If you have been around the Payson area much, you’ve probably seen the term Zane Grey Country. Organizations like the Soroptimist International of Zane Grey Country, Kiwanis Club of Zane Grey Country and many others utilize this term. But what really is Zane Grey Country and how did the term come to be used?
Zane Grey was an author who spent time in the Payson region between 1918 and 1929. When he first came to the area in 1918 he had already had some substantial success as an author, breaking out with his novel “Riders of the Purple Sage” in 1912. The 1920s were very good to Zane Grey as he had continued success with many novels and non-fiction pieces. Many of these were set in the Payson region. Movies were made of many of his novels and the early versions were filmed in this region.
He also bought two pieces of land in the area during that time. The first was a small portion of the Anderson Lee “Babe” Haught homestead near today’s Tonto Fish Hatchery which is where Zane Grey’s cabin was located prior to burning in the 1990 Dude Fire. The other was 120 acres of the Sampson Elam Boles Homestead under Myrtle Point, located about three miles away as the crow flies from his more famous cabin site. By the end of the 1920s, Zane Grey was identified with the region.
Flash forward to the 1960s. Payson and the surrounding area had changed substantially since the 1920s. It was far less isolated with a major highway connecting it with the booming Phoenix area. America had changed too, and the 1960s were full of upheaval. Getting away from the hubbub of civilization by going to the forest was a popular thing to do. Nostalgia was in, as people longed for simpler days. Zane Grey’s stories fit with all of this and since many of his stories were set here, many people associated him with the region, hence the term Zane Grey Country.
Memories of Zane Grey boomed throughout the 1970s and 1980s as his restored cabin near Tonto Fish Hatchery drew thousands of visitors each year. The term Zane Grey Country was a key part of the region’s identity and branding. After the Dude Fire burned Zane Grey’s cabin in 1990, the usage of the term Zane Grey Country diminished somewhat, though the term is still used by many today. That’s the overview of the term. Now let’s look at what I like to call “the heart of Zane Grey Country.”
When you look at Zane Grey’s time in the region, there was a specific area that he frequented. Anderson Lee “Babe” Haught served as his main guide, so much of Grey’s time was spent in that part of the region. That homestead was near today’s Tonto Fish Hatchery so that provides us with an initial point to go from. Grey’s book “Under the Tonto Rim” covers Babe’s family and is set there. It’s important to note that there were also other Haughts located nearby. Where today’s Tonto Creek Estates sits was one of the properties that the Henry “Pappy” Haught family had. Little Green Valley was another spot that they had and I believe that the sorghum cutting race in Grey’s “Code of the West” (which covers that family) was set in Little Green Valley.
Moving westward, we know that the Pyles hunted with Grey. There was also a close bond there with the two pet bear cubs that Grey had. The Pyles were in Bonita Creek so that provides a western edge of the “heart” of Zane Grey Country.
The east edge is a little bit more challenging to me. I can’t imagine Grey not having hunted in the Christopher Creek area, but I’ve never seen families there referenced all that much. Still I think that it should be included as part of the “heart” of Zane Grey Country.
It’s worth noting that occasionally you will see the term Zane Grey Country used for other places outside of Arizona that Grey frequented, however this area seems to have adopted it far more than other places. Zane Grey still has a substantial role in the region. He had a knack for putting into words what we feel in so many places in this region. The properties that he owned are amongst the most beautiful and scenic in the region, having something deeply spiritual about them. Ultimately, Zane Grey Country will continue to be used by many as a term to describe this region.