The year was 1947 and the place was Starr Valley. Mrs. Drain had simply walked away from her home one July evening. She was a victim of dementia. Her husband had gone to Phoenix that day and had made arrangements for two local boys to watch the old lady. Jack Vaughn was to stay with her the first half of the day and then Oscar Ezell would relieve him and stay until about dark when Mr. Drain was due to return home from Phoenix. Fourteen-year-old Oscar was picked up about dark by his father, Harden Ezell. They both believed Mr. Drain would soon return home, as he had many times before.
This evening, however, Mr. Drain was late returning home and when he did, it was after dark and the house was empty.
Mr. Drain went to the home of his neighbors, Walter and Mae Haught, to see if his wife was there. She wasn't, so he went back home. There was little anyone could do until daylight. Walter Haught worried about the old lady for the remainder of the night.
Early next morning, Walter asked Raymond Cline (his soon-to-be son-in-law) to go with him to the Drain home. They found Mr. Drain asleep. He told them that he had been very tired from the drive and had fallen asleep in a chair the previous night. When he awoke, his wife was still missing.
Raymond and Walter walked outside and they could see Mrs. Drain's tracks where she had walked out with Oscar Ezell when he left the evening before, but they could see no tracks returning to the house. They drove to the Ezell home and asked if Oscar and Harden had seen the old lady return to the house. They had assumed that she did, but had driven away and not seen her return.
Walter and Raymond then returned to the Drain home and began to work out her trail. They found an occasional track where she had walked down the road, but saw no tracks returning. Several vehicles had been over the road and obliterated most of the tracks.
After about 300 yards, they found where she left the road, walked on by a neighbor's house and continued to Bob Peach's camp. Finding no one there she had turned north up a sand wash. The sand was packed hard and it was difficult to find a track, but Raymond and Walter walked up the wash until they found where she had climbed out of the wash on the west bank. She continued heading north out of Starr Valley. Here, they were joined by Oscar and Harden Ezell who were also very concerned about Mrs. Drain and had followed Raymond and Walter's tracks as they worked out Mrs. Drain's trail. The men all knew that Mrs. Drain had spent the night somewhere on the ground with nothing but a Tucson bedroll (you lay on your back and cover up with your stomach).
Two more things also became evident at the point where Mrs. Drain had left the sand wash. Where she walked along the bank of the wash on softer ground, the men could see the tracks of a big dog. Mrs. Drain had a dog with her. Second, they discovered that she had on a blue wool sweater. Blue strings had become caught in the brush along her trail. Raymond said, "A soon as she left the bank of the wash we were trying to track her over hard pink granite and we couldn't have trailed her if it hadn't been for that blue sweater."
For several hours the four men continued to work out the trail of Mrs. Drain. The hard walking in rough country began to tire Walter Haught. He told the other three that he believed he could do more good if he returned to Payson and got Davy Davidson and his airplane to help with the search.
Black Point now stood just to the east of the men and it was decided that Harden, who had also began to tire, would wait on the point to direct the airplane. He hoped to be able to see Oscar and Raymond from this point and determine their route of travel.
The two younger men continued their quest. The trail of blue strings lead generally north through the brush, along the hard pink ridges, occasionally crossing a canyon or draw. Often they would break a limb leaving it to dangle as an aid to anyone who might come to join the search. It was slow going, working out the trail. A piece of blue lent here, a track there, finally led the two men high up under the rim of Houston Mesa.
Mrs. Drain had traveled on over the rim of the Diamond, across Rawhide Flat, two miles east of Childers's Tank, and along the side of the Diamond Rim. Raymond and Oscar could see two search plains flying over Starr Valley and north to Black Point, but they were circling far to the south of their objective. Raymond decided to run out onto a high ridge and try to attract the attention of the planes while Oscar continued to search out the trace of blue strings and an occasional track of the dog or old lady. Raymond waved his hat, but the distance was too great for the pilots to see him.
He and Oscar could hear one another and continued to yell back and forth. Suddenly, a big black and white English Shepherd dog came out of the brush from the north, growling through bared teeth. Raymond immediately began talking to the dog in a friendly manner and the dog responded in kind.
Raymond said, "The dog's transformation was a complete turn around. He started wagging his tail and squirming all over, then he ran back in the direction he had come from, barked and come back toward me. I called to Oscar and told him that the dog wanted me to follow him. I did and he took me to Mrs. Drain. She was on her back in a little clearing. Her hat was covering her face. I thought that she might be dead, but I stood there and watched her for a while and I could see her breathing. Still I waited for Oscar. I was afraid that she wouldn't know me and might become afraid."
When Oscar arrived, Raymond walked up to Mrs. Drain, bent over and lifted her hat from her face. The old lady smiled sweetly and said, "Hello."
After greeting Mrs. Drain, Raymond told Oscar, "Come up her, she knows who you are."
"I know you, too," responded Mrs. Drain. "I don't know your name, but you are that boy who is going to marry Patsy."
"Yes, I am," replied Raymond. And he did marry Pat Haught, daughter of Mae and Walter Haught, about a month later.
Raymond and Oscar locked their hands together so that their arms formed a chair for Mrs. Drain and began the long journey home. Sometimes they couldn't walk abreast due to the terrain or brush, so Raymond would take the burden alone.
Raymond laughed when he told me about the old lady asking, "When did they build this new road up through here?" She asked the question several times as they weaved their way back toward Starr Valley.
Raymond and Oscar were very tired when finally Archie Martin and Walter Holder came to them. The two men had gotten word that someone was in trouble and come to lend a hand. Walter was a big strong man and gladly accepted the burden of the old lady from Raymond's willing hands. He packed Mrs. Drain for miles without stopping until they met yet another searcher.
Young Jack Vaughn had caught a horse and taken the trail of the other searchers.
Walter Holder asked, "Jack, is that horse gentle?"
Jack assured him that the horse was very gentle.
"Then I have something for you," said Walter and handed the still happy Mrs. Drain up to him. She had remained in very good spirits during the entire ordeal, very much enjoying all the attention directed toward her.
Jack took her aboard the horse and turned toward Starr Valley. Soon Walter Haught and Davy Davidson flew over in the latter's plane and Walter Haught dropped a note rolled in a pipe with a piece of cloth tied to it. The note said that there was a wood road a little less than a half mile to the west and he would drive up that road in his pickup to meet them. The last leg of the rescue was completed and Mrs. Drain was again with her husband, apparently no worse for her ordeal, or in her eyes, adventure might be a more appropriate word.
Is there a moral to this story? I will let the reader decide. I can only say that this is the way problems were handled in the Rim country before they paved the road to Phoenix. The old-timers here didn't call the authorities when a neighbor was in need. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. And they saved many people from death. May God grant that we retain at least a semblance of this pioneer spirit.
Town Historians Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, owners of Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. have the following books available: "Looking Through the Smoke," "Blue Fox," "History of Gisela," "Mountain Cowboys," "Rodeo 101 History of the Payson Rodeo," and "Calf Fries and Cow Pies." Look for them at Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral, the Payson Chamber of Commerce, the Rim Country Museum, Mountain Air Gifts in Payson, and from Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.