"Rim country pioneer women had the ultimate 24/7 job," Sharesse Von Strauss said. "They were on-call all the time."
As she talked, Von Strauss, director of the Northern Gila County Historical Society, supervised the installation of a new exhibit honoring those women at the Rim Country Museum. The exhibit, which opens Saturday with free admission to the museum, is called "Women of the Rim -- the Spirit of Tenacity."
"While women were working ranches, cooking, raising children, they were also teachers ... and they started things like the fiddle contest," Von Strauss said.
The title of the exhibit became obvious early-on to those doing the research.
"In reading about these women, one word came to the fore -- ‘tenacity,'" Von Strauss said. "Through births, deaths, famines, droughts, raids and other aspects of life on the Rim, they remained and left a deep imprint in establishing this community."
At a preview tour of the new exhibit Thursday, Von Strauss pointed out some of its highlights. Included are two early saddles -- a sidesaddle and a conventional Western saddle.
"Women came from the East with sidesaddles," she said, climbing aboard to demonstrate its impracticality. "These aren't real positive to ride in this terrain, so you have to hold on for dear life."
Dismounting and climbing into the western saddle, Von Strauss extolled its virtues.
"This works in our terrain," she said. "The seat is tight and molded to the horse, and your saddle will not slide back."
Fashion changed to address the needs of pioneer women who were now riding "astride."
"Women would wear a front skirt over their pants so they could still be ‘proper' and ride," Von Strauss said. "You could wear just a skirt and ride sidesaddle, but you couldn't do that and ride astride without being considered totally obscene in the 1890s."
And while it was, for the most part, a rough-and-tumble existence, the exhibit features a collection of the few feminine luxury items they managed to bring with them.
"This is what little bit they were able to rescue of their past, of their heritage from the East that they brought West," Von Strauss said.
Included is a curling iron, a crimping iron, hat pins, a stereoscope for entertainment, and even a perfume bottle.
The exhibit also features photographs and stories of nine exceptional women through four periods in Payson's history. They include Edith Peace, Beryl Goodfellow, Ola Young, Cece Gibson and Ola Franklin Wilbanks Lazear.
"Women of the Rim -- the Spirit of Tenacity" will continue through April 30. A special booksigning event featuring the editors of "The Pioneer Women of Gila County" will be held Feb. 15.
While admission is free Saturday, normal admission fees are $3 for adults, $2.50 for seniors 55 and over, $2 for students 12-17, and free for children 11 and under. The museum at Green Valley Park is open from noon to 4 p.m.