The Tonto Creek Trifecta

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One of the things that I’ve been researching lately is the old Boy Scout camps in the area. In the process I came to a special appreciation of an area that I pass by every day: the area near Kohl’s Ranch.

Nowadays, it doesn’t really look like much. The highway no longer passes right by Kohl’s Ranch and high bridges span Tonto Creek, passing over where Camp Geronimo was once located. But I came to a realization: this was once a very happening place in Rim Country.

From 1924 to 1955, Camp Geronimo was located on Tonto Creek. It was not the only Scout camp in the area during this time. There was a secondary camp, Camp Ruggles, located about a mile away. From what I’ve been able to piece together, it was located where Tonto and Horton creeks join and was operated during the 1930s and 1940s and was a secondary camp, often used by Scouts from the Globe-Miami area. During this time period, there was a ranger station located at Indian Gardens, less than a mile away.

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From 1924 to 1955, Camp Geronimo was located on Tonto Creek.

Lewis Kohl and his family lived just south of where the camp was located and patented the land in 1925. There were other homesteads in the area, including most notably that of Anderson Lee “Babe” Haught to the north, tucked under the Rim. And, at the time that Camp Geronimo was established on Tonto Creek, there was a famous author who owned a little chunk of Haught’s homestead: Zane Grey.

Throughout the coming decades, this area continued to be a hub of activity. Kohl established a lodge and the place became known for its great dances. A variety of things came and went at Indian Gardens including a fish hatchery and a CCC camp.

Meanwhile, every year lots of Valley kids made the very long journey up the hill to Camp Geronimo. Remember, this was with unpaved roads. The trip would often take all day. Locals also were involved with Camp Geronimo. Many clips about the camp while it was located on Tonto Creek mention local rancher Floyd Pyle, who often led side trips for the campers. He was also known for telling great stories around the campfire.

The camp even had a swimming pool, though as Scout executive George Miller recalled in a 1965 Phoenix Gazette article, “hundreds of boys will remember how cold the water stayed all summer.”

When you piece this all together, it sets a stunning stage for future eras of growth in Rim Country. In 1930 the Great Depression hit, bringing tough times across America. In the 1940s, World War II occurred, sending many of the young men who had spent time at Camp Geronimo, off to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific.

But the 1950s were a prosperous era and I think that’s where the true impact of Camp Geronimo and the whole hub of activity in that area can be measured. Camping became a big thing. The automobile continued its rise and people wanted to explore new frontiers. Where was a favorite spot for Arizonans to go? It was the Payson area, especially near Tonto Creek. Camp Geronimo, mixed with the writing of Zane Grey, helped set the stage for this area to grow. By the end of the 1950s, it was no longer a rough, day-long journey to Rim Country, but one which was paved to Payson, with the road toward Tonto Creek being paved shortly thereafter. Surely, many a former Scout decided to get a place in Rim Country. They brought their children with them, teaching them an appreciation for the outdoors.

In the late 1950s, a number of summer home areas were established by the Forest Service in Rim Country. Amongst them were Diamond Point Summer Homes, Thompson Draw I and II, and See Canyon Summer Homes. The Meads began selling lots and cabins in what would become Mead Ranch. Many of the people of that era in Mead Ranch were from the East Valley. The decision of the Roosevelt Council of the Boy Scouts of America, to place a camp in this region in 1924, had a great impact on this area; an impact that is still being felt to this day.

I close with a great little story by George F. Miller, the Scout executive, about Floyd Pyle that ran in the Phoenix Gazette on May 15, 1965.

“At the campfires in Old Camp Geronimo on Tonto Creek, we had many great story tellers. Among them was Floyd Pyle, rancher, cowboy, hunter and guide. He would hold our Scouts spellbound with true stories of roping mountain lions and roping a young buck deer or yearling elk for fun.

“One of his ‘truer’ stories took place at Buck Springs on top the Mogollon Rim. This was his summer cattle ranch headquarters. According to Floyd, he stepped outside of the cabin one evening to see how much water was in the rain barrel. As he approached the corner of the cabin to look in the barrel, he found himself face to face with a mountain lion. He made a hasty retreat toward the cabin door and found the latch stuck.

“WITH FULL SPEED, he ran ahead of the mountain lion, or cougar, as it is better described. Rounding the corner by the rain barrel, he found that it was empty and tipping it upside down, he put it over the cougar in the nick of time. Now his real ingenuity and the resourcefulness of a man of the mountain, came to his rescue. He knocked out the bung in the barrel and as if by magic the cougar’s tail came through the bung hole. Quick as a flash, Floyd grabbed the tail and tied a knot in it.

“That was the last Floyd Pyle ever saw of that cougar. However, the next year, when he went back to Buck Springs, he saw four baby cougars with little kegs on their tails with a knot tied in them.”

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