A living connection to the pioneer days of the Rim Country can be found at Green Valley Park next weekend.
The 60th annual reunion of the descendants of Bartolomeo “John” and Mercedes Belluzzi on June 22 and 23 will draw together 80 scattered family members, ranging in age from 2 to 92. Only about two dozen family members still make their home in the Rim Country.
As part of the reunion, the family will finally get to see the finished memorial quilt.
“The family started making the quilt blocks about 10 years ago, but then no one followed through,” explained Chuck Hardt, a former Payson High School teacher and coach, who is a great-grandson of John and Mercedes. His wife, Shirley, also a former employee of PHS, took the lead, explained cousin Margaret Payne, a great-great-granddaughter of the pioneer family.
The Hardts and other members of the family found most of the completed blocks, and then contacted their relatives to tell them they needed their blocks before turning it over to professionals Brenda Cornell and Kathy Hunt.
The result is a king-sized quilt with a wonderful display of family photos — including those of John and Mercedes and the copy of their deed to the homestead they formally patented in 1909, with President William Taft’s signature. The family plans to put the quilt in the 2013 Rim Country Quilt Roundup and then donate it to the Northern Gila County Historical Society.
Sharing the quilt with the Roundup were Hardt and Payne and two of the clan’s senior members, sisters Dese Lazear Muller and Anne Marie Lazear Diener, both daughters of the Belluzzis’ youngest child, Marie. She is the only one of the pioneer couple’s seven children born on the Rim Trail Ranch homestead.
Bartolomeo “John” Belluzzi homesteaded Rim Trail Ranch while working in the Globe Old Dominion (O.D.) Mine, better known now as Whispering Pines.
John applied for his homestead in 1874. The 140 acres site had about 20 acres of level land, but it also had the East Verde River running through it. He and his friend, a fellow Italian immigrant, Louie Barnini, traveled from Globe to the Rim Country to establish their title to the land, clearing timber, building a house and barn, putting in orchards and a garden.
They had served together on the Spanish ship Elcano, joining the crew in Genoa in 1866. Eventually they left the ship in San Francisco. Diagnosed with a condition that was to require the amputation of his leg, John and his friend instead gathered a few belongings, jumped ship and swam ashore.
They made their way to Globe and signed on with the O.D. Mine, happy to make $1 for a 10-hour shift.
They lived in a tent throughout summer and spring, then moved to a boarding house for the winter.
During his first Globe winter, John learned about the opportunity to homestead in the Rim Country. The following spring he applied for a homestead. At that time, even non-citizens could get free land from the government if they made improvements. They worked the homestead in the summer before returning to Globe for work in the mines. Back in Globe in 1878, John met and married the blue-eyed, red-haired Mercedes Mungaro.
John continued working in the mines and Mercedes kept her job at the boarding house. The family history says she saved the seeds from the best apples to plant at Rim Trail Ranch.
Copper prices fell and in 1882 the O.D. Mine closed and John found work in Tucson, driving the Butterfield Stage to San Diego and back. The published histories vary here — one has him hospitalized for a throat ailment in Winslow and then going to work for the railroad, another has him returning to the O.D. Mine.
Eventually, in October 1890, the family took up permanent residence at Rim Trail Ranch. On Oct. 27, 1896, John became a U.S. citizen.
After the children were grown, other family members took over operation of the ranch and John and Mercedes moved to Payson. John died in 1925 and Mercedes passed away in 1930.
Family members continued to operate the property up until at least the early 1960s — Hardt recalls visiting the ranch as a very young child, so the memories of all the family did to create their haven are still strong and will likely be a frequent topic of discussion as the descendants of John and Mercedes gather at Green Valley Park next weekend.
Visiting is what Hardt, Payne, Muller and Diener are looking forward to — that and all the old family favorite recipes: mostly Mexican food and the desserts, especially peach cobbler and “Grandma’s” blackberry cobbler (if someone can make it like she did).