The Story Of Greenback Valley




Several miles down the Tonto Creek from Punkin Center and Reno Creek, there is a stream that flows out of a lovely valley in the Sierra Ancha. It is named Greenback Creek.

Like most of the spring fed basins in the Sierra Ancha range, this valley was the homeland of Tonto Apache bands, whose freedom was being interrupted by the invasion of the U.S. Army in 1865. That year, in the first week of December, a large company of the Arizona Volunteers searched the area for the Apaches. They were all Pima Indians, commanded by white officer 2nd Lt. William Hancock. The Pima leader was the chief of the tribe, Antonio Azul. The Pimas were allies of the U.S. Army throughout the Apache War, grateful for U.S. help against their traditional enemy.

A two-day storm had left the central mountains packed with wet snow, and the soldiers were cold because their blankets were worn out. They climbed out of the Tonto Basin to penetrate the Sierra Ancha, determined to make a surprise raid on a Tonto camp. They discovered two rancherias that were abandoned because the Indians had been warned of the military's approach.

The soldiers continued their scout, and on the morning of Dec. 7, 1865 Chief Azul spotted smoke from an Apache village. The soldiers halted to observe a beautiful valley below, and then moved quickly to descend upon the encampment. They captured one woman and one man, but the other Tontos fled through the snow and into the forest.

Lt. Hancock was searching one of the wickiups that had collapsed under the weight of the snow when he found a $100 greenback note and an envelope containing a letter. An Apache who had raided a mail carrier apparently stashed it in the hut, and having no use for the paper money the Indian left it behind. On the way back to Ft. McDowell the soldiers agreed with their commander to name the place Greenback Valley.

William Hancock left the Army in September 1866, but remained at Ft. McDowell as superintendent of the post farm and justice of the peace. After that he became the post trader at Camp Reno. When that outpost closed in 1870, Hancock returned to the Salt River Valley. He was a civil engineer by trade and received a contract to survey the Salt River Valley Canal. The next year he surveyed the town site of Phoenix, and built the first house in the town. He also erected the first store in Phoenix on the northwest corner of Washington and Montezuma (First) streets.

When Maricopa County was created in 1871 Governor Stafford appointed Hancock its first sheriff. In February 1871, Hancock became the first postmaster in Phoenix, and his house served both as the post office and the county courthouse. Subsequently he served as district attorney for Maricopa County, public administrator and coroner, probate judge and the first superintendent of schools. He was sort of a one-man show in Phoenix.

He surveyed the sections of land occupied by the Mormons of Mesa, located a number of early canals in the county, and promoted the development of water storage and irrigation on the Agua Fria River.

Hancock died at the age of 70, March 24, 1902, and is buried in the Pioneer's Cemetery in Phoenix.

While the discovery and naming of Greenback Valley was under way, the family of David and Josephine Harer were living in Tempe. They came there in 1865 from Tulare, Calif. Seeking to escape the tribulations of the Civil War they had moved first from Arkansas to Oregon, then to California, and finally to Arizona.

In Tempe, Harer developed a hog farm, furnishing hams and bacon to the Hayden Trading Post. The 49-year-old Harer met Hancock in 1872 and shared his dreams of having a hog farm in the mountains where the acorns were plentiful. Hancock described the perfect place, Greenback Valley. Soon Harer was on his horse headed over the Reno Road to inspect his hoped-for Eden.

He bravely rode into the midst of renegade Apaches who were camped there, and began to make them his friends. [1]

The lush, well-watered valley with its forest of oak trees was perfect for a hog farm, and Harer began bringing his herds over the mountains to his new farm. By 1875 the Indians had been subdued and David Harer brought his family to Greenback Valley -- they were the first white settlers in the area. He built a stick and mud house beside Greenback Creek with the help of his Tonto Apache friends, who continued to camp nearby. Years later, David Harer's descendant, E.C. Conway, told local historian Jinx Pyle, "The Apaches thought he was some kind of a god. He packed a defanged rattlesnake around his neck. They knew he had some kind of medicine that they did not have or that snake would have bit him on the neck and killed him, sure. (They didn't know) he had pulled its fangs out so it couldn't bite." [2]

Probably his boldness in riding into their camp had something to do with his friendship with the Apaches, since they highly respected bravery. Then too, they could use a white friend who might intercede for them since they were supposed to be living on the reservation. Conway said, "The Indians dug an irrigation ditch for him and cleared all these fields. He was good to them too, though. Let them camp down the creek and fed them if they didn't have any meat."

The hog business thrived, especially during the construction of the nearby Roosevelt Dam. Pork was a welcome change of menu for the hundreds of laborers, and lard was a coveted product. Harer built a very large smokehouse to cure the hams and bacon.

The Harers' daughter Alice married Edward Charles Conway who had come to Arizona from the East, and worked in Prescott and Globe. Next he was a contract packer with the Army during the Apache campaign of General George Crook, and he saw the potential of Tonto Basin for ranching. In 1884 Conway came to Tonto Creek to stake his claim, and met Alice Harer of Greenback Valley. They were married in 1888, and their first-born was a son, Edward Franklin Conway.

