Rim Country Places

Chapter 17: Grand Prize Mine


A homestead near the Grand Prize Mine was deeded to a tribal leader named Delia Cabbellachia. It was later sold to white developers during the Great Depression and in 1943 it became the East Verde Estates subdivision.

A homestead near the Grand Prize Mine was deeded to a tribal leader named Delia Cabbellachia. It was later sold to white developers during the Great Depression and in 1943 it became the East Verde Estates subdivision. |

Advertisement

Webber Creek is best known today for the Geronimo Boy Scout Camp that occupies its headwaters under the Rim, and for the Geronimo Estates, a residential subdivision just downstream from the Boy Scout Camp. However, for generations before white settlers entered the area, Native Americans found it a good place to camp during their seasonal sojourns and to this day a number of Tonto Apaches claim this vicinity as a homeland.

The first white men to “discover” Webber Creek came during the 1868 expedition led by Col. Thomas Devin, as they scouted the Rim Country for Apache camps. The Army engineer in that detachment was C. H. Webber who mapped the area for the first time. He bestowed his own name on the creek; a bit of ego boosting allowed first-time explorers.

The next time Webber Creek appears in the public records is in 1883 when William Craig filed a claim on its upper waters and established what he and his partner Paul Vogel called the Spade Ranch. The name referred to all the digging they had to do in planting their large orchard of fruit trees. The Spade Ranch would become a major source of fruit, fresh and dried, for the Payson area.

Craig, a wagon master, and Vogel, a muleskinner, had met in the Army and after being mustered out they became partners in the search for gold. Hearing about the discovery of rich ore in Arizona’s central mountains, they came to Marysville west of Payson in 1881. From that base their prospecting led them to stake the Single Standard Mine, but it proved to have little pay dirt, and soon closed down.

The two made their living as builders in the Payson area. Among their work: the Pieper Mansion and Payson’s oldest standing building, the poured mud house, both on Main Street.

The same spring they staked their claim to the Spade Ranch, Craig and Vogel prospected all along Webber Creek and discovered a rich deposit. They called it The Grand Prize Mine and it helped them pay for their ranch and the orchards. By 1900 the mine operation had grown large enough to demand professional oversight, and Craig hired George Albert Randall from Denver to take the position of mine superintendent.

Several major improvements to the operation were effected immediately. A small smelter was installed at the crossing downstream from where Webber Creek enters the East Verde River. This placed the smelted ore on the Pine-Strawberry Road, which was the main road to Flagstaff and a transcontinental train connection. The road from the mine on Webber Creek would have had to follow that creek to its confluence with the East Verde and then down to the crossing. Instead, the owners blazed a short cut, a new trail that cut directly south from Webber Creek to the Pine Road. Remnants of that wagon trail can be traced today. Also, pieces of black slag from the smelter were still being found scattered under and near the modern bridge at the East Verde River as late as the first decade of the 21st century.

Not far below the crossing, Sycamore Creek joins the East Verde River. This is a short spring-fed creek (a bit over one mile in length) that parallels today’s highway 87/260. This is not to be confused with many other creeks in Arizona by the same name, notably one that flows south from the Mazatzals. Randall built a bunkhouse and cabins for the mine workers on a level plane just up from the East Verde along Sycamore Creek. In November 1901, his wife, their 2-year-old daughter Julia Viola Randall and Julia’s half-sister CeCe joined him. They lived in a cabin on Sycamore Creek until the mine closed in 1906. [1]

Randall had employed some of the local Tonto Apaches to work at the mine. The tribe had long claimed sites on Webber Creek and the East Verde River as traditional homelands. In 1904, with the help of George Randall’s intercession, the Tonto Apache Tribe won title to 160 acres below the crossing, the government’s compensation for the service many of them had rendered as scouts during the Indian War. This homestead, deeded to a tribal leader named Delia Cabbellachia, was later sold to white developers during the Great Depression when the Indians needed the money. [2] In 1943 it became the East Verde Estates subdivision.

Goat rancher Sydney Holder had a ranch house upstream from the Grand Prize bunkhouses on Sycamore Creek. He had become a widower in 1900, and in 1905 he married Ola Carter. The Holder family then left the area and moved to the original family home in Mississippi. He had owned and operated the store and post office just north of the crossing, named Angora.

When Holder left the area, George Randall became the postmaster. This small settlement was named for the Holder’s Angora wool business, wool harvested from their large herds of Angora goats.

In 1907, the recently formed National Forest Service took over the site on Sycamore Creek, where Randall’s workers had been poaching on federal land. They declared this an administrative site and a ranger station. [3] However, by this time the Grand Prize Mine was not producing much ore. In fact, by the next year, 1908, the mine became inoperative and the Randall family moved into town.

Some local residents made sporadic attempts to work the mine, but none were worth the effort until the 1930s when the Depression made even a little return worthwhile. During the next 30 years the mine was sold several times to local businessmen and ranchers.

One of these latter day owners was lawyer-politician John W. Wentworth, who operated the Grand Prize at intervals. Wentworth, a “mover and shaker” in the county and the town of Payson, was very angry that a neighbor’s cattle trampled the mine property, broke the sluice boxes and took shelter in the mine itself.

The offending neighbor was “Rim Rock” Henry Thompson. Thompson had purchased 16 acres from Craig at the very head of Webber Creek, the acreage that would one day become the Geronimo Boy Scout Camp, and ran cattle there under the Rim. Thompson and Wentworth did not endear themselves to each other over this. To make matters worse they differed over the result of the Civil War: Thompson was born on Confederate soil, and Wentworth was from the Union state of California. [4]

Other sometime owners included Walter Lovelady, whose ranch was along Webber Creek just below the Grand Prize, and Grady Harrison. It seems that quite a few of the Rim Country families had opportunity to dabble in the Grand Prize Mine, though none of them found it a grand enough prize to make them independent.

Today the site gives evidence of diggings, the ruins of old buildings and several mine shafts that have been filled in for safety purposes. A trip up the rough road along Webber Creek does, however, yield a feeling for history, as the Grand Prize takes its place in Rim Country lore.

Notes

[1] After the mine closed the Randall family moved into Payson, and George became Justice of the Peace from 1908 to 1918 where he served not only as the local judge, but notary public and the one who conducted funerals and weddings. Julia grew up to become Payson’s beloved iconic elementary teacher. Julia’s mother Rose bought the old McDonald Saloon for a mercantile store, and the family lived in that building until they could build a home north of Main Street on the old Pine Road, today’s McLane.

[2] The settlers in the area for whom the Apaches worked could not pronounce her last name so they called her Delia Chapman, or simply Dee-dee.

[3] During the Great Depression the CCC camped here and developed it as a public campground.

[4] This story told by Jesse Hayes in his book Sheriff Thompson’s Day, University of Arizona Press, 1968.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.