Polly Hicks Brown Was The Belle Of The Ball

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The following story is from A Cultural History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County and Their Descendants, Volume 1:

Polly Hicks Brown, the sixth child of Bellflower Carter (B.C.) and Laura Clara Powell Hicks, was born on a ranch in Waco, Texas, on July 8, 1883.

The family decided to leave their Texas home later when Polly's father had a disagreement, which resulted in the murder of a sheep man. B.C. was acquitted, but the Hicks family thought it best to move out of that part of the country.

The family traveled to Arizona in two railroad cars -- one for their livestock and one for the family and their belongings. Most of the cattle were longhorns, but some were the first Herefords introduced to Arizona. They settled near Casa Grande and started a ranch.

The Hicks family experienced the desert heat of Arizona and decided to relocate to the Potato Patch, in the Pinal Mountains. This move was short-lived because the land was not conducive to farming, so they moved to Bloody Tanks, near Miami, Ariz.

After a visit from Geronimo, they moved to Wheatfields, 12 miles northwest of Globe. The Hicks family established one of the finest ranches in the state at Wheatfields, and the ranch was thriving when Polly's father, B.C., got "itchy feet" and left for his native home of Tennessee. Mrs. Hicks refused to leave, so she and the eight children, who were getting old enough to help, stayed on and continued working the ranch.

The work was hard and Polly helped her mother with the garden and household chores and she also could ride and rope with the best of them. As she grew older, Polly also became the "Belle of the Ball" at the local dances. Polly's mother always said, "Here comes my little Polly, with a quick step and a mate to it."

J. Harry Brown worked in the first Territorial Legislature as an employee in the House of Representatives, in Prescott. He worked on the paper in Flagstaff. When he turned 21, he got a contract to carry the mail from Camp Verde to Young, horseback.

After he finished his mail contract, he bought a ranch at Round Valley, near Payson. He was living there when he and Polly were married. At that time, he had two teams of horses and wagons and had gone into the freighting business.

Polly was working as a waitress at the Hackberry Inn, which is under Roosevelt Lake, now. She was a very popular and beautiful young lady. She was a blue-eyed, strawberry blonde. She met Harry while she was working at this job. They were married in November 1903, in Safford.

Harry had a few cattle, and Polly had a few. Together they had a herd of about 25 head. Polly's brand was Slash-E and Harry's was 7Y, brands they used all their lives.

Harry continued his freighting business and the couple made the Round Valley ranch their headquarters, but they had to move to wherever the work was.

Roosevelt Dam was being built, so the couple moved there and soon son, Harry Jr., was born in 1904. The family then moved to Globe where Harry freighted ore from the Gibson Mine in Miami to the Old Dominion Smelter. Here, Harry had a tragic accident where his pelvis was crushed severely when a loaded ore wagon ran over him.

The doctor in Globe said that Harry probably wouldn't live, much less walk again. Polly's Scotch-English and Dutch-Irish blood wouldn't hear of this, and as soon as Harry was stabilized enough to travel, Polly moved the family back to Round Valley where she began therapy on Harry's legs a couple of hours each day, while still tending to the many necessary household, garden and ranch tasks. Polly's perseverance had Harry walking within a year.

Harry never gained full use of his legs, but he and Polly worked together in a special way to share the burden and Polly became the leader of the household. Harry would still save the first and last dances for Polly at the celebrations they enjoyed attending.

While living in Round Valley, two daughters were born: Laura May in 1908, and Katie Alleen in 1910.

Harry rented the Sixteen-To-One Saloon and Gambling Hall, and he ran it for awhile. Polly stayed on at the ranch to keep things going.

Times were tough, but good times were had also. Polly took first place at the Chicago World's Fair with a quilt she featured with the pattern of a Hereford bull, and she always had the prettiest dolls at the top of the Community Christmas Tree for her "little Brown" girls.

Polly eventually moved to Payson and the Brown family rented a little house. Here, she supplemented the income with her sewing skills. She made beautiful wedding dresses for some of the local girls. When she married Harry, she made her own wedding dress, and her granddaughter, Lorna Lee, wore it at her own wedding 43 years later.

