Back When Rye Was Wild, Part 1



Anyone coming to the Rim country from the south must come through Rye, a settlement today marked by highway advertisements, a perpetual yard sale, the world's largest assemblage of bicycles, and a steak house. But there is more to Rye than meets the eye.

The earliest trek through Rye recorded by Euro-Americans was a citizen army chasing Tonto Apaches in 1864, led by King Woolsey.

They had come up the East Verde River from the Verde Valley, and then followed a drainage down to the main body of Tonto Creek. They gave Tonto Creek its name on that expedition and called Rye Creek the"north fork of the Tonto."

However, military detachments invading the Tonto Basin after that often followed that same route, and began writing the name "Wild Rye Creek" in their reports. The name was given because of the luxuriant rye grasses and the wild rush of water during a heavy rain.

As early as 1879, on the Smith Map, the creek is named"Wild Rye." During those decades most of the Rim country was a blank area on the government maps.

Not far to the east of Rye, in the Sierra Ancha, the feared Tonto war chief Delshay had his stronghold.

It would be the 1880s before White settlers dared to make Rye a homestead.

In 1881 a family from California who wanted to settle in central Arizona established a store at Rye. They were J. W. and Mary Boardman. Their location was carefully chosen, because Rye was a natural junction for traffic. Freighters and travelers coming to and from the Tonto Basin passed here, following the trail along the creek bed. Settlers at the gold camp of Marysville and the Mormon farms of Mazatzal City also passed through here.

As Payson developed, the early road went around Ox Bow Hill, following Rye Creek. Later several wagon roads developed a short cut over the Ox Bow Hill, but Rye was where they began their ascent. It was a logical place for a merchant.

The year after the Boardman's opened their store a very exciting event took place. Two units of Cavalry rendezvoused at Rye during the pursuit of renegade Apaches in July 1882.

Al Sieber and his Indian scouts were in the group that came from Ft. McDowell to Rye where they met up with Captain Chaffee and another party of Indian scouts under Lt. George Morgan, who had come over from Fort Whipple via Camp Verde.

It was night when they arrived, and the two groups made camp. While supper was cooking, a wounded man named Sigsbe stumbled into the camp from out of the Sierra Ancha. He and his brothers had been attacked at their ranch. Their horses had been stolen and he was wounded in the shoulder. His brother and a cowhand had been killed in the raid, though the wounded Sigsbe held off the Indians from his barricaded cabin until they left.

The scouts and Cavalry now headed back to Sigsbe's ranch where they located the mutilated bodies of the ranchers, but the Apaches were long gone.

In 1884 the mail route between Payson and Globe went through Rye, and the Boardman's petitioned for a post office. On Nov. 14, 1884 Mary Boardman became its first postmistress. The name had been shortened from Wild Rye to simply Rye, at the request of the postmaster general in Washington D.C., for reasons of efficiency.

1884 was a good year for ranchers. The Arizona Silver Belt in Globe reported on May 24, "Salt River and Tonto Valleys never looked so attractive as they do at present; every where Mother Earth is carpeted with green. The frequent rains have rendered irrigation unnecessary and some of the finest fields of barley have received no water except what fell from the heavens ... The round ups on Salt River, Tonto and Wild Rye creek are over and the large number of calves were branded.

Feed is unusually good and cattle are in prime condition ... Messrs.

Holmes and Hamill returned from a visit to Wild Rye on Tuesday. They express themselves as highly pleased with that section as a stock country. At Watkins ranch they feasted on new potatoes, milk and golden butter."

In the summer of 1887 the Boardman's ended their mercantile business in Rye and moved to Payson where they began what would be a long and civic-minded residency for their family. Samuel J. Peters took over the Rye business and became its postmaster over the following two years.

In the summer of 1890 Sam A. Haught Jr. and his wife, Dagmar, filed a claim for a homestead in Rye, and instituted the H-Bar brand that they had brought with them from Texas five years earlier. Their first home had been on the East Verde at the mouth of Dude Creek, where Haught planned to open a store when the proposed railroad came down the East Verde canyon. When it became obvious that would not happen, the family moved to Rye. In August of 1892 tragedy struck the family when four of their small children died from diphtheria, contracted from an itinerant cowboy who used their water ladle.

They had opened a store and post office in their home, and Haught served as postmaster until the fall of 1905 when he was elected to the 23rd Arizona Territorial Legislature, serving in the House. At that point his wife Dagmar took over as postmistress.

By this time S. A. Haught Jr. had become something of a cattle baron on the ranch that can still be seen just west of the highway as one descends Ox Bow Hill. He had 10,000 head of cattle and 1,000 brood mares, and his range had been extended to include the Bar-T-Bar ranch on Deer Creek and Sunflower Valley.

(To be continued. Next week, a national economic depression hits the Rim country, and causes big changes at Rye.)

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