Rm Country Places

Chapter 16: Gordon Canyon

At Whispering Hope Ranch (old Payne place) a burro is just one of the animals the youngsters love when they visit.

At Whispering Hope Ranch (old Payne place) a burro is just one of the animals the youngsters love when they visit.


Gordon Canyon is a place quite “off the beaten track” yet it contains some of the Rim Country’s dramatic pioneer stories, stories of hardship, glory and love. To reach it one travels east from Payson on Highway 260, and just before the road ascends to the top of the Mogollon Rim, turn right onto Colcord Road (Forest Road 291). The Gordon Canyon Creek heads up under the Rim here, and flows southwesterly until it empties into Haigler Creek. It is in this Gordon Canyon area, just off Colcord Road, that we encounter a number of pioneer originals.

Settlement in the area seems to have begun in 1886 when the Naegelin brothers, William, a blacksmith, and Lewis, filed squatter’s rights for a ranch. They had driven a herd of cattle from New Mexico, by way of Holbrook. At the same time Bill Colcord and his son Frank came to settle in the area, leaving his name for the road that heads in here and soon joins the road to Young.

If one is very careful to observe the roadside, a small graveyard will be visible on the north side of Colcord. The several gravestones tell of two settler families, Nehrmeyer and Anderton. Two fences enclose the graves, and upright rocks, perhaps footstones, are found outside the fenced areas indicating additional graves. Two of the fenced graves are for children of the Nehrmeyer family. We know that Edward Nehrmeyer, a bachelor, was born in Texas in 1887, and came to Gordon Canyon during or before 1908, with his brothers Albert and John. Here they carried out typical employment for Rim Country farmers — raising beans and hogs, and making moonshine. Albert married Annie Anderton, the daughter of a neighbor, and she was just 16 when she gave birth to their first child in 1909. The little graveyard tells the sad story of how often pioneer families endured the tragedy of losing their children. In 1912 their 1-year-old, George Wilson Nehrmeyer (the little grave stone is simply marked “G. W.”) died of poisoning. Two years later their 12-year-old son Roy Leonard Nehrmeyer was shot and died during a turkey shoot. One can only speculate how either of these boys might have been saved had they not been living in so isolated a place. [1] The graves of these young children remind us of the sorrow that pioneer families often experienced with the frequent deaths of their children.


Photo courtesy of Pioneer Village

Gordon Canyon School, built by Jack Payne, is preserved in the Pioneer Village at New River, Ariz.

An obituary in 2007, from The Arizona Republic reports the death of one of the Nehrmeyer children in Miami, Arizona, “Grace Lorien (Nehrmeyer) Chapman of Miami, Arizona passed away after a long illness last Saturday afternoon, February 24, 2007. Her parents, Albert and Annie Nehrmeyer, homesteaded the Payson area in 1908. Grace was born in Amarillo, Texas on August 15, 1920 as her parents were returning to the Rim Country in a covered wagon. In this pioneer family, she was one of ten children.”

This suggests that Albert and Annie returned to Dallas and then came back to Gordon Canyon.

In 1929 Albert and Annie moved with their children to the Phoenix area to find relief for their son Henry’s asthma. However, the next year the couple was divorced, and Albert moved with his two brothers, Edward and John, back to Mesquite, Texas, where he bought a gas station and did some farming until his death in 1971. He is buried there in Mesquite. [2]

The other family name found in the Colcord Road Cemetery is “Anderton,” and Annie Nehrmeyer’s father is buried there, W. J. Anderton, born October 5, 1871, and died at age 52 on November 10, 1923. “Jase” (perhaps a nickname for Jesse) Anderton had come from Alabama with his family, and was farming here when his sister Effie Anderton Hunt was widowed and left alone to raise seven children. [3] She and her children came to live with her brother, but soon after they arrived in the Rim Country, the baby Ruth, just 22 months old, became ill and died. Her little grave is in the Anderton plot. [4]

As the Hunt girls grew they married the available ranchers. Maggie married George Haught. She later was married to Wesley Powers. Flora married Columbus “Boy” Haught, and lived to the age of 99, sharing stories of her upbringing in Gordon Canyon. [5] When recounting how primitive conditions were she reflected, “Oh, it’s a wonderful life. You didn’t have everything and anything that you wanted, but that was all right. You made do with what you had.”

Flora loved to dance, and it was at a dance in the Gordon Canyon School she met her future husband “Boy” Haught. The school had been built by another settler, Jack Payne, in response to the growing number of children in the area. [6] Payne moved into the Canyon in 1909, and laid claim to 160 acres, maintaining 50 acres under cultivation. He soon married Katie Murphy Haught, who had been previously married to Thomas Pinkney Haught, and she brought her son Arthur Haught into the marriage. During those years Payne suffered terribly from arthritis, and the Rim Country winters made the chores of farming impossible for him. He spent many winters in Chandler, Ariz., where the desert climate extended his life. His stepson Arthur worked the farm, as well as working for a neighbor George Martin. In the 1920s Martin bought the Payne farm, and as is often the case, the land changed hands during the next decades. A family named Treat bought from Martin, and in the 1980s Dick Mallory owned the homestead.

Then in 1997 the ranch took on a special new life when it was purchased by Diane Reed, a lady with a big dream. More than 40 acres of the old homestead became home to diverse animals that were brought there with deformities, injuries or abusive backgrounds. There they found affection from adults and children, as Diane Reed developed the Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. The peaceful meadow in Gordon Canyon now provided a retreat facility for children with chronic illnesses, autism, physical or developmental challenges, along with their families.

Interaction with the animals brings a calming, nurturing and healing energy to the children.

Today a visit to Gordon Canyon would not be complete without a visit to this old pioneer ranch site, and an opportunity to see the blessed work carried on by the Whispering Hope Ranch.


[1] Roy’s grave stone dates are b. 3/20/1914; d. 4/26/1926; G. W.’s dates are b. 2/33/1912, d. 2/25/1913.

[2] The children of Annie and Albert remained in the Phoenix metropolitan area. One of their great-grandsons, Matt Nehrmeyer, and his father Fred, provided me with a number of family stories from the Gordon Canyon days. Matt’s wife, Jessica, incidentally was Miss Rodeo Arizona in 2002.

[3] Her husband was Augustus Hunt, and they had been married in Florence, Ala., Dec. 10, 1896. Effie’s children were Leonard, Ted, Buford, Ruth, Maggie, Ray and Ruth.

[4] Ruth L. Hunt, b. Feb. 5, 1913, d. Dec. 2, 1914.

[5] Oral histories taken with Flora Haught by Stan Brown and Marguerite Noble can be found in the library of the Rim Country Museum. Jack Payne finally received a homestead certificate to the property on May 21, 1917.

[6] In a more recent decade, the old school house from Gordon Canyon was moved to the Pioneer Village near New River, Ariz., on Interstate 17, where it is maintained and visitors can enjoy it.


Pat Randall 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks to whoever disabled this site after I had posted and erased what I wrote. Then brought it back.


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