First Arrivals

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In the 10 years from 1867 through 1876, 60 skirmishes were fought between the Indians and the army in and around Green Valley (Payson) and in the Tonto Basin. These resulted in death to a number of troops and about 200 Indians. By 1876 Apache control of the area had been broken, and all of the Native Americans had been placed on reservations, except for a few Tonto Apache families hiding in the mountains.

This break in hostilities encouraged prospectors to come into the region, inevitably followed by merchants and their families.

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The mud/adobe house built by Paul Vogel in 1879 for Henry Sidles, whose house and barn at Flowing Springs had been burned down in an Indian raid.

Yet, as more people began to stake mining and homestead claims the fear of attack from renegade Apaches hung like a cloud over them day and night. This psychological stress caused settlers to "suffer from a dread of Indian attacks," according to Revilo Fuller. Writing about the short-lived Mormon settlement of Mazatzal City, 10 miles west of Payson, he said, "We never knew when we went to bed at night what the dawn would bring."[1]

With so many new folks arriving, the community decided to build a "fort," a place they could assemble to defend themselves when the danger of Indian attack threatened.

Among the early settlers was 38-year-old William McDonald from Illinois, who had teamed up with William Burch to work the Golden Waif Mine. He also ran a herd of cattle. Not far from their cabins McDonald had observed a perfect place to construct a fortified defense against Indian attack. It was a high peninsular hill overlooking the junction of two major valleys, and it was crowned with a prehistoric Indian village. The ruins of ancient houses consisted of red sandstone that had been hauled to the top of the hill.

The Green Valley men cut a path to the top, and rearranged the stones into a fortress. The fort was 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, with walls eight to 10 feet high. The walls had portholes built into them for gun barrels.[2]

The growing population would have to use Fort McDonald, as it was called, very soon.

In the spring of 1879 word came of Apaches making raids in Tonto Basin. Green Valley families fled to the newly constructed Fort McDonald, where they waited for an "all clear."

They had planned for the single men to ride out to scour the countryside, bringing word when the danger had passed. In this case no Indians were sighted in the Green Valley area, but according to Prescott's Arizona Miner, the Indians "galloped through a herd of fine horses belonging to the Houston brothers, killing seven of the best mares and a stallion that cost five hundred dollars in Tulare County, California." The report went on, "Al Sieber, on his way to (Fort) Verde from the east, passed the Indians and eyed them curiously, but he didn't yet know of the trouble so did nothing about them. Isolated ranchers started rounding their stock, petitioned General Wilcox for troops, and also asked for Sieber and his scouts."

The general passed the request on to the commanding officer at Fort Verde, but little could be done before two riders near Baker Butte were ambushed and killed, and Henry Sidle's place on the East Verde was attacked.[3]

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A close up of the poured mud construction shows how wooden rebar was used to strengthen the construction.

Sidles had settled along the East Verde River, about a mile upstream from the main river crossing (where today's State Route 87 bridges the stream), where he built a cabin and a barn.[4]

The Miner reported "the Indians sacked (his) place on the East Fork, driving off his stock, burning everything they could, and shooting at his employees."

The Rim Country History book adds a dimension to the story, "Henry was away from the house and was sitting under a tree on the hill nearby. He watched as Apaches came along and set fire to the house and moved off among the trees."[5]

With his home now destroyed, Sidles hired another early settler Paul Vogel to build a house for him in the growing Green Valley settlement. It was to be made of mud from the wetland along the gulch, so that in the event of Indian attack it could not burn and could be used to "fort up." The mud was poured into forms, laced with straw like adobe and pierced with wooden pegs.

It was just two years later when the next big scare rippled through the Rim Country.

There was a bloody fight on the White River Indian Reservation at Cibecue, and a party of Apaches left the reservation to raid ranches through San Carlos and Pleasant Valley. By this time several places were designated as safe havens, including Sidles' mud house, the saloon he operated across the road (later to become the Pieper Saloon), and, of course, Fort McDonald.

