Rim Country Places

Chapter 19: Horton Creek and Indian Gardens

In an article about his hike up Horton Creek, Payson Roundup editor Pete Aleshire writes, “Horton Creek splashes cheerfully over the layered lip of a vanished world, transforming lost oceans, sunken continents and mass extinctions into landscape art.”

Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

In an article about his hike up Horton Creek, Payson Roundup editor Pete Aleshire writes, “Horton Creek splashes cheerfully over the layered lip of a vanished world, transforming lost oceans, sunken continents and mass extinctions into landscape art.”


You would not expect to find a place in the Rim Country named after a politician — that is until you come upon Horton Creek.

William B. Horton was one of the leaders in public education for Territorial Arizona, and as superintendent of public instruction from 1883 to 1897, he and his successor Robert Long, were instrumental in bringing the unorganized schools of the Territory into a unified system.

Horton had come west from Mississippi to live in Tucson, and he loved to spend his leisure time here in the Rim Country. Much of his “getaway” time was spent exploring and camping along a perennial stream fed by a prolific spring.

During the years of his visits to the Rim Country, Horton developed a nearly four-mile trail, following the creek to its headwaters near the top of the Mogollon Rim. It is no wonder that his name came to designate this lovely place, Horton Creek. [1]

The U.S. Forest Service describes it in this way, “The water cascades down boulders into a peaceful pond lined with wild flowers and ferns. Below the pond the creek splashes through many small falls as it descends down the slope of the Rim to its confluence with Tonto Creek.”

Further references to William Horton are hard to find, but that is not important compared to the beauty of this idyllic spot. “There is nothing quite like a leisurely stroll along a burbling, high-country creek,” touts a hiker’s guide in The Arizona Republic, “but for ease of access and variety of scenic beauty it’s hard to beat Horton Creek ...” [2].

Pete Aleshire, editor of the Payson Roundup, The Rim Review’s parent publication, has a delightful and imaginative essay about his hike up Horton Creek in which he writes, “Horton Creek splashes cheerfully over the layered lip of a vanished world, transforming lost oceans, sunken continents and mass extinctions into landscape art.” [3]

When you go 3.85 miles up Horton’s trail from Tonto Creek there is an intersection with the Highline Trail. Here is where the prolific spring forms the headwaters of the creek. It became a campsite for hikers along the Highline, and in 1928 a small fish hatchery was built there to raise trout. It was the first fish hatchery in these central mountains, but in 1932, a flood badly damaged the facility and it was never rebuilt. Erratic seasonal floods and washouts made this less than ideal for raising fish, and the ponds for rearing trout were moved to Indian Gardens. Later they were moved to upper Tonto Creek.

Shortly before Horton began exploring “his” creek, a 25-year-old freighter from Alabama named Marion Derrick came to the Rim Country seeking to stake a homestead for a cattle ranch. It was 1882 when he settled in a lovely meadow along Tonto Creek, known as Indian Gardens because it had been a favorite camping ground for Apaches.

By this time, the danger from Apache raiders was supposed to be over since all the bands had been corralled onto reservations. However, in July, no sooner had Derrick set up his own camp than 100 renegade Apaches broke out of the reservation and made a murderous trek through the ranches under the Rim, killing several people and burning buildings as they headed for the East Verde River. There, they attacked the ranch of the John Meadows family in Diamond Valley (later named Whispering Pines) killing Mr. Meadows and mortally wounding one of his sons.

Marion Derrick was one of the posse that rode out to the Meadows’ ranch to offer aid. Subsequently he rode with the sheriff’s posse in pursuit of lawbreakers. [4]

Another adventurer, Frank T. Alkire from St. Louis, who also had hopes of establishing a cattle ranch in the Rim Country, joined Derrick at Indian Gardens. He spent time helping Derrick, and in his account of those years he writes, “Marion Derrick had located a forty acre tract and was clearing off the pine timber to put in a field and a garden. On the place was a magnificent spring of ice cold water. Just below Derrick’s, on the creek, was another small location of 20 acres with a spring on which we made our location. We hired an old-timer and Indian Scout Al Timpkins to help us cut pine trees and build a 12x20 long cabin, roofed with hand split shingles ... While we were building Marion Derrick was hired to go to Winslow for supplies for us, himself and some other ranchers ... He had to drive his four-horse team to Payson 20 miles, through to Pine, up Strawberry Hill another 20 or 25 miles, then to Winslow 100 miles. Needless to say these roads were not like those of today (written in 1940). His return trip was made to Baker’s Butte on top of the Rim. The Basin was 2000 feet below, but over fifty miles of bad road back through Payson could be saved if the supplies were brought straight down. Moreover, by leaving the wagon on top it was available for future trips, so we joined Derrick in building a pack trail from the head of Tonto Creek up to the Rim where his wagon stood. That finished, we packed all of the load down by horses and delivered to the customers by pack train. The packing down and deliveries took us four or five days. The team had a two weeks trip before that, bringing the supplies in ... The old trail we built is in use by the young (boy) scouts and what fancy names they have given it we do not know. We called it ‘Wild Pigeon’ because it was so steep and crooked that nothing but a wild pigeon could fly down it. But we packed just the same.”

Alkire goes on to report, “The old cabin stood at its location for years until the movie people prepared to film Zane Grey’s ‘To The Last Man’. The cabin was taken down log by log and moved about two miles to the fork of Tonto and Horton Creeks above Camp Geronimo ... There it was still standing several years ago, with a slab lumber roof instead of the handmade shakes.” [5]

Derrick over expanded his cattle business and went broke. His log house was taken over by the Tonto National Forest for a ranger station in 1927, and from 1937 to the 1960s the Forest Service named it as an administrative site.

Meanwhile, in May 1933, Indian Gardens became the second Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Arizona. CCC Company 807 was stationed there, and working out of there in “fly camps” made improvements to the Rim Country streams and built campgrounds, roads and telephone lines, fought fires, cleared underbrush, improved timber stands and grazing lands. Among these was construction of the Control Road. Campgrounds and trails along Horton Creek were among their works. [6]

Because the federal government appropriated Indian Gardens for these uses, it never became a homestead.


[1] See the American Guide Series, 1940 edition by the WPA, page 52.

[2] The Arizona Republic, John Stanley, Sept. 29, 2010

[3] Payson Roundup, Dec. 4, 2012

[4] “History of Grazing On The Tonto” by ranger Fred Croxen, 1926

[5] Frank Tomlin Alkire Papers in the Library/Archives Department of the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, Arizona. After several years Alkire moved to Phoenix, because of the dangers posed by the Pleasant Valley War. There he bought farmland in the Salt River Valley, ranched until drought ended that venture. He had several successful business ventures, and took an active role in civic improvements.

[6] “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Arizona’s Rim Country” by Robert J. Moore, University if Nevada Press, 2006. Pages 38-39


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

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.