A Sister Helped, And Found Love



Her brothers had left Katherine Houston in California when they pioneered a ranch in Star Valley.

The Houstons had settled here in 1878 at the urging of their sister, Fanny, who was already in the Rim country and married to N. B. Chilson, the brother of Emer Chilson.

They were very successful working from their Star Valley headquarters, running cattle in the Houston Pocket and raising a fine string of horses on the Houston Mesa.

With a new ranch house and the daily chores, the need for a woman's housekeeping was severely felt by the brothers. They sent back to Visalia for the 16-year-old Katherine, and she arrived in the Rim country in 1885.

It was just two years later that the range war broke out between the Graham and Tewksbury factions in Pleasant Valley.

On several occasions, culprits in the bloody ambushes were brought to Payson for preliminary hearings. These were occasions of public entertainment, and Katherine, with her brothers, attended some of them. There, she observed a young defense attorney named John W. Wentworth.

He was successful in exonerating a number of his clients, and the smooth talk of this Payson professional man impressed her greatly. So much so, she asked her brothers to escort her to the Saturday night dance held at his establishment, called Tammany Hall.

The two-story building on the corner of the Globe Road and Main Street was owned and operated by the self-styled attorney who was rapidly establishing himself in Payson. The saloon, with its card tables, was on the first floor and the dance hall was upstairs.

As the Houston brothers brought their sister through, heading for the dance, Wentworth spotted the pert young woman and immediately left his poker game for the dance. He introduced himself and asked her to dance, but she promptly refused. His abrupt manner was hardly respectable in her opinion.

"Why not?" he blurted out.

She calmly answered, "Because I do not choose to dance with a man in shirt sleeves."

Wentworth persisted, "Will you waltz with me if I get a coat?"

She indicated her reluctance, but said she probably would.

The suitor raced to his room at the back of the saloon, only to find that all of his coats had been borrowed by others encountering a similar problem with the girls.

In desperation, he grabbed his heavy overcoat, shook out the dust, put it on, and raced back to the party. Perspiring and cloaked in the heavy winter garment he claimed his dance. Afterward she refused to let him see her home, but John Wentworth claimed he was certain that night she was the one he would marry.

He began a more traditional courtship, over the opposition of the brothers who were not keen on this "shyster lawyer."

He drank too much, and furthermore, the Houston boys did not fancy losing their cook and housekeeper.

Another reason was more ominous. Just before Katherine had come to Arizona, Wentworth was defending a cowboy charged with stealing one of the Houston calves.

Justice of the Peace Bill Burch heard the case, held in a makeshift courtroom in Wentworth's dance hall. It was not looking good for the defense, and with that Wentworth asked for a recess inviting the court and the prosecution witnesses downstairs for drinks on the house. They were served a potent whiskey called "Red Cap" and soon everyone's thinking process was befuddled.

Judge Burch mistakenly sat in a keg of water used for washing, thinking it was a chair. Everyone roared with laughter, and by the time he reconvened court Wentworth moved for dismissal of the case. It was granted. Such shenanigans lingered in the memories of the Houston brothers.

However, Wentworth's persistence and apparent sincerity gradually won Katherine. She promised to marry him if he would quit drinking, to which he honestly said he could not give her an assurance. However, he did promise never to become a drunkard, and eventually she yielded.

They were married Oct.1, 1890. John was 32 and Katherine was 22.

After the wedding, a spirited dance was held, accompanied by many toasts and several political speeches. At the time, Wentworth was running for the office of District Attorney. Katherine allowed this use of her wedding day because she already had ambitions for her husband's future.

J. W., as he was called, lost that election, but went on to win the D.A. office in 1894.

That same year, Katherine's brother Sam was killed while rounding up horses in a Rim country canyon. His pistol was in his waistband and apparently became tangled in his rope and discharged, fatally wounding him. When his horse returned to the ranch riderless Katherine happened to be there. The cowboys were out on the range, but rock mason Joe Ezell was working at the place.

Katherine and Joe trailed the horse to find her brother's body, and brought it back to be buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.

After Sam's death, Katherine and John Wentworth sold the Houston ranch.

Andrew Houston had already gone to Tempe where he raised racehorses, which he brought to Payson each summer for the races. William Houston had become a schoolteacher. Both of those brothers retired to the Pioneers' Home in Prescott and are buried there.

During their tenure in Payson, Katherine's husband discovered the Grand Prize Mine, taught school, continued to own and operate Tammany Hall, and served on the Payson School Board.

He was elected chief clerk of the lower house for Arizona's 15th Territorial Legislature the year before they were married, and was influential in getting the Rim country included in Gila County, cut out of Yavapai County.

When John became county district attorney, he and Katherine moved to Globe, and there he went on to serve as clerk of the Superior Court and probate judge. She stood by him during 64 years of marriage.

John Wentworth died with Katherine at his side on May 15, 1954. He was 96. She died 10 years later at the same age. They are buried in the Globe Cemetery.

This story has several versions. A newspaper article of the time reports that when Sam's horse came into camp, a Fuller boy trailed it back and found Houston still alive to tell what happened. Namely, that the six-shooter in his waistband went off while he was roping.

Lena Chilson reported other folklore, obviously motivated by prejudice. She said he was killed by Mormons who wanted to get the Houston ranch, and they rigged it to look like an accident.

The location of Sam's death also has several versions. Fred Croxen wrote that Sam Houston was killed near the old Merritt Place, on the head of the East Verde, by the accidental discharge of his six-shooter, which cut the large artery in his leg causing him to bleed to death. Raymond Cline and others say the accident happened in a box canyon near the head of Houston Creek, under the Diamond Point.

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