Spend an afternoon with Frieda Rush and you’ll soon realize she’s enjoyed a captivating life filled with passion and enthusiasm.
Even more evidence of the twists and turns of a life worth living emerge from a look through her rustic, pioneer home in a nondescript residential area of central Payson.
On the walls of her historic home, she artfully displays the hundreds of mementos, memorabilia and souvenirs she’s collected over the decades.
Each object reminds her of a life filled with opportunities, hardships, heartaches, joys and celebrations.
To visitors, the first curiosity Frieda reveals is that she was born on 11-11 at 11 o’clock and weighed 11 pounds.
“Kind of interesting, don’t you think?” she asks.
Today, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Frieda celebrates her 94th birthday, which means she was just two years old when “The Great War” ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
She was, of course, too young to remember the Armistice, but each year since she has celebrated her birthday on the same day millions honor American veterans of all wars.
Among Frieda’s fondest childhood memories are riding on a flower-covered float in the 1923 Rose Bowl Parade that passed in front of thousands of cheering spectators along the streets of Pasadena, Calif.
“It was so much fun — I was a hollyhock because I was kind of tall,” she recalls. “The shorter girls were daffodils.”
Frieda was born in Pueblo, Colo. to homesteading immigrant parents who later moved the family to rural Nevada where she loved to explore the wilderness on horseback.
“We lived near Ely and it was a great place to ride — to grow up,” she says about the town known for train robbers, holdups and the advent of steam locomotives.
At 16, Frieda dropped out of school and married Charles Moores — a gold and copper miner who would eventually take her to Arizona where the two owned and operated several mines including Golden Belt, Gladiator and Crown King in the Bradshaw Mountains.
She remembers living in a one-room cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing. The summer heat was so unbearable that her husband slept nights in the mine where temperatures were cooler and more constant.
During the years Frieda and her husband spent mining in central Arizona, word surfaced that a war in Europe was eminent.
“My husband had a pilot’s license and owned a plane, so we moved to Phoenix where he became an instructor at Thunderbird Field teaching American and Chinese cadets to fly,” Frieda recalls.
Later he transferred to a military airfield in Mesa where he continued to train allied pilots for duty in World War II.
At the end of the war, Frieda and her husband returned to Crown King in hopes of once again mining for a living.
“The mine wouldn’t mill so it was closed and we moved to a mine near Dripping Springs (in southern Gila County),” Frieda said.
While living there, Frieda unknowingly met up with one of Arizona’s most notorious characters — Pearl “Bandit Queen” Hardt.
“She drove a water wagon that we bought from and I used to catch rides with her,” said Frieda.
“I had no idea who she was —I just called her the water lady.”
Years later, Frieda learned that Hardt, who she knew as Pearl Bywater, had lived a wild life. Hardt and her partner in crime, Joe Boot, had robbed stagecoaches and trains traveling between Globe and Florence and along the San Pedro River.
“I found out she was known as the (bandit) who robbed the last stage out of Globe,” Frieda said.
Hardt was eventually captured and sent to prison in Yuma where her notoriety doubled, mostly because newspapermen constantly sought her out to do stories of “the perils of a life of crime.”
Released in 1902, Pearl moved to Dripping Springs where she and Frieda became acquaintances.
After years of mining, Frieda eventually divorced and moved to Phoenix where she met and married Fred Reish, an accountant for the state of Arizona.
While there, she developed a fondness for Payson because her father, Herman Deitlaff, lived in the Rim Country. He worked with Gene Pyle to help develop the Camp Geronimo and R Bar C Boy Scout camps.
Frieda fondly remembers that her father built trails around Camp Geronimo and taught many scouts the art of packing burros for trips into the Rim Country wilderness.
Among her most prized possessions, which today sits in her living room, is a precious sculpture of her father packing a burro.
Frieda’s husband died a few years ago and she now lives alone, buoyed by years of fond memories she simply calls “wonderful.”
When asked what gift she would like to receive for her birthday, Frieda never hesitates: “Just friendship, that’s all; you can never have too many friends.”