Anna Mae's Place Amongst Payson Historians


We've had a number of historians write about Payson history over time. Since the start of 2007, we've lost two of the most notable ones, Arizona CultureKeepers Marguerite Noble and most recently, Anna Mae Deming.

It got me thinking about Anna Mae and where she rates compared to others. It also made me think of others who've made contributions to Rim Country history. This week, I thought it might be good to pause and take a look.


This picture was out of an Arizona Trail Lore column, from an unknown publication. I'd scanned it from one of the Ralph Fisher Sr. scrapbooks at the Northern Gila County Historical Society. Mrs. Ralph Fisher took this photo and the caption says the turkey was shot while those pictured were hunting out by the Old Zane Grey Ranch.

There have been Rim Country "historians" pretty much forever. Native Americans have long passed down stories from generation to generation orally. Even once Caucasian people came to Rim Country, there were keepers of culture. Folks like Florence Packard and Elwood Pyle passed down stories orally that historians put in books today. Then there were folks like L.J. Horton who wrote some memoirs while in the Arizona Pioneer Home. Others like Charles Clark, who passed through here in the late 1870s, wrote about bygone times for newspapers. Their recollections were not always 100 percent correct, or so we think nowadays based on records we find, but they've usually been colorful and help guide us to the truth.

I have to touch on Horton in particular for a moment. L.J. Horton is the person for whom Horton Creek is named. We still don't know as much as we'd like to know about him, but at least we have something. His small piece on the Pleasant Valley War can be found at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for whom another tributary is named: Dick Williams Creek, which also flows in Tonto Creek north of 260, continues to be a mystery. Clearly Williams had to have been in the area. But there really are no "hot" leads to follow. It's a shame, too. I've been to the source of Dick Williams Creek and find it to be a magnificent sight. Just following the flowing spring in that area takes me back 100 years as I try to picture what it was like.

Obviously, we have Zane Grey as a historian. When you read a book like "Tales of Lonely Trails," you find Grey's descriptions coming to life. Obviously though, this wasn't a man who was writing history books. If you want to find someone of that era who did a little bit more of that, you've got to turn to Ross Santee. In my opinion, Santee is one of the most underappreciated Arizona history writers of all time. His autobiography, "Lost Pony Tracks" is a magnificent work, telling some incredible stories of what he encountered. He brought to life the cowboys of the time. When I found in his autobiography a section on Charlie Collins, who had Grey's 120 acres of the Boles Homestead immediately following Grey, I was blown away. One passage that Santee wrote in his autobiography about Collins is particularly humorous.

"A certain cowman went into Charlie Collin's saddle shop in Globe to buy a saddle blanket, picked out the blanket he wanted and asked the price. ‘Isn't that a little high?' the cowman asked.

"Charlie pitched the blanket onto the highest shelf as he replied, ‘it's a damn sight higher now."

"It was ‘take it or leave it' with Charlie, who still makes and sells the best. But I'd hesitate to say how many pieces he has made and given away to friends."

Santee was also a marvelous sketch artist. He did sketches for not just his own books, but others as well. I highly recommend paging through one of his books the next time you find one in an antique store.

Many have written about the Pleasant Valley War, including most recently Leland Hanchett, but I still marvel at Don Dedera's work, "A Little War of Our Own." Dedera did a marvelous job researching the war in an era when most people still weren't talking. He also wrote some pretty good history columns for The Arizona Republic back in the day.

When I look back at old Payson Roundups, I love much of Ralph Fisher Sr.'s stuff. He spent four years as the editor of the Roundup, but never put aside his passion for the outdoors. While he is best known for his book on javelina, his history articles provide some great information for historians now.

"Rim Country History" was a groundbreaking work when it was released in 1984. While it was "written" by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, a closer look shows just who had the most to do with it. The book committee was chaired by Ira Murphy with Anna Mae Deming, James Lipnitz, and Marguerite Noble also working on it. Murphy was a longtime area historian who wrote, "A Brief History of Payson, Arizona." That book is particularly impressive when you look at those names. That was a pretty good bunch of folks who wrote it.

We also have a bunch of historians working on things today, but I'm not going to name names because I don't think we've quite earned our right to be mentioned in the same sentence as those others.

Out of all the folks that I've named, I think Anna Mae really excelled above and beyond. The speaker that I was most impressed with at her funeral service was Bryon Peterson from the National Weather Service. Before I moved up here full time and started getting serious about writing history, I knew who Anna Mae Deming was. She was that little old lady in Payson, Arizona who took care of the weather. I still remember Dave Munsey Phoenix's Fox 10 mentioning her on air. Throughout the funeral people mentioned how when Anna Mae picked up the phone she answered it, "Payson weather." She really was our weather lady.

When you look at the names mentioned above, Anna Mae's the most authentic. Her ancestry link to Davey Gowan was pretty awesome, but another name slipped by I think all too many eyes, that of her maiden name, Ogilvie. Andrew Ogilvie was one of the early homesteaders in the Star Valley area. That kind of link to the past is quite incredible, one that I think every comparative "newbie" to the area envies.

Anna Mae was honest and was not afraid to do some mentoring with the "next generation," which is something that I particularly appreciate. I've heard the stories from Jayne Peace Pyle about how helpful Anna Mae was to her when she was working on her book about the History of Gisela. Jayne was similar in age then to what I am now, and according to her, Anna Mae offered her all the help and guidance in the world. Obviously Jayne took that to heart, because she has been incredibly helpful to me on my book, and with my history pieces in general. Everybody needs mentors, and Anna Mae was that to Jayne, and Jayne and her husband Jinx are that to me now. And that really goes to the heart of what separated Anna Mae from others. She did not just do good things by herself, but she gave so much of herself to others that the good that was in her will forever be circulating and passing through the world through the deeds that others do. She understood that you get back what you give, and she was forever giving. She preserved a great deal of history, some, like weather observations, as it was happening. We didn't just lose one of the best, probably the best. And that's no disrespect to some great ones that we still have left. While she's not "old family," Sue Owen comes to mind when I say that. That's somebody who is every bit as caring and helpful, and if you do some research at the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society, you'll see exactly what I mean.

The legacy of Anna Mae Deming is something that will continue to circulate throughout the Rim Country through the deeds of those she touched forever.

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