Theresa Boardman Was The Rim's Only Nurse -- Part 2



Theresa Boardman will always be remembered for her special compassion for the Tonto Indian people who struggled against economic and medical difficulties.

The Apaches fondly called her "Cressa."

The Bill Boardman home backed up to the so-called Indian Hill, and they owned all the land from Frontier Street to over the top of the hill on the east side of Pine Road (McLane today). Teacher Julia Randall said that Theresa "used to do quite a bit for the Indians around here." There was the time the Burdette boy was in an auto accident and broke his back. For months Theresa helped the family care for him, bathing and dressing the boy. Finally he was moved to the hospital at San Carlo where he died.

Securing water was a problem for the Tonto settlement on Indian Hill, but the Boardman's pump was always available.

Martha Johnson recalled, "We got our drinking water from Theresa Boardman's pump. (Our families) used to send us down there for cold water after we come home from school about 4:30. And we used to play there until about 5 o'clock. We would run around the tank there. Sometimes we wouldn't hurry home. We'd pretend to fall down and pour the water out so we could go back down and get some more." Theresa was the area's primary midwife, and delivered many of the Tonto Apache babies. Matriarch Ola Smith said she was born on Indian Hill, and that her mother could not deliver normally. It was Theresa Boardman who brought her safely into this world.

Years later in her retirement at the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Theresa received a letter from Paul Burdette, another of the babies she had delivered. He was in the military service at the time, and they had remained friends throughout his growing years. She chuckled to recall his message to her, "I'm glad you are living in a nice rest room."

One time when Dr. Risser was away from town on a mission of mercy, an outbreak of disease hit the Tonto camp. Theresa tried to minister to the families, and she suspected what Dr. Risser confirmed upon his return. It was diphtheria.

Three of the children died, and the doctor said how fortunate it was that no one else caught it. The Tontos burned their houses, and the Boardmans invited them to move from the west side of the Pine Road onto the fenced-in Boardman property on the east side.

Ola Smith said it was in "1947 when we moved from the west location over to the east location. Theresa Boardman told us to move over there. She told me, ‘Because you was born up on that hill.'"

The Boardmans even donated the lumber for the families to build a house there, and told them they could live there as long as they kept it clean.

The old Army Scout, Henry Evans lived over there with his wife, Edna and daughters, Martha (Johnson) and Ola (Casey Smith).

The Burdette family was part of the community too.

Theresa said of the Burdettes, "I think there must be about 20 of them, or more. And they married, and this cousin came and the other cousin. Oh, they must have had cousins coming by the millions. Then another family came and stayed quite awhile. That was Henry and Constance Bread and their children."

The Tontos stayed five years or more, until the Boardmans sold the property to Fred Joy.

He began to develop it for subdivision, and the Tontos were forced to leave. It was then they moved to "The Camp," where the town's event center and rodeo grounds are now located. They next made their community across the highway. That was in 1972. The site was that of their newly granted reservation.

Another mission of Theresa Boardman's with the Tonto Apaches was to see that the children got into the public school.

She told it this way, "Jess Hayes was Superintendent of Schools (for Gila County) while the Tontos were up there on the hill. They wanted to go to school. Well, the people here wasn't going to stand for it. They weren't going to have those kids come to school. So I talked to Jess Hayes about it, and he said, ‘Well, there's no reason, maybe we can work around about it and get them started.' There were three boys that started. So I said, ‘I'll tell you what I can do. I'll feed them. In my woodshed is a pipe with water. I'll see that they take baths when they go to school, and see their heads are clean.' Jess Hayes said he would send a county nurse to Payson off and on to check on them (for head lice) ‘if we get them in.' So that's how we finally got them started to school. The people kicked about it quite a bit."

True to his word, Jess Hayes sent a nurse to Payson once a month who examined the children and treated any infestation of lice that was needed.

It needs to be said that lice were also a problem for Anglo miners coming into town. Thus one place name south of Payson is "Lousy Gulch."

Theresa Boardman recalled the difficult years of her career. She said, "I think during those years from 1912 to 1920 it was really the years that were pretty tough."

She said those were years the Forest Service put the livestock off the forest and ranching activity had hard times.

"Then we had the depression, then we had the war, and it was tough. I'm telling you, everybody just held their head above water. But they all lived through it."

The Boardmans sold their store in 1945, but remained in Payson until 1962, when they moved to a home in Globe. Just before the move, Bill and Theresa Boardman celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Oct. 27 at a reception in the Payson Elks Lodge.

Billy died at his Globe home Aug. 6, 1965, and Theresa died at the Beatitudes retirement village in Phoenix May 10, 1976. She had just turned 91 years old. They are both buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

Sources: Quotes from Tonto Apaches come from transcriptions of several oral histories taken by Nicklas P. Houser in 1970 and 1971. The extensive collection of oral histories taken by Dr. Houser and Ira Murphy were graciously transcribed by Margaret Furtkamp.

Theresa could not remember the names of some of her Tonto patients, but we know one was Melton Campbell, son of the leader of the tribe, who later became the prime mover in obtaining a reservation. It was in the Payson school that his classmates began calling him "Chief," and the title stuck.

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