Throughout the Rim Country and Tonto Basin lie the remains of brave pioneers who settled this fruitful but isolated section of Arizona during its territorial and early statehood years. These solitary and sometimes family plots conjure up memories of the drama, hardship, glory and excitement that surround the settlement of Arizona's central mountains.
This time we take a short drive off State Highway 260 on Colcord Road.
Bill Colcord came to the Rim Country in 1886. He and his son Frank left their influence behind, including the name of this road and Colcord Road in Payson.
Descending from Al Fulton Point on the Rim, we take a left turn off 260 before the highway continues on to Christopher Creek, and drive a little over a mile on Colcord Road. We look very carefully along the roadside on our left until we spot several graves enclosed by two fences. In one fenced area two children are buried, Roy Nehrmeyer, born March 30, 1914, who died at age 12, and G. W. Nehrmeyer, born Feb. 22, 1912 and died at the age of one year, three days.
The second enclosure contains the grave of Ruth L. Hunt who died Dec. 2, 1914 just short of being 22 months old. Also buried there is W. J. ("Jase") Anderton who died Nov. 10, 1923, a month before his 52nd birthday. Outside the two fenced areas there are some rocks that appear to be the footstones for other graves, but there are no markers.
One cannot help speculating on the sorrows enclosed with the graves of these little ones, and wonder about these Gordon Canyon families.
Jase Anderton was ranching here when his sister in the Dallas, Texas, Effie Anderton Hunt, was widowed. Her husband left her with seven children to raise, so Jase wrote and asked her to come to Arizona where he could help her with her large family. In the autumn of 1914 Effie brought her brood by train, disembarking at Winslow where her brother met them with the wagon. The trip south through the forest went smoothly until they approached the top of the Mogollon Rim. There the wagon became so stuck they had to unhitch the horses and walk down Gordon Canyon to the Anderton ranch.
Here Effie found good neighbors and a loving brother to help her raise the children. The children's names were Leonard and Ted (whose birthdates I do not know); Buford, who was just turning 14; Flora, who had just turned 11; Maggie Etta 8; Ray, 5; and the baby, Ruth who was a bit over 18 months old when she arrived in the Rim Country.
Soon after the family arrived, Ruth became ill and died on Dec. 2.
As the girls grew, they married the available ranchers, who in that part of the Rim Country often were Haughts. Maggie married George Haught, but their baby boy died at 17 months and is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. She later married Wesley Powers.
Flora married Columbus "Boy" Haught, and lived to the age of 99, sharing stories of her upbringing there in Gordon Canyon. In spite of the sorrows accompanying pioneer life, and the frequent loss of children, Flora recalled the joys of being raised on that ranch. She loved to dance, and first met Boy Haught at a dance in the Gordon Canyon School House. After that he would ride over to Gordon Canyon, where she lived with her uncle and mother at the Anderton place, and escort her to the dances. Since the dance usually lasted all night, he would escort her home the next day and then ride home to go to work. In her latter years, Flora looked back on those days and described her upbringing to Marguerite Noble.
"We had to make our own fun. We had good neighbors and we got together. The whole family, young, and old, went to the dances, usually held in the schoolhouse, as the only place large enough for a group. I've danced many a mile in the Tonto schoolhouse where Horton joins Tonto Creek above Kohl's Ranch, and in the Gordon Canyon School, which now has been removed, to the Pioneer Arizona Living Museum on the Black Canyon Highway. We danced to fiddle and guitar music, with cornmeal on the floor to slicken it. At midnight we stopped for a potluck supper. The women brought all kinds of good food, meat, vegetables, cakes, and pies. Always on the stove was a pot of hot coffee. We came to dance, not to sleep, and so we danced until daylight. Then we blew out the coal oil lamps and sometimes went to a neighbor's house for breakfast. Beefsteak and hot biscuits, or bacon, eggs and hotcakes. Then we got on our horses or in the wagon to head homeward. Fourth of July was a big time for picnics. People came from miles away, from Young, Pleasant Valley, Rye, Tonto Basin, Gisela, Payson for the visiting and celebrating. That was the best part of my life, when we lived on the ranch and rode horseback every place we went. Oh, it's a wonderful life. You didn't have everything and anything that you wanted, but that was all right. You made do with what you had."
In less than 11 months after Flora and Boy Haught were married, her uncle Jase Anderton died and was buried beside her little sister Ruth.
One of the musicians at those dances was Albert Nehrmeyer, who was known to enjoy sipping his homemade moonshine while entertaining the dancers. Albert, and his two brothers Edward and John, had come from Texas to homestead in the Rim Country. They raised beans and hogs and sold moonshine, typical employments for farmers in those days. Albert married Annie Anderton, one of his neighbor's children. Albert was one of the guides employed by Zane Grey, and his wife Annie recalled cooking for all of them in Grey's cabin near Tonto Creek.
Albert's wife Annie was just 16 when she gave birth to their first child in 1909. They had nine children there in Gordon Canyon, but tragedy struck at least twice. In 1912 their 1-year-old, George Wilson Nehrmeyer (the "G. W." on the gravestone) died of poisoning. Two years later their 12-year-old son Roy Leonard Nehrmeyer was shot and killed during a turkey hunt. One can only speculate how either of these boys might have been saved had they not been living in such isolation.
In 1929 Albert and Annie moved with their children to the Phoenix area because their son Henry needed relief from asthma. However, the next year he and Annie were divorced, and Albert moved with his two brothers back to Mesquite, Texas, 12 miles east of Dallas, taking the older boys with him. Back in Texas Albert bought a gas station and did some farming until his death in 1971. He is buried in the Mesquite, Texas cemetery.
Other children of Albert and Annie continued in the Phoenix area. Their son Fred is the father of Matt Nehrmeyer. Matt recalls the family stories from his great-grandfather's time in Gordon Canyon, and together with his father Fred has provided me with much of the information about this family, who left their name on two solitary graves along Colcord Road. Matt and his bride Jessica, who was "Miss Rodeo Arizona 2002", live in Mesa where she is a teacher and he is a structural engineer currently working on the new bridge in Minnesota to replace the one that collapsed in Minneapolis.
In our next adventure with Rim Country graves, we will visit the resting place of the man for whom Starr Valley was named.