The Story Of Payson, Arizona


Before Green Valley became a village, a mining camp almost took the honors in 1881 three miles to the west. A cluster of miners’ tents mushroomed beside the military road established more than a decade earlier by the army. The road from Tonto Basin followed Wild Rye Creek to its headwaters, and then continued to the mouth of Pine Creek. From there it led northward toward the Mogollon Rim. However, not far from the mining camp, a trail branched to the east and led into Green Valley. The prospectors chose this location because many mines were close by and at the end of a nearby gulch there was a spring of fresh water.[1]

On May 1, 1881, Emer and Margaret Chilson came from Globe to the mining camp and opened a mercantile store. The store had a wooden platform with tent sidings, as did the other buildings. The Chilson store soon became the camp’s social center and primary supply center for the surrounding ranches and mines. Emer Chilson’s journal of transactions, found at the Arizona State archives in Phoenix, records the names of early Rim Country settlers, including notes on their purchases of tobacco and liquor. Burch, Cole, Craig, Gowan, McDonald, Middleton, Nance, Nash, Pyeatt, Vaughn, Vogel and Sieber are some of the names that appear. Since the camp did not have a name, the Chilsons took the prerogative of naming it Marysville, after their daughter, Margaret Mary Chilson.

The Chilson family history is so imbedded with Payson history we need to look at it more closely.

Margaret and Emer Chilson would play an important role in the development of the Payson community. Margaret Ann Birchett was born in Burleson County, Texas, Feb. 18, 1851, and while very young she was orphaned. Her maternal grandparents Cole raised her and her siblings. Living in dangerous Comanche Indian country, the children carried a gun as they walked daily to school. At the close of the Civil War the family moved to Downey, Calif., and there, Margaret Ann met Emer L. Chilson. She was 15 and he was 25 when they were married Sept. 6, 1866. They had five children, John C., Littlie Dale, Charles E., Margaret Mary, and Napoleon W. Chilson (later nicknamed “Boss”).

The family decided to return to Texas in 1875, but when they reached Globe/Miami in Arizona Territory, the prospects for mining were so good they decided to settle there. They built a house from adobe and bear grass, and proceeded to put up the first ore mill in Miami. Their sixth child, Guy, was born, and Margaret later claimed he was “the first white child born in Miami.” The morning after the baby was born, her bachelor neighbors brought breakfast to the family, consisting, she said, “of fresh fish from the Salt River, hot rolls, beefsteak, rabbit, quail and such things.”

In Miami the Chilsons organized the community’s first school and housed the teacher. The family opened the first mercantile store in old Miami with Margaret’s brother, Joe Birchett. They realized there was more money in selling to the miners than in being a miner. In 1881 the excitement of expansion wooed the family to Marysville, and they left the Miami store in the hands of brother Joe.

On Feb. 10, 1881, several months before the Chilsons arrived in Marysville, a 39-year-old Frenchman named Paul Vogel arrived there with his friend William Craig. The partners established a claim called The Single Standard Mine. Vogel had immigrated to America with his father from Alsace, France, and settled in Illinois in 1861, just in time to join the army for the Civil War.

Paul saw much action with the 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and after he was mustered out in August 1864, he became a muleskinner for government contractors. While caring for mule teams he met William Craig, a wagon master, and the two engaged in various freighting enterprises.

When they heard about the gold rush in Arizona’s central mountains, they decided to try their luck as prospectors. Their Single Standard mining claim did not pay off, and after they had sunk into it several thousand dollars of borrowed money they sold the mine and began working as builders for the growing number of settlers in the Rim Country.

Their work included log fences around the ranches at Indian Gardens, just west of today’s Kohl’s Ranch on Tonto Creek, as well as the famous “mud house” that still stands on Payson’s Main Street. In later years Paul Vogel told Ernest Pieper, “You know, when I built that place it took me 30 days and I got 30 dollars.”

Vogel and Craig are known primarily for their fruit ranch on Webber Creek, where today’s Geronimo Estates subdivision is located. They called it the Spade Ranch, probably because they had to spade so much dirt in order to plant more than 1,200 fruit trees, imported from Alabama in the spring of 1884. They had a large drying oven for the fruit, and the remnants of it are there to this day. For many years they supplied Payson homeowners with luscious peaches and other fresh fruit in season as well as dried fruit out of season.

Paul Vogel died a bachelor one month short of his 88th birthday, and he is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

The Marysville camp was short lived because the gold was running too thin to sustain it. When the area received word of a major Apache war party headed that way in 1882, Emer Chilson decided to take his family to Globe for safety. While there Margaret gave birth to their seventh child, Irene.

When they returned to Marysville they found their store had been looted of all its merchandise, and Emer decided to give it up. He traded the store to L.P. Nash of Strawberry for a cut-rate price on a nearby mine called The Golden Wonder.

It soon became evident the mine would not feed his growing family (their next child Jesse was born in 1884), and when Chilson could not make the final payments, a distant relative from California, John Robbins, rescued them by purchasing a share of the mine.[2]

Emer and his older sons worked in the mines as far away as Bisbee to support his family, and they began raising cattle in Green Valley. That was where the future lay for this pioneer family, and Payson soon became their base of operations. Emer died in 1891, leaving Margaret with six children. His children Lillie and Guy had preceded him in death.

The Chilson men went on to develop extensive cattle ranches, while their mother remarried and came to be known affectionately as Grandma Platt.

Margaret and her sons parlayed their land holdings, selling their NB Ranch at the mouth of Pine Creek to Guy Barkdoll, a son-in-law. Boss and Charlie Chilson traded cattle to Bill McDonald for the old Burch ranch, which included today’s Payson Golf Course.

Margaret later traded that ranch to Guy Barkdoll for property on Main Street and cash. Jesse built a house for his mother and himself at 703 W. Main, saying he would never marry. But he did, falling in love with a local teacher named Lena Chapman. He built a house next door to his mother’s where he lived with his wife until his death from cancer. Margaret Ann Chilson Platt died in 1941 at the age of 90.

So the scene shifted from Marysville to Green Valley, a settlement that was soon to be named Payson.

[1] The spring, later called Grimes Spring, was tapped with a system of pipes that brought the water into the mining camp. Some decades later, during prohibition, that canyon with its spring became a site of bootlegging operations.

[2] Eventually the mine yielded many thousands of dollars in gold for a series of owners, but in 1980 the mine became the center of a scandal. An Arizona mining company together with a Canadian corporation sold $40,000 worth of unregistered securities under false claims about the mine’s value. The investor’s money was used to pay off the company debts.


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