Part 1: First Arrivals

founded by miners, built by ranchers: the story of payson, arizona

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This structure is the remnant of an arrastre. A burro pulled a grinding stone around and around in this pit to crush the gold ore. Several of these arrastre ruins can be found along the lower East Verde River.

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A closer view of the entrance into the Crackerjack Mine — one dare not go in very far.

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Crackerjack Mine, seen from a distance here, is one of the mines of the area’s early prospectors. It is located on Buckhorn Mesa.

Green Valley was left to the Apaches for six years following the army’s failure to establish a military post there. In July of 1874 De-che-ae, the last Apache chief to hold out against the white invasion was killed and the remnants of his band surrendered to the Rio Verde Reservation.

In February the following year, that reservation was closed, and the various tribes — Yavapai, Apache and Hualapai — were taken on a forced march all the way to San Carlos. They passed near Green Valley, following the East Verde River to Pine Creek, and then over the divide to follow the military trail down Rye Creek and through Tonto Basin. This incarceration of all but a few rebel holdout Apaches was the green light for settlers.

The first white settlers to Green Valley were looking for gold. The gold rush in California had run its course and prospectors were looking for new veins of the precious metal in other western states. Soldiers who had fought in the Indian War spread the word about what they thought were “remarkably rich gold-bearing float rock.”

In 1875 two partners, William Burch and John Hook, were the first to build a house in Green Valley. It was a log cabin near the fifth green of today’s Payson Golf Course. Burch and Hook soon staked a claim to the first mine in the area called the Golden Waif. It was near the sewage treatment plant in today’s Payson.

Three years later, retired army scout Al Sieber and his partners William St. Johns and Sam Hill had headquartered on Ox Bow Hill and staked mining claims there and in the Sierra Ancha. That same year, 1878, a prospector named Charlie Clark and a party of prospectors arrived in Green Valley on their way to Leadville, Colo. They camped near Burch’s cabin along the stream that ran through the meadow. [i]

Food in the area was most plentiful. Turkey and deer came to drink in the swampy wetland each morning, and following the stream they reported killing 10 deer by afternoon. To turn this plentiful cache of meat into jerky the party decided to lay over for a week. In addition to the bonanza of wildlife, upon returning to camp to fetch their pack animals the prospectors found gold-bearing rock. In fact, it was so rich they decided to stay in Green Valley and stake claims.

Charlie Clark wrote, “The whole world is heading for Leadville, and Leadville cannot possibly have anything better to show than we have here ... We are in absolutely virgin country, with high-grade ore lying all around us.”

Clark’s party returned to Phoenix for supplies, and could not refrain from boasting about their good fortune. They showed samples of the gold they had brought to be assayed, and that was enough to stimulate a small rush headed for Green Valley. On their return to the Rim Country, 20 hopeful prospectors accompanied Clark and company and immediately began prospecting in the vicinity. Among the newcomers was Lafayette P. Nash, who soon laid claim to a mine just west of Green Valley. He named it The Golden Wonder.

Charlie Clark, that is Charles M. Clark, never made much money from his mining claims, but Arizona had laid claim to his heart. He never went on to Colorado but pursued various business ventures in the territory, and became a prominent resident of Globe.

By 1881 more than 300 men were employed in the various mines of the Payson district, with new hopefuls arriving every day. This resulted in a mining camp being established three miles west of the Burch cabin, which at first looked like it could become the town instead of Green Valley.

Emer and Margaret Chilson, a merchant family who had a store in Globe, saw the opportunity and moved their enterprise to the new mining camp. Their leadership apparently entitled them to name the community Marysville, after their daughter Mary.

Like many a prospector over the years, the Chilsons discovered there was more money to be had in selling goods to miners and prospectors than could be made in actually mining.

In the summer of 1882 a group of 100 Apaches broke out of the San Carlos Reservation, left a trail of killings and burned ranch houses in their wake. In response to warnings the Chilsons took their children to Globe for safety, where Margaret gave birth to her seventh child. The Indian uprising ended with the Battle of Big Dry Wash in July 1882, and when the Chilsons returned to Marysville they found the miners had robbed their store of all its merchandise. Emer was discouraged, and traded his store to L.P. Nash for the Golden Wonder Mine. He went back to mining with his older sons. However, the gold around Green Valley soon wore thin and Marysville dwindled.[ii]

As the decade of the 1870s passed on to the decade of the 1880s, cattle ranchers were rapidly laying claim to the marvelous grassland of the Rim Country and mining was losing its importance.

Many of the gold-bearing veins occurred in a course-grained rock called diorite that weathers readily, leaving free floating gold behind.

Prospectors readily collected this surface ore and hauled it on burros to the East Verde River where water was available to work it over. At the height of the gold rush there were at least 80 animal-driven arrastres — ore grinding stones — up and down the river. A quote from state Mine Inspector Douglas Martin summed it up, “Far more money was put into the mines around Payson than was ever taken out.”[iii]

The geology around Green Valley was wrong for a genuine bonanza in gold and silver. That takes more volcanic intrusions than can be found in the Rim Country. The sedimentary formations of the central mountains contain only small veins of precious metals.

During the height of the gold rush prospectors endowed many places with their lasting names. For example, Ben Cole worked a claim one and a half miles south of Green Valley, but whenever he came to town folks avoided him because he was infested with lice. Thus his camp was called Lousy Gulch. Walker Moore was a partner with L.P. Nash in the Golden Wonder Mine, and gave his name to a canyon that on the maps is called Walk Moore Canyon.

By 1886 practically all the mining properties were shut down except for occasional renewed flurries of activity. New corporations would form over the years to try again for gold in some of the old mines. However, as a rule, the mines around Green Valley reflected the infamous quote of area prospectors, “These mines are like women. They show you enough to lead you on, but never produce.

[i] The drainage would later be called The American Gulch, because where it emptied into the East Verde River a claim had been staked for The American Mine.

[ii] By the time Green Valley had become a village the Chilson family was living in town and in 1891 Emer died, leaving Margaret to raise the remainder of their children.

[iii] In a lecture given to the Rim Country Museum monthly program.

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