Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 19: Preparations to Leave Tonto

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Wednesday, Dec. 15, 1880 was the last day of the fall session at the Tonto Basin School. The families of the students arrived to help close the school and take their children home that evening. Teacher Angie reported a gloomy, rainy day.

“School closed today. It rained awfully, but the whole Armer family, George Moore[1], and Hook, Mr. and Mrs. Harer, Mrs. Hazelton, the Vineyards, Fannie, Laura and Adeline Gordon came at 9:30 and stayed till the close. I’ve an idea now about how much room Noah had left in the Ark. 19 pupils and myself, and 18 more counting two babies, this is a good many on a rainy day in a room 10 by 12 feet. I don’t quite know how we did it. After school Sarah and I cleaned everything up inside as well as we could, barricaded the doorway with boards, and went home and packed up for the Phoenix trip.”

The plan was for the Harers to accompany her to Phoenix where she would catch the stage for Prescott. Her aim was to be home for Christmas. To celebrate the close of the school session, “all of us girls went to Vineyard’s and staid till 10:30.”

She added a comment that indicated she wanted to keep her options open for the future. “The trustees re-engaged me to teach next term. School to begin 1st Monday in February, if I don’t get my clerkship [in the Territorial Legislature].”

Getting started on the trip to Phoenix was difficult as the rain continued all night Thursday and was still raining on Friday. Apparently the brushy roof of the house where Angie was living became saturated, because Thursday afternoon “a rafter broke and I tell you the men put props under our roof in a hurry.”

David Harer announced in the morning that he had waited as long as he could, and even though the rain continued they would proceed. “It certainly met my approval for I want to get home for Christmas and can’t if we wait any longer.”

By 1 p.m. it had stopped raining and the sun shone, so they launched their trip. “We thought it might be that the storm was over but we were mistaken for we had just reached Hooks, two and a half miles from home, when it rained as though the bottom of the bucket had fallen out. Right there we had to stop at 4:30. It had taken 3 and a half hours to go two and a half miles, and I guess at that rate we’ll reach Phoenix in time for me to get home next 4th of July. I never saw such mud anywhere; it equals the Puerco.”

The Puerco River is in New Mexico, and Angie remembered passing through that area when her family came from the East.

The Phoenix-bound party had two wagons, and included John Vineyard driving his wagon with Mrs. Hazelton. Harer’s wagon included the elder Harers, Sarah, Reggie, Abbie and Angie. She adds, “My little dog Onyx is also a passenger on our train.”

This Newfoundland puppy had been given to Angie right after Thanksgiving by the Gordon family, who owned the mother and were giving the puppies to other ranch families. On Nov. 29 her diary had recorded, “He is a perfectly little beauty and I named him Onyx.” The name may have referred to the color of his coat.

The continuing rain hampered their travels. They had spent the night at the Hook ranch, and it rained all night again. The next day, Saturday, Dec. 18, they started out again with intermittent rain, and “got to Reno after dark, 17 and a half miles from Hooks. We started at 6:30 and Sarah and I walked 12 miles. Waded would more correctly express it, I guess.”

That night they slept on the kitchen floor at the Reno station, where “Mr. and Mrs. Smith who keep the station were very kind to us.”

A post office had been established at the site of Old Camp Reno the previous October, with Mr. Isaac R. Prather the postmaster. Prather and his brother had established a store at Reno, and the post office was the first one in Tonto Basin.

The Smiths were hosts to those who stayed the night. Sunday morning the travelers headed out again and reached the top of the mountain by nightfall. The diary describes their day’s travel.

“Cold as Greenland up here, and so windy. We traveled fairly well today. Went over Reno Hill, past Sunflower Valley, and to the top of Sunflower Mountain. Got there after dark and they were afraid to try to go down the hill as it is not the best road on earth. So we camped on top of Sunflower, of all places on earth! It is like the roof, a long sloping roof, of a house and about as level on top as a ridge pole. Almost any way you go is down hill. Oh! It’s a daisy!”

She later reported that though they had “piles of blankets we all froze out.” She indicated the uneven ground was like a cone, and so narrow they had to divide up sleeping on the several slopes. “After an hour or two’s vain chase of our blankets and bed to keep them from rolling down the hill, we had an inspiration and drove some sticks into the ground, tying the bedding to them ... When we wakened half frozen it was to find ourselves several feet down hill with a solitary blanket which had managed to get free and it mostly on the ground. We were entirely on the ground with our heads against a bush. Mrs. Hazelton had gravitated downward with Regie and was occupying the place supposed to be ours. We gave it up then and Mr. Harer, who came nearer swearing than I ever heard him, crawled out about the same time and declared he was freezing. So we set to work to get a fire, if we could, and at last succeeded. We built a tremendous one and the rest got up and we all sat there till daylight.”

Monday was fortunately somewhat warmer, and they reached the Verde River at Fort McDowell just at dark. The teacher’s description of crossing the Verde is classic Angie Mitchell writing. “The stream was running pretty swiftly and to me it looked very deep. But our wagon set up high and Harer certainly is not afraid of water, though he’s usually careful too. Mrs. H objected to crossing till morning, but he didn’t want to wait. So finally he dove in. We have four good stout horses and one of the leaders is a very large, powerful stallion named Prince. When we got to the middle of the river the current swept us down away from the ford and toward the Mormon Dam.[2] The leaders lost their heads, the water poured into the wagon and on we swept. Nearer the dam which boomed like a small Niagara. Abbie cried but I cuddled him close to me and covered his eyes, and he ceased crying. Mr. Harer shouted all sorts of things to his horses, and Mrs. H and I never spoke. It was awful. Suddenly Prince pulled himself up and commenced to exert all his great strength to reach shallower water. There came shouts from the bank near the Fort, and a soldier urged his horse out a little way from the bank, and threw a lariat, caught one of the horses and commenced pulling in the same direction Prince was. That saved us. Soon we were in shallow water and a little later safely ashore. John V. saw part of our struggle, then the landing, indistinctly as it was getting pretty dark. He concluded to camp where he was like a sensible fellow.”

NEXT: A VISIT WITH COL AND MRS. CHAFFEE

[1] George Moore was 24 years old and single, a miner who worked locally, perhaps for the Armers. He had come from Iowa.

[2] This is not to be confused with the later Mormon Flat Dam, built on the Salt River creating Canyon Lake. Angie’s reference is to a small diversion dam near Ft. McDowell on the lower Verde River. The name comes from the fact that about this same time Mormon settlers grazed their livestock in the area.

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