Residents of Payson and Arizona look forward to the completion of fund-raising for rebuilding the Zane Grey cabin at Green Valley Park.
The appeal of the famous author's western stories, set here in the Rim country, will draw fans from all over America and the world. They come even now, long after the original lodge burned in the Dude Fire of 1990.
Here is a destination for those who have become familiar with the drama and beauty of Arizona's Western heritage through the Zane Grey novels.
It is interesting to note that all this attention and excitement over Zane Grey was created after only 11 years of his visits to these mountains. In spite of his love for the area and its stories, there came a time when he literally "shook the dust off his feet" and vowed never to return.
It happened in this manner: The year was 1929, and the famous author arrived for the usual fall season of hunting. This time he brought with him a party of production workers to film the bear hunt, and he was paying them weekly wages.
Unbeknown to him, the state government had changed the opening dates of the hunting season from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1. Grey could not keep that large crew on his payroll for a month and do nothing, so he did his best to persuade the Game Warden to issue him a special license out of season. Ironically the officer was Lee Haught's older brother, but political expediency would not move him.
The request was refused. The renowned hunter argued his value to the state in public relations and the fact he had personally made a large investment in Arizona's economy. Still nothing budged the bureaucracy. In fact, they countered by accusing him of being "a game hog" and shooting everything in sight.
With his integrity questioned and his emotions hurt, Zane Grey vowed he would never return to Arizona. In fact, he never did, except to venture over the border at Boulder Dam and once at the Utah border while researching later projects.
The year before, in 1928, Zane Grey's guide and packer A.L. "Babe" Haught had died. His son, Richard, filled his father's shoes as guide in 1928.
In discussing this incident, Richard said, "The Game Department was right. If they had let him in they'd have to open it up to everybody. I wish he would have stayed though. I'd have had a job."
The negative comments by Arizona's Game and Fish people about Zane Grey being a wanton hunter were ill founded.
"The Game Department thought that Zane Grey was a game-hog, but I know better," Haught said. "He'd kill a bear, that's it. A deer, no more. A couple of turkeys that was his. Then somebody come by there and they saw a couple of bear and two or three deer hanging up, and a bunch of turkeys. And they said Zane Grey was a-killin' everything in the country. They didn't realize there was seventeen of them was licensed."
In fact, Grey was an avid environmentalist. He loved the wilderness in its primitive state, though like the rest of us he wanted the solitude it offered and resented the increasing traffic of tourists.
"Babe" Haught affirmed Grey could hit a target in practice, but he was not a good shot with game.
"I found out why that was. He didn't want to kill ‘em," Richard Haught said.
That seems to be affirmed in Grey's own words, writing in "Tales of Lonely Trails" about his son Romer's first successful hunt during that 1918 trip over the Rim from Flagstaff. The lad had brought down a squirrel with a .20 gauge shotgun.
"How proud he was of that gray squirrel! I suffered a pang to see the boy so radiant, so full of fire at the killing of a beautiful creature of the woods," Grey said.
During one of his bear hunts, his party orphaned two bear cubs. Zane Grey took them back to the ranch, and over the following seasons raised them in a pen. They were named Teddy and Topsy. Richard Haught's wife Winona tells of the time Richard was a boy and got locked in the toilet with Topsy.
It was grown bear, and she got out of the pen. Richard called for his younger sister, Myrtle, to help.
"The bear ran in the outhouse, so Richard told her, says, `You hold the door and I'll go in and get her.' So he went in there and Myrtle locked the door on him, put the latch on it, and then ran," Winona said. "And then he had to kick the latch off to get out of there."
Richard added, "And the bear was gettin' mean in there. I come out with the bear."
Later Zane Grey gave up hunting for ethical reasons. He had the voice of a prophet in his writings about America's vanishing wilderness, and his books for young readers instilled the importance of caring for pristine areas.
Zane Grey suffered a stoke in 1937 and was diagnosed with coronary thrombosis. He refused to follow doctor's orders to curtail his strenuous lifestyle, and although he recovered from the stroke, he died in 1939 of a massive heart attack at his home in California. He was 67 years old.
(To be continued. NEXT: The hunting lodge becomes a national attraction)