spite of the demands on her as a nurse, Boardman remained active in community affairs. She became the first treasurer of the newly organized Payson Womans Club and their project of establishing the town's first public library.

When she arrived in 1912 the community Christmas Tree celebration was already a tradition, and she took an active part in preparing the annual sacks of fruit and candy, then delivering them to those who were unable to attend.

She participated in pie baking and making potato salad for the summer's 4th of July free barbecue feast, and each August she was an eager spectator of the rodeo.

"In the street," she exclaimed. "Right on Main Street. Down went some of the posts and under the porches, and oh, brother! It was grand. I've seen Babe Lockwood and Babe Haught tie calves right on that street. Those girls! That's the truth. They'd throw that big weight, and boy they didn't get up. And Ruby Hilligas, Ruby too had part in it."

(To be continued)

From the transcription of an oral history interview taken by Ira and Margaret Murphy, the date of which is unknown.

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