Grandma Nellie Beard



At the Gila County Daughters of the Pioneers meeting on March 16, 2005, three granddaughters of Nellie May Pyle Beard presented her history. Fern Taylor Spears, Lois Taylor Bissett, and Patty Taylor Rhoades spoke of their maternal grandmother with loving words and Patty brought a plate of sugar cookies she had made using her grandmother's recipe. Anna Mae Deming also added what she remembered of "Grandma Beard."

Some of Nellie's diaries were displayed. The words she wrote so long ago tell of the Rim country's history and her day-to-day living.


Nellie Pyle Beard was a fixture in the early days of Payson, taking care of family and friends as a practical nurse, and sewing for neighbors. She is remembered fondly by many descendants today.

Nellie May Pyle Beard was born in Larned, Kan. on July 17, 1880. She was the eldest of six children born to Elwood Fremont Pyle and Sarah Catherine Corder. Her brother, Lewis Roy Pyle, was born in Larned, Kan. on January 13, 1882, and a sister, Myrtle Clara Pyle, was born there on April 13, 1884.

After a tornado picked up Elwood's barn, blew it out into a field and smashed it, he decided to move his family west.

They traveled by train to Los Angeles, Calif. Some of Sarah's family either moved with them or had already moved there. Elwood settled on 160 acres where he farmed and sold windmills, the same as he had done in Kansas. The family did not stay in Los Angeles very long because the coastal climate caused Sarah to develop asthma. She told her husband she wanted to move to the dry climate of Arizona. Elwood told her to find the place, and she did.

We don't know how she came into contact with Henry Siddles in Star Valley, Ariz., but we have some ideas. Some of the first people that moved to the Rim Country/Tonto Basin area came from California: Henry Siddles, Davey Gowan, Bill Burch, John Meadows, Emer Chilson, Paul Vogel, Bill Craig, Ed and George Bonacker, David Harer, Florence Packard, Obedience Harer Hazelton, Mart McDonald, Roy Lockwood, August Pieper, Christian C. Cline, Edward C. Conway, John Belluzzi, Louis Barnini, Henry Armer, and J.W. Boardman. These people were not born and raised in California; they left their native states and went west to California, then moved back to Arizona Territory.

Many of them spoke to army men who had fought Apaches in Arizona and heard about the minerals and the good country for cattle. The Pyles probably knew some of these people, because in five days Sarah Pyle traded their Los Angeles property for 160 acres in Star Valley, which was owned by Henry Siddles. Sarah Pyle made all of the arrangements and Elwood agreed, even though the Pyles had not seen the Star Valley property.

Nellie was 10 when her family moved to Star Valley (1890) and settled on the place presently owned by Pat and Raymond Cline. The following year, Sarah had another son, Floyd Monroe and Elwood became justice of the peace for the Payson area.

In 1893, Elwood and Sarah traded their Star Valley property to Joe Ezell for 160 acres at Bonita Creek. Elwood named the creek that ran through their place "Bonita Creek" and their place "Bonita Gardens." Here flourished an orchard, a large garden, and berry vines along the creek. Nellie grew up in this "Garden of Eden" where she developed a special love for flowers and gardening and for fishing. Native trout from Bonita Creek flowed within a stone's throw of the house.

Nellie married John Delar Fletcher Beard on July 4, 1897. Their first child, Laura Vernita, was born at Bonita Creek on Aug. 29, 1899. Four months later on Dec. 25, 1899, Nellie's sister, Myrtle Clara Pyle, suddenly died of what the family believes was probably a ruptured appendix. Myrtle Lake, Myrtle Point, Myrtle Ranch, Myrtle Post Office, and Myrtle Trail were all named after this young woman. What a blessing for Sarah to have a grown daughter nearby to help her during this terrible time in her life. To lose a 15-year-old daughter was tragic -- and losing her on Christmas made it worse.

On Nellie's 21st birthday, July 17, 1901, Sarah gave birth to twin girls, Myrth and Myrl. Nellie and her mother, Sarah, raised little ones together.

