The Story Of Payson, Arizona

Founded by miners, built by ranchers: the story of payson, arizona - Chapter 7: A POST OFFICE NAMED PAYSON


By the year 1884 the village of Union Park was growing along the crossroads that came from Ox Bow Hill on the south, the mines around Marysville to the west, Pine to the north, and settlers under the Rim to the east. Businesses and homes intermingled as residents claimed the tillable properties on the meadow by the springs. The wash came to be called The American Gulch, named after the American Mine at its mouth on the East Verde River.

This growing population received their some-time mail deliveries from whomever was riding this way from Globe or Fort Verde. A desire was expressed by the population for government contracts to establish a regular mail route between Camp Verde and Globe, with Union Park being a major connection point.

The merchant and surveyor John Hise took leadership in this movement, using his political connections back in Illinois. He was friends with a United States Congressman from Illinois named Lewis Edwin Payson, who agreed to bring a bill before Congress for the establishment of a mail route between Camp Verde and Globe, with a post office in Union Park.[1] The bill passed, and the grateful residents honored Congressman Payson by naming the post office after him. So it was that the name Union Park faded from view and everyone rallied around the name Payson. The date of the establishment of the post office was March 3, 1884. John Hise’s son, Frank C. Hise, was appointed the first postmaster, and the post office was located in the Hise family mercantile on the northwest corner where the road from the south intersected with Main Street. It was across the alley (later to be called “Bootleg Alley”) from Henry Sidles’ Saloon (later to become the Pieper Saloon).

An early resident of Pine described the newly established mail route from Camp Verde.[2] “Ashton Nebeker got the contract to carry the mail on horseback over the route of Camp Verde to Mud Tanks Mesa, across Fossil Creek Canyon and Strawberry Valley into Pine, then along Sycamore Creek to Payson. The creek wound on and on and had to be crossed and recrossed many times. It was a wilderness land over mountains and over flatland, sparse of human habitation, except for some marauding Indians. It took about 18 hours in the saddle to cover the 50-mile route.

“From Payson the carriers went on to Rye, 12 miles south of Payson, where the mail was exchanged; incoming received and that to go on to Globe and south handed in.[3] … The mail was carried in a sack on the saddle, except when the catalogues came in. Then mules or pack horses were used ... The mail carriers were traveling salesmen as well. They brought medicine for the sick, thread and cloth for the ranchers’ wives and an odd bottle of Old Kentucky for some cowboy friends.”

A year after the establishment of Payson, changes were in the wind for the Hise family. Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was elected president and began his term in 1885. Political appointments were up for review and John Hise, a Democrat, traveled to Washington to lobby for the position of Surveyor General of Arizona Territory. He was successful and given the post, he immediately moved his family to Tucson, closer to the political heartbeat of the Territory.[4] Frank Hise became the chief clerk for his father, leaving the Payson post amid rumors of postal irregularities. He was succeeded by Ada Bowers as post mistress on Nov. 11, 1885. John’s other son, John H. Hise, also moved to Tucson where the two brothers entered the business of raising livestock.

It is of interest in the history of the town to look ahead. The coming of regular mail delivery to Payson encouraged a new influx of residents, and families were active in subdividing their homestead stakes into saleable lots. The most desirable land along Main Street and on the flats was soon taken, so newly arrived settlers spread out on parcels north, south and southeast of the village. In 1900, land owners made a terrible discovery. Surveyor John Hise had neglected to register the town survey with the county.[5] Nor had he registered the village survey with territorial or federal governments. Thus all the land still belonged to the Federal Land Office, while residents were simply able to claim “squatter’s rights” without actual ownership.

When the National Forests were created in 1905, Payson became part of the Tonto National Forest. In 1906, the Forest Homestead Act was passed by Congress, permitting citizens to appropriate land within the national forests that could be farmed. Paysonites scrambled to reclaim the parcels they had lived on for years. A second Homestead Act of 1912 provided that the land be classified into usable and unusable land for agricultural purposes. Only the farm land was to be patented. Some settlers were denied patents because their land was not fit for agriculture. The earliest homesteads to be patented in Payson were in 1910, by James O. Hill, August Pieper and William B. Thompson.[6]  

Since Payson lacked official status as a townsite, unless residents staked claims leading to a patent, they were illegally using government land. Citizens agitated for a newly surveyed townsite that could be separated from the National Forest. Their original petition can be seen at the Rim Country Museum. The government bureaucracy is notoriously slow, and their petitions did not bear fruit until 1929 when a new survey of the town was made. This resulted in the land being transferred from the Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) to Gila County.

In January 1930, the county Superior Court judge was authorized to serve as trustee and on March 3, 1930, 46 years after the post office was established, Payson was given official standing as a town by the county board of supervisors. For a nominal fee, residents were now entitled to deeds for the lots they had “owned” for many years.

The town remained an unincorporated area of Gila County. More petitions were circulated over the ensuing decades, and on Dec. 3, 1973, the Gila County Board of Supervisors incorporated the Town of Payson, allowing them to form their own town council. It had been almost 95 years since the name “Payson” was established in 1884.

As summer approached that year, and the daily arrival of a mail carrier made coming in to town a frequent social event, some cowboys decided to have a roping contest in the meadow along Main Street. It would be the beginning of a grand tradition.


[1] According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-1989, Lewis Edwin Payson was born in Providence, R.I., September 17, 1840. He moved to Illinois with his parents in 1852 and studied for the law. He practiced law in Ottawa and Pontiac, Illinois, and from there became a judge of the Livingston County court. He was not from Chicago, as some references have it, but from Pontiac when elected to Congress, serving from 1881 to 1891. There he was Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands. After 1891 he resumed his practice of law and died in Washington D.C. October 4, 1909.

[2] Arizona High Country magazine, date of the issue is lost, an article titled “Pine Postal Recall” by Joan Lasays.

[3] Later the “turn around” point would become Payson, where mail bags were exchanged and different riders headed back toward Camp Verde and on to Globe.

[4] John Hise held the position of Arizona’s Surveyor General until the Republican President Harrison was inaugurated in 1889, and Hise lost his position. John Hise died in Los Angeles Nov. 14, 1889, according to archived news clippings.

[5] At the time of the 1884 survey, Payson was located in Yavapai County, with its seat in Prescott. In an 1889 political swap, the Territorial Legislature took the Payson and Tonto Basin area from Yavapai County and made them part of Gila County, with the county seat in Globe. This gave Gila ranching and mineral land they coveted, and gave Payson residents a legal center in Globe more accessible than Prescott. To buy the deal, Gila County representatives threw their votes in with southern Territorial representatives to move the capital from Prescott to Phoenix.

[6] See “An OverView of the Payson Basin Geographic Study Area” by Deborah S. Dosh and Duane Klinner, done for the Tonto National Forest and printed by Northland Research, Inc., Flagstaff , AZ, June 1993.


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