Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 3: Arrival In Tonto Basin



Stan Brown photo

Rye Creek Bridge, built in the 1920s, links either side of “The Narrows” along lower Rye Creek. Just above this spot was the Blake ranch where Angie Mitchell spent her first week in Tonto Basin.

The harrowing ride down Pine Creek had almost cost the Mitchells the loss of their wagon, team and belongings; perhaps even their lives.

Mrs. Fuller was as startled to see them.

“How on earth did you get here in that rig and where are you going?” she asked in amazement.

Upon telling her their goal was Tonto Basin she informed them they could not possibly get there from here and would have to go back.

“That was quite too much for my worn out nerves,” wrote Angie in her diary that evening of Sept. 18. “I said, ‘Very well, I shall live and die here (rather) than go back over that awful mountainside; I never will,’ and added that if I only had that contemptible sneak who sent us in here where I could talk to him just ten minutes I should be perfectly happy!”

The astounded ranch wife answered, “Poor child, no wonder you feel so. He is my husband and it’s not the first trick he played on people, though I believe it is one of the meanest I’ve ever known him to do.”

To unsettle them even more, she informed them that the wreck they saw “at the bottom of the canyon was one of their wagons loaded with their household truck that had gone to the bottom the autumn before when they were moving in, and that two of the family jumped for it, barely in time to save themselves, and that three horses out of the six attached to it were killed, and two more crippled so they had to be shot, and scarcely any baggage could be saved as it all was ground to kindling wood.” Angie felt breathless as she wrote this, the anxiety of the previous day returned full force.

Mrs. Fuller apologized that she could not keep them in the house that night, but showed them a good place to camp nearby. Then she sent her children out with hot biscuits and milk. The Mitchells put up the tent for Angie and her mother then arranged their blankets for the night, with George sleeping under the wagon.

They sat around their campfire “wondering how upon earth we would ever get over that road again,” when the Fullers’ oldest boy, about 13, came out with good news. He had come home from bringing in cattle, and when his mother told him the plight of their overnight guests he reminded her that there was a road down Wild Rye Creek, and he could show it to them. It was a road he had taken with his father when they went to a mill for flour.

They would not have to go into Green Valley after all because Wild Rye Creek would take them to their destination. It flows in a southeasterly direction until it enters Tonto Creek.[1]

“Sunday September 19. Well! Such a night. Thorns and cat claws will never make a downy bed, and that is all the sort of grass their fine ranch seems to afford.” Angie’s mother called the mattresses they put together “Verde feathers,” and in their restlessness during the night the women could hear George swearing under the wagon.

The next morning the Fuller boy guided them across the East Verde River and down along the bed of Rye Creek until they came to “a canyon-like place.” He assured them they would not get lost because they could not get out of the canyon until they reached “Nelson’s place 14 miles away.”

The Nelson Price family had settled where the road from Green Valley came over Ox Bow Hill and met the trail to Tonto Basin. The crossroad was simply called Rye. Although the Nelson Prices had moved to Pine in 1878, their ranch still carried the family name. The Mitchells reached there just at sunset, and made camp about a half-mile from the ranch house, “thankful to be alive.” It had been a rough ride.

Angie describes the day’s travel. “It was impossible for Ma to stand the jolting she said, and George said he’d walk too for the load was pretty heavy for the teams over such boulders. I offered to walk and let either of them drive, but Ma said, ‘My gracious, I wouldn’t attempt to drive through this inferno for a fortune,’ and George said (to me), ‘You are better in the wagon than I for the lighter the load the better.’ I weigh 105 and he about 160 and Ma 164. I drove and may I never again have such a road to drive, though it is far preferable to yesterday’s in point of danger.”

She reported that for the entire 14 miles one wheel never touched the ground because of the “rocks of all sizes and kinds.”


Stan Brown photo

Looking downstream from the Rye Creek bridge — This area, known as “The Narrows,” was probably the area where Angie picnicked with the Blakes. Tonto Apache families lived here traditionally, and it was the Apache camp where “Chief” Melton Campbell was born.

“Monday, September 20. We had a good night’s rest and started early for Blake’s.”

Angie had been given the name of the family they were to contact in Tonto Basin. Two brothers, Andrew and John Blake (both born in Scotland) had settled on the lower stretch of Rye Creek.  John was single, and although at this time he had been elected local justice of the peace, he apparently did not remain long in Tonto Basin.

Andrew Blake had married Narsissa Jane Harer, the daughter of settler David Harer, and this couple would become significant figures in Angie’s support group.[2]

Angie continued her entry regarding their last day on the trail to Tonto Basin. “Camped for dinner in a lovely place 10 miles from Nelson’s and at sunset reached Judge John Blake’s, 8 miles from noon camp. We found the Judge and his brother Andrew and wife Janie very pleasant and kind and expecting me. But school can’t begin for a week so I’m to rest up here. This is not a very cheerful place to put it mildly. But the people will do all they can to make us comfortable.”[3]

For the next five days Angie remained at the Blake ranch, waiting for the school and her teacherage to be prepared farther down on Tonto Creek. Her first night at Blake’s held some excitement. “September 21. A long hot night. Ma and I slept on a floor in the front room. George as usual under the wagon outside. Some freighters are camped on the other side. About midnight two big bulls got into a fight, and one drove the other straight toward the house, which is adobe and might easily sustain a serious damage if such a wedge was driven against it. The men outside yelled to us inside to ‘get out and be quick as one would have the other driven there in a minute.’ We surely ‘got.’ A sick man was in one of the wagons and he watched the fight, but the bulls just grazed the corner of the house and passed straight towards that wagon, and my! Didn’t he get out of there in a hurry! The men belabored the bulls with poles and everything they could get hold of but they paid not the least attention to them. Finally they got out on the mesa still fighting and everyone returned to sleep.”

Next time: Introduction to Pioneer Life

[1] Wild Rye Creek was named by the Army in the 1860s because of the wild grasses that grow along its banks.

[2] An undated clipping from The Tempe News in the Sharlot Hall Museum obituary collection, reported that, “a Mrs. Andrew Blake of Tonto Basin has committed suicide by shooting herself.”

[3] The Blake ranch was most likely where the more recent Brown Ranch is located, above “the Narrows” on Rye Creek, before it enters Tonto Creek.


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