Back When Goats Grazed Along The East Verde, Part 3



In 1903 the John Holder family was moving their large herd of Angora goats from the East Verde River to Gisela to take advantage of a new range and a milder winter. However, that same year the administrators for the National Forests came to Gisela and took a census of all cattle and goats on government land. The next year they instituted a charge of ten cents for each range cow and in 1905 raised that to a dollar a cow. At the same time, the government set a deadline for all goats and sheep to be off the range.This action was also spurred by the construction of Roosevelt Dam, at the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River. It was deemed necessary that livestock be reduced on the fragile rangeland, and all goats and sheep were to be removed from the watershed that would form Lake Roosevelt.

One of the early rangers on the Tonto National Forest was local rancher Louis Pyle, who was given the task of informing the sheep and goat owners. He said it went against his grain and was the hardest job he ever had to do. He did not see the conflict between cattle and goats on the range. The goats only ate brush, and in fact cleared land for the grass to grow.

Mae Holder, who would marry Walter Haught and was the mother of Pat Cline (Mrs. Raymond), told how disgusted the family was over this turn of events. They felt unfairly treated, that cattle were allowed to remain while goats were made to leave.The Holder family had to evacuate their goat herds by 1905, and it was the beginning of the end for their business. John's son, Frank went to New Mexico, ahead of the family, to locate suitable range for the goats. By the spring of 1906 John and his sons had moved the goats to an area called The Dallas Plain, about 75 miles from Magdalena, New Mexico.

Sarah stayed behind with the younger children, as did William and Viola (one of John's sons by his first wife). When the family did leave Gisela to join the others in 1908, a young Apache mother tried to get Sarah to take her small child with them. When this little mother, just 15 years old, had returned from the San Carlos Reservation, pregnant by a White man, Sarah Holder had cared for her and was the midwife for the birth.

Had it not been for Mrs. Holder the baby, and perhaps the young mother, would have died. For several years Sarah had helped raise the little one and the Apache girl had said all along, "It's your baby." Now that the family was moving away the Apache mother insisted, "Aren't you going to take your baby?"Sarah knew the trip would be too long and the child should not be separated from its mother, so they refused to take her with them.The separation of Sarah and John during these few years did not bode well for their marriage. It was only when John quit New Mexico and returned to Arizona that Sarah and the children rejoined him. They met him in eastern Arizona, at Sheldon in Greenlee County. There John Holder opened yet another store and post office.

However, John soon was diagnosed with cancer, and surgery performed at nearby Duncan was to no avail. According to Mae Holder Haught, he was simply sewed up and advised to return home to die. John turned the task of postmaster over to his brother Willis, selling him the store in December 1909.Willis and his family had come to Sheldon from the East Verde ranch in about 1902.

By 1912 John's illness had become imminently terminal, and he said he wanted to return to his native Mississippi to die. Sarah did not wish to return with him, and leave so many of her children behind. So at that point John and Sarah decided to end their marriage. Their son Tom later reported, "They always used to fight anyway."

John was 66 years old when he left Arizona, but he did not die until he was 75. At the time of his death, on July 15, 1922, he was in New Orleans. John Holder was buried in Mississippi. After John left in 1912, their older son, Spyas took his mother and the younger children to Kirkland, west of Prescott, where they developed another goat ranch. The next year, in March 1913, Sarah was married to H. D. "Dad" Sheperd, a Kirkland rancher.

"Watt" (Tom) Holder recalls, "I had to start working to help my mother," and he began breaking horses punching cows. In 1919 the Sheperds sold their ranch and moved to Payson, where Dad Sheperd operated a butcher shop. Mae Holder, the youngest of the children, remembered how local Apaches, like Obed Ratbit (or Rabbit) would come in for meat and charge it. Her stepfather would write the bill on the wall of the store, and have the Indians make their mark for a signature. Dad Sheperd died in 1943. Sarah lived alone until she fell and broke her hip. After that she lived with her various children, and died April 15, 1948. She is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

The graves of her daughter, Armenta, and another baby along the East Verde; the graves of Sydney Holder's wife and baby along Sycamore Creek; and 14 Holder graves in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery of Sarah's children, in-laws and extended family recall again the story of hardship and bravery in the settling of the Rim country.

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