Rim Country Places

Chapter 21: Mazatzal City

This photo, taken from a nearby mountain, shows the flat area and complex of buildings for the Doll Baby Ranch. Mazatzal City included this site on the East Verde River. The site along Pine Creek lies over the hill in the background.

This photo, taken from a nearby mountain, shows the flat area and complex of buildings for the Doll Baby Ranch. Mazatzal City included this site on the East Verde River. The site along Pine Creek lies over the hill in the background.


If you have made a practice of exploring new places in the Rim Country, you have undoubtedly been taken by surprise to come upon some hidden pocket of beauty you never saw before. I gasped with awe the first time I stood on the mesa overlooking the junction of Pine Creek with the East Verde River, about 11 miles west of Payson. The mountains close in from all sides to hold this well-watered place in their embrace.

An alluvial plain shows telltale signs of dykes that once channeled water to irrigate the fields. Although there were no signs of current occupation, it was obvious the place had been settled at some time in the past. Not all unoccupied Rim Country places are of interest in the present day, but this one is so filled with significant historical events it warrants our attention.

It was in this field that a bloody battle took place in 1875. A detachment of soldiers was forcing a march of Tonto Apache and Yavapai Indians from their reservation in the Verde Valley to a new location along the Gila River at San Carlos. It was February and snow blown by the wind made the air bitter cold. The native bands were suffering as they trudged on foot over the rocky trails, prodded by the soldiers. Everyone was hungry, babies were dying, old people were falling by the way and some of the people escaped to hide out in the uplands.


Stan Brown photo

This photo, taken from a nearby mountain, shows the flat area and complex of buildings for the Doll Baby Ranch. Mazatzal City included this site on the East Verde River. The site along Pine Creek lies over the hill in the background.

In the midst of this tension and pain an argument arose between the tribes over who owned a deer that had been shot. Hunting as they went was the best way for them to satisfy their hunger. The argument deteriorated into a riot between opposing groups as Yavapai and Apache attacked each other. The soldiers tried to stop the riot and fired their rifles, and when quiet descended many lay dead across this open field. Over the next three years the first White settlers to arrive found the bones of the victims still scattered over the area.

The following year, 1876, saw new activity here along Pine Creek. The presiding elders of the Mormon Church in Joseph City, Ariz., sent a contingent of men to scout the region between the Mogollon Rim and the Salt River, for a possible Mormon settlement. These men - John Bushman, Pleasant Bradford, William C. Allen and Peter Hansen - found the country almost inaccessible and still under the threat of renegade Indians. Their report for possible settlement was negative. However, the superior grazing available in the Tonto Basin was too good to pass up, so the next year another group of the “saints” came from St. George, Utah, to make a reconnaissance. It was 1877 when, at the call of Erastus Snow, six men made the trip. They were John Willis, Thomas Clark, Alfred J. Randall, Woodward Freeman, Revilo (Vi) Fuller, and Wyllys (Wid) Fuller.[1]

They came to the place that had been settled by Davy Gowan, later called Gisela, and marked it as a good spot for a settlement. Then they followed Rye Creek to the northwest, and crossing a low divide they came upon the open meadows that would be occupied later by the Doll Baby Ranch. Just beyond, along the East Verde River in what today is designated as the Mazatzal Wilderness, they came to the mouth of Pine Creek. The area was lush with grass and plentiful water. Also, it was far to the west of the Apache reservations and the occasional threat of marauding Indians.

They found a prospector named Jim Samuels claiming squatter’s rights in the area, so the Mormon representatives bought his claim for $75 and divided the land among the six of them. Samuels told them the adjacent mountains were named the Mazatzals and the pioneers called their prospective settlement Mazatzal City. [2] They then returned home and gave a very positive report to the church authorities. The following year settlement began. In March of 1878 John Willis returned with his family and a herd of cattle.  He was followed closely by the families of Woodward Freeman and Rial Allen. That summer Vi Fuller brought his family, first to Pine and then he moved down Pine Creek to the growing new settlement. Wid Fuller’s wife had died during the interim, and so he and his brother did not return at this time.

By the end of the year the others had been joined by the families of Alfred J. Randall, Cecil Allen, and Marion Allen. The village quickly became a close-knit community.

The Federal Census of 1880 recorded a population of 38 in Mazatzal City. They included the names of Rial Allen, his brother John Allen, C. Fuller, Revilo Fuller, John Hough, and W. N. Nelson. At that time or immediately after the census taker had left, other brothers of Rial Allen joined the community: Cecil, Alexander, and Francis Marion. The families organized the East Verde Branch of the Mormon Church, with Revilo Fuller as presiding elder. It seems that the settlement was destined to be short lived. While no reports of quarterly stake meetings were received by the church authorities from the Pine Ward before May 27, 1882, the east Verde Branch at Mazatzal City never did make a report. [3]

There were disadvantages to the location. The secluded place along these two rivers was extremely hot in summer. It was terribly isolated and other squatters upstream were claiming water rights to Pine Creek. In addition, it turned out that Mazatzal City was on a traditional, major trail of the Apache Indians. So in the spring of 1879 the Mormon settlers had begun to migrate north to the settlement of Pine.

Some bands of Apaches were living in the mountains - escaped from the long march and others who broke off the reservation and roamed the uplands. Occasionally they made raids, sending fear through the settlements. Whenever word came from Fort McDowell and Fort Apache that renegade Apaches were on the loose, settlers hurried to makeshift forts or boarded up in their log cabins.

Then in July of 1882 a band of 100 Apaches left a bloody trail of burned ranch buildings, stolen cattle, and dead settlers along the trail from Fort Apache and San Carlos to the East Verde River. Climbing up to the top of the Rim they made a stand at East Clear Creek against several battalions of U. S. Cavalry.  The result was the Battle of Big Dry Wash, which ended Apache resistance.

This event was something of the last straw for most of the Mazatzal City families, and many of them abandoned their well-watered fields to join the others at Pine. [4] However, the settlement apparently was not completely abandoned. Historian James H. McClintock wrote in 1921, “The author, in September 1889, found a very prosperous little Mormon settlement on the east Verde, raising alfalfa, fruit and livestock. It was called Mazatzal City and lay within a few miles of the Natural Bridge, which is on the lower reaches of Pine Creek before the stream joins the East Verde.”        

When you hike down the East Verde, past the Doll Baby Ranch, into the Wilderness Area and explore the site of Mazatzal City at the mouth of Pine Creek, be careful of the open, rock lined cistern. Also scout out the places where old ranch houses stood with beds of iris that still bloom. Maybe you can guess the “occupants” to several unmarked graves in the area.

[1] The source of information about the Mormon settlement of Mazatzal City and Gisela originated in an interview Ranger Fred W. Croxen had with Vi Fuller in the early 1920s. His description was thereafter repeated, almost verbatim, by Dr. & Mrs. Robert Anderson in A Brief History of Pine and Strawberry, by Jerrell G. Johnson in his booklet about Davy Gowan, The Arizona Scotsman, and by Ralph E. Fuller in a history for the Pine Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mike Anderson’s thesis, early Settlement Of Pine Arizona, and James H. McClintock’s Mormon Settlement in Arizona.

[2] Later historians, like Johnson in The Arizona Scotsman suggest the possibility that Samuels was David Gowan’s former partner when they came from California Territory to Arizona.

[3] George S. Tanner, Minutes of the Little Colorado Stake, manuscript in the Arizona collection, Hayden Library, Arizona State University.

[4 The sources listed in note [1] vary on the exact arrival dates of families coming to Mazatzal City and then leaving to settle in Pine.


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