Family Fun Payson Heritage Festival Offers Trip Into Past



Photo courtesy of the Northern Gila County Historical Society

This group of men are some of the true settlers of Payson and the Rim Country. Some versions of the photo have called the group “The Wild Bunch” -- they were hard-working men who did whatever they could to make a living in the early years when Payson was getting a toe-hold as a cohesive community in the isolated wilds of the Mogollon Rim and Tonto Basin. It is their grit and determination, and their sense of fun celebrated in the 2008 Payson Heritage Festival, Saturday, Sept. 13 at Green Valley Park.


Author Zane Grey’s stories based in the Rim Country are a celebration of the area’s heritage in their own way. Plan a tour of the replica of Grey’s cabin as part of your festival experience.


Photos courtesy of the Northern Gila County Historical Society

Photos courtesy of the Northern Gila County Historical Society The heritage of Payson and the Rim Country will be celebrated Sept. 13 at Green Valley Park at the Payson Heritage Festival.

Arizona’s Cool Mountain Town — in the Heart of Arizona — is having a party this weekend and would like to invite you and your family to attend.

The Payson Heritage Festival, formerly known as the Payson Western Heritage Festival, is all day Saturday in Green Valley Park at the west end of Main Street.

Payson’s heritage as a western frontier community is still alive today. The blend of old ranching and pioneer families, the Tonto Apache Tribe and the historical museums all tell a story that is as entertaining as anywhere in the old west. During the Payson Heritage Festival, guests will learn the history of Zane Grey, the famous Western novelist, who loved Payson and made its rough landscape the focal point for several of his books.

This one-day event is a celebration of Payson’s Western, Native American and Pioneer Heritage and will feature music, actors, hay and buggy rides, Native American dancers, old-fashioned gunfight reenactments, a western melodrama and much more. Take a step back in time and visit each venue to experience what it was like in Payson during the late 1800s.

The festival will be located in the amphitheater in Payson’s Green Valley Park. Enter the festival from two different ranch-style gateways, one on the east and the other on the southern end of the park. The set (similar to what you would see in a western movie) is being constructed from burlap and other period specific items. Upon entering the event site, guests will receive a goody bag that contains local offerings from many of the great businesses in Payson that are supporting this event.

With goody bag in hand — let the fun begin. Each Heritage site (similar to how Disneyland is set up) will feature period-specific games, activities and demonstrations. The three sites are being called the Native American Village, Western Cowboy Ranch and Pioneer Town.

Western Cowboy Ranch

From the Southern Sierra Anchas to the Mogollon Rim, lies a country rich in the heritage of the American cowboy. Ranchers settled Payson and the surrounding Rim Country. Come and learn about how the tough men and women of the isolated Rim Country left their lasting impression on this area.

Western Cowboy Ranch activities are scheduled to include:

Branding Demonstrations

Roping Competition

Little Tikes Buckin’ Barrel Ride

Cowboy Games (poker, ten gallon hat toss, etc.)

Horse and Buggy Carriage Rides

Visit from the Hashknife Pony Express Riders

Old-Fashioned Gunfight Reenactments

Zane Grey Cabin Tour (there is a fee for this)

Native American Camp

Several different ancient Native American tribes first inhabited Arizona’s Rim Country, but it is the Tonto Apaches who have made it their home for hundreds of years. They were here when Union soldiers arrived to secure the region from Confederate intrusion. In fact, the soldiers dubbed this area “Apacheria.” This is your chance to learn more about their lives, their families and their traditions.

Native American Camp activities planned for the festival are:

Native American Indian Dancers will perform traditional dances

Wickiup Tour

Native American Jewelry Making

Native American arts and crafts demonstrations

Basket Weaving

Pioneer Town

From gold seekers to farmers to cattle ranchers, Payson’s Pioneer Heritage is what shaped the rough Rim Country into the community it is day. A tour around town and a visit to the Rim Country Museum and the Zane Grey Cabin will leave you with an understanding of their sacrifice and perseverance.

Pioneer Town programs slated for the festival are:

Candle making

Soap making

Pioneer displays and hand carts

Pioneer games

Quilting and displays by the Strawberry Patchers

A variety of other activities will take place as well.

The schedule includes:

An old-fashioned melodrama, written and produced by Humor Me Improvisational Comedy Group, performed live on the amphitheater stage, tentatively from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Native American Dancers from Holbrook, Ariz., ages 8 to 15, perform several of their traditional dances in full regalia on the stage from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and again from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., and also at the Native American Camp site from 11 a.m. to noon (times are tentative).

There will be a large antique tractor display at the area by the historical society museum and Zane Grey Cabin, showcasing more than 20 vintage and beautifully restored tractors. Some of those tractors will be pulling hay wagons for guests to ride around the park.

There will also be horse-drawn buggy rides, an antique photo booth and music.

If that is not enough, the Boy Scouts of America will be out in force showing off their lashing and survival techniques during the Boy Scout-O-Rama that will be taking place in conjunction with the event.

If food is what draws you, then you will not be disappointed. A heritage festival would not be complete with out some good old-fashioned barbecue and ribs, as well as hot dogs and brats, cotton candy, shaved ice, Navajo tacos and kettle corn.

The committee organizing the Payson Heritage Festival is being assisted by the generosity of its major sponsors: Compass Bank, Messinger Mortuary, Chilson Ranch at the Falls, Pioneer Title Company and the Town of Payson. A large group of volunteers are on the committee and have worked very hard to make this an event that the whole community will enjoy.

The committee still needs actors and others willing to volunteer and stroll the event in costume and in character to entertain festival guests; people who would like to help set up and tear down the sites; vendors and others.

Those interested in helping out, please contact the committee at (928) 468-6074.

For more information about this event, please contact Cameron Davis, Town of Payson Office of Tourism, (928) 468-6074 or e-mail: or visit


Pat Randall 8 years, 3 months ago

I would like to make a comment on the picture you are using of what is now the Oxbow and was the Payson Hotel with the Randall Garage just to the west of it in the picture. I loaned that picture to Karen Greenspoon ( Main St) to look at and she was not to use it for any purpose. When I went back to see her she had given it to the HIstorical Society. The small original picture of it I had borrowed from the daughter of the orginal owner/builder of the hotel and had it enlarged. If you are going to continue to use it please give credit to Ruby Wade Holiday as it is her picture.


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