Rim Country Loses Pioneer Rancher, Horseman

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E.C. Conway, 90, was practically born on a horse. He was born Nov. 1, 1917 in Globe to Ed and Jane Conway, and as a 10-day-old infant, traveled on horseback to the family's Greenback Valley Ranch.

"I was born one day, and 10 days later I was a rancher," he liked to say.

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E.C. Conway

Edward Charles (E.C.) Conway died Feb. 25.

E.C. was part of the Payson Rodeo since the early 1930s.

He took part in about 20 of them, including the ones in which he boxed.

Mr. Conway lived on and operated the Greenback Valley Ranch for his entire life. He was one of the best cowmen in Gila County. He knew the history of every cow on his ranch, and the histories of every cow's mother and grandmother.

His life spanned from trail drives over Reno Pass to Phoenix and drives from Roosevelt to Wheatfields, to being one of the founders of the Gila County sale yard in Globe.

He served as president of the Gila County Cattle Growers and served on the Tonto National Forest Grazing Advisory Board for many years.

Mr. Conway was a great storyteller and loved to visit with friends and strangers. His favorite stories were about the history of Tonto Basin and all of the early settlers in the area.

The Roundup was fortunate to visit with Mr. Conway shortly before the 2007 Payson Rodeo and he shared some of his favorite stories.

As a young, wiry cowboy from a pioneer ranching family, Conway made his mark in more than a few events at the Payson Rodeo during the 1930s and 1940s. He roped calves, team roped and even boxed and milked wild cows. His partner -- and sometimes competition -- in the contests was his brother, Clarence.

"I was about 15 or 16 when I started (participating in the rodeo)," he said in an interview at Rim Country Health and Retirement Community, with his son, Bill by his side.

Payson's wasn't the only rodeo in which the teen competed.

"We went all over the state this time of year," he said.

He and his family made the trip to the rodeo every summer, even before he started competing.

Over the years, he had many team roping partners, in addition to his brother Clarence, some he still recalls are Buck Nichols, with whom he won the Payson Rodeo, Frank Cline and John Cline.

"We just used ranch horses," he said of the mounts they rode in team roping. Modesty and an aging memory prevented Conway from saying how many contests he won over the years, except to say, "I won a few."

But the fact that he frequently won his events in Williams makes that rodeo his favorite out of all them.

There wasn't much money to be won in the old days, but one especially good year Conway won between $800 and $900. It was money that helped families get through the winter.

Conway did not always compete in the Payson Rodeo, he participated in about 20 of them, he said, but he and his family always made the trip from their ranch in Greenback Valley in the Sierra Anchas. They even came the year the monsoon rains had Tonto Creek running so high, they had to come in the long way, first going east to go north and then to come west and south to Payson.

In the old days, with only a handful of rooms to rent, people coming to the Payson Rodeo would stay with family or friends or camp out. The Conways rented a little cabin at a place just off South McLane every summer.

Conway was among the rodeo contestants who also took part in the boxing that was introduced to the list of events in the 1930s. It was one of the things unique to Payson -- none of the other rodeos in which Conway participated had boxing.

In their book "Rodeo 101," Jinx Pyle and Jayne Peace Pyle, published by Git A Rope! Publishing, Inc., wrote about the boxing and visited with Conway about it.

"As the celebration picked up steam, bull dogging entered the picture and because the August Celebration was geared for everyone, more novelty events found their way onto the program: cowhide races, wild cow milkings, wild horse races, even boxing became popular.

"In the 1930s, a boxing ring was set up along Payson's Main Street during the celebration. Anyone who cared to test his skill with the gloves against an opponent was welcome to climb into the ring. Bets were placed on the boxers and the fight was on! The spirit and rules of boxing were admired, and dirty fighting was not tolerated in the ring. This spirit carried over into fights that broke out along Main Street. The quickest way to lose the respect of an old Payson cowboy was to kick an opponent when he was down.

"E.C. Conway and his brother, Clarence's dad, Ed, had built a boxing ring for the boys at Greenback, so they could hone their boxing skills for Payson Rodeo. When E.C. was about 16, he was on his way from the lower Tonto Basin up to the August Doin's. He carried his boxing gloves with him. Jim Hudson, a world champion roper in 1941, was traveling to the Payson Rodeo when he saw E.C. and gave him a ride.

"E.C. recalled boxing at Payson's 1932 rodeo. When asked who he fought, he replied, ‘I don't remember his name. It was one of those CCC boys. I whipped him, but the best fight that year was when Walter Trezise whipped Port Hinton. Port had a reputation as a fighter and he thought nobody could whip him.

"The fight was right in the street and it lasted for 30 minutes. Walter was the toughest guy I ever saw. He just wore that big old boy out. I seen Walter take Hinton's Sunday punch and it didn't even make him blink. Port was a big, tough bugger and Walter was lanky and thin, but that feller hit Walter with everything he had and Walter just took it and kept comin' and Walter was the one that walked away when it was over. No one wanted to fight Walter after that.'"

While the Pyles relate that a boxing ring was set up on Main Street, Conway told the Roundup the boxing ring was actually inside the old Oxbow, on a platform.

In addition to roping and boxing, Conway recalls running and winning some of the foot races that part of the old rodeo. He also took part in the wild cow-milking contest.

"I was pretty good at it. All the rodeos had them back then," he said.

Mr. Conway was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years Frances, two daughters Mary Ann Sage and Jeanne Halmer and one grandson, Cody McCarn. He is survived by two sons, Eddie (Betty Sue) Conway of Tonto Basin, Bill (Penny) Conway of Payson, seven grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held at Tonto Basin School, 11 a.m. Saturday, March 1.

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