In the early 1860s, few people dared to travel through the Tonto Basin for fear of the Tonto Apaches. Not only did the Apaches protect their native soil, they also raided white settlers who lived hundreds of miles away, then retreated to their sanctuary in the Basin.
The Arizona Territory was formed in February of 1863 and several areas of the new territory were settled, but the remote, rugged Tonto Basin – the last stronghold of the Apaches in the United States – remained closed to non-Apaches. As miners looking for silver and gold drifted to Arizona Territory, the Apaches took offense and many white people lost their lives.
The army was called upon to protect the miners and ranchers of the Territory and tried, unsuccessfully, to subdue the Apaches. Experts at guerilla warfare, the illusive Apaches remained nearby, but out of sight. Existing military camps and forts, such as Camp McDowell, Fort Verde, and Fort Whipple, were ineffective in lending aid to the soldiers because of the distance. It was too easy for Apaches to ambush freighters and cut off supply lines.
To bring a halt to the depredations, a fort was needed in the heart of Apache country. If this could be achieved, the Tonto Basin could also be opened to both mining and ranching.
In the fall of 1867 the army began work on a road from Fort McDowell through a pass in the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and into the Tonto Basin. It was finished in the spring of 1868, but the road work continued as it was also in military plans to link the new fort with Prescott and Fort Whipple.
From the east side of Mount Reno (Mount Ord) the road headed north up Tonto Creek, hence up Wild Rye Creek, to North Peak located at the northern end of the Mazatzal Range. Here it swung east, passed Snow Storm Mountain and soon entered a long, open, beautiful valley – green and pristine – perfect pastureland. A second smaller valley joined the main valley from the north. Where the two valleys intersected there loomed a high mesa at the top of which an ancient, high-walled Indian ruin stood. This “fortress” of the ancients would provide protection from the Apaches. The soldiers knew they had found a special place.
As far as their eyes could see, they beheld splendor – an untouched paradise. Scattered pines and oaks dotted the surrounding hillsides and tall black grama grass, so high it would reach a man’s stirrups, covered the valley floor. Spring-fed creeks flowed through the middle of both valleys. Thoughts turned to raising cattle. From the tops of hills, the soldiers could view the majestic Mogollon Rim to the north and the Mazatzals to the west.
The army called the larger of the two valleys, Green Valley. The second valley coming in from the north was referred to as Long Valley, but Green Valley is the name that appeared on the early maps and included both valleys.
It was decided that Green Valley was too deep in Apache country; supply lines could be cut by marauding Apaches, so Fort Reno was built in the lower Tonto Basin. It was completed in 1868.
Apaches inhabited Green Valley and the surrounding areas until they were subjugated by General George Crook and his troops in 1873. Most of them were then forced to live on the San Carlos Indian Reservation; some were never found, or simply fled the Basin until Crook’s campaign ended then they returned.
It was 1876 before Green Valley saw its first white settler – William Burch. Born in Ohio on July 4, 1832, he crossed the continent then back-tracked to Green Valley from California. He had mules and some milk stock, but spent most of his time mining.
Another man, John Hook, lived near William Burch in Green Valley in 1876, but didn’t build and left the valley soon after.
Burch built a log cabin at the foot of what would later be called Burch Mesa. He chose this place because it was near the best spring in the area which assured him of an abundance of cool, clear water.
Burch was also the first man to bring a wagon off the Mogollon Rim into the Tonto Basin. Following an old Indian trail, he lowered the wagon with block and tackle and chained a tree to the back of it so it wouldn’t beat him to the bottom. In later years others would follow the same trail using the same method.
Two years later, 1878, William Burch partnered with another bachelor, William McDonald, a Civil War veteran. The two men drove 50-head of cattle into Green Valley. McDonald settled at the foot of the mesa where the ancient Indian ruin stood. He used some of the existing rock wall and moved the rock of other walls to build a breastwork fort as a defense against raiding Apaches. As new settlers came into the valley, they named the fort for its maker, Fort McDonald. During the early years, 1878-1884, the townspeople took refuge at Fort McDonald when there was an Apache outbreak.
About 20 miners were working the surrounding hills by 1878 and more settlers begin to locate in Green Valley and surrounding areas. The Houstons and the Meadows, among others, had arrived to establish cattle ranches. In 1882, Burch and McDonald located the first sawmill near where Sawmill Crossing is today. Burch and McDonald went to the forest and cut trees then dragged them to their sawmill with ropes. They milled boards for houses and Green Valley began to take on the aspects of a settlement.
Obedience Harer Hazelton arrived with her family in about 1880, bringing daughters Sarah and Ida. Sarah became the wife of William McDonald and Ida married William Burch – both in 1883 in Green Valley, Arizona. The Burches had seven children and the McDonalds had two daughters.
In 1882, the town site was surveyed by local blacksmith James C. Callaghan, and local merchant John C. Hise. Green Valley, population 42, was developing as a town. A second road was built from Wild Rye to Green Valley by way of Patty Walsh’s place. People entered Green Valley via The Lane.
Henry Sidles, who hired Paul Vogel to built him an adobe so his family would be safe against Apache attacks, also built a house, a hotel and livery stable. August Pieper established the Payson Brewery Company and built a beautiful home with a widow’s walk on top. Max and Ed Bonacker opened a general store. Bill Colcord, O.N. Creswell, and Mart McDonald ran mercantile businesses. The Ben Stewart family opened a restaurant and hotel. The Herons built a big two-story grand hotel. Judge Wentworth ran Tammany Hall. The 16 to 1 Saloon was a popular place. T. C. Nance opened a ham and bacon store. James Callaghan set up a blacksmith shop. The Boardman and Hilligass families, along with several others, also ran mercantile businesses.
In 1884, Charlie Meadows and John Collins Chilson organized the first rodeo in Payson – which would
become the World’s Oldest Rodeo – now billed as the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. The Lane, the road leading into Payson from the south, also served as a race track for some of the fastest short-distance race horses in the world.
Also, in 1884, it was decided that Green Valley needed a post office. The residents depended on mail carriers bringing their mail horseback from the post offices in Globe and Flagstaff. John Hise contacted Representative Edwin Lewis Payson of Illinois who was the chairman of the Congressional Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. The representative saw to it that Green Valley received a post office. Because other places in Arizona Territory were called Green Valley and Long Valley, the new post office was called Payson, after Representative Payson, and Green Valley became known as Payson, although advertisements in Globe’s Silverbelt newspaper called the area Green Valley as late as 1887. Frank C. Hise, brother of store owner, John Hise, was appointed the first postmaster.
Green Valley (Payson) was one of prettiest places in Arizona. Deer, turkeys, and other game animals were plentiful. The spring-fed creeks that flowed through Green Valley provided water for livestock and swimming. This creek was later called American Gulch.
Green Valley’s founder, William Burch, served as Justice of the Peace and in 1883 was the constable. He also made history during the bloodiest feud in the Southwest – the Pleasant Valley war. He led a posse into Pleasant Valley and rode into the valley with Yavapai County Sheriff Mulvenon on another occasion. In about 1900, Burch moved from Payson to Buckeye where he homesteaded. He died in 1902 in Imperial, California.
The only sign of William Burch in Payson today is Burch Mesa, where his cattle ranged, but it is misspelled. The sign says “Birch Mesa.”
William Burch, founder of Green Valley, (Payson) would smile to know that it is now referred to as the “Mountain Town with a Western Heritage.”
Written By Jayne Peace Pyle and Jinx Pyle, 2008