When Charlie Henderson arrived in Payson in February 1948, he'd ride at least two hours on horseback from L.D. Anderson's ranch in Little Green Valley where he worked as a cowboy, to take his wife, Ruth, dancing at the Ox Bow Saloon. And he wasn't the only cattleman galloping miles through the Rim country to do the two-step.
"It was 21 miles straight across Hell's Gate Trail to Young. Cowboys used to ride to Young, dance all night and come back the next day," Henderson said. "Out where (Highway) 87 is now, there wasn't even a road. Everything was right there by the Ox Bow."
Then there was the Winchester on Main Street, and when that burned down in the late 1990s, he and his wife cut a rug at the Elks Lodge.
For Henderson, the old cowboy era is over. He misses the days when he went to town and every face was familiar.
Henderson said he first came to Arizona in 1939 for the money. He started ranching in the early 1930s in Texas and New Mexico, but the Great Depression caused foreclosures and the money dried up. Seeking better wages, Henderson migrated West, and settled in Seligman, Ariz., where he herded 30,000 cattle and 1,200 horses.
Henderson's way of life was chronicled in Mildred Walker Perner's book, "Life with Old-Time Cowboys." In the book, Henderson is pictured driving a wagon pulled by four Sorrell mules. On the journey, he was the cook at a time when cooks earned more than the cowboys, and nothing sent cowboys away faster than bad cooking.
Henderson's gritty life on the range changed when the law required all men between 18 and 45 to register for the Selective Service.
"In about 1940 everyone was supposed to sign up for a year's worth of military training," he said.
But heavy snowfall delayed Henderson's notice to report for duty and his trail boss went to Prescott and obtained a six-month deferment for Henderson.
The cowboy became a soldier on Aug. 3, 1941. He had just finished boot camp at Camp Callan in San Diego, Calif. when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. While stationed at Camp Callan, Henderson saw the one-time flight of the Spruce Goose.
"I was even out there when old Howard Hughes flew his plane in the bay there." Henderson recalled. "He probably didn't get more than 300 feet high, but he did come out of the water. I got to see that."
After a tour of duty in the Phillipines, and an honorable discharge from the Marines as staff sergeant, the cowboy from Arizona came back to Seligman. He knew Ruth Walker before going overseas, but their eight-year age difference led to nothing more than a passing acquaintance. By the time he returned from war in 1946, Ruth had grown into a woman, and they married on Oct. 17, 1947.
In Seligman, when the bank sold off all the cattle and the ranches closed, Henderson's boss told him about a job running a small herd of 350 cattle in Little Green Valley. So Henderson, packed up his new wife, Ruth, and her son from a previous marriage, and moved to the Rim country.
Henderson finds the changes over the past 50 years unsettling.
"I liked Payson a lot better then than I do now," he said.
Henderson remembers when the road from Payson to Phoenix was dirt. His friend, Bob Chambers, instrumental in paving Highway 87, thought improving the road was progress. "He'd ask my opinion," Henderson said, "and I'd tell him, ‘You're ruining Payson.'"
Henderson, now in his 90s, was the grand marshall for the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo in 1999.