Western Spirit

Ninth annual festival a local reminder of area's heritage


Eddie Armer has lived and worked in the Rim Country since he was a boy. He is a man with stories to tell, poems to recite and music to play.

"Aren't I the luckiest man in the world?" he said several times during the discussion of the upcoming Western Heritage Festival.


The Western Heritage Festival is for Rim Country children, too. Parents bring your cameras to photograph your children in a wagon or their faces in wooden cutouts of western outfits and pioneer costumes.

His smile is as broad as the Mogollon Rim, as he opens one of two family histories he is working on-- the Griffins'.

He feels fortunate to have photographs his grandmother gave him as he grew up, is clearly delighted to have the autobiography his grandfather wrote and is proud to be a part of five generations of law enforcement and ranching in Gila County.

The family historian got his start at the age of 10 listening to his grandmother, Laura Belle Hocker, tell him stories of Charles Clifford Griffin, the grandfather who died before Eddie was born.

Hocker came to Arizona from Colorado with her family when she was just a year old. She was "a petite woman who rode broncs and drove cattle," Armer recalled.

Griffin, deafened from scarlet fever at age 5, was among the students in first graduating class of Gallaudet College for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. in 1883.

"I always had Western fever," Griffin wrote in his autobiography. The original manuscript is written on old yellow school paper.

"When they began to stock up the West," he wrote, "I began to look into it. I came out in 1884 and I've never been sorry. The cattle business is the most fascinating in the world."

He recalled President Abraham Lincoln at his Inaugural Address as a "tall lanky figure in his black clothes," the mention of this great moment in history is an unusual find according to Armer.

Hocker's marriage to Griffin in 1888 was, according to The Arizona Republic newspaper, a "highlight of territorial days."

Griffin was never far from his fiddle.

In 1912 they purchased the 76 Ranch at the confluence of the Tonto and Rye Creeks.

The beloved 76 Ranch remained in the family until 1963.

"For a man that I didn't get to know, he left me so many great things," Armer said.

Not the least of which is a legacy of music.

Despite being deaf, Griffin played a Granarius violin (fiddle) made in Italy in 1634. He was able to do this by taking off his shoes and feeling vibrations in the floor, Armer's grandmother told him.

Armer is a singer, a song-writer and he plays the guitar.

He will be onstage at noon at the 9th Annual Western Heritage Festival.

Western village activities for children

Just as Armer started collecting pictures when he was a boy, the Western Heritage Festival offers children hands-on opportunities to get in touch with the past.

"My goal is to help the children see what mining, lumber and ranching used to be like in Payson and the Rim Country one hundred years ago," said children's event coordinator Pat Kuzma.

The Tonto Apache tribe is providing acorns and a metate for the children to try their hands at grinding.

The Rimstone Rock Club has provided a rock and mineral display that children can touch.

Children have the opportunity, overseen by the Shoofly Quilters, to make faux quilts by gluing small fabric squares onto 6-by-9 inch cardstock.

The FFA Club from Payson High School will host a roping activity with a bale of hay and a fake steer head.

A demonstration and exhibit of brands will be given courtesy of the Hashknife Cowboys.

Canyon Country Log Homes is providing a full size notched log exhibit and children can build houses out of Lincoln logs (but they cannot take the logs home.)

Stories of long ago will be told by members of the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society.

And, Payson's cadet Girl Scout troop is hosting a make-it, take-it windsock with cutouts representing mining, lumber and ranching.


Admission is free to the Ninth Annual Western Heritage Festival on Saturday, Oct. 14, near the Museum in Green Valley Park. A dedication to pioneer families will open the day at 10 a.m.

Food and beverages will be sold at a concession stand hosted by area Boy Scouts.

A dozen artists will showcase Western themed art.

"Our gift to the community is free admission to the Zane Grey Museum, The Western Heritage Museum and the Rim Country Archaeology Museum," said event coordinator, Diana Garrity.

Music and Entertainment Schedule:

Indoor stage

Noon Dean Cook

12:30 p.m. Jim and Ellie Cook

1 p.m. Dee Strickland Johnson

2 p.m. Mexican Beaded Lizard Band (demo how to play a saw)

Outdoor stage

11 a.m. Anne James

11:30 a.m. Johnnie Richards

Noon Eddie Armer and Billy Ichida

12:30 p.m. Children's dance; Arvid Thompson

12:45 p.m. Joe Miracle

1 p.m. Mexican Beaded Lizard band

1:30 p.m. Junction 87

2 p.m. Dean Cook

2:30 p.m. Jim and Ellie Cook

3 p.m. Lee Silby

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