Life for the early settlers in the Rim Country was seldom a picnic. At first, there were murderous raids by Indians bolting the reservations. Then there was a lack of physicians and diseases could run rampant; deadly accidents occurred in isolated places. There were outlaws and in-laws who wielded weapons. The dangers were many and all too often, ended in premature death for the dwellers in this beautiful countryside.
Those of us who explore the Rim Country's canyons and forests sometimes come upon solitary graves, marked or unmarked. Each one holds a story, and to ferret out those stories is a fascinating hobby. Today we begin a series of articles that seeks to tell a few of the tales that go with the graves.
Let us begin close at hand with the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. Here we discover why Payson is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Since the name "Payson" was not bestowed upon this community until the first post office was established in 1884, one might ask why we are not celebrating the 123rd anniversary instead.
Just inside the cemetery's arched gateway is a poster that serves as a directory for the graves. Climb the several stairs and look to your left. A chain-link fence surrounds the first graves placed here, those of John Meadows and his son, Henry. For years, the small plaques had the wrong dates on them, until a great nephew of the Meadows family (his name is Charlie Meadows from Kingman, Ariz.) bought and installed the headstones you see today. Apaches killed John and Henry Meadows in a raid on their Whispering Pines ranch, a place the Meadows' called Diamond Valley. It was July 1882, when a group of about 100 renegades broke away from the White Mountain and San Carlos reservations and left a trail of burned ranch buildings and murdered settlers in their wake. The crooked and oppressive practices of the white Indian agents had caused agitation for several years, climaxing in several of these rebellions.
As soon as riders from Globe brought word to Payson that the Apaches were headed that way, families came in from all around to "fort up." The Meadows family joined them, riding in the dozen miles. Everyone waited for several days, while some of the men scouted the countryside for signs of the raiders. They returned saying there was no sign of Indians, and word spread that it was a false alarm.
John Meadows boldly stated that the bullet had not been cast that would kill him, and he took his family back to the ranch.
Meanwhile the leader of the renegades, Nan-tia-tish, brought his followers along the trails below the Rim to the East Verde River. They stealthily camped on the Belluzzi homestead (that family was gone at the time), and a detachment of Apaches went down the river to the Meadows' ranch to steal cattle. The family was wakened in the night by their barking dogs, and John got up to chase off what he supposed was a bear. As soon as he was
off the porch, the Indians opened fire from the surrounding brush.
John was killed, and his two boys, who were there, John Valentine and Henry, charged the Indians, guns blazing. Both of them were wounded in a skirmish that has been often described in detail. (See Archives of the Payson Roundup.)
Friends and family transported the wounded Henry Meadows to the Sidle place at Flowing Springs, and some weeks later he died from his wounds. It is a dramatic tale of pioneer pathos, and continued some days later, when the family returned to exhume their father's body from under the floor of the cabin where they had buried it. Father and son were interred on a hillside outside the village of Green Valley, under a great oak tree. It was the beginning of the cemetery, and from this date, the town marks its beginning.
For an extensive tour of the Pioneer Cemetery, see the article by Jayne Peace Pyle in the Sept. 28, 2007 Roundup special publication on Payson's 125th Anniversary Celebration.
We have a long drive ahead, so we take our leave, ride down historic Main Street, and get onto State Route 87 for a drive north to Pine and Strawberry. As we cross the bridge over the East Verde and begin to climb out of the canyon headed north, we see a white picket fence on our left. It is set back from the highway, and we drive off the pavement into the clearing. This is where Sycamore Creek flows down toward the East Verde, and it was the site of the Sydney Holder ranch. He had followed his brother, John Holder, to Arizona to help with the family's large Angora goat business.
John Holder's family had homesteaded what today is Beaver Valley. Their 12-year-old daughter, Arminta, died there, and her grave, along with that of another unknown Holder baby, is still marked along the Verde River where their old house stood, before the tract was developed. By the time Sydney joined his brother, the John Holder family had moved down the river to take over the old Sidle place, and develop a store and post office called Angora, further down near the crossing. The Holders ranged their sheep all the way from Beaver Valley to East Verde Estates.
The graves surrounded by the white picket fence tell us something about early life here in the Rim Country. After Sydney and his wife Carrie had several children at this ranch site, she died in 1900 at the age of 28, as did their 4-month-old baby, Olive. It probably was from typhoid or pneumonia. About that same time, the mother-in-law of one of John's sons, Mrs. Orr, died and was buried under the slab, just outside the fence. These graves remind us of the hardship of pioneer life, and the frequency with which children and young mothers died on this frontier. With no professional medical help, disease moved rapidly among families.
Next: Graves at Strawberry