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John and Sarah Holder - Building the Foundation of Gila County

John Francis Holder (1846-1922), grandfather to Pat Haught Cline of Star Valley, Sara Holder Jones of Ox Bow Estates, and Kendrick Holder of Globe (to name a few), has been credited with instituting more post offices in the state of Arizona than any other person, plus he started two post offices in New Mexico before he came to Arizona in 1896.

John instituted more post offices in Arizona than any other person;

Sarah created bond with Apaches

John was born in Enterprise, Mississippi on December 26, 1846, to James Holder and Rebeka Dixon Holder. He enlisted in the Confederate Army at Vicksburg, Mississippi, giving his age as 18, but he was only 14. He served one year.

After the Civil War, he moved to Texas. In Pioneer Women of Gila County, Arizona, Volume I, Pat Cline says, “John Francis Holder, a widower with five children, settled on the Red River to furnish meat for the nearby army post. He and Sarah Ann Gypson (born October 30, 1858 in Arkansas) were married in 1875 at her grandparents hostel, when Sarah first learned about his five children from a former marriage, because four of them attended the wedding. