Hunting Was A Way Of Life In Rim Country

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The hunting season is fast approaching in Rim country, and eager sports enthusiasts will be fanning out through the forests and canyons hoping to catch their quarry.

One of the attractions to this territory for the early settlers was the abundance of game. Right in Payson the deer and turkey would gather every morning in the meadow along the American Gulch, paralleling today's Main Street.

One day in 1878, Charlie Clark and his party of prospectors from the Valley came through here on their way to the gold field in Leadville, Colo. They camped where today's golf course is located, near the only other white settlers, Bill Burch and John Hook. They found the hunting such easy pickings that they decided to lay over and make jerky of the venison they were bagging.

The next day they followed the stream west (toward today's sanitary district recycling plant) and within a few hours had shot 10 deer. They hung the animals up to bleed, and returned to camp to get their pack animals. In the process they found "remarkably rich gold-bearing float rock." In fact, there was so much of it, they decided to stay in Green Valley and stake out some claims.

Charlie Clark wrote in his diary, "The whole world is heading for Leadville, and Leadville cannot possibly have anything better to show than we have here."

The same kind of reporting was done in the journals of the enlisted men in the Army as they fought the Indian War. "Had a fine bath, built a shade for the day. Had breakfast -- boiled venison, coffee, and bread. Some of the boys have already started to hunt."

Not only big game abounded, but there were also large coveys of quail, doves and rabbits.

In those days the large Merriam elk were throughout the mountains. A bull would dress out at 600 pounds. By 1895 those elk had all but disappeared from over-kill, though the pioneers thought for awhile they had just migrated and would return. They never did.

However, years later a different breed of elk was imported, and has thrived to make the Rim country once again Elk country.

From the beginning of the white settlements, the cattle industry was the primary base of the local economy. With range cattle there immediately came the danger of mountain lions. In fact, the threat was so great to the economy, the government made killing lions official, giving a large enough bounty for them that many local settlers made their living that way.

Folklore is as plentiful as the game surrounding many Rim country ranches and the number of lion and bear that could be bagged in a short time.

Settlers depended on the plentiful deer, elk, bear, turkey, quail, squirrel and rabbit to supply much of their daily diet. Some of the families used the skins for items of clothing, and many of the families entered the business of trapping.

Coyotes, raccoon, bobcats, fox and ringtails were caught and skinned, the hides then shipped to eastern markets.

Yet another vocation arose from the plentiful Rim country game. Many of the ranchers became guides, and took city folk on hunting expeditions.

Ira Murphy told this story about Bill Colcord's son Frank. He was often the guide for professional people, public officials and businessmen from as far away as Boston. Murphy writes,"To Frank they were all ‘dudes.' (He) would often show the hunter the game and the excited hunter would empty his gun without scoring a hit. After the animal was seemingly gone, Frank would take his 30-30 and bring it down with one shot. The proud hunter wanted the gun that killed his deer and would take the old 30-30 and give Colcord his high-priced special made rifle. Frank had a closet full of these fine guns and each was traded for a 30-30 that cost Frank $10. Few realized that the important thing was the man behind the gun that told the story."

Perhaps the Rim country's most famous hunter was Zane Grey, who often celebrated the thrill of the hunt and the chase in his stories. For 11 hunting seasons the world-renown author headquartered at Anderson Lee "Babe" Haught's place near Tonto Creek, and hunted when he wasn't gathering oral histories from the pioneer families. It was around the evening campfires that Zane Grey heard the stories that he wrote into the characters and plots of his novels.

Philosopher that he was, hunting was more than just a pastime for Grey. It drew on the human instinct and took man back to his primitive condition, pitting the wild animal's will to survive against the hunter's perseverance. The hunt was a life and death struggle.

In a story titled "Arizona Bear" (published in The Country Gentleman, Dec. 18, 1920) he muses, "Hunting is a savage, primordial instinct inherited from our ancestors. It goes back through all the ages of man, and farther still -- to the age when man was not man ... We cannot escape our inheritance. Civilization is merely a veneer, a thin-skinned polish over the savage and crude nature ... Stealing through the forest or along the mountain slope, eyes roving, ears sensitive to all vibrations of the air, nose keen as that of a hound, hands tight on a deadly rifle, we unconsciously go back. We go back to the primitive, to the savage state of man."

Thus, Zane Grey theorized, that this reversion to man's tendency to kill was a healthy therapy even for those who are normally repulsed by violence; that such a return to the primitive was beneficial both to the hunter and the society. At the same time it strengthened and invigorated the body.

Soon the Rim country will be swarming again with "savages" seeking a return to the primitive, and not only will they be invigorated, but so will the local economy.

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