The late Richard Haught was the son of Zane Grey's guide, Anderson Lee "Babe" Haught.
In a 1988 interview I had with Richard, he reflected on growing up with Zane Grey as the family houseguest.
"Sometimes we'd have a bonfire out there, and he'd come out and pull up his chair around this fire. He told us that story about the young pitcher; that was him. He told us that whole book."
However, the storytelling usually went the other way, with local settlers and ranchers sharing their experiences with Zane Grey. He wrote a story about the Haught family which was first published as a serial in the "Ladies' Home Journal" and called The Bee Hunter. In 1926 Harpers published it with the title Under the Tonto Rim.
Grey soaked up the beauty around him, hunted daily, and took notes on the settler's tales. This activity did not lend itself to the serious writing of manuscripts. Instead he would sketch the outline of his books and perfect the novels later at his home in California. They included Under the Tonto Rim, Man of the forest, Call of the Canyon, The Mysterious Rider, The Vanishing American, To the Last Man, Arizona Ames, and others.
After several seasons living with the Haught family, Grey decided he wanted property of his own on their beautiful hillside ranch. The view was spectacular, looking down over the folding uplands, and immediately behind rose the escarpment of the Mogollon Rim. One morning in the fall of 1921 he stepped off three acres on the upper part of the Haught ranch and offered to buy it. He said to "Babe" Haught, "This is where I want my lodge, so I can see as the eye can see. This is where I want to write a lot of my books."
Later Grey would expand his land holdings, and purchase more land including the Boles' place on Roberts Mesa. He and Haught made plans for a cabin to be built, and upon returning to California the author sent the rancher a check for $3,500 with orders to see it through. At Haught's suggestion Tom Ezell of Payson was to build the fireplace, and a friend of Zane Grey's from Phoenix, named Barton, was to do the carpenter work. That winter they fenced in the three acres and cleared the area. The posts and cut lumber were taken to Tonto Creek in wagons, and from there the long boards were packed on a string of 10 burros. They made five trips a day hauling the lumber up Tonto Creek along the Haught Trail.
Grey had wanted a log cabin, like Haught's traditional dogtrot cabin. However, they told him they could not cut the trees, peel and season them in time to have the cabin ready for the next hunting season. The author-hunter was intent on having it ready upon his next return and compromised for a house built with green lumber. Grey sent the blueprints from his home, and as the building got under way word went out among the locals that the Haughts were building "a city house." According to Richard this was very embarrassing for pioneers, and the family had to show the blueprints around the community to prove it was a "lodge" and not a city house.
The building project continued through the summer of 1922, and when Zane Grey arrived in late September he saw his completed lodge for the first time. This now became his Arizona headquarters, not only for writing novels but also for planning the filming of them. Hollywood had discovered the potential of Zane Grey's stories early on. However, when he heard that the producers of his films were making more money than he was , Grey formed his own motion picture company, called Zane Grey Productions. This turned out to be more of a headache than it was worth and after three or four productions he bought out his partner and sold the company to Jesse Lasky, which would soon expand to become Paramount Pictures. Paramount made two to five films a year from Grey's books. Other companies were also producing his films. He insisted that the films be as authentic as his books, and by 1920 he was influential enough to force a clause in his contracts that the films had to be made in the actual location of the stories. Thus it was that Arizona's Rim country became the background setting for a number of Grey's movies.
In 1924 Zane Grey leased his Tonto Rim lodge to Paramount for the filming of To The Last Man. When his story, Code of the West, written about the Haught family, was filmed, the production was done in the area. Much of it was in Little Green Valley, the home of the Henry Haught family, and many of the Haught children appeared in the film. A local celebration was held when the film was shown in Payson, at Polly Brown's Elk Hall and Saloon.
When the replica of the Zane Grey cabin is built on the grounds of the Rim Country Museum, films might be in a making once again. Let us hope for generous contributors to the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation.
(To be continued, Zane Grey quits Arizona)