Gisela Was A Countess



Tonto Creek Adventures, Chapter 9

The Apaches had barely been settled on reservations and renegade war parties still made occasional raids when an itinerant Scotsman named David Gowan staked his homestead claim in a beautiful valley just south of the Hellsgate Wilderness along Tonto Creek. He called it Grass Valley. He and his fellow prospectors were more interested in gold than in farming, so when the Mormon church called some of its members to settle the area, Gowan readily sold them his claim.

In July 1876, the presiding elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Joseph City, Ariz. sent a contingent of men to scout the region between the Mogollon Rim and the Salt River for a possible settlement. Considering the inaccessibility of the country and the continuing threat from raiding Apaches, the party reported in the negative.

However, the obviously superior grazing in the Tonto Basin was too good to ignore so the next year, 1877, Erastus Snow called a group of the Saints from St. George, Utah, to make another reconnaissance.

They were John Willis, Thomas Clark, Alfred Randall, Woodward Freeman, Revilo (Oliver spelled backward) Fuller, and his brother Wyllys Fuller. They came upon the place David Gowan had settled in Grass Valley and marked it as a good spot for a town site. Then following Rye Creek to its head they discovered bottom land along the East Verde River, at the confluence of Pine Creek. This was even farther away from the San Carlos Indian Reservation and its occasional renegade outbreaks, and thus to be preferred.

The next year, 1878, they brought their families to the Tonto Basin, settling in both places.

When Fred and Carrie Stanton came west hoping for a cure to Fred's illness, they purchased the squatter's rights from several of the Mormon families who had settled in Grass Valley. Fred had been born in Connecticut, and was 51 years old when they settled on this farm.

The Mormons had already begun improving the land with irrigation ditches and orchards, and as other families moved in they were delighted to find that Carrie had been a school teacher back East. She offered to teach the first school in the village, and in 1889 everyone pitched in to build the school house right on Stanton's farm. Carrie taught their children that first year, 1889-1890. The second year a Mrs. St. Johns taught, but during the school year of 1891-92 Carrie was again the teacher. The increasing number of children had outgrown the first school house, so they built a second one, this time on a neighbor's land.

Fred seemed to be doing well in the dry climate, and they developed a large garden on the rich flood plane near the creek. Although he was not an expert with an axe, he did get a log house up for them.

More to his liking was his election to be Justice of the Peace for Rye in 1890. When a petition circulated calling for a post office in Grass Valley, Fred took up the cause and filed as the postmaster. In filling out the paper work for the government, it was discovered a unique name for the post office address was required. The names Rye and Tonto were already established, and somehow "Grass Valley" did not seem right. Perhaps it was too difficult to write and say over and over.

Carrie thought the name should hold a more romantic tone anyway. She had been reading a popular novel of the day by E. Marlett entitled "The Countess Gisela" (pronounced Guy-see-la). She liked it, and so did Fred, so that's what was written on the line calling for a name to the post office. Fred was officially appointed Postmaster at Gisela on April 9, 1894, but his illness caught up with him and he died within a year of the appointment. He was buried in his adopted village, and Emer Cole took over as postmaster.

The community did not thrive, however, and five years later the post office was discontinued. Several attempts to maintain a post office were made from 1902 to 1911, but after that, all Gisela mail was sent to Payson. The name left its mark, and to this day the community is called by the title of the fictional countess.

After Carrie Stanton was widowed she needed to work and located a job teaching in the community of Concho, about 150 miles to the northeast in Apache County. After teaching there for two years she also died, and was buried in the Concho cemetery. She was so loved there, the community erected a marble monument to her, surrounded by an ornamental steel fence. The name her family had called her is on the monument, "'Dolly', Carrie A., Wife of F. Stanton, April 19, 1839 - Feb. 14, 1897. A teacher for nearly forty years."

