What Is Zane Grey Country?

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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.

Comments

Pat Randall 2 years ago

Why doesn't anyone ever tell why Zane Grey stopped coming to Arizona? He brought friends here to hunt out of season and was not allowed to. So like a little kid, he left and never came back because he didn't think he had to go by the laws everyone else did. I think he was a jerk. Just because he was an author didn't give him any rights the rest of us don't have.

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ALLAN SIMS 2 years ago

Having read most of his books, and a biography or two about the fellow, I think the term ”jerk” is grossly misapplied. As for his divorce from Arizona, I remember reading his account of that separation, and he had his reasons. They may seem trivial to you, if you even know them; but each of us should be free to like or dislike as we see fit.

Consider that Grey was born in 1875, and had spent years in the saddle chasing lions and bear all over Arizona with the likes of Buffalo Jones and the Haughts. It was only in the late twenties that any sort of rein had been placed on the wildlife exploits of such men, which this man craved. And, recollecting his rendition of it, there was much more than mere pique involved in the situation. He had his reasons, and to him they seemed reasonable. To have such freedom ripped from his hands after several years of it, is not something that most of us take gracefully.

Imagine someone so in love with the wildness and freedom of the Arizona wilderness, to suddenly be told they can’t live their lives in the free manner they had been accustomed to all those many past years. It goes against the grain, for sure.

Look at us today. We are told we can’t have a camp fire anywhere, nor sometimes enter an entire area, when we have never been told that before. My fondest memories are of campfires 20 miles from the nearest road. I had many times done such things, but no more. Because some bureaucrat had a notion that it might be unsafe, never considering that similar decisions had created forests wherein to even fire a rifle is risking disastrous fire, as we heard not long ago. Is it being a jerk to resent that?

Now, consider the tremendous benefits to Arizona that derived from this man. As the article above mentions, the entire area for many miles around Pleasant Valley, and indeed statewide benefited from the tales this man wrote, incorporating the vistas, pines, wind, storms and stalwart people so well that the entire country fell in love with the state, and the Payson area particularly. I, myself, from early childhood dreamed of lofty views of both tremendous pine forests and distant desert in one glance. Thus, my eventual advent into this fair land.

Grey, as disclosed in a biography by Frank Gruber, was a highly complex person, suffering from bouts of depression, yet showing considerable bravery in his own exploits. For the likes of Jones, the Haughts, the Pyles and others of such imposing personalities would not have tolerated ‘jerks’ in whatever fashion, rich or not. I’ve dealt with people like them, and have seen such folks put ‘jerks’ down the road, on more than one occasion.

I heard a long time ago, that when one points a finger, there are three on that same hand pointing back at him. Something to consider. .

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Pat Randall 2 years ago

Mr. Sims, Do you really believe the laws should have been over looked because Mr. Grey was depressed and not allowed to hunt and kill animals out of season? Remember his books were mostly fiction.

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ALLAN SIMS 2 years ago

When I read that question I smiled, for the absurdity of it is almost astounding. Out all written, you pick that passing comment to hinge my defense of a man long dead? Read it again. I suspect you ignored everything except what you might use in rebuttal, which is a real shame. It shows the old adage true “people hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest”. Besides that, it falls very flat, as a rebuttal.

The comment on the man’s depression was simply to reinforce the comment that he was a complex individual. And, prior to his run-in with the hunting rules in Arizona. At that time, I doubt very many had ever been told they couldn’t do or not do what they’d always been free to do in the realm of hunting.

As now, the government was taking freedoms from its citizens. And, that in spite of the fact that Arizona had previously greatly benefited from the man’s championing of the state and the Payson area, you determine he was a jerk for making a decision concerning the fact that the government decided that he nor anyone else could do what they had previously been free to do.

In fact he was merely asking the state to consider that it was for an expensive movie, not for a simple hunt. Being inflexible bureaucrats, they cut their nose off to spite their faces, losing much more than they could have gained. Grey did approach those who could decide the issue, not simply pressuring a local warden to overlook an indiscretion.

If the government decided that you could no longer post to this newspaper commentary. Would you be a ‘jerk’ if you resented such removal of the freedom to do so?

I have posted to other papers in the past, and as with most--over time, they stopped allowing their readers the privilege to do so. The loss of that freedom rankled. Can you honestly say that should your right to post in these pages go away, that you wouldn’t resent the loss of that freedom, especially if it was by order of the government?

That’s the point, not the man’s illness. You judge a man long dead, without considering any aspect except that which you choose to believe, whether you understand it or his reasoning for doing as he did.

Yes, the man’s books were mostly fiction. But, I have one that relates some of his personal experiences. It is titled “Zane Grey Volume 2 Tales of Lonely Trails”. In it he expresses his regret that his son killed a squirrel, because of its beauty . In actuality, Grey, though a crack shot, seldom killed what he shot at, because he hated to kill, though he loved the hunt.
The details for leaving Arizona, are enumerated in an article written by Stan Brown, published in the Roundup on March 25th 2004. I suggest you read it. It wasn’t totally beneficial to the memory of Grey, but at the same time, it is a fair account. It doesn’t paint the man as a jerk, as you contend.

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