The Civil War was raging 150 years ago, yet in the midst of it, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law something that would forever change America. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave people land in return for fulfilling certain requirements such as cultivating and improving the land. It helped feed the country’s westward expansion and allow previously unsettled places to be settled.
First let’s look at what was required to patent land under this law. Homesteaders were required to prove that they had been on the land continuously for five years. They also needed to build a house, farm, and make other improvements. Witnesses were required to testify that the homesteader had met these requirements. At that point a public notice was posted in at least one newspaper, various authorities such as the Forest Service (once it was established) were consulted and then the patent would be approved and issued if there were no issues.
It’s worth noting that in the early days of this region, people did not rush to patent the land and title was often passed without such a formality. Early patentees in this area are not necessarily first settlers — they simply decided to do all the paperwork sooner than others.
Terminology is also important to discuss when talking about settlers. It is often said that someone “homesteaded” land, but that should not be taken to mean that they necessarily “patented” the land. The former term is often used to signify someone settling upon a property. Patenting the land is when they actually received title from the federal government.
In this region Tonto Basin had some land patented before the area around Payson. However, for this article the focus will be on those patents in Townships on the Gila and Salt River Meridian between 8N and 12N.
Using that guideline, the first patentee of land in Rim Country was ... John Hough. He received a patent on 150.74 acres in the area of today’s Pine Creek Canyon Road in Pine on July 27, 1908. This was the first patent received under the Homestead Act of 1862. (Herbert H. Logan patented some mining claims in the area prior to this, but they were patented under the Lode Mining Law of 1866.)
According to the book “Rim Country History,” Hough was born in Alabama in 1849 and moved to Texas when he was 7 years old to live with a brother. In the late 1870s he came to Arizona and married Amanda Tipton in Prescott in 1877. In 1878 Amanda was pregnant and they were moving to Texas. On their way they stopped in Pine and decided to settle there. Their son John P. Hough was born on May 1st of that year. Sadly he died just a little over three years later and became the first person to be buried in Pine Cemetery.
John and Amanda had three other children and patented their land before moving to Long Beach, Calif. in 1919. John died there in November of that year and Amanda moved back to Pine to be closer to her children. Amanda and her children are buried in the Pine Cemetery.
Hough’s neighbor, Horace Durand was the next to patent land, patenting 156.84 acres on Sept. 10, 1908.
Outside of Pine, J.D.F. Beard and Sampson Elam Boles were the next ones to receive patents on their land. They both received their patents on May 11, 1909. Beard patented 150 acres where today’s Ellison Creek Estates subdivision is located and Boles patented 160 acres where Zane Grey Meadows, Collins Ranch and Mead Ranch is now located. Beard is often credited with being the first forest ranger in northern Gila County. Boles reportedly got his land from Jim Roberts, a Pleasant Valley War participant and later lawman, and Boles later sold much of his patented land to Zane Grey.
The first piece of land to be patented inside of today’s Town of Payson was 160 acres by William B. Thomson on Jan. 6, 1910. Ironically this is one of the more scarcely developed pieces of land in Payson today.
The last property in the area to be patented under this act was 160 acres where Bonita Creek is now located. It was patented by Elwood Pyle on Jan. 23, 1939.
Part of the reason for no further patents after that point was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, which substantially decreased the amount of grazing land available.
The area was also starting to change quite a bit during that time period. The Homestead Act of 1862 was repealed in 1976, by which time land exchanges under the General Land Exchange Act of 1922 were starting to occur in the area. Much of the land in the Town of Payson was acquired by people through this act.
Homesteading is an important part of American history. If you wish to read more about the commemoration of 150 years of the 1862 Homestead Act, visit www.blm. gov/wo/st/en/res/Education_in_BLM/homestead_act.html