Back When Rye Was Wild, Part 2



The Arizona State Guide, published by the WPA Writer's Program and first published in 1940, says, "RYE and the Rye Creek region is a scattered population that formerly constituted an important Gila County election precinct known as "Wild Rye." ... This was a crossing point for expeditions of every sort -- soldiers, bandits, feudists, and Indians. It was neutral territory and a refuge for belligerents of the Graham-Tewksbury feud. John Gilleland, one of the first men wounded, rode 30 miles to Rye, where a resident squeezed out the bullet after making an incision with a razor. Gilleland recovered."

Samuel Ache Haught Jr. had built a small cattle empire here, operating out of his H-Bar ranch. When he was elected to the 1905 Territorial Legislature, his family was still reeling from the death of their four children from diphtheria. It was during this time that rumors of infidelity surfaced, causing his troubled marriage to Dagmarto to deteriorate even more.


The Haught Ranch family cemetery is where the small victims of a turn-of the century diphtheria epidemic are buried.

When a severe depression descended upon America in 1907 Sam Haught was economically devastated. It was the last straw for their marriage, and Dagmar Haught moved to California.

At that same time the Rye post office was discontinued, and mail had to be picked up at the St. John place on Ox Bow Hill. When the Haught divorce became final in 1909 Sam was further pressed by financial troubles, and he sold the H-Bar Ranch to an absentee owner.

In 1912 a big change took place in the land of Rye. The Chilson brothers, Boss, Jesse, Charlie and John, sold their Sunflower ranch and bought five other ranches in the Rye area. These were the VH,H-Bar and Cross-F brands, as well as a ranch purchased from "Pink" Cole. Cole had originated the Bar-T-Bar brand for his ranch on Deer Creek, and the Chilsons took it over with the land.

The records of patented land show that Rye was about to be the scene of much activity, with several families "proving up" on their homesteads. The Chilson's H-Bar was patented in 1919. Three properties along the road were given land grants, beginning where the Rye store is today and running south to the old Bush Highway at Rye Creek. These homesteads belonged to Juna Portillo (1921), Hiram Carther (1919), and James Harry Brown (1922).

The latter location was an excellent site for a store, where the Bush Highway left Rye Creek and headed up over Ox Bow Hill. Here Polly Brown operated a store for some years before becoming a businesswoman on Payson's Main Street.

By 1932 the Bush Highway was graded along the creek and turned at Rye to climb Ox Bow Hill. In those days Rye was called the "turn around point," because the only way to keep gasoline flowing to the engines of Model T Fords was to back up the hill. Gasoline was fed to the engines by gravity.

This was also a time when Rye was experiencing one of its last cattle drives. There were few fences and the ranchers would join together for their roundup. Herds from Gisela, Sunflower, Rye, Round Valley, and the Doll Baby Ranch would be gathered here in one large herd for the drive to market. Heading for the railhead in either Winslow or Holbrook, the cowboys would bring the cattle around Ox Bow Hill and down Payson's Main Street. Payson Forest Ranger Clyde Moose told what he witnessed in the late 1930s at the Bar-T-Bar ranch. "I stood in the back of my pickup and used the cab for a desk, and counted over 1,000 head (of cattle). I told the young trail boss, ‘This is the last herd of any size that will ever be driven through the town of Payson ...'"

Enter the Connolly family. John Richard Connolly (called Dick) got out of the military service in 1955. His parents and the boys, Tom, Dick and Harry, had built and operated several stores on Payson's Main Street in the 1940s. Now to branch out on their own, the twin brothers Dick and Tom built a store and restaurant in Rye on ten acres purchased from Charlie Chilson. They also had a service station.

Dick Connolly said of Charlie Chilson (in a May 2002 interview), "He was one of the greatest guys that ever lived. His boys and his grandson are over there (at the H-Bar Ranch)." The H-Bar Ranch had changed hands several times, but Johnny Chilson, Charlie's grandson, had bought the ranch back from Dan Dunn, the recent owner.

Right after Dick married Dora Lee Anderson, who was the Payson Rodeo Queen, the young Connollys moved into the new Rye establishment.

It was January 1956 and the Bee Line highway (spelled with two words in those days) had just been realigned but was not yet paved, so the Connollys' had plenty of flat tires to fix at their service station.

The 1957 issue of Tonto Trails refers to Connollys' store at Rye, saying, "Today there is an ever growing collection of historical saddles, guns, buggies and other items typical to the west to remind you of the rugged pioneers that first pushed their way through the Tonto Country. With the new Bee Line Highway we now cover in hours what took days for these early pioneers to cover. Today the new store, Connollys' at Rye, located 10 miles south of Payson at the foot of Ox Bow Hill, offers everything for the traveler. Spacious dining room, excellent foods, cold beer and soft drinks, modern service station, as well as a stupendous view and year around pleasant temperature. All have gone together to make Rye the most restful and cheerful stop on the Bee Line Highway. Operated by Tom, Dick and Harry."

However, in 1958 Dick and Dora Lee Connolly went to Phoenix "to make a living." They kept some of the land in Rye, and moved one of the Cinnabar Mine houses from Slate Creek onto the property just south of the store and restaurant. The county yard was located there, and the building, one of the last to be saved when the Bee Line realignment went through, had been moved to Rye for storage. Dick's brother was working for the county, and the boys bought the old house that was just sitting there abandoned. It was pulled on to Connolly's property with a tractor. Their dad, Harry Connolly, lived there until he died in 1984, and his ashes were scattered over the field in Rye, as were the ashes of their oldest brother, Harry (nicknamed Pete), who had died.

From the earliest days of Rim country settlement Rye has been a crossroads, a turn around, a meeting place, the location of brave pioneer ranchers, and a place to stop for a meal and refreshment.

Today the music of a country dance band and the smell of barbecue still tingles the air from the store the Connolly's built. Travelers note that the place has an expanding population in the footsteps of the Boardmans, Haughts and Connollys.

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