Woman Made Impact On Rim Country Education



Ethel Shaw was born in Kirksville, Mo., of English heritage. Her father came to America to get away from the steel industry in England. In the U.S. he became a builder and was the builder of the Nurses Dormitory in Kirksville, the home of osteopathy.

Ethel suffered severely with asthma and after teaching in Missouri schools for several years, was told she must move to a drier climate. She would not survive another winter in the damp, severe climate of her native state. In Arizona she recovered her health and never suffered with asthma again.


Ethel Shaw Owens, 1909

Frank Owens was a native Arizonan. He was born in Pinedale, south of Snowflake, at what is now the Brimhall Ranch. Frank and his father were re-roofing the little rock schoolhouse that is on the property, getting it ready for the coming school year.

Up came a black buggy with his friend, Jim Thomas, school board president, seated beside him was a young lady, peering out from under a saucy, wide-brimmed hat. She looked so pretty and dainty, Frank was a little hesitant and did not come off his perch up on the rafters. After their introduction, some small talk about school, etc., she left to go home. She was boarding at the Thomas home and Jim's wife, Mary Ann, became her best friend.

After the buggy departed, Frank turned to his father and said, "That is my GIRL. She is for me."

And his father replied, "Good luck to you, son. Catch her if you can."

He did and that was the planting of the Frank Owens family of Pinedale in 1908. They homesteaded an area north of Pinedale and were blessed with three sons and one daughter, all about two years apart in age.

The children were born without a doctor, at home; however, Aunt Lottie Brewer, the local midwife officiated at the births. Hospitals were unknown and homebirths were routine for all women.

Life was hard, as it was for all early pioneers -- breaking the raw ground for dry farming, hauling water for domestic and animal use, caring for the children, etc. -- both had to be Jacks and Jills of all trades.

Ethel was left alone on the ranch many times with the children, while Frank ran freight from Holbrook to Fort Apache in the White Mountains. A trip usually took a week. Neighbor boys, from two miles away, would come and help with the chores and tend the animals.

The most traumatic event was a November evening when their second son, Keith, 2 years and 2 months of age, strayed from the wagon where his dad was getting some lumber. He was not found for three nights and two days. It turned out he survived without injury. He remembered playing with a neighbor's tiger house cat, and was found 12 miles from where he started. Surely the hand of God guided this babe in the woods that cold November.

What heartache his mother must have experienced while she waited at home for word. There was no telephone or fast message, but the three shots from a gun to signal he was found alive.

When their baby girl was 4 years old, Ethel started teaching again in Pinedale. The following year she became principal of Show Low School, where she taught for only one year. Frank and daughter, Kathlyn, would spend their time at home on the ranch, about 20 miles away.

Through the years, the Owens family could be called educational migrants for they moved from small school to small school where the four children were needed to help establish a school district. There had to be eight children to start a school, but it could continue with less. From Show Low they moved to Linden, Alpine, then to Gordon Canyon under the Tonto Rim, where a little, one-room, log schoolhouse was located.

The school in Gordon Canyon held sessions from April through November. The winters were too severe. All the students, but the Owens family, traveled more than a mile on foot each way. One student, Frank Gillette of Young, rode all the way over the mountains horseback on Monday and home again alone on Friday. Quite an experience for a first-grader.

The winter of 1926 was a severe one, and the Owens family had to use the school for their main living quarters, since the house supplied by the school was not warm enough. The little log house was their kitchen.

All groceries, mail and supplies had to be brought from Payson or Winslow where they went about every two weeks to shop, weather permitting. The catalogs were the store windows and after ordering, one had to wait for the next trip to Payson for the mail and concrete evidence the order was filled. Under the best of conditions, it took three hours to travel the 36 miles to Payson via Christopher Creek/Kohl's Ranch over Doubtful Hill and others just as challenging. If one did not have a flat, break an axle, get stuck in the mud or snowed-in on the roadway, he just might get home before midnight.

We have mental pictures of Dad making a good windbreak, stretching up a canvas on the opposite side of the fire, repairing the old Ford with wire or the leather tongue from a shoe. For he said he could repair the car if he had a good piece of leather or a piece of baling wire, and he had to prove it several times.

The eldest son, Maurice, had graduated from the eighth grade before the family left Alpine, so it was necessary for him to attend high school in Payson. He boarded with Grandpa and Grandma Pyle, who were great, loving, foster parents to him. Their warm, loving, caring home made "home away from home" bearable for him and they were loved and respected as only grandparents could be, for he had no others. (Jinx thinks this is his great grandparents, Elwood and Sarah.)

