Every town in the Southwest, and from what I’ve seen, just about every town anywhere else, has a story to tell. Our Arizona burgs generally have a wealth of tales revolving around cowboys, copper miners and Cavalry. Payson, and the Mogollon Rim, have their share of cattle ranches, the grass being very sweet thereabouts. There are about a dozen kinds of barbed wire, and twice as many cattle brands, on display at Rim Country Historical Museum, which was my second stop on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon, last weekend. It is housed in a replica of the Herron Hotel, a former mainstay of old Payson. The hotel burned down in 1918.
The mines were less forthcoming here than in other places, as the granite contained only flecks of gold, and silver. An attempt at mining in the vicinity of Tonto Natural Bridge, at Kohl’s Ranch and a few other areas along the west Mogollon sector, produced very little, if any, in terms of precious and profitable ore. I noticed a unique type of mining cart in the museum’s Oxbow Mine display. It was able to pivot, sideways, so as to be able to stop, on the steep slanted terrain, which characterized the few lucrative mines in the area, of which Oxbow was the largest.
General George Crook tried to keep the Tonto Apaches on a reservation near Payson, but the bean counters in Washington determined otherwise. The hapless Apaches were moved, first to San Carlos, in the eastern Sonora Desert, then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. They were able to, eventually, return to the Payson area, and today the Tonto Apache Community is an integral part of the social and economic life of northern Gila County. A replica of an Apache gowah, or round, thatched dwelling, is displayed in the Museum’s east room.
The Museum staff was still in the spirit of Halloween, so a skeleton or two, and Elvira, the TV horror movie hostess of the 1980’s, were hanging around, perhaps waiting for the Thanksgiving theme characters to show their faces. Photos of the interior were not allowed, but follow this link, and you may see for yourselves: http://paysonrimcountry.com/The-Town/Attractions/Museums/Rim-Country-Museum.
I was able to take some shots of the outside surroundings. First is a view of Green Lake, a man-made gem from the 1980’s.
Time was that logging, also, was a key component of the Rim’s economy, as it was across the Ponderosa Pine region, from Chihuahua to Alberta. With logging’s demise came overgrowth, and increased fire danger. This was one of the unintended consequences of clear-cutting, which focused on relatively small areas, for the sake of maximizing profit. Clear-cutting incited environmental activism, which brought logging to a standstill. Trees thus became overgrown, and nature’s way to handle overgrowth is fire. In June, 1990, the Dude Fire laid waste to 24,ooo acres of land in the Rim Country northeast of Payson. The original Zane Grey Cabin was a casualty of that fire, as were six Wildland Firefighters. (The Zane Grey Cabin which now exists at Green Lake Park is the result of an intense community effort, including replicated furniture and other wood work by Industrial Arts students at Payson High School.) A special exhibit, in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Dude Fire, in June, 2015, tells the story of that horrific loss. As I was wearing a t-shirt honouring the men killed in June, 2014, at Yarnell Hill, the docent asked whether I would be disturbed at viewing the video of the Payson tragedy. I watched it, solemnly. One community’s tragedy is just as worthy of respect and its grief equally deserving of validation, as any other. The firemen are honoured with a statue outside the Museum.
Also honoured is William Goettl (GETT-l), a Phoenix heating and cooling entrepreneur, who bought, and lived in, the old Zane Grey Cabin, when Zane’s family no longer wanted it. His family underwrote a goodly portion of the replicating efforts for the Cabin we are able to visit today.
Finally, just to the east of the Museum’s main building is an original cabin of the Haught family, who were Zane Grey’s key helpers in his ranching efforts. They lived near what today is the settlement of Kohl’s Ranch, east of Payson.
This complex does an excellent job of telling the many stories of the western Mogollon Rim.
NEXT: Tonto Natural Bridge