Conflicting Stories Echo Through Leonard Canyon



While you are driving along the Rim Road (Forest Road 300) this summer, you might like to think about the different ways local folks can tell the same story.

I am thinking about an interesting place along that road, on the border between the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. You will find it on your forest map, and right there is a sign that marks "Leonard Canyon."

Will Barnes' book Arizona Place Names says this canyon was named for W. B.Leonard, "a sheepman who in the mid-1870s had a trading post at Ganado. His last home for several years was near Navajo Springs."

This reference is hard to understand, for it places the namesake so many miles out of the region.

Well-known, retired columnist James E. Cook says he knows "a likelier story" for the naming of Leonard Canyon.

Cook grew up on the Rim, and his father once was a fire watch ranger at General Springs, where the family lived in the cabin that still stands.

Cook recalls knowing the female fire dispatcher at the old Long Valley Ranger Station. Her name was Leolin Oldham, and she was the daughter of Dr. Leonard, who practiced in Payson. She had scattered her father's ashes in that canyon near Knoll Lake.

Cook recounts the story he heard from her, that Dr. Joseph Leonard (before he was a doctor) and his brother, Jim, had come from Chicago and established a cabin on the knoll that overlooks today's Knoll Lake.

After he became a practicing physician, he married Annabella Fuller of Pine, whom he had met while here earlier.

He took up a medical practice in Payson, especially working for the mines in the area.

In those days, before there were roads, patients had to be visited on horseback or by buggy.

After he died, the family spread his ashes in the area he loved so much.

The drainage that leads toward the Rim came to be called Leonard Canyon.

About 500 yards west of the border between the two national forests, if you look very carefully, on the south side of the road you will find a grave site. It is raised in a square of rock, because bedrock in the area prevented digging very deep. It is hard to see, even though immediately beside the road, because the rock of which it is made blends perfectly with its surroundings.

Here lies G. D. Bantz, and his story also carried a couple of conflicting tales.

Payson District Ranger Fred W. Croxen answered a 1968 query of a Mr. Morrison from the Forest Service in the following way:

(Correspondence at the Rim Country Museum research library.) "G. D. Bantz was a trapper and burro man. As the story goes, he had summered in the high country and was leaving for the Tonto Basin for the winter. A storm was coming up and he was in a hurry to get off the Rim and to a warmer climate.

"He was driving his burros, with packs on them. To hurry one of them he punched it with the butt of his shotgun. Unfortunately it discharged and the load hit his stomach.

"The burros continued on down the trail. When Mr. Bantz failed to come with them, a party, or parties, went up the trail and found him.

"I don't know whether he had died or not. He was buried where he fell.

"And that's the story as it was told to me by Lewis Pyle of Payson."

The Croxen story was ensconced in the archives of the Coconino National Forest. Croxen had spelled the name "Boutz" although on the gravestone it is "Bantz," and the forestry site file states, "The present head-stone on the Bantz grave did not exist at the time of death. From 1956 to 1966 a wooden cross was on the grave. The cross, suffering from poor repair, completely disappeared in the late 60s. Sometime from 1968 to 1973 the rock headstone appeared containing the information on the old wooden cross. It is not known who chiseled the rock headstone."

That headstone, pecked out with a nail, reads simply, "G.D. Bantz died Oct. 6, 1896." That was a Sunday.

The closest I can come to finding such a name in the public records is Gottlieb Benz who signed the Gila County Great Register in September 1894, born in Switzerland and naturalized in 1890.

Benz signed in at the Tonto precinct, but the same also signed in August of 1896 and 1898. So that cannot be the same man unless the date on the headstone is wrong.

The cowboys who buried him could have had his name wrong, and those who created the later stone might have gotten the wrong year.

Ah, the mystery of it!

The grave is on an old trail that was built by Anderson Lee "Babe" Haught and his brother. It leads around the west side of the Tonto Fish Hatchery, and to the old Haught homesteads along Tonto Creek.

This Babe Haught Trail was used by the settlers to pack crops, cattle,and supplies in and out of Winslow from under the Rim. It is steep and rocky, but reasonable that the old trapper Bantz was using it to come off the Rim.

When I asked the late Richard Haught, son of A. L. Babe Haught, about the Bantz story he had a different story to tell.

"It was said he had a wagon and come around there and some wild turkeys jumped up, and he grabbed his gun out of the wagon and it shot him."

I asked who found his body. Richard answered, "I don't know. Whoever was in the wagon, whoever it was."

I pressed him, "Did you know anything about him as a person?" Haught answered, "No, I didn't know a thing."

Comparing the two tales, I am more willing to believe as most authentic the Lewis Pyle rendition as told by Croxen.

In any case, enjoy your exploration of the Rim Road at Leonard Canyon. I challenge you to find old man Bantz's grave.

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