In Principal D.W. Davis, Maurice found a friend, supporter, and someone he could relate to and admire. Under his tutelage, he learned to play the steel guitar and enjoyed school greatly.

The second winter (fall of 1927) the Owens family moved to Payson for four months. The children had to attend school and again they did not get to have a vacation between school terms. They did not realize how much schooling they were getting. Life in a little town was new, exciting, interesting with many different activities, a variety of friends and teachers beside "Mom" for the first time. Their good foundation in the three "Rs" helped them melt into the curriculum and activities of Payson Grade School, which was composed of two board buildings on the land area where the Presbyterian Church now stands. They moved back to Gordon Canyon for the summer school beginning in April and ending in September of 1928. The following fall they purchased the Dr. Christian Risser home and moved to Payson permanently.

Mrs. Owens was employed to teach the third and fourth grades, but she also taught fifth grade in one room and sometimes music and art for the entire school. She was a creative person and some of the items her students made are around today.

That year (1928), the first epidemic of illness swept through Payson. Measles hit most of the students and some were quite ill. Mrs. Owens ran home at recess and noon to check on her four children for Mr. Owens was out of town working for the Forest Service. The Owens children were all in bed at once and had to have the blinds pulled to protect their eyes. This was before antibiotics or wonder drugs were discovered. None of the town children had been inoculated. All the children recovered, except Maurice, the eldest son. He contracted "sleeping sickness" after the measles (I understand it is a rather rare complication) and died in April. Dr. Risser was not sure what the trouble was and sent them to Phoenix for more intensive care and hospitalization. We will never forget the sadness at their leaving and the gratitude felt toward Bill Haley and Jim Deming for volunteering to drive Mr. and Mrs. Owens and Maurice to Phoenix. That was true Christian pioneer spirit, people helping people. Those living have not forgotten.

This was a sad time for the family and Payson also, for there had been few deaths of children, due to illness. Maurice was a junior in high school, a mechanical genius whose creativity was stopped by a lingering illness that was not understood.

Keith, Kermeth (Kerm) and Kathlyn were without their parents for the first time in their lives for more than a weekend. They were sad, bewildered and lonely, but will always remember the kindness of Paysonites.

Kathlyn remembers Miss Kathy Moser (teacher) taking her home with her to the Boss Chilson residence for a weekend; the good food, invitations, etc. of others while they were alone. A month is quite a long time to be without parents, but they kept the home fires burning (literally) and were delighted to see their Mom several weeks before Mr. Owens came home.

Ivan Wade, student from Payson, and later principal of the school recently remarked how he and others always wanted Maurice on their science team, etc. for they knew he could solve any problem the best. Ivan considered Maurice his staunchest friend and loaned him his bicycle (the first one in Payson) for overnight. He called it "true unselfish friendship."

The Depression of the 1930s hit Payson. The one bank closed, many people were hurt, especially teachers whose salaries were cut in half and the vouchers could not be cashed, but did earn 6 percent interest.

All the family graduated from Payson High School, and Keith and Bert Belluzzi were the first boys to attend Arizona State Teacher College for higher education. That year, Kermeth and several other boys, Rowe Gibson and Johnnie Hays joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was better to have something to do, board and keep, and a few dollars, and they were developing building skills.

The graduating class of 1934 was composed of three girls, Helen Lavender, Kathlyn Owens and Vivian Ezell. However, the lack of number did not diminish their quality of activities at graduation. A banquet honoring them, class plays, a special speaker at their graduation and all the honors were given them. Helen and Vivian got married and Kathlyn entered college in Tempe in the fall.

Carol Dimbat Owens, grew up in Payson and is the sister of Department of Public Safety Officer Doc Dimbat.

Keith Owens and Kerm Owens had Owens Brothers Sawmill in Payson for many years.

Rodeo reunion

Git A Rope Publishing is hosting the first Payson Rodeo Reunion from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 at the Tonto Apache gym. Everyone is welcome to come out and visit with the rodeo cowboys and cowgirls and get their "Rodeo 101" books signed by them. Nancy and Lynn Sheppard will be the guests of honor. Leroy Tucker is coming to tell stories. There will be live country-western music, door prizes, and a good, old-fashioned barbecue. For more information, call (928) 474-0380.


One of the cowboys who participated in the 2004 signing of the "Rodeo 101" book was listed as David Thomas in the last "Back Trackin'" column, his name is David Thompson.

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