The town of Payson abounds in legends associated with haunted buildings, saloons, murders and characters whose stories run the gamut of human emotions. One such personage was Payson’s favorite schoolteacher, Julia Randall.
She began her Rim Country teaching career in 1916 at the age of 17, having graduated with a two-year certificate from the Normal School in Flagstaff (later to become Northern Arizona University).
Julia Viola Randall was two years old when her father brought her, her mother and her half-sister CeCe from Denver to live at the East Verde River crossing. Her father, George Albert Randall, not related to the Randall families of Pine, had arrived the previous year, in 1900, to take the position of superintendent for the Grand Prize Mine on Webber Creek. The company developed a small smelter at the East Verde crossing, and a short distance downstream, at the mouth of Sycamore Creek, Randall built a bunkhouse and cabins for his workers. His family lived in one of those cabins.
In 1906, the mining company closed its operation, and the Randalls moved into Payson. Julia’s mother, Rose, purchased the McDonald Saloon that had become a mercantile store, and the family lived there until George could build a home just north of Main Street on the road to Pine (today’s north McLane). In 1908, he was elected Payson’s Justice of the Peace.
Julia had a lovely voice, and hoped to become a professional singer. She said, “My parents encouraged me to stay away from it because they thought I should get into something more stable, something I could make a living at those days.”[i]
Julia’s mother had been a teacher, and Julia’s close friend, May Herron, encouraged her to become a teacher like her mother. At the age of 15, Julia had completed the schooling Payson offered and she went to Flagstaff. Her mother accompanied her on the wagon trip and, while there, word arrived that George Randall had suffered a stroke, leaving him crippled.
Julia continued her studies and, in 1916, graduated with a teaching certificate. She was appointed teacher at the Starr (sic) Valley School. During her tenure there, she lived at the home of Andrew Ogilvie, the parents of Anna Mae Deming.
“They gave me a little white horse,” Julia reported, “that I rode home to Payson every weekend. He’d stand still while I picked grapes along the way.” The horse’s name was Goo-Goo.
Julia’s second year of teaching was in Pine and, after that, she accepted an appointment to the school in Payson. However, after one month, she became acutely ill with appendicitis and was laid up for almost a year. In the fall of 1923, Julia returned to teaching in Payson and remained in that position until she retired.
She had continued her education at the University of Arizona in Tempe. On one occasion, when returning from Tempe by stage along the Apache Trail, she missed her connection at Roosevelt. Paul Harrison was operating the mail and passenger stage from Roosevelt to Payson, and Julia knew he would make an overnight stop at the Angler’s Inn at the upper end of Roosevelt Lake. She located a man who took her by boat to the Angler’s Inn and there she was able to catch up with the stage for home.
Julia Randall never married, and at the time of her retirement she said with a wry smile, “I don’t know whether I never found the right man or the right man never found me, but the effect is still the same.”
Continuing her sense of humor she said, at the age of 69, “I started in 1923 in the first grade and retired in 1969, and never did get out of the first grade.”
In 1939, the “rock school” was built at the end of Main Street, and the original two schools were removed. They had stood where the Presbyterian Church later developed a parking lot.
Julia’s sense of humor did not interfere with her discipline. She said, “People would bring their children from the city and think they’d pass because this was a hick town. They didn’t with me though. Not unless they made the grades…” She taught her students more than the 3-Rs. She taught good citizenship and moral values, and on Sunday mornings she could be seen rounding up those pupils who lived nearby and walking them to Sunday school. Though she never married, her “children” were legion as she educated three successive generations of Rim Country families. Countless children rose up in later years “to call her blessed.”
Anna Mae Deming recalled that while being very strict, Miss Julia “was always loving and kind. There wasn’t much monkey business. But if there was, she paddled with a ruler after school and she sent a note home to your parents telling the reason for the spanking. If you were sick, she would care for you, and if she felt you were not eating a good breakfast before you came to school, another note was written to your parents.”
Billy Haught, a son of Richard and grandson of Anderson Lee Haught, lived near the school on Oak Street. He recalled how Julia Randall would gather up the boys and girls and lead them to Sunday school. Reflecting on those days he said, “God was blessed when Miss Julia Randall came here. Those of you who do not know her cannot imagine the love and dedication of this woman. Not only for little children but for all mankind. Absolute dedication through love. I used to go to church in Payson, and Miss Randall was always there. She set an example for us all. I thought Miss Randall was mean, but if she was, I wish now the world we are living in had a lot of mean, lovely people just like her.”[ii]
When the Tonto Apache camp was situated on Indian Hill, just above the Randall house on McLane, her well became their primary source of water. After they moved out of town and onto forest land, Julia kept her friendship with the Apache children and their parents. She encouraged them to come to school, and the first to enter her class was Ernest Burdette. After that, his father, the old Army scout Chitten came to her and asked to be taken into the school, and he was. Ernest Burdette’s nephew, Melton Campbell, was one of the children Miss Randall enticed into school. Five other siblings from his family followed, none of them knowing a word of English when they started the first grade. She labored with them patiently, and Melton, who later became chief of the tribe, said, “I did not even know why I was there in school, except that my folks sent me.” To learn English, the young boy mimicked the other classmates. One time when a boy used profanity, Melton did not know what it meant. He repeated it in class and was rewarded by having his mouth washed out with soap and his knuckles rapped with teacher’s heavy ruler.
On May 17, 1969 Julia Randall retired. The Chamber of Commerce declared that to be Julia Randall Day and a banquet was held.
In a tribute by Carroll Cox writing in The Backbone, she said, “Miss Julia’s impact on the community was not limited to education. She was also a charter member and active participant in the Payson Womans Club, the town’s most powerful force behind local progress during the 1950s and 1960s. She was also one of the first members of the Daughters of Gila County Pioneers and was a lifetime member of the Northern Gila County Historical Society… Goodbye Miss Julia. You will be missed by many who appreciated your indomitable spirit, your strength of character and your unswerving dedication to instilling a sense of responsibility and good citizenship in generations of Northern Gila County students.”[iii]
Julia Randall died March 8, 1990.
[i] Quoted by Diane Pain for a social studies oral history in February 1986.
[ii] Quotes from her students are taken from oral histories by Ira Murphy and Nick Nouser, housed at the Rim Country Museum.
[iii] The Backbone was a newspaper published for a number of years in Payson.