Nellie and Fletcher bought a ranch at Ellison Creek where Elvin Fletcher Beard was born on July 24, 1904. Valda May Beard (Taylor) was born Oct. 3, 1906.

In 1908, the ranch was sold and the family moved to Payson where Fletcher was forest ranger for the area.

Catherine Leora was born on Jan. 23, 1909 in Payson.

At the time of his death, January 19, 1913, Fletcher and Nellie were living on the P Bar L Ranch in Star Valley. Fletcher had been in a partnership with his brother-in-law, Floyd Pyle. Nellie and the four kids continued to live on the ranch until all were gone from home, except Valda and Catherine. To supplement the income from the ranch, Nellie did sewing and worked as a practical nurse, helping to bring many babies into the world.

During Valda's last year of high school, they moved to Payson where Nellie managed the Hilligas Hotel on Main Street.

After all the children were gone from home, Nellie and Floyd sold the ranch in Star Valley to Gene Holder. After all her children had left home, Nellie's summers were spent on Bonita Creek with her parents, helping them with the ranch work, gardening, canning, chopping wood and milking cows.

In the afternoons, for relaxation, Nellie and her mother pieced and quilted quilts. Some of the grandchildren spent a lot of time there and she loved to take them hiking up the creek to catch Rainbow trout.

In the winter they moved to town and Nellie spent time fixing up her little home on Oak Street and working in her big yard. She spent quite a bit of the winter traveling to visit her children and grandchildren. She would go to Globe to visit Laura and family, then to Phoenix to sister Myrl's and catch a bus from there to California to visit her son, Elvin. While there, she did a lot of visiting with relatives, went to movies and shopped. Time was also spent in Camp Verde where Catherine and family lived, and when Valda May lived in Chandler, Nellie often visited her. She spent time with Valda May after she gave birth to twins Patty and Dickie.

Nellie didn't learn to drive a car until she was in her 50s. Her granddaughters said she had always walked everywhere she went, but could see that driving would be beneficial, so she bought a car and learned to drive it.

Nellie spent most of her life helping other people. She did have time for church and the Woman's Club, and was always keeping a grandchild for the night, or longer. Anna Mae Deming said that when her mother, Agnes Ogilvie, died leaving four children, "Grandma Beard was there to help and was the only mother we ever knew after that." This lead to a lifetime of close friendship between Anna Mae and Nellie's daughter, Valda May.

Almost every Christmas was spent in Payson, and Nellie and Valda spent many hours making candy. Nellie's specialty was fondant made with different colors and decorations. Of course, there was fudge of different flavors and pecan loaf and date roll.

Nellie's home on Oak Street was a hangout for the grandchildren and their friends who would stay during the August rodeo. A hammock which hung between two oak trees in her front yard and Nellie's lawn seemed cool, even during the hot summers. She had a bay window in her house with storage under the seats that held games and books. She would play Chinese checkers with the children and read "Little Brown Coco" and other books to them. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren fondly remember the sugar cookies and donuts that she made.

Nellie nursed the home-bound and helped the mothers with their newborns, even staying in Pine sometimes. Always on the go, she seemed to trot instead of walk.

During her last visit to Laura's in Globe, Nellie broke her hip and was put in the county hospital. She remained there for the rest of her life. On Sept. 14, 1970, Nellie passed away. She is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

Information for the above story came from Nellie's granddaughter's account, her story is in "A Cultural History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County, Arizona," and the "Mountain Cowboys" book by Jinx Pyle.

After reading all the accounts on Nellie Pyle Beard, plus reading some of her diaries, I could "feel" the pioneer in this remarkably strong woman. See the "Daughters of the Pioneers" book for Grandma Beard's sugar cookie recipe.

Town Historians Jayne Peace and Jinx Pyle, owners of Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc. have written the following: "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 Art and Antique Corral, Payson Regional Chamber of Commerce, Rim Country Museum, Mountain Air Gifts in Payson, and from Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.

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