More Stories Of The East Verde River



We continue our travels down that East Verde River, having already come over 13 miles from the headwaters at General Springs on the Mogollon Rim.

We have arrived at Highway 87, where it crosses the river between Payson and Pine. This has always been a busy crossing, because as one can readily observe, Sycamore Creek flows into the river from the northwest and has cut a passage through the surrounding mountain. It is the obvious place for the crossing of a major trail.

As we have seen, John Holder brought his family and a large herd of Angora goats to establish homesteads upriver from this place. He was followed by his brothers Willis and Sydney about that same time.

Sydney and his family settled in the canyon just north of the crossing, along Sycamore Creek. That name is one of Arizona's most popular place names, since sycamore trees often grow along the mountain washes, so one must be careful to distinguish where a given Sycamore Creek is located.

In 1900, Sydney's wife Carrie died, as did their 4-month-old baby, Olive. They were buried near the ranch house, and the graves remain visible from the highway, surrounded by a white picket fence.

Also that year, another event occurred to increase the activity at the East Verde crossing. William Craig, who had claimed the Grand Prize Mine on Webber Creek in 1883, brought George A. Randall from Denver to be the mine superintendent. A year later, his wife and two daughters joined him, one of the daughters was a little girl named Julia Randall. She would eventually become the Payson area's most famous teacher.

Among Randall's responsibilities was to oversee the building of a smelter at the crossing to process ore hauled down from the mine. One can still find slag from the small smelter just upstream from today's highway bridge.

Just north of the mouth of Sycamore Creek on a small flat, a boarding house and cabins for mine workers and their families were erected. Here is where Julia Randall and her family lived for several years until the mine closed in 1908 and the Randall family moved to Payson. There, George became Payson's Justice of the Peace.

The mine remained dormant, except for sporadic efforts by some of the local residents, until the Great Depression made working it worth the effort. Throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s, it was sold several times and today only ruins and filled mine shafts can be found along Webber Creek. The smelter was dismantled.

In 1907, the National Forest Service developed an administrative site near the mine's boarding house, on Sycamore Creek near the crossing. This was abandoned in 1914, and the area converted to a public campground. Upon exploration, the hiker today can find deteriorating concrete picnic tables in the area. The Crossing remains a much-trafficked place, for it not only carries all the vehicles on Highway 87, but also is the turnoff for the community of East Verde Estates.

In the 1890s, while settlers were clustering along the East Verde River, the Tonto Apache people were drifting back to their homelands from the San Carlos Reservation. The military had given up control of the reservation and civilian agents were less restrictive of Indian mobility. Among the birthplaces of the Payson area Apache bands was this area below the crossing, named East Verde Estates in modern times. An extended family of about 50 Tontos returned to this location. Their matriarch had the English name of Delia Cabbelechia, which few settlers could pronounce so they called her Dee-lee Chapman.

The nearby Holder families began hiring the Tontos as goat herders and ranch workers, and in turn the Apaches traded at the Angora store just north of the crossing.

When George Randall came to work for the Grand Prize mine, he used his position to negotiate between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribe, helping gain recognition for the Indian settlement. The government then set aside 92.67 acres of the East Verde River camp for the Tonto Apaches, called The Indian Allotment.

It was given ostensibly to compensate them for their men who had served as Army scouts during the campaigns of the 1870s and 1880s. Since the Apache culture is matriarchal, title to the land was put in the name of their spokesperson Delia Chapman.

However, employment opportunities were opening up after 1905 at Roosevelt Dam, and many of the Tonto men left to work there as well as building the road up Tonto Basin that is today's Highway 188.

Payson pioneer Lena Chilson remembered seeing Delia at Roosevelt on their way home from Globe.

"She was so tickled to see me," said Lena, who was one of the ladies for whom Delia did washing. After the completion of the dam, the Apaches migrated to wherever they could find work, in the mines, on ranches, and many of them settling in Payson on Indian Hill.

During the depression of the 1930s, employment was so scarce some of the Tontos returned to San Carlos and Middle Verde, where they had relatives. Delia sold her title to the land for $500, and it began to be settled by White families. In 1943 Roy Blevins secured a homestead claim, and the area was developed as a settlement.

Next Week: Davie Gowan mines along the East Verde.

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