I was about 6 years old when I asked my dad, Gene Pyle, to tell me about my great-grandad Childers. I knew Grandad had been a blacksmith, but not much else. Dad smiled and told me, "Well, I can tell you this, he was not a big man, but no one in Payson, or anywhere around, wanted any part of him in a fight. Your grandad was an easy-going man, but he had a temper, and when he got riled he would fight a circle-saw and give it three rounds head start." Dad tempered those first words by telling me how much Grandad Childers liked kids and how he would have liked to have known me.
I have since learned a lot more about my grandad, William Edward Childers.
He was born in Springfield, Mo. in 1861 to John Childers and Phoebe Bradshaw Childers. The climate in Missouri did not set well with William who was plagued with asthma from birth. As soon as he was old enough, he headed south to Arkansas in search of a more agreeable environment. He found little relief for his lung ailment, but did find something for his heart.
It was in Arkansas that William met and married Ellen Warford, a daughter of C.A. Warford. William and Ellen had nine children: Fred, John, Verda, Sidney, Edna, Orin, Howard and Irene. Still looking for a more suitable climate, William moved his family west to Oklahoma and was accompanied by Ellen's parents and sister, Lenora "Nora" Cornelia, who would later become known in Payson as "Auntie" Childers.
The climate in Oklahoma provided no relief for William's asthma and proved deadly for his oldest son, Fred. The boy contracted what was then called "swamp fever" and later, "malaria." Fred died in Oklahoma at the age of 18. Soon after Fred's death, Ellen died during childbirth. Before her death, she asked her sister, Nora, to raise her remaining eight children and Nora gave her promise to do so.
In 1911, William, still plagued by asthma, moved his family west to San Diego, Calif. C.A. Warford died before the family left Oklahoma, and his wife did not make the move with the rest of the family, but came later to San Diego and died shortly after her arrival there.
Nora kept her vow to her sister to raise the children and made the trip with William and the family.
Still, in search of a higher, drier climate, William, upon hearing about Flagstaff, decided to make the move to that richly timbered town. Once more he and Nora loaded up the children and traveled, by covered wagon, along the old Corduroy Road from San Diego to Yuma. They crossed the blistering Arizona desert and turned north from Phoenix heading for the cool dry air of northern Arizona.
They never made it to Flagstaff, because William finally found the relief he sought in Payson. He could sleep the night through and work at his blacksmith trade in the sweet, clean pine-scented air of the Rim Country.
Here, William and Nora would make their home, arriving in Payson in 1912.
They were married in Globe and had one child, a girl they named Estelee.
As we see, William wandered across the country a great deal the first half of his life, but once he found Payson, he never left. William homesteaded 160 acres just east of where the Payson Regional Medical Center buildings stand today. There, he worked in his trade as a blacksmith and dry farmed his land. Pumpkins, watermelons, corn and beans were his primary crops.
I also learned from my dad that every kid in town was welcome at the Childers' place where the melons and pumpkins grew in such abundance that they were free to the kids for the taking. Additionally, William forged iron slingshot stocks and other items for half the boys in town.
It has always been a point of interest to me that both my great-grandmother, Sarah Corder Pyle, and my great-grandad, William Childers, came to Payson because of health problems with asthma. Both also found the cure to their problem in Payson's climate, as did many other Payson pioneers.
There were so many of the old-timers in Payson who had recovered from lung ailments after their arrival here that at one point a story started to circulate that the Payson climate was so healthy they had to shoot someone to start the graveyard.
William Edward Childers lived out his life in Payson. He died here at the age of 69 on Sept. 9, 1930 and rests in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.
His second wife, Lenora Cornelia, died in Globe Dec. 15, 1945 and rests beside her husband. She was born in Winfield, Ark., March 30, 1876. All of William's children, except Fred, John and Edna, are buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.
Several of William's children made their names prominent in Payson history.
Verda married Floyd Pyle, rancher, government lion and bear hunter, and sometimes guide to Zane Grey. Floyd and Verda's story is told in my book, "Mountain Cowboys."
Edna married Gene Holder who served as a game warden at a time when they protected game rather than predators.
Irene married Earl Stephens, cowboy, rancher, bronc rider -- see "Rodeo 101" -- and a man who could literally whip his weight in wildcats. If there was ever a man in Payson you didn't want to tangle with during rodeo time, it was Earl Stephens. So, after marrying the roughest, toughest cowboy in the Rim Country, and quite possibly anywhere, Irene became a grade school teacher in Payson and is fondly remembered by many of her former students including my wife, Jayne. As they say today, "Go figure!"
Estelee, married Bill Wade, who along with Dolph McKamey, built the Payson Hotel, later called the Ox Bow Inn. Bill was also one of Payson's premier providers of "White Mule," but he slipped up and was caught by the feds.
Family lore has it that someone once asked Bill where he had been for the last 10 years. Bill told them that he had been in Florence.
"What were you doing in Florence?" asked his friend.
"Ten years," came the reply.
Orin Childers is remembered by many as a school bus driver in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Before that, he was a cowboy, an Indian agent, and a guide at the Grand Canyon. I remember him best for his remarkable, if somewhat outrageous, sense of humor. Most of the folks who lived in Payson before 1960 fell victim to one of his practical jokes at some time or other.
Once when he was asked how he had cut his chin, he replied, "I bit myself."
When he was told that he couldn't have bitten himself on the chin, he admitted that he had been standing on a stool.
A lady tourist at the Grand Canyon asked Orin how he lost his finger. Orin replied that he had simply worn it out "pointin' at the scenery." Many more of Orin's antics can also be found in the "Mountain Cowboys" book.
Howard Childers served Payson for many years as a deputy sheriff and stories about Howard's escapades while performing his duties, are almost without number. Ronnie McDaniel can tell a host of them.
Howard was a longtime promoter of the Payson rodeo and was also the Payson rodeo boss for an untold number of years. He provided the beef for most of the free Payson Fourth-of-July barbecues from the 1930s through most of the 1950s and pit-barbecued the beef himself.
Howard married Rose McDonald and the had one son, Edward, who now goes by "Easy Ed" and is the chief cook and aqua ceramic engineer of Easy Ed's Road Kill Recovery Operation.
Ed possesses more than a little of his late Uncle Orin's sense of humor, which is only surpassed by his caustic wit. I can say this without fear of legal ramifications, because Easy Ed and I are cousins and share certain cultural idiosyncrasies.
To be sure, I could tell more about some of the Childers family, and maybe I told more than I should about others. Still, most of Grandad Childers' descendants have moved away now, but they lived in Payson, and left the town a better place for their having been here. And, if you run across Easy Ed -- he lives in Phoenix, but visits Payson often -- take the time to shoot the breeze awhile. He can tell you who cut the stake ropes on a gambling tent at the 1953 Payson rodeo.
Town of Payson Historians Jinx Pyle and Jayne Peace-Pyle have written seven books, five of them being local history books: "Rodeo 101- History of the Payson Rodeo," "Looking Through the Smoke," "History of Gisela, Arizona," "Calf Fries and Cow Pies," "Blue Fox," "Muanami -- Sister of the Moon," and "Mountain Cowboys." "Cookin' For Zane Grey Under the Tonto Rim" by Jayne Peace will be released Oct. 15 at the Zane Grey Cabin dedication and Western Heritage Festival.