Polly and Harry moved into the Sixteen-To-One and Polly operated a restaurant there from 1917-1918. By this time, Harry was well enough to be back in the freighting business. The Browns saved enough money to start buying ranches on Rye Creek, the first being the 64 Ranch.

In September of 1918, the Browns bought the Herron Hotel. They had sold the ranch in Round Valley to Joe and Dollie Lazear to make the $3,000 down payment on the hotel. The Browns hadn't been in the hotel two months when it burned to the ground. Polly went to bed for five days to recover from the shock of the ordeal.

After the fire, Polly and Harry bought and moved back into the Sixteen-To-One and remodeled it into a dining room, kitchen, and living quarters downstairs, and hotel rooms upstairs.

The Browns eventually homesteaded the 7Y (Harry's brand) Ranch on Rye Creek and this is where they lived for awhile. The girls rode horseback to school in Gisela. While living on the 7Y, the Sixteen-To-One burned to the ground. They were in the process of selling the business and were riding to town to collect the money and arrived to see the smoldering ashes of the second hotel.

Polly and Harry bought other ranches on Rye Creek, including the Holder Ranch, the old Hardt Ranch and the Carther Ranch. They also had bought the Rye Store, and while living there, adversity struck again. Polly lost her ring finger in a freakish accident while chasing a ham-stealing dog. As she ran through the door, her wedding ring caught on the doorframe and cut the finger off. Using one of the old-time remedies, she put coal oil on as an antiseptic. The care of the amputee also required trips to Globe every other day for new dressings until the hand was well on its way to healing.

One of Polly and Harry's goals was to see that their daughters had a good education. This was finally attained through Polly's pursuit of odd jobs here and there, and also with the help of Harry Jr.'s job working in the mines. Soon all the children were married and gone from the home to make lives of their own. In October of 1935, while still living at the Rye Store, Polly lost her husband of 32 years to a fatal stroke, resulting in the truck rolling off the road and down the side of the hill, approximately five miles south of the Old Felton Store (now Jake's Corner). Harry was buried on a small knoll, facing east, in the Brown Family Cemetery at Rye Creek.

Little Polly refused to leave the ranch. She learned to drive and continued Harry's job of freighting supplies and gasoline. She paid off a $5,000 debt and continued to operate her ranches efficiently.

When she could no longer ride a horse for any length of time because of varicose veins, Polly moved to Payson. She sold the ranches and cattle to her son, Harry Jr., and his wife, Salena.

Polly purchased the Elks Bar in 1949, the Rim View Motel in about 1952, and later the Cowboy Corral, all of which she ran by herself.

The year 1960, saw Polly tending to every mother's nightmare and the seemingly order of life -- she buried her only son, James Harry Brown Jr.

In about 1964, Polly's streak of "hotel luck" hit again with a disastrous fire at the Rim View Motel.

Polly's resilient pioneer spirit pulled her through yet another crisis.

Tough little Polly Hicks Brown, filled with pioneer pride to the brim of her slight five-foot frame, remains a true example of the stamina, diversity, and perseverance required of the pioneer women who helped build our country. From having babies 100 miles from a hospital, to the rough riding and roping of ranch life to applying gentle and skillful hands to an award-winning quilt, as well as administering entrepreneurial skills and also being the belle of the ball, this lady did it all and then some.

In August 1966, at the age of 83, Polly had the prestigious honor of reigning over the 82nd Annual Payson Rodeo. Polly had attended and participated in the August Doin's for more than 60 years.

This was a highlight in her life and she proudly played her part, riding in the parade and making appearances at the rodeo. She was interviewed and written up in magazines and newspapers all over the country.

The full and fruitful life of Polly Hicks Brown came to a close on Dec. 10, 1966 after suffering a stroke. She was laid to rest in the Brown Family Cemetery at Rye Creek beside her husband.

On Oct. 14, 1989, Polly was inducted, posthumously, into the Arizona Hall of Fame. The 1989 Arizona Hall of Fame Awards were presented to Polly and five other outstanding Arizona women. The Award states, "In Recognition of Her Lifetime of Outstanding Service and Contribution to Arizona's Development and Progress. May her Many Achievements be an Inspiration to All who Follow."

by Lorna Lee Orsburn, granddaughter

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