Historic 'Mail Trail' Ride To Be Re-Enacted

Payson could partner with Camp Verde in annual event

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One of the great sagas of the Wild West -- the 52-mile ride along the "mail trail" that ran from Camp Verde to Payson -- will come to life again this fall.

At its Thursday evening meeting, the Payson Town Council will consider matching a $3,000 donation from the Camp Verde Town Council to support an annual re-enactment of the historic ride.

"Councilman Howard Parrish out of Camp Verde came to me several months ago and we've had a couple meetings," Town Manager Fred Carpenter said. "They've essentially got this as an annual event that will take place on Labor Day Weekend."

The mail trail's history reaches back to 1884 when the small frontier settlement of Union Park received its first Post Office. That made it necessary to extend mail service 50 miles east from Camp Verde to the community that would henceforth be known as Payson -- named after the senator who appointed the town's first postmaster.

A route was established through formidable terrain with mail stops in the communities of Rutherford, Strawberry and Pine en route to Payson.

From 1884 to 1914, a total of 60 riders delivered the mail six days a week over the rugged trail that started at Sutler's Store in Camp Verde. From there, they rode southwest past the confluence of the Verde River and West Clear Creek to Rutherford.

The trail then crossed the Verde and headed east through Clear Creek, past Wingfield Mesa, over to Thirteen Mile Rock and onto Mud Tank Mesa.

At this point, the trail turned south down Mud Tank Canyon on into Mud Tank Draw. At the bottom of the canyon, at a place the riders called "the corral," someone from Childs would be waiting to pick up that community's mail.

Then the riders followed Fossil Creek around Nash Point over a shallow saddle between two hills before dropping into Strawberry Valley. From there the trail went east along Strawberry Valley, south down Strawberry Hollow and under Milk Ranch Point into Pine before continuing along Sycamore Creek into Payson.

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Volunteers and U.S. Forest Service employees are installing cairns along the old mail trail.

Unlike the pony express, which involved multiple riders relaying the mail along a route, just one rider was used to complete the 104-mile round trip over the first mail trail. "The pony express was altogether a different thing," said Parrish, a longtime horse rancher and member of the Camp Verde Cavalry, the group that is spearheading the effort to re-open the trail.

"Each of the riders who rode our trail was under contract. One guy would take the mail from here to Payson, lay over, and then come back," he said. "There was no relay involved."

A rider was in the saddle from 11 to 18 hours at a time, changing horses twice in each direction. One change took place at the Diamond S Ranch in the vicinity of Clear Creek today, and the other took place in Pine.

Once the mail was unloaded in Payson at a general store on Main Street that is no longer standing, the rider would grab a bite to eat and head back to Pine where he would lay over for the night. The next morning he rode back to Camp Verde where the routine would start all over again.

The only day the rider had off was Monday, and that was usually spent repairing tack. For all this, the pay was a dollar a day.

The U.S. Forest Service has invested $34,000 to improve and, in some places re-create, the trail. Money donated by the two town councils will be used to promote the re-enactment.

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