Updated: Sep 23
*Story told by Jinx Pyle, Pictured Above
As Charlie Meadows and Frank Prothero rode north up the trail, then called the Moqui Trail, they tallied the dead cattle and horses and started the live animals back down the trail toward the ranch. When they hit what is now the High Line Trail, they began to find animals bearing the Tewksbury and Sigsby brands as well as their own.
Charlie Meadows later wrote in a letter to Arizona State Historian Effie Keene, “When we had gone ten miles, the footprints and hoof prints from Major Evans’ troops completely obliterated the trail, of the Apache raiders.” Dead Indians were scattered about the battle ground and one of the soldiers pointed out the body of Apache leader, Nantiotish. The remains of more Apaches were found in later years where they had crawled into caves to hole-up and die.
Other ranchers showed up on what was to become known as Battleground Ridge to claim their livestock. Among the ranchers were G. O. Sigsby, Bill Richards, and the Houston brothers, William and Sam. Charlie and Frank Prothero returned to Diamond Valley with thirteen horses.
Charlie, with the help of family friends exhumed his father’s body. It was taken to Green Valley where John Moberly Meadows became the first person buried in what is now the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.
Two months later, Henry Meadows died from his battle wounds and was laid to rest beside his father.
Frank Prothero stayed at the Diamond Valley with Charley to help him clean up and put the ranch back in good running order. While the two men attended to this job, and with single-minded purpose, Charlie honed his skills with Winchester and reata. In the hands of an accomplished cowboy, both can be deadly weapons. The primary difference is that a gun goes off and a rope goes on!
Charlie’s mother and the younger children never returned to live at the Diamond Valley Ranch. Soon after Henry’s death, Charlie moved his family to Phoenix. He and his brother, John Valentine Meadows, continued to stay on the ranch and work as John’s wounded arms slowly mended.
Charlie could not forgive and forget. He knew that the Apaches had problems on the reservation, that they were short rationed and the victims of graft. This, in Charlie’s mind, was no excuse for what they had done to his family and other hard-working settlers. Charlie was 22. He gathered a bunch of tough, Indian-wise, Tonto Basin cowboys and with them he rode to the reservation, and as he told one newspaper reporter, “Because the government failed miserably in their efforts to keep them on the reservation, some of the boys and I taught them the reservation was a pretty healthy place to be. Fighting and running from naked Indians became my business and pastime, and from time to time we enjoyed a bit of sweet revenge.”
Charlie’s vendetta against the Apaches was not long-lived. He soon returned to the Diamond Valley Ranch. With the Apache problem seemingly solved, at least for the time being, Charlie and other Tonto Basin ranchers turned their minds to other pursuits. They had seen enough bad times. Hard work on the ranches had paid off. The Tonto country needed a celebration, and Charlie thought that he knew just the thing.
The Tonto Basin in 1884 was cattle country. Why not have a big celebration in Green Valley, which by now was being called Payson? A sort of wild-west contest, a chance for the boys to show off their riding and roping ability would be just the ticket. There would be dancing and a chance for everyone to get reacquainted. Horse racing also would be on the agenda. The Houston Brothers had some fine horses, as did the Chilsons. In fact, young John Collins Chilson was becoming quite a roper. He might be just the fellow to help organize this shebang.
A date was set and word of the Payson celebration was passed along by word of mouth. Cowboys and ranchers made note and came down from the mountains and out of the Tonto valleys bringing their families for the event. These ranchers and cowboys had their own ideas as to who was handiest with a rope and who was the best twister (bronc rider), so cowboys tested skills born of necessity against those of their neighbors’ and the sport of rodeo was born, although it would not become known by that name for many years.
Little did Charlie Meadows know that his wild-west contest would start a train of annual rodeos that would stretch without interruption through two world wars and into all or part of three centuries.
The new sport caught on not only in Payson, but during the next few years cowboy contests were held in many Arizona towns and fairgrounds and Charlie Meadows became a regular competitor. Charlie had found his passion. He was tall, six foot seven, and athletic. A crack shot and a reata man with unparalleled skills. He became a favorite contestant of the journalists not only because of his athletic good looks, but because, more often than not, he was a winner.
Because of his size and athleticism, along with his many years of practice on the range, Charlie excelled in the roping events. In Charlie’s day, roping-cattle were big, mean, lean, wild and rank. They could run like a Greyhound, kick like a mule and were inclined to check a cowboy’s oil when the opportunity arose.
Although Charlie had worked hard to get the Diamond Valley ranch back into production cattle prices were low. He decided to sell out. He sold to the Haught family (probably Sam A. “Papa Sam” Haught) who promptly sold the ranch to a nephew named Hendershot.
Charlie was out of the ranching business and looking for a new way to make money. Charlie was not a timid man. Soon an ad appeared in the April 1888 Hoofs and Horns Magazine.
“Charlie Meadows of Payson, this territory, challenges any man in the world to an all-around cowboy contest for $500 or $1000 a side. He also wagers either of the above amounts with any man in the steer tying contest, either three or five steers to be tied. Expert cowpunchers make a note of this.”
None other than the soon-to-be-legendary Tom Horn took up the challenge. Tom Horn, however, was not up to the challenge and was soundly beaten by Charlie Meadows.
Tom Horn and Charlie Meadows roped against each other several times and each tasted victory and defeat at different times.
As Charlie’s fame spread, he received a letter from a man named Happy Jack Sutton. Sutton had been engaged by Wirth Brothers’ Circus in Australia. They needed some top American cowboys as they wished to add a wild-west show to the circus.
At first Meadows didn’t like the thought of leaving Arizona and his family, but the idea grew on him. The offer was for $200 a month with all expenses paid. Within a few days Charlie contacted Sutton. Happy Jack Sutton asked Charlie to find two more cowboys and Charlie knew just the two he wanted. His choices were George Felton and Jack Brown.
Felton was to bronc riding what Charlie Meadows was to roping. George Felton would mount an eared-down bronc, and ask someone to place a half dollar in each stirrup. He would then bet anyone a thousand dollars the coins would still be there when the bronc quit bucking. What’s more, Felton was a friend and neighbor of the Meadows family. The Feltons ranched down on Hardt Creek and headquartered about where Jake’s Corner is now.
Jack Brown, also a top hand and a good friend of Charlie’s was foreman of the E K Ranch on Tonto Creek. Both Felton and Brown agreed to go with Charlie and join the Wirth Brothers’ show.
Charlie had just two more chores to attend before he left with Brown and Felton for Australia. He persuaded his sister, Maggie, to move up the date of her wedding as his departure date was fixed and could not be changed. Charlie made sure that this was the most noteworthy ball and wedding in Payson’s young existence. It soon turned into a double wedding as Charlie talked the best man, Emer Cole, and bridesmaid, Julia Hall, who also had marriage plans, into joining Maggie, and her groom, Tom Beach.
To disburse of most of his stock Charlie told both the couples that if they would be married on horseback, he would present them with all the livestock they could rope and brand between noon and sundown on the day of the wedding. The cattle were gathered and held on Burch Mesa for the event that was to take place after the wedding. Charlie then made out a bill of sale for the stock that wasn’t branded by the wedding couples to his younger brother Mobley. The following morning Charlie and his three comrades departed Payson enroute for Australia.
Charlie Meadows was to have a long and fruitful career as a showman, first with Wirth Brothers and later with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Mobley Meadows and John Valentine Meadows also made their mark in the Tonto country and will appear as principals in future articles.
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