The plan to build a replica of Zane Grey's hunting lodge in Payson's Green Valley Park suggests local residents brush up on their knowledge about the world-famous author who created the genre of cowboy westerns.
It was in the late summer of 1918 when Zane Grey and his hunting party rode into Payson and camped on Main Street. They had spent a day at the Natural Bridge, and then made a four-and-a-half-hour ride to Payson, coming in on the old Pine Road -- today's McLane. He later reflected in his book "Tales of Lonely Trails," "Payson appeared to be an old hamlet, retaining many frontier characteristics such as old board and stone houses with high fronts, hitching posts and pumps on sidewalks, and one street so wide that it resembled a Mexican plaza. Payson contained two stores, where I hoped to buy a rifle, and hoped in vain."
Grey had lost his rifle along the trail, but "a dark skinned rider named Copple" came by their camp and in appreciation for having read Grey's books, he "lent me his .30 Government Winchester, and gave me several boxes of ammunition. Also he presented me with a cowhide lasso."
Copple turned out to be part Indian, and by invitation joined the hunting party, which soon moved on toward Tonto Creek.
Theresa Boardman, wife of a Main Street merchant and nurse for Payson's Dr. Risser, remembered that time in a taped interview with Ira Murphy.
"Never forget the first time that outfit came in. Oh-ooh. They came from Flag, down over the mountain. Lee Doyle (Al's son) brought them in. He had a kind of an outfit, you know, for taking people. See, he brought Zane Grey in and the first night they camped right there, back of where Lizzie Holder's is, that whole thing in there where they spread camp and stayed. Oh, they stayed about two or three days there. Oh boy! Here I'd sit on the porch and take in the deals. There was quite a crew. There must have been 20 in the bunch."
The day they went on to Tonto Creek and met Babe Haught and his sons, they were escorted to a base camp at the top of the Rim. The Haughts called the place Beaver Canyon, and assured Zane Grey the big game hunting would be excellent.
Again in the book "Tales of Lonely Trails," the author describes his response to the scenery.
"At last, we surmounted the rim, from which I saw a scene that defied words. It was different from any I had seen before. Black timber as far as eye could see! Then I saw a vast bowl enclosed by dim mountain ranges, with a rolling floor of forested ridges and dark lines I knew to be canyons. For wild rugged beauty, I had not seen its equal."
Zane Grey was captivated, and before the fall season had blended into winter, he made arrangements to return the next year. Hunting season in Arizona began the first of October, and for the next several years, Grey would arrive at least a week early to set up as base camp in Beaver Canyon.
Al Doyle and his son, Lee, would pack in everything needed, coming over the trail that had been General George Crook's military road between Fort Verde and Fort Apache. Then there was more packing to do for the hunting excursions out from camp.
Remembering those days, Richard Haught told me in a 1988 interview, "There was about 17 of ‘em in his party. Lee Doyle had Zane Grey's horses, and of course we had ours and the pack outfit. We had to pack ‘em in there. He'd pack everything in the world, and I think it took about 30 head to pack him. They hunted bear and lion, and some deer and turkey..."
Sometimes Grey and his party would stay a week at the forest camp, but the rest of the time Zane with his wife (when she was along) and their son, Romer, would stay with the A. L. Haughts in their dogtrot cabin. The Haught's boy, Richard, was two years older than Romer, and the two boys would go hunting with their fathers for the food they wanted to cook each day.
Zane Grey always called "Babe" Haught Lee, using his middle name. The two of them hit it off from the beginning, and the families of Lee and his brother Henry Haught furnished the characters and lifestyle for the books that were soon to flow from Grey's pen. They also introduced him to neighboring old timers, like Elam Boles, from whom he heard the intriguing story of the Pleasant Valley War. That deadly feud, beginning in 1887, forced almost everyone in the region to choose up sides. Zane Grey knew he would have to write about that, and by 1922 he had published his novel "To The Last Man."
During his third season in the Rim country, Arizona was in the grip of a drought. The dry conditions made hunting very poor and Grey had given up finding a bear. Instead he sat on the Haught's front porch and sketched the outline for his next novel. On an October afternoon, 13-year-old Richard shot and killed a large brown bear during his four mile walk home from the Myrtle School. He usually carried a gun when he went to school for this very reason. The country was alive with dangerous animals.
Zane Grey looked up to see the horse on which the Haught girls rode to school running for the barn, without riders. One of the older Haught boys, Ollie, caught the horse and went racing back along the trail to see what had happened. He found his brother and sisters gathered around the carcass of the bear, and they packed it back to the ranch. Zane Grey leaped up to meet them enviously, saying, "Here I am sitting up on the porch writing on my book, and let a little 13-year-old boy go out and kill a bear!"
That teenager, later grown to become the caretaker for Zane Grey's cabin, looked back on the times with their famous guest.
"He was all right," Richard told me. "He was about five foot nine, and treated us all right with good pay and other things. But he was kind of hard to get acquainted with. Didn't want to bother him when he'd be thinkin' about sketchin' down something. Ya better stay away from him then..."
(To be continued, Zane Grey buys land and builds a cabin.)