I love old newspaper clips. One of my favorite things to look at it is how people have viewed the Payson area historically. So let’s take a look at some old clips.
The 1870s were the beginning of non-native settlement in this region. At the time Prescott to the west was a particularly major player in the state — it had been the territorial capital from 1864 to 1867 and would be again from 1877 to 1889. That makes this clip from an article in Prescott’s newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Miner, on April 30, 1875, all that more important.
In conversation with Wm. Clark, who has traveled extensively in New Mexico and Arizona, we learn the following particulars with reference to Tonto Basin, which is situated on Fossil Creek, a tributary of the east fork of the Verde River, about eighty miles in a southeasterly direction from Prescott. This basin is well watered, has an abundant supply of timber, consisting of oak, ash, wild cherry, cottonwood, mesquite, hackberry, black walnut, cedar, sycamore and birch in the valley, and pine on the mountains which surround it.
These are the Mogollons, Sierra Anchas and Pinals, which are all high and precipitous mountains that almost wall the valley in, as it were, and give it the appearance of a deep, flat bottomed basin.
This basin is completely covered with a most luxuriant growth of grass of several kinds, all nutritious, and valuable for hay or pasturage.
Several creeks meander through the valley, some of which Mr. Clark learned the names of, as follows - Canon, Wild Cherry, Pleasant Valley and Tonto, besides some others, the names of which he did not learn. These are streams of living water, as is attested by the presence of beaver and beaver dams, as also several kinds of fish. The soil, commencing at the east fork of the Verde, is a black loam or vegetable mould, very rich and capable of producing almost anything; this character of soil extends all along the streams in valleys of various widths.
Part of Tonto Basin is rolling land, somewhat gravelly but would produce grain wherever water could be taken for irrigation.
The basin is in the neighborhood of 30 miles square, nearly all of which is susceptible of being converted into pleasant homes for farmers and stock-raisers, where, as yet, there is not a living soul. The climate is mild and pleasant in winter but a little too warm for comfort in summer.
Mr. Clarke did not prospect for gold but saw good indications on the streams and has been informed by others that gold has been found there. The formation of the hills is decomposed granite, slate and large veins of white quartz. Iron ore in quite a pure state is also found in leads in the foot-hills, where the gold is believed to exist. White tail deer, bear, turkeys, rabbits and quail abound in the valley, on the hills and in the mountains.
This is a very appealing article, and undoubtedly encouraged people to come to the area. Over the next 10 years, substantial growth happened, which leads us to this clip from the October 2, 1886 Arizona Silver Belt.
Payson is a thriving village. A string band has been organized there and the people will make merry with music and dancing. The corn crop in the valley is up to the average, feed is excellent and cattle in good condition. The people are patiently waiting for a railroad to reveal the latent resources of that section.
Gradually, the region moved forward. The railroad, though much talked about over a 30-40 year period, never happened. The Tonto Natural Bridge was the subject of numerous articles, including many that reached far outside the state. Let’s move forward to 1909 and this clip from the July 6, 1909 Arizona Silver Belt.
The so-called Payson country has four or five rich mining districts, extensive tracts of timber, a cattle range fully seventy-five miles square that supports more than 50,000 head of cattle, and hundreds of acres of rich agricultural land lying in the Payson main belt where all kinds of farm produce and all the ordinary fruits can be raised in abundance without irrigation. One the northernmost border of Gila county, also, is situated the famous Natural Bridge, one of the greatest wonders in the United States, and one which hundreds of tourists would travel miles to see, if there were any suitable roads to travel on.
The author Zane Grey first came to the region in 1918, and here’s what he had to say about Payson in his book “Tales of Lonely Trails” — “Next day we rode from Natural Bridge to Payson in four and a half hours. Payson appeared to be an old hamlet, retaining many frontier characteristics such as old board and stone houses with high fronts, hitching posts and pumps on sidewalks, and one street so wide that it resembled a Mexican plaza. Payson contained two stores, where I hoped to buy a rifle, and hoped in vain.”
Over the next 20 to 30 years the region would grow and start to change, as Zane Grey’s writings spread further word of the area. The Boy Scouts set up Camp Geronimo in the 1920s and the region became that much more of a place for people to escape the Phoenix area heat, as this clip from the December 23, 1950 Tucson Daily Citizen shows.
Six-Gun Memories Cling to Arizona
Among the places in Arizona replete with memories of six-guns, feuds and bold men, is the Tonto Basin country. The villages of Pine and Payson, and the surrounding mountain forests are an ideal setting for the legends of early days which fill them, while Pleasant Valley to the east, is famous as the locale of the bloodiest of all range wars.
Tonto Basin and its overhanging Mogollon Rim are known wherever books are read, and visitors find this comparatively virgin country a delightful and hospitable resort region.
The allure of the old west was a big part of things, and certainly fit with the weekender/second homeowner experience. Since then, the region has continued to evolve and some magazines have touted Payson as a great place to retire. As time goes on, what is written about the area will continue to gradually change, while also keeping many of the same themes that have been present throughout the area’s history.