The Story Of Payson, Arizona

Chapter 12: Politics burned brightly

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Courtesy photo

This is the tomb for Governor Hunt and his wife Duett Ellison Hunt, along with her parents, Rim Country rancher Jesse Ellison and his wife Susan. This monument and tomb is located in the Papago Mountain Regional Park between Phoenix and Scottsdale.

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Rim Country Museum archive photo

Tammany Hall on Main Street in Payson, as it appeared in the 1890s. Built by John Wentworth as a saloon and meeting hall, it later became a boarding house. Today the old Grady Harrison garage stands on this site.

After Globe had become the county seat for Payson voters, politicians began to look at the northern wing of the county with and an eye to the future. Two of those up and coming politicos were John W. Wentworth and George W. P. Hunt. Both of them would marry Rim Country girls.

George Wylie Paul Hunt was born on Nov. 1, 1859, and he would become the most important political figure in Arizona throughout the first third of the 20th Century.

At age 18, tired of his Missouri surroundings and just out of school, Hunt ran away from home one morning before dawn. His odyssey took him from one odd job to another as he worked his way west, arriving in Globe, Arizona Territory in October 1881. He waited tables in Pascoe’s Restaurant, was a mucker in the Old Dominion Mine, became a partner in a cattle ranch, and in the summer of 1890 entered the employ of Alonzo Bailey, one of Globe’s chief merchants.

That September he ran for County Recorder and rode through Northern Gila County campaigning from ranch to ranch and on the streets of Payson.

One of the ranches to receive his visit was on Ellison Creek, that of the influential cattleman Jesse Ellison. There he met Ellison’s daughter, the 23-year-old Duett, and after that his visits to the Ellison ranch were frequent. Duett was a genuine cowgirl, helping her father with the cattle, and even riding with him to investigate possible Indian incursions on the ranch.

Hunt lost the election, but his visits to Ellison Creek and Payson continued. In 1891 Hunt had risen from delivery boy with the Bailey store to clerk and by 1896 he was secretary of the corporation. By 1900, when he was 41, he had become president of the company, which by then had the name “The Old Dominion Commercial Company.”

The wily rancher Ellison noted his business success, and encouraged Hunt’s visits to court Duett. In mid-October 1892 Hunt was campaigning for a seat in the State House of Representatives. At a political rally in Payson he was eager to get the meeting over so he could ride out to the ranch, but when the main speaker did not show up Hunt found himself making an extemporaneous speech. He did well and won the election.

His courtship with Duett Ellison progressed admirably, and the couple made plans to marry. However, she postponed their wedding date several times because she said she was needed at home.

By the winter of 1904, George Hunt had waited long enough, and gave Duett an ultimatum. He would be in Holbrook on Feb. 24, and she should be there too. It was then or never. She did arrive and they were married. He was 44 and she was 36. They honeymooned in Mexico City, and their only child, Virginia arrived in June 1905. During the long courtship, Col. Jesse Ellison had sold the Ellison Creek spread, known as Apple Valley, and moved his cattle to a location on Cherry Creek in Pleasant Valley. He took with him the brand he had brought from Texas, the “Q,” and his ranch carries that name yet today.

G. W. P. Hunt, as he signed his name, had a long, albeit controversial career as a politician. He became an advocate for women’s suffrage, a frequently elected legislator to the Territorial Congress, mover and shaker on the Democratic council, Justice of the Peace in Globe, County Treasurer, and served on the County Board of Supervisors. Then in December of 1911, at the age of 52, he was elected Arizona’s first governor. He held that office for seven terms, a record never again matched. The Hunts cared for Duett’s aging parents, Jesse and Susan Ellison at their Phoenix home. The Hunts and the Ellisons are buried together in a monument in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park between Phoenix and Scottsdale.

A few months after George Hunt met his future bride in 1890, another aspiring politician from Gila County took the hand of a Starr (sic) Valley ranch girl in marriage. The Payson courtship of John W. Wentworth and Katherine Houston still echoes in the chronicles of Rim Country romance.

Wentworth was born in California in 1858, saw the world as a naval petty officer, and came to Arizona to work in the office of the Surveyor General. The lure of the mines in Globe and McMillan drew him to Gila County, and he was elected Globe’s first Justice of the Peace in 1884, the same year Payson gained its name.

As a self-taught lawyer, Wentworth’s strong will earned him enemies and it became prudent to resign his position as Justice of the Peace. He moved to Payson, obtained an attorney’s license, and acted as the defense lawyer in several cases during the Pleasant Valley War.

He discovered the Grand Prize Mine on lower Webber Creek, taught school in Payson and built a saloon on Main Street, all in three years. He called his place Tammany Hall, suggesting it would take on a political atmosphere much as the Democratic headquarters in New York of the same name.

He was elected chief clerk of the lower house for Arizona’s 15th Territorial Legislature, and was influential in getting Payson and the Rim Country adopted by Gila County in 1889.

Meanwhile, the Houston brothers came from California and set up a ranch headquarters in Starr (sic) Valley. They were known for fine Durham cattle and well-bred racehorses. The brothers invited their younger sister Katherine to come from California to Starr Valley and keep house for them. Soon after her arrival they escorted her to a dance in Payson, held in the large second floor room of Tammany Hall. There she met the owner, John Wentworth, who had left his poker game the moment he spotted Katherine. He introduced himself, and asked her for the next dance. She refused, and he blurted out, “Why not?”

She calmly answered, “Because I do not choose to dance with a man in his shirt sleeves.”

“Will you waltz with me if I get a coat?” he persisted.

Katherine indicated her reluctance, but said she probably would. The lawyer raced to his room at the back of the saloon, only to find all of his coats had been borrowed by others who encountered a similar problem with the girls at the dance. In desperation J. W. (as Wentworth was called) grabbed his heavy overcoat, shook out the dust, and raced back to the party with it on. Perspiring and cloaked in the heavy winter garment, he claimed his dance. At the end of the evening she refused his offer to see her home, but he was certain she was the one he would marry.

He began a more traditional courtship, in spite of her brother’s opposition. They were not keen on Wentworth because he drank too much, and they did not like losing their cook and housekeeper. Besides, there was Wentworth’s defense of a cowboy who was accused of stealing one of the Houston’s calves.

Payson Justice Bill Burch had heard that case in that second floor “courtroom” of Tammany Hall. When it seemed the defense was losing, Wentworth secured a recess during which he invited the Court and the prosecution witnesses to a refreshment time “on the house.” They were served a potent whiskey called “Red Cap,” and soon most were befuddled. The judge mistakenly sat in a keg of water used for washing, everyone roared with merriment, and by the time the Court reconvened Wentworth was able to move and win dismissal of the case.

Gradually Katherine was won over by J. W’s persistence, but she said she would only marry him if he quit drinking. Man that he was, he told her he could not promise that, but he did promise never to become a drunkard.

They were married Oct. 1, 1890 in the room above the saloon where they first met. A spirited dance followed the wedding, at which Wentworth made a lengthy political speech. He was running for District Attorney and Katherine’s ambitions for her new husband allowed him to use their wedding party in this way.

He lost that election, but four years later he won the office and the family had to move from Payson to Globe. There J. W. went on to serve as clerk of the Superior Court and probate judge. After 64 years of marriage Wentworth died May 15, 1954 with Katherine by his side. He was 96. She died 10 years later and they are buried side by side in the Globe cemetery.

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