Early Settlers On The Upper Tonto

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Tonto Creek Adventures, Chapter 2

One cannot spend much time on the upper waters of Tonto Creek without encountering the names of early settlers, such as Roberts, Boles, and Zane Grey.

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Zane Grey, perhaps the Rim Country's most famous resident, plays a role in the history of Tonto Creek. His famous lodge was located downstream from Roberts Mesa, just west of Tonto Creek. In the 11 years he came to the Rim Country, stories came from his pen that endowed the Tonto with fame forever.

Downstream from the fish hatchery and just west of Tonto Creek is an open area named Roberts Mesa, an appellation inherited from an early owner, James Franklin Roberts. He came here in the 1880s and bought squatter's rights from a family named Pendleton, and his escapades were colorful enough to mark him worthy of a place-name.

Jim Roberts raised horses on his ranch, and in 1887 one of his prized animals was stolen. Local gossip pointed to known horse thieves, the Grahams of nearby Pleasant Valley.

That same year a feud erupted between the Grahams and another clan named Tewksbury over allegations of cattle rustling and horse stealing. That feud would escalate, and eventually came to be known as The Pleasant Valley War, drawing in nearly everyone for miles around.

After Jim Roberts' horse was stolen he took an active role in the infamous and bloody guerrilla warfare. He rode boldly into the Graham ranch, where four Graham brothers confronted him and laughed at his accusation. In response, Roberts joined the rival Tewksbury clan on Cherry Creek, and soon found himself in a gun battle during which he killed two of the Grahams and wounded three of their cohorts.

He was forced to spend time in a mountain hideaway, but he was eventually arrested and jailed at the county seat in Prescott. As was often the case in the Pleasant Valley feud, no one could be found to testify against him because they feared retaliation.

When the case was dismissed and Jim Roberts was released, he returned to his ranch near Tonto Creek.

Deciding the danger of life under the Rim wasn't worth staying around, he left Roberts' Mesa to join the gold rush at the mining camps of Congress, over the mountain from Prescott. However, his participation in the Pleasant Valley War had given him enough fame to catch the attention of Yavapai County sheriff Buckey O'Neill. The sheriff appointed him a deputy in December of 1889 and Roberts began a long career as an officer of the peace.

In 1892 he was elected the constable of Jerome, and in 1904 was elected town marshal. While keeping Jerome "peaceful" in those wild times he killed a number of offenders, furthering his reputation as a gunman.

Later he retired to Clarkdale where he spent the rest of his days as a security guard for the United Verde Copper Company. There his fame continued, for during that tenure the aging Roberts shot and killed the driver of a get-away car during a bank holdup. He then chased and captured the dead man's partner in crime.

Jim Roberts died of heart failure in 1934 at the age of 76, leaving his name along the headwaters of Tonto Creek to remind us of his exploits as a gunslinger from "the old west."

At the time Jim Roberts left the Tonto, he sold his squatter's rights to a fellow named Elam Boles. Boles had come from Missouri to Payson, Arizona, in 1882 when it was simply called Green Valley.

A blacksmith friend named Myron Cooper had preceded him there, and the two men worked as partners, shingling houses in the growing village and operating a burro train. They brought supplies from Phoenix over the Mazatzal Mountains and into Tonto Basin and the Rim Country.

It was when Boles tired of that monotonous task that he bought Jim Roberts' place on the Tonto, where he improved the land and began to raise a small herd of cattle. He also married his brother's widow Ida in 1900, and in 1904 Ida and Elam had a son they named Edward Boles.

Fourteen years later Elam Boles befriended the sometime resident and author Zane Grey, who had built a hunting lodge close to the Boles place. Grey, in an October 1919 letter to his wife Dolly, revealed Boles as a primary source of his information for the novel "To The Last Man." Grey wrote:

"Best of all I ran across an old Tonto Basin man, pioneer, named Elam Boles. He went through the Pleasant Valley War and told us the story. It is a wonderful thing. The war really and truly was not between sheep men and cattlemen, but between rustlers and honest ranchers. A good many men want to tell us the story, so we hear, for obvious reasons. But I'm glad Boles got me first."

Grey purchased the Boles property and took over the ranch house in addition to his own lodge. He used the land to raise premium grasses to feed his livestock and housed many of his guests there. He also built a 20-stall stable for a string of riding horses, which he used for his guests when going on guided hunts.

Although few visitors to Tonto Creek will be aware of Jim Roberts and Elam Boles, almost everyone who comes this way responds to the name of Zane Grey. His famous lodge was located downstream from Roberts Mesa, just west of Tonto Creek. In the eleven hunting seasons he came to the Rim Country, stories came from his pen that endowed the Tonto with fame forever.

Zane Grey became one of the best selling novelists of all time and one of the most widely read authors in history. As a romanticist he captured the hearts of his readers, and was the major architect of a genre in literature called "the western." His writing has been a major factor in creating the idealized image of America's west for the world, and his books are translated into many languages. There are Zane Grey fans from every state and many nations who make their pilgrimage to Arizona's Rim Country to see and experience the life they have known through his novels.

The Zane Grey legacy in Arizona began in 1918 when he brought his young son Romer on a hunting trip to the Rim Country. His bear-hunting party camped on the Rim, near the ranch of Anderson Lee "Babe" Haught whom they hired as a guide. Each season after the hunt, Grey went to his home in California determined to return the following fall.

When he returned in 1920, he was working on "To The Last Man," a story based on the Pleasant Valley War. One morning in 1921 Grey stepped off three acres on the upper part of the Haught ranch and offered to buy it. "This is where I want my lodge, so I can see as far as the eye can see. Beautiful country!" he said. "This is where I am going to write a lot of my books."

The spectacular view from his cabin inspired those vivid descriptions of western scenery so famous in his novels.

In 1990, the terrible conflagration called the Dude Fire burned both the Grey lodge and the Babe Haught home to the ground. Fourteen years later the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation replicated the lodge on the grounds of the Rim Country Museum in Payson, and pilgrims once again began their trek.

Zane Grey books still sell over half a million each year, and in this day of nostalgia for another time and place, the legacy of Zane Grey continues to attract fans from all over the world. They come to experience the places he wrote about, to view his memorabilia, and enter again that special Zane Grey environment. They often exclaim, "It's just like he described it!"

Zane Grey books still sell over half a million each year, and in this day of nostalgia for another time and place, the legacy of Zane Grey continues to attract fans from all over the world. They come to experience the places he wrote about, to view his memorabilia, and enter again that special Zane Grey environment. They often exclaim, "It's just like he described it!"

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