Key Figures Of Early Payson

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Folks like to talk about our country’s Founding Fathers from time to time, yet I rarely hear it discussed on a local level. Here’s my take on Payson’s “founding fathers.”

William Burch

If you forced me to pick just one person … just one … it’s Burch. Now this isn’t to say that Burch didn’t have some early company — after all, early accounts also refer to one John Hook. But Hook is out of the picture by 1878 or so and while Burch never stuck around to become long in the tooth, he was around for at least another decade or so before moving down to the Buckeye area. The book “Rim Country History” has the following to say about Burch:

“William Burch came to Gila County (then Yavapai County) in 1876. He was the first settler to build a house located where the 5th green is now on the golf course in Payson. He was prominent in the founding of the town. He entered into the mining business and had the first sawmill. He was in on the cattle interests. He served as justice of the peace in Payson in 1891.”

Let’s expand on the mining mention for a moment. Burch was a co-founder of the Excursion Mine. Who founded it along with him? None other than DeForest Porter, who was a territorial Supreme Court judge and later mayor of Phoenix. In my opinion, that tells me Burch was a player, probably THE player early on. He was the person you’d go to if you just came into the area and wanted to know what was really what.

Birch Mesa, up by today’s airport, is named for Burch, even though it is misspelled.

Burch married Ida Jeanette Hazelton in 1883 and they had a number of children together in Payson before moving down to the Buckeye area.

On Sept. 7, 1900, William Burch received a patent on 160 acres of land in that area.

Irving Monroe House

If you’ve read my articles at all, you probably know that I’m a major House fan. He was one of the founders of the first recorded mining claim in the area, the Golden Waif, and was in the area a long time. He ultimately died in Mesa in 1945.

Why would I put Burch ahead of House? It’s really because Burch was located in the historic heart of Payson, while House was a bit outside of it. Still though, House is a pretty memorable guy.

Lafayette Nash

Ah, Lafayette Philander Nash, a gentleman who made one of the worst trades of all time. He founded the Golden Wonder mine in 1878. A couple of years later he traded it to Emer Chilson for his store at Marysville and perhaps some money. Oops. Marysville, a mining town west of today’s Payson, soon went bust, while the Golden Wonder is still being worked to this day.

However, when you look at Nash, you tend to place him more in Strawberry —that’s where he could probably be put into the “founding father” class. Payson? Probably not the right fit.

Going Outside of Payson some …

David Harer

If we’re looking at the region as a whole, including Tonto Basin, David Harer would probably be founding father No. 1 instead of William Burch. He was clearly here by the mid 1870s at the latest and had a very significant impact.

Born in Arkansas, Harer came west to Oregon in the 1850s. He went down to California before migrating eastward to Arizona.

He and his wife Josephine had eight children and many old-timers in the area today can find them in their family trees.

The Houstons

Here’s another group of folks that have some California ties, and ended up in the Phoenix area after their time in the Payson area.

Andrew and Samuel Houston came to this area in the late 1870s from Visalia, Calif. They settled in the area of today’s Star Valley, where they ranched.

Sam Houston died in the early 1890s and they had already been spending more time outside of the area by then — Sam patented some land in west Mesa in 1890. Houston Mesa Road is named for them.

Ironically, their sister ended up in the area even longer. Katherine Houston married John W. Wentworth, who would leave a significant imprint on the region.

Rial Allen and Alfred J. Randall

These LDS settlers had a major role in settling the area, particularly Pine. A number of Mormon settlements were established in the early days of the region, including Gisela and Mazatzal City. The latter of which is where Doll Baby Ranch is now located. Yet Pine is where Allen and Randall settled.

Allen was 35 years old when he and Randall purchased squatters rights along Pine Creek from Henry Siddles and “Old Man” Bunch. (Source: Michael F. Anderson’s A Place in the Land, which is a history of Pine).

Allen spent only about 13 years in Pine before moving to Tuba City, Ariz.

Randall stuck around his entire his life and the Randall name is strong in the region today.

Isadore Christopher

Here’s another early settler whose name lives on today, though as a place name and not through descendants.

Christopher Creek is named for this Frenchman who settled on it in the 1880s. At the time, the water body was referenced as “East Fork of Tonto” on maps.

Christopher’s place was burned out during Indian attacks in the 1880s, during which he was thought to have been dead after a burned carcass was found. (It turned out to be that of a bear that Christopher had left hanging there.)

Christopher established the CI brand before eventually moving out of the area after 1900.

Others

There are others that can be mentioned as well. The Azbills and “old man” Starr are linked with Star Valley. Bill McDonald, James Callaghan, the Hises, and many others can be connected with Payson.

Pine and surrounding area has others, like Price Nelson and Davey Gowan.

The fact is that many folks had an impact. While these are all men that happened to be recorded by history, the women around them also played an important role. The Daughters of Gila County Pioneers have published some tremendous books that focus solely on those great women.

For more information, I suggest picking up a copy of “Rim Country History,” which is available at the Rim Country Museum in Payson. Michael F. Anderson’s “A Place in the Land, the Settlement of Pine, Arizona: 1878-1900” is a good book on that area and the Pine-Strawberry Museum has some wonderful displays on that area.

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