In 1916 Edward married Lula Jane Grantham, and their first-born was named for his grandfather, Edward Charles Conway. Throughout his life he was called "E.C." and the Conway name was perpetuated in Greenback Valley through many generations.

While the Harers were settling Greenback Valley, another homestead was being staked out where Greenback Creek joins Tonto Creek. That story began in 1869 when the John Q. Adams family first came through Arizona on their way to California. Helping them was a 16-year-old cowboy named Bush Crawford. He dropped out of the Adams party in Arizona and worked on ranches around the territory, eventually settling on Tonto Creek at the mouth of Greenback Creek.

In time the Adams family returned from California and took up ranching on the 76 homestead, encouraged by their young friend Bush Crawford. In an area as confined as the Tonto Basin, it was inevitable that the young people of pioneer families began courting each other. It did not take long for Crawford, now in his 20s, to court Cordelia, the pretty, 15-year-old daughter of the Adamses.

The two were married Aug. 8, 1880, and the best man at the wedding was the well-known army Chief of Scouts Al Sieber, who had become a friend of Bush Crawford. The young couple lived at Crawford's homestead, and neighboring ranchers like the Harers soon discovered Cordelia had a gift for healing. In such an isolated place it was a blessing to have someone to fulfill the roll of physician, midwife and nurse. Among those whom she befriended and served were the Apache families who were camping in the vicinity.

Apache appreciation cast a blanket of protection over the Crawford ranch from occasional Indian attacks. Along with David Harer's friendship, this may account for the safekeeping of the Harer ranch upstream on Greenback Creek. When the bloody Cibicue uprising and subsequent outbreak from the reservation occurred at the end of August 1881, Bush Crawford was gone on a cattle drive to San Diego and Cordelia had just delivered her first born child, Nona.

The ranch was not molested. The following summer Cordelia was visiting her parents in the mining camp of McMillen, north of Globe, when the bloody outbreak of July 1882 hit that town. The women and children were protected by hiding in the tunnel of the Stonewall Jackson mine. Again the Crawford and Harer ranches in Tonto Basin were spared, though a number of other ranchers lay dead and ranch buildings were in smoldering ruins.

Two other children were born to the Crawfords, and the family continued their Tonto Basin ranch life until moving to Globe in 1893. Cordelia made a name there as a nurse in the hospital and in civic activities. Almost 100 years later, in 1981, she was elected posthumously to the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame for her significant contributions to the state's heritage. [3]

When the Tonto National Forest was established in 1905 a new policy was instituted to remove all hogs and goats from the forest. It was the first real attempt to control the overgrazing that had been going on for decades. At the same time cattle allotments were created so that ranchers were limited in the amount of livestock they could place on the range.

Ranchers like the Conways found themselves in a running argument with the National Forest Service, which continued to reduce the number of cattle allowed on the allotments. As recently as 2003, Fred Conway, one of the fourth generation Conways ranching in Greenback Valley, made news when he used a shotgun to pepper a thousand holes in a water collection bucket dangling from a helicopter and dipping into his watering pond.

The Forest Service sucked 44 buckets-full of his water in July of 2002 while fighting a wildfire. He gave them permission when they promised him a contract, but no compensation was forthcoming. He sent a bill for 25-cents a gallon, or about $3,000, but still did not receive payment. Instead he was caught up in months of bureaucratic red tape. He ordered the government not to take any more water until he was paid, and when the next summer they did it anyway without consulting him, he resorted to the old way of the West. He took the law into his own hands and fired a shot at each of two trips made by the chopper pilot. Damage was estimated up to $7,000. A nearby fire, called The Picture Fire, had been contained and this chopper was doing mop up operations.

Fred determined they had no right to simply help themselves to his stock pond. The faithful spring that feeds the pond produces 80 gallons of water an hour, pure enough that it is also the family's drinking water. His two shots at the water bucket got him indicted for interfering with the performance of federal contractors, with possible penalties of a year in jail and restitution for the costs of the damage. Even though the Forest Service had rescinded the Conway's cattle permits, and what cattle remained had to be raised on private land, the family argued that this water was vital to their livelihood. "It had a lot to do with water rights," Conway said, citing the most famous fighting words to be heard in American Southwest. [4]

In Greenback Valley, a place so full of Tonto Basin history, the tradition of Western independence continued loud and clear.


[1] After the government established reservations in 1871 at San Carlos, the White Mountains, and the Verde Valley, all Indians who did not surrender and take up residence on a reservation were considered to be "renegades" and were subject to being hunted down. However, several family bands continued to hide out in the wilds of the Sierra Ancha, and never did register on a reservation. (Reference oral history interviews with Tonto Apaches, Rim Country Museum archives, Payson.)

[2] Payson Roundup, April 17, 2004, article by Jinx Pyle, "E.C. Conway Shares Some Country Tales."

[3] Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 26, #4, page 415ff, "Cordelia Adams Crawford of the Tonto Basin," by Margaret F. Maxwell.

[4] Payson Roundup, July 8, 2003.

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