Maybe the hot Dutch-oven biscuits lured the crowds or maybe folks just care about Rim Country history. Either way, people packed the house last weekend for the History and Biscuits program at the Payson LDS church.
The July 28 program offered presentations starting with roots in the area’s antiquity by Tonto National Forest archaeologist J. Scott Wood and running through the history of the early white settlement of Rim Country by descendants from pioneer families, complete with tales of western novelist Zane Grey’s visits.
Tim Ehrhardt, who regularly contributes columns on history to the The Rim Review, organized the event. Ehrhardt spoke about Zane Grey in the Rim Country and pointed out that much of what the novelist wrote about the area contributed to the region’s growth. Ironically, the residents his books attracted, helped drive him away.
In addition to Wood and Ehrhardt, speakers included Margaret Parker, Jayne Peace Pyle, Jinx Pyle, Ella Lee Owens and Errol Owens.
Wood told the audience about the earliest inhabitants of the area, the Paleo Indians who make a living as hunters and gatherers. At the time, a rolling grassland filled the area from Oxbow Hill to the East Verde.
The climate changed 11,000 years ago, ushering in the Archaic Period. People still hunted and gathered plants, but trade grew between the people to the south and north. The residents took up agriculture and began building the first houses — pit houses. Farming methods advanced as a result of contact with the Hohokam in the Valley and communities grew.
Wood said around A.D. 1150, the area suffered through a severe and sustained drought. Another, even more severe drought, plagued the area between 1275-1300. This drought prompted people to leave the area, leaving portions of western Arizona virtually uninhabited.
In the final years of occupation locally, the stresses on food supply created by the drought and other changes led to unrest. People moved away from their open communities in the flatlands to more fortified, defensible shelters.
The drought conditions ended in the 1300s and the area became much wetter and colder, which kept people away until the mid-1500s, said Wood. At that point, the ancestors of the present day Tonto, San Carlos, White Mountain and Yavapai Apache resettled the area.
Wood said they saw the ruins of the fortified and other communities and knew the land could sustain them through hunting and gathering and farming. These people were the Rim’s residents until the 1870s when white settlers pushed them out. At the turn of the 20th century — with the construction of Roosevelt Dam and roads in the area — many Apache left the San Carlos and other reservations to work on the dam and road projects. Many simply never went back to the reservation. They settled where they could, including the Payson area.
Parker, who is a member of the pioneer Hunt family and others, talked about the history of Pine and Strawberry where her family settled in the late 1870s and 1880s. Parker is president of the Pine Strawberry Historical and Archaeological Society, which operates the Pine Strawberry Museum at the Pine Community Center and the historic Strawberry Schoolhouse in Pine. The group is also responsible for providing visitors with information on a walking tour of all the historic homes in Pine.
She recommended visitors to Pine and Strawberry get a copy of the society’s DVD on the historic structures and a copy of Michael F. Anderson’s book, “A Place in the Land the Settlement of Pine, Arizona: 1878-1900.”
Parker said at one time, Pine had a sawmill and a freight line and a high school. The first Ford dealership opened in the early 1930s, making Pine perhaps the biggest of the Rim Country communities. The car dealership thrived enough for the owners to raffle a yellow convertible.
“Every cowboy around wanted to win that convertible. There isn’t any record of who actually won it though,” Parker said.
She added the earliest LDS chapel in the community wasn’t built until the late 1920s. It now houses the museum and at one time was the administrative offices for the Pine Strawberry School District and where the school board held its meetings. The Pine Community Center Thrift Store now occupies the former two-room school — where Parker attended classes.
She said the high school in Pine only operated for 11 or 12 years and most of the young people left town for higher education. Her father-in-law, the late Lufkin Hunt, attended the higher grades in Mesa, where his family had a home just for that purpose.
Parker said not much was written about the Strawberry (Valley) area until a time after a settlement was established in Pine. Cowboys drove cattle down to the lower elevations to graze. Cowboys built the first permanent structures there in the mid-1870s to provide shelter for their summer herding. The area didn’t have enough children for a schoolhouse until 1884, when settlers built the historic Strawberry School House.
Classes were discontinued in 1917 and the last teacher was the youngest daughter of the large, pioneering Peach family. She had attended the school as a child.
Jayne Peace Pyle shared the story of Margaret Meadows, the mother of Arizona Charlie Meadows, who is credited for helping start the August Rodeo in Payson and the wife of the first man buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.
Jinx Pyle also talked about the Pleasant Valley War.
Both Jayne and Jinx have books on their topics, as well as many others, available at the Rim Country Museum, Western Village and the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and also through their publishing company, Git A Rope. Go online to GitARope.com for more.
Ella Lee Owens and Errol Owens talked about the history of the logging industry in the area and the impact the family’s sawmill, Owens Bros. Lumber had on the local economy for many years.