It took a teacher to name Gisela. The name still rings with romance, and many think it must be a native American name. [1]

The road into Gisela from State Route 87, the main north-south highway, climbs over a ridge and makes a steep descent into the valley along Tonto Creek. Once in the valley a crossroad confronts the traveler, leading either to the cemetery or into the village proper. There stands the old Gisela corral, reminding local folk of the ranch life that dominated this community. One of those who built this corral was among the early settlers in Gisela, John Booth, whose house is the oldest standing ranch house in the village. In the fall of 1917 John, along with his sons George, Albert, Dave and Ambrose, and friend George Bunton, began building a corral along the road into the village. It was to be used as a community corral, and was built from cedar poles cut in the vicinity.

In those days there were no fences between Gisela and the Mogollon Rim. Cattle roamed freely, and roundups were conducted as community affairs. The brands were separated when the cattle were brought to the corrals.

After World War I the ranchers couldn't even give their cattle away because the market was so bad. The honor among Arizona cattlemen was illustrated by Gisela rancher Robert Hale, son of Duke Hale. He recounted how "my dad, Riley Neal, Miss Rachel Hickcox and Gene Holder drove their steers to Winslow to sell them. After they got there the cattle buyer wouldn't buy the cattle. The cattle business had just gone flat under. The Forest Service wouldn't let the ranchers take their cattle back to Gisela because they wanted the cattle off the land. The ranchers just turned the cattle loose up near Joseph City on the Little Colorado. Later the Babbitt brothers gathered some of the cattle, sold them and sent us the money."

It was 1922 or 1925 before a road that could accommodate automobiles and trucks was built to Gisela. That was when cattle began to be hauled by trucks, and the community corral made an excellent place to round them up for loading. To make that easier, Duke Hale built a loading chute onto the corral. The decades passed, and in 1958 local ranchers were still using the corral. However, removed as it was from residences, the corral with its chute made easy picking for cattle rustlers. The thieves had been coming with horses and trucks, unloading the horses and rounding up range cattle. They would herd them into the Gisela corral, load them onto the trucks and take off. The ranchers became increasingly aware of their losses, and suspicions were confirmed when a sheriff in Clovis, New Mexico called Duke Hale to say he had found cattle there with his brand on them. The chute Duke had built for the community had actually contributed to his own losses. Calvin Peace tore off the loading chute, and moved it to his own ranch to deter the rustlers.

Twenty years went by, and community use of the corral dwindled to nothing. However, it still stands at the crossroad to remind Gisela residents of their valued history.

In March of 1978 the Gisela Homemakers Club began a move to restore the old corral. Old timers like Anna Mae Peace, Dolly Hale and Myrtle Flack agreed it was a good idea, and the project was expanded to not only restore the corral but put in trees and picnic tables for a park. When they discovered that costly sanitary facilities would be required for such a project, and weekly cleanup would be necessary, the picnic area idea was abandoned. With help from neighbors and the Forest Service restoration of the corral began with a clean up of the area. Staples and nails were removed from the old posts, which had become a community bulletin board. The Homemakers and their husbands hand-stripped sixty cedar poles for replacements, straightened up one side of the collapsing corral, and planted one commemorative tree. Some made sure the tree was watered, a mason built the monument and another provided a plaque for the monument. It was truly a community project done with love for the historic significance of the old corral.

On November 15, 1983 members of the Gila County Council of Homemakers, the Forest Service, local residents, and their guests dedicated the renewed corral. On the road into town a sign proclaims, "Downtown Gisela." The old steak house and saloon make periodic attempts to open and the quiet tree-lined roads front comfortable residences where many folks enjoy the peacefulness. Several local ranches still headquarter along the waters of Tonto Creek, and the old cemetery holds a wealth of stories. At a fork in the road, where the pavement ends, the old corral awaits inspection.


[1] Sources: A paper by Will C. Barnes on "Gisela" in the Arizona Historical Society library; "The History of Gisela," by Jayne Peace; The Great Register of Gila County; "Arizona Territory Post Offices and Postmasters" by John and Lillian Theobald, Arizona Historical Foundation, 1961; newspaper articles by Ira Murphy, Rim Country Museum library.

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