About three-quarters of a mile from the Tonto Fish Hatchery via the Highline Trail is Dick Williams Creek, a tributary of Tonto Creek.
This is one of my favorite hikes in Rim Country. I take the Highline Trail over from the Fish Hatchery Road, go up a little over a mile or so to the spring, before finding a path back to the Highline Trail. It’s a rugged hike (there is no formal trail north of the Highline Trail), but one that I find beautiful.
Yet it also always makes me wonder: who was Dick Williams?
Who was Dick Williams? In a nutshell: trapper and mountain man. Census records indicate that he was born in Texas in the 1840s, though two different censuses show different years. By the 1890s it appears that he had come to the Payson area, located under the Rim, likely where a tributary of Tonto Creek now bears his name. He testified in the trial of Ed Tewksbury after Tewksbury was alleged to have murdered Tom Graham in Tempe. He stated that he saw Ed Tewksbury on Aug. 2, 1892 at Newton’s ranch. So clearly there’s some sort of tie
The 1904 Arizona brand book lists R.W. Williams of Payson, Arizona, with the brand K/A.
Williams shows up in the 1910 census as being located in Payson. He’s on the same page as August Pieper and is listed as a lodger of William Colcord. It seems though that he moved on from the Payson area not all that long after, as there starts to be mentions of him in the Coconino Sun newspaper in Flagstaff. Here’s a clip from the May 14, 1920 Coconino Sun about Williams.
OLD TRAPPERS’ HARD LUCK
Old Trapper R.W. Williams was in Flagstaff Wednesday from the Grand Canyon country, where he has been trapping wild animals for the Hudspeth Sheep company for the past two years.
During the last year he gathered up the furs of 73 coyotes and wild cats on that range. He lost a couple of good horses last fall from what he believes was “flu.”
Bill DeAdder, another old trapper who has caught wild animals all over the northern country, lost a couple of good horses last week on his way in from the Cataract Canyon country. He stopped at a ranch after dark and found no one at home. In hunting for horse feed, found a sack of oats hanging up and fed it to his horses. It proved to be poisoned oats and his horses lived only a short time after eating. Bill had no matches with him and did not notice that the sack had been marked “poison.”
That same year he’s listed in the Coconino Sun as applying for a new brand. His place of residence is listed as Valle, Ariz. Valle is located about halfway between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
On or about May 1, 1928, Dick Williams died in Seligman, Ariz. According to his death certificate, he was 65 years old and in the employ of the Colin Campbell Live Stock Company. The May 11, 1928 Winslow Mail newspaper carried word of his passing.
Former Winslow Resident Found Dead at Seligman
According to word received here yesterday, the body of Dick Williams, formerly of Winslow and also a resident of the Tonto Basin and later of Flagstaff, was found near Seligman early Wednesday and attempts are being made to locate relatives.
Death was evidently caused by natural causes as no marks of violence were discovered on the body. Death was believed to have occurred at least five days before the body was discovered.
Since leaving Flagstaff Williams has been trapping in the mountains.
No trace of relatives of the dead man had been found by officers up to a late hour yesterday.
There is another clip that didn’t fit with the flow of the above story that’s worth mentioning. The Feb. 12, 1891 St. Johns Herald lists a Dick Williams on the delinquent tax list of 1890. He’s listed as having “ranch and imp near Wilford.”
Wilford was a Mormon settlement in the Heber-Overgaard area. It no longer exists.
Given that Williams’ obit mentions him living in the Winslow area prior to Tonto, it’s a somewhat logical progression. It also fits with the apparent tie to the Tewksburys. That connection may be worth exploring further, though it’s important to note that besides testifying as a witness to Ed Tewksbury’s location, Pleasant Valley War books don’t mention him.