On Feb. 21, 2005, the Rim country lost another good cowboy, another descendant of the pioneering families who settled this area in the 1880s. Frederick Bernard Chilson, known as "Fred" crossed the Great Divide. He left behind a loving family who will remember him and will carry on the Chilson family traditions.
Fred was born March 24, 1923 to Charles Leonard Chilson and Avis Ruby Hood Chilson. His mother went to Tempe for Fred's birth because that's where her folks lived. But within a few days, he was brought back to Rye and raised on the H Bar and HI ranches with his sister, Helyn (Conway). Fred learned to cowboy with his dad, Charlie, and his uncles. They didn't just cowboy on the range, they also roped in rodeo competition.
I talked to Junior Haught and Levi Weigand, two of Fred's life-long friends and got about the same story from both of them.
Fred attended school in Payson and during his high school years in the 1930s, he was quite a basketball player. The team that Junior and Levi recalled was made up of seven players: Bill Ogilvie, Tommy Ribelin, Richard Lockwood, Dean Graham, and of course, Fred, Junior, and Levi. They practiced and played their home games at the old Elk's dance hall on Main Street (later called the Winchester).
"We weren't classed back then," said Junior, "so we played all over the state. We played against Yuma, Flagstaff, etc, school lots bigger than ours."
"We played anybody who would play us," recalled Levi. "We traveled all over and had a heck of a good time. Lewis Pyle had a pickup with sort of a camper on the back and he would load us up and take us all over the state. Part of the time, if we had a weekend game, Howard Childers took us in the school bus. We won a lot of games."
They really must have been pretty good because Tommy Ribelin went on to play basketball for Arizona State University and Levi played on a semi-pro team, the Webcos, sponsored by Del Webb Construction Company. Junior Haught played basketball all four years he was in the Navy Air Corps.
Sports were important to Fred Chilson -- and so was good sportsmanship. I have to tell about the time Fred "punched out" a coach from Judson School. I was just a little girl, but I was there on the stage in the rock building I saw him do it. Wait a minute -- Jinx is taking over my computer.
(From Jinx) If Fred ever missed a home basketball game during the four years I played, I can't recall it. He was almost as prevalent as Coach Ted Pettet and he attended most of our away games, also. The Judson game that Jayne mentioned was a home game played in the old rock gym, now at Julia Randall Elementary. It was a close game and things got pretty intense. Payson was two points behind and Payson player Gary Sexton was fouled with one second left on the clock. Gary made his first free throw. If he made the second free throw, the teams would have been tied and there was the possibility that he could miss, thus giving Judson the game. Coach Pettet called time out. He told Gary to bounce the ball hard off the front of the rim, step into the lane, get his own rebound, and go back up with it. Gary did as he was told and made the shot giving Payson a one point victory just as the buzzer sounded.
Judson's coach ran screaming to the timer's table where he yelled obscenities at the time keepers, referees and anyone else who would listen, all while enforcing his words with Italian hand gestures. I doubt the Judson coach had spent much time in Payson. In those days, 1959, if you had an alligator mouth and a humming bird brain, you had better pack something to back them up. He yelled in the face of the wrong man. Fred Chilson brought a fist up from somewhere near the gym floor and Judson's coach went through a pile of folding chairs like a bowling ball through a rack of pins. Coach Pettet led the then subdued coach from Judson into a small room adjacent to the gym and put him back together with butterfly band-aids.
(Back to Jayne) Well, you can see from what Jinx has told you, Fred not only liked to play basketball, but he was supportive of the Payson team, even when he wasn't playing -- and in 1959, his son John was not yet old enough to play. Yet, Fred attended all the games and would defend the team, if necessary.
Ronnie McDaniel said that in 1955-56, there was no school bus to take the Payson basketball team to games, so "Fred Chilson and Junior Haught used their personal cars to haul us to the games. Both of them were great supporters of basketball and the school." The team Fred and Junior hauled around consisted of Ronnie McDaniel, George Casner, Monroe Bishop, John Damron, and Norman Dudley.
Returning to his cowboy days . . . Fred and his dad, Charlie, were partners on the Chilson's H Bar Ranch at Rye. In talking to Ty, I learned that Charlie branded the A Cross and the H Bar. Fred mainly branded the H Bar. This brand originated with Samuel A. "Papa Sam" Haught back in 1885. Then the Chilsons bought out the Haughts. Today, the H Bar brand is still owned by the Chilsons.
Junior Haught said that Fred was "one of the most accurate ropers I have ever roped with. He was a great header. We tied a steer in 3.2 seconds in Star Valley in the 1960s. It was lap and tap -- no barrier.
"Also, I rode roundups with him up in the Mazatzal Mountains -- pretty rough country. I've known Fred since he was a little ‘pot-licker' -- as wide as he was tall. He was stocky, but he could move. He was really a good guy -- one of the best."
Local historian Raymond Cline said that he served on the Payson School Board with Fred for nine years in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Richard Taylor, Fred, and I made up the school board. It was a three-man board back then. Payson was changing fast and we had some difficult decisions to make. Fred was a good man."
Fred belonged to the local roping club for years, as did his son, John. They also roped in the rodeos. They are pictured in our book on the history of the Payson Rodeo "Rodeo 101." They are descendants of John Collins Chilson, one of the organizers of the first Payson Rodeo in 1884. That's going back a ways, folks. John's son, Ty, and his daughter, Johnna, both rope, carrying on the family tradition. Fred's daughter, Mary, was a Payson Rodeo Queen attendant in 1964.
Fred first married a girl from Springerville, Beulah Miller, and had two children, John and Mary, who were raised on the Chilson Ranch at Rye. Mary was my age. We started to first-grade together in 1954 in Payson with Miss Julia Randall as our teacher. John was the same age as my cousin, Boyd Peace.
I have known the Chilson family for most of my life and know that they are really good folks.
John married Jeri Lynn Haught, daughter of Junior Haught, and Mary married John Randall, son of John Randall, Sr. of Pine.
Later, Fred married Virginia Adair, a native of Pine. "I was born in Pine," said Virginia, "then when I was 8, we moved to Payson. I lived right next door to Fred and his family. We went to school together in Payson. My dad had a carpenter shop where Vernon Haught later had a TV repair shop. After I was grown, I moved away and married.
"Then I came back to Payson and on Feb. 20, 1975, married Fred. We had a wonderful, 30-year marriage. I've always known Fred and thought a lot of him. He was just a wonderful man. And he has great kids. The best. I really enjoyed my life with him."
Virginia had four children from her first marriage, Jimmy, Jackie, Mark, and Franny. All of them adored Fred and thought of him as their father.
"Between us, we have six children, 17 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren," said Virginia. "We have a great family. Each person is so special."
Grandson Ty Chilson said, "Granddad was such a good person. He would do anything for anybody."
Granddaughter Johnna recalled how Fred helped her with her roping. "He was always there, watching, giving advice. He wanted me to do well," she said. Due to Johnna's perseverance, a four-generation photo taken a short while before Fred left us.
And last, but certainly not least, Johnna's 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn, said that Granddad Fred used to sing "goofy songs" that made her happy.
So another cowboy is gone. Every time we lose one, I think of Jinx's song: "Where'd the Cowboys Go?" In the last verse, Jinx says, "The morning star's a camp fire, where the good cowboys all go." So when you see the morning star, know that Fred is there along with Gene, Malcolm, Fritz, Jake, Billy Ogilvie, Richard Taylor, Cuc Hale, Bob Hale, and many more.
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 Chamber of Commerce, Rim Country Museum, Mountain Air Gifts in Payson, and from Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.