We are hovering over the East Verde River, following its course from the headwaters on the Mogollon Rim to where it joins the Verde River.
We have now arrived at Flowing Springs, located a mile above the old mail trail crossing, today's State Route 87, from Payson to Pine.
Here a major tributary of the East Verde River gushed from the nearby mountain, and as one might guess there were Indian camps located at this site long before White settlers arrived. Several Tonto Apache tribal members referred to this in a series of 1971 oral histories. Matriarch Ola Smith Casey said, "I was told by my mother that there was no White people in that valley when the Indians lived in that place, up there where they call Flowing Springs now."
Another, Eva Ingle, said, "From stories, I hear tell that they used to live in two places, down there where people live now at East Verde Park, and up above where the Flowing Springs now is. They used to tell me that they had a lot of Indian dances and games that went on there ..." The late Melton "Chief" Campbell said that the people in the upper camp, at Flowing Springs, were different than those in the lower camp, East Verde Park. Each of those groups was a separate clan, and those who originated at Flowing Springs called it "a place of white spring water." There were two other clans that originated in the Payson vicinity, and these four clans together formed what became the Tonto Apache people. Campbell commented, "You might say that they are true blood of the Rim Country. The true Tonto Apache originated in this area."
By the late 1870s, the Apaches were nearly all confined to the San Carlos reservation, and White settlers began to claim the land. The first American name associated with Flowing Springs is Henry Sidle. (His name is popularly spelled Siddles, and his ranch came to be known by local families as Sidella, but in the Great Register, where voters signed in, he spelled his own name "Sidle.")
Little is known about him, except he was born in 1835 in Pennsylvania and found his way west. Locating this copious spring along the river, he built his cabin and began a farm. However, in the spring of 1879 local settlers ran for cover at the report of another Apache raiding party. They were probably Tontos, knowing this country well enough to head for obscure ranch sites, and Sidle's place was not left out.
George Hance of Green Valley reported to the Prescott Miner that Henry Sidle's place had been burned, ranchers shot at and cattle driven off. Those same raiders killed eight of the Houston brothers' horses on the Houston Mesa, and a few days later ambushed two riders near Baker's Butte on the Rim, killing one of them. Sidle rebuilt his Flowing Springs house, but also had Paul Vogel build a poured-mud house on Main Street in Green Valley (Payson) which would not burn and could double as a place of refuge for local residents and himself. That mud house still stands as Payson's oldest structure.
During the bloody 1882 outbreak, Sidle and the people of Payson forted up there. It was during that outbreak, which culminated in the Battle of Big Dry Wash, that the Meadows family brought their mortally wounded son and brother,
Henry, to Payson, stopping to rest at Sidle's place on the East Verde.
While they were there, Charlie Meadows wrote a letter to one of his sisters describing the atrocity. It is dated "Sidell Place... July 17, 1882." In it he recounts the death of his father and the wounds of his brothers Henry and John Valentine Meadows. He tells how they put feather beds in the wagons for the wounded and headed down the river.
"At eleven o'clock, the family started for this place under a guard of fourteen well-armed men. The road was rough and the last two miles Henry had to be carried on a litter. At twelve o'clock John's arm was swelling considerably. Henry is resting easy. No surgeon has arrived yet. We will meet one at Green Valley, ten miles from here. We will start as soon as it is cool." At the close of the letter he adds, "P.S. A courier has arrived who says a physician is just behind."
That sounds as though the physician arrived at Flowing Springs to treat the wounded. One month later to the day, Henry Meadows died in Payson, and was the first to be buried, along with his father, in what would become the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.
Presumably Henry Sidle kept his squatter's rights to Flowing springs until he left the area for California, around 1891. It is not clear who was next to occupy the Flowing Springs homestead, except that in the fall of 1896 the John Holder family arrived on the scene. We know they lived in Beaver Valley at first, and in 1900 moved south along the river, closer to the main trail's crossing.
However, Mae Holder Haught said something that sounded as if the Holder's had another house at Flowing Springs. She said, "We lived above East Verde Park. My father had a place, they call it Flowing Springs. We always called it Sidella. He had squatter's rights to about four or five of those places there. Just bought them up... You'd come in and people would have houses and corrals. He'd just buy their improvements. But it hadn't been staked." [Meaning surveyed by the government.] Like many quotes, the meaning depends on how you read it. We know the Holder family moved from Beaver Valley to Angora, just above the crossing, in 1900 right after Mae Holder had been born. She may mean they lived at Angora and in addition "my father had a place, they call it Flowing Springs." It is true the Holders ran goats all up and down this stretch of the river, and did buy the rights to Flowing Springs, which they held until 1905 when the family left for Gisela.
Those rights may have been turned over to John Holder's brother Sidney, who was ranching downstream on Sycamore Creek.
The family that would finally patent the Flowing Springs homestead was that of Arthur and Bessie Neal. Bessie Newnham had come from Michigan to teach school in Arizona outpost towns, and in 1907 began a contract at Gisela. There she met Arthur Neal, who had arrived from Texas with his family in 1891, and they were married in 1908. (Other sources say March 1909.) For a while, Arthur continued to manage his father's ranch in Gisela, but soon they bought the rights for Flowing Springs, "the Sidella place," and moved there.
The Neals ranched at Flowing Springs until 1917, when they "proved up" on the homestead rights and were awarded full title to the land. That same year, they sold the place and moved to Florida to be closer to Bessie's parents.
The following year, they returned to Arizona, and bought a ranch east of Payson near Lion Springs.
(Next week: Lower Sidella and Angora)