C.P. Wingfield wrote, "When the people of Payson and vicinity heard of the Indian attack, they forted up at the Sidle place, an adobe house ... The married men and families held the fort while the single men did scout duty." [6]

The scouts were soon back with an "all-clear" report, but the next summer, July of 1882, was a different story.

The gathering of cavalry units at old Ft. Reno alerted the postmaster at Reno, L.P. Nash. They reported murders in Pleasant Valley and two groups of renegades from San Carlos headed toward Tonto Basin and Green Valley. They had attacked the mining town of McMillenville and joined forces in Pleasant Valley to leave a trail of murdered ranchers, stolen stock, and burning buildings under the Rim as they headed for the East Verde River.

Concerned to warn his family in Strawberry, Nash sent a rider, Hight Nelson, who brought the warning to Green Valley residents on his way. Settlers raced for the Sidle house and Fort McDonald.

These warnings reached Green Valley several days before the Apache war party reached the East Verde, and the Meadows family of Diamond Valley (later named Whispering Pines) raced for the settlement to fort up.

The family biographer and relative of the Meadows, Jean Beach King, wrote, "When they arrived (in Green Valley) they boarded up at Fort McDonald, a red sandstone structure on McDonald Hill ..."[7]

King writes that after a couple of days in the "disagreeable quarters of Fort McDonald," John Meadows decided there was nothing to the alarm, and took his family back to the ranch.

L.P. Nash reported, "When someone came in and said it was only but 10 or 15 Indians which left the reservation, they all went home again."

The night they settled back into their ranch house, the renegades attacked, taking their stock, killing John Meadows and mortally wounding his son, Henry.

The 1882 Indian raids were the last straw for the Mormons of Mazatzal City, who abandoned their farms and moved to Pine with the others who had preceded them.

The Green Valley settlement was easily set "on pins and needles" when, over the next 10 years, rumors came flying about Indian attacks. Most were false rumors.

While there were no further attacks in the Payson area, the nervousness continued even into the 1920s. In 1922 Fort Apache was decommissioned and its troops sent to Fort Huachuca. A cloud of fear fell over the ranchers and citizens of the Rim Country. The people protested because theirs was "an unsettled section of the country and (because of) the Indians, the troops should be retained."

Appeals were posted in the newspapers, "Is it wise economy to leave wholly exposed from military protection so large an unpopulated and remote section of the country? Already there is dread of ruthless assault upon settlers ... I, for one, speak from experience with the Apaches, off and on since 1883, and continually for the past 10 years ... People in this section are of the opinion that the troops be required here for protection."[8]

Instead of "running amuck," as settlers feared, the Tonto Apaches became good neighbors.

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A view inside the house, showing the rough-hewn ceiling timbers. This is the oldest standing building in Payson.

Sarah McDonald Lockwood remembered, "old man (James "Bud") Armer started hauling that rock away and they (the community) put a stop to it. He tore about half of it down; was going to build a barn out of it. What he left is still up there."[9]

In more recent years homes have been built on McDonald Hill, and the remaining sandstone building blocks have been integrated into the walls, gardens and landscapes of the homeowners. The view from the hill is one of Payson's best.

[1] Rim Country History, page 10.

[2] The late Sarah McDonald, no relation to William McDonald, described this to me during an interview in her mobile home in Globe. She said she used to play there as a child, and that her mother told of playing there in the 1880s.

[3] Arizona Miner, May 23, 1879

[4] The Sidles' place, locally known as Sidella, was in the vicinity of Flowing Springs, a traditional campsite of the Tonto Apaches. Sidles was soon followed to Green Valley by his nephews Ed and Max Bonacker, who would be local merchants. Their mother was Henry Sidle's sister.

[5] Page 174. The Rim Country History uses the year 1881, but this does not correspond to the 1879 date given by the Prescott newspaper at the time.

[6] Arizona Historical Review, January 1931

[7] Jean Beach King, Arizona Charley, page 19

[8] Correspondence from George Henry, a retired military man living on the White Mountain Reservation.

[9] Interview with Stan Brown for oral history. Tape is in Rim Country Museum archive.

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