Gila County Pioneers Putting On A Party

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A crew of 11 men, most of whom are former standout athletes at Payson High School, have joined forces to do what the former Cowbelles once did -- honor Rim Country pioneers.

The group -- Roy Haught, Tony McDaniel, Ronnie McDaniel, Will Davis, Billy Hardt, Albert Hunt, Tim Hughes, Lonnie Cline, Brian Jennings, Duke Wilbanks and Teddy Tomerlin -- have been meeting each week at the Star Valley home of Haught where they diligently plan and prepare the inaugural Gila County Pioneers BBQ Dinner and Dance.

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Gila County Pioneers committee members gather once a week in Star Valley to plan a celebration to be held Sept. 30 in the Tonto Apache gymnasium.

The gala event will be held 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 30 in the Tonto Apache gymnasium.

Ronnie McDaniel said the event would be "to honor the pioneers who 60 years ago were the backbone of Payson."

He and the other committee members hope the event will become an annual affair.

In planning the evening, the organizing committee has a goal of making the event much like the socials held around the Rim Country decades ago.

"Like we used to go to as kids," Ronnie McDaniel said. "We all remember those very well -- they are some of our best memories."

For 23 years, the former Tonto Cowbelles recreated the events by honoring old-timers at annual dances and dinners. But, the Cowbelles disbanded in 2000.

Then-president Dixie Jones said at the time, "there doesn't seem to be much interest anymore. Not that many people even own cattle anymore."

The Gila County Pioneers organizing committee say they are determined to revive the interest in cowboy culture and honoring Payson pioneers.

The events at the upcoming celebration will include an old-fashioned cake and dessert auction, quilt raffle, prize giveaways, dance and a dinner.

Local musicians will provide the music for the dance, featuring a mix of country western tunes and waltzes.

"There will be plenty of dancing going on," Wilbanks said. "John and Jeri from the Cline family will be cutting a rug."

Haught and Hunt, who are widely regarded as two of the finest cowboy cooks in the Rim Country, will prepare the dinner of barbecued beef and chicken. Side dishes will include cowboy beans, coleslaw and rolls.

Wilbanks has called the meal, "an elbow lickin' dinner."

All proceeds from the evening will be donated to the Payson High School chapter of the FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America).

"We'll let (FFA teacher) Wendell Stevens decide how the money will best help the program," McDaniel said.

Tickets, priced at $10 per person (children are free), are available from any committee member or by calling Haught at (928) 474-2454, Wilbanks at (928) 474-0979 or McDaniel at (928) 474-2000.

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