E.C. Conway Shares Some Cowboy Tales



While gathering information about the history of the Payson Rodeo for a book we are writing, Jayne and I have covered a lot of country, talked to a lot of old-timers, and done some extensive research.

Of the old-timers we have talked to, 86-year-old Edward Charles "E.C." Conway, stands apart as a personality and as a source of otherwise forgotten information.

Dale and Lorraine Cline of Tonto Basin also are an invaluable source of the history of the lower Tonto country. And Lorraine packs a great picnic lunch.

Sunday March 28, 2004, Jayne and I left Payson headed for Greenback Valley in the Sierra Anchas. We stopped in lower Tonto Basin at the home of Dale and Lorraine Cline and picked up Lorraine who went with us to Greenback where we visited with E.C. Conway.

It was a special trip because Jayne and I hadn't been there for many years, and it is where my great-great-great-grandfather, David Harer, settled in 1874. (David Harer is E.C.'s great-grandfather).

As we left the home of Dale and Lorraine, we headed east on the dirt road that led to Greenback. Both sides of the road were choked with cholla so thick that a person would have been hard put to walk off the road. This was part of the Cline cattle allotment and I commented on how hard it must be to work cattle in country like that. Lorraine assured us that it was, and then told us, "It wasn't always like this. There was a range con (Forest Service range management man) here a few years ago. He told Dale that if he would chain the cholla (uproot the cactus by pulling a chain secured between two Caterpillar tractors) that the Forest Service would burn them.

"We chained all of this lower country and uprooted the cholla. It turned black and was ready to burn, but we had a new range con by then and he wouldn't burn the cholla, so it grew back thicker than it was before."

As we left the cholla-covered lowlands and climbed into higher country, the cholla gave way to cedar trees and oak-browse. We dipped into a wide, shallow canyon about four miles from Greenback and Lorraine told us, "This is the old Sprowl Place. Doc Cline was killed right here. He had ridden into that little grove of oaks after a wild cow. Doc had his rope down and he was riding a green (young, unbroken) horse. When the horse came out the other end of the grove, Doc was hung up in his rope and the horse was dragging him, running scared. The horse turned up the canyon when he came out of the trees. Jake Randall was the first to see the wreck and tried to rope Doc's horse, but couldn't catch him. Steve Cline (Doc's son), who was on the ridge above the road, rode down to try to stop the horse. They met where the road crosses the canyon and Steve shot the horse, but it was too late for Doc. The date of this incident and Benjamin Baker "Doc" Cline's death was April 14, 1958. Doc was the only son of George and Roxie Cline.

Later that day, E.C. told us, "I pulled the rope off Doc's foot. It was a freak accident. Ordinarily the boot would have been jerked off and Doc wouldn't have been dragged, but the loop in Doc's rope had made a figure-eight around his spur and the toe of his boot and was drawn down tight, so it couldn't pull loose."

We topped a ridge and looked down into the fertile Greenback Valley. A spring-fed pond at the upper end of the valley was the source of irrigation water that was ditched across the meadows lower down. This was the pond that Fred Conway defended from the forest circus.

E.C. Conway led us to an outside table under the shade of a tree and surrounded by chairs. A friendly pup I judged to be about 8 months old had his head in my lap as soon as I was seated. E.C., who began to fiddle with a strand of hay bale twine that was tied to the table, called the dog to him. He promptly threw a half-hitch around the dog's muzzle and held him secured there. He reached down and petted the dog assuring him everything was fine.

I flipped on our tape recorder to record and Jayne asked E.C. to talk about the Payson Rodeo. He laughed some and said, "Well, it has changed some in my time." He reached down to reassure the pup again, then told us a few rodeo stories.

All during the first story, E.C. would reach to pet the pup -- always just before the twitch on his nose caused the dog to go into panic mode. Just when it seemed that the dog could take it no longer, E.C. released him. The pup went over to lie down under the tree and didn't bother anyone again. Without saying a word to the pup and by seemingly playing a meaningless game with him, E.C. taught the little dog a lesson proving -- to me at least -- that no one understands animals like an old cowboy.

"Tell Jinx and Jayne about the old Sprowl Place," Lorraine, said to E.C.

"Well, Bill Sprowl just squatted there. He brought in some fruit trees, planted about 40 acres and built a house. He had a nice little place started. He didn't get along with the Indians though and one thing led to another. A bunch of Indians came by his place, probably had mischief on their minds. Anyhow, Sprowl was hid out up on the hillside and he shot one of those Apaches. That Indian crawled up the sand wash and got away, but he died of blood poisoning down at Walnut, about half way back to Punkin Center from here. The Indians told my dad (Ed Conway) that they were going to kill Sprowl, so Dad went down and told Bill about it. He said, ‘I'm just telling you what the Indians told me. You can take it for what it's worth, but if you stay here they will kill you.'

"Bill said that he wasn't going to leave. He would kill every Indian in the country if he had to, but they weren't going to run him off his place.

"Dad went back to see about him a few days later, though, and he was gone. He had packed his mules and high-tailed-it out of there.

"He moved to down near Sunflower by the old mercury mine and lived there for a while."

I asked E.C. where they used to drive their sale cattle and he told us, "The first drive that I went on was to Phoenix. I was just a kid. After that we took them to Radium (near Wheatfields) to the railroad there. I remember that sometimes the train would whistle and stampede the cattle right back over the top of us." He laughed a little and shook his head. "Cattle aren't scared of a whistle like they used to be. I think it is because the jets fly over here low all the time. Hell, they scare me! Anyhow, the cows are used to the jets and don't even look up when they fly over. I think that is why they don't pay no mind to a train whistle."

As E.C.'s chickens walked up to us to get snacks of bread, I asked him if they had any trouble crossing the Salt River on those cattle drives to Wheatfields.

"No, not much. They would swim that river pretty good once we got them started. We crossed them where Poison Springs Canyon comes into the Salt, then drove them out up that canyon. We threw in with some other outfits --eorge and Oscar Cline -- on those drives and sometimes we would have 700 head. It usually took about five days to get the cattle there."

E.C. looked across the meadow. "I only got eight cows now, but I got nine calves. One had twins," he said. "See that old cow there? She is blind, but she does all right in the meadow on that good grass.

"I got a good horse and I still ride some. I have to find a rock to stand on so I can get on him." He laughed.

More next week on our trip to Greenback.

Jinx Pyle and Jayne Peace own Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. Their books, "Looking Through the Smoke," "Blue Fox -- War to the Knife!" and "History of Gisela, Arizona," can be found at Jackalope Books, Sue Malinski's Western Village, East Verde Trading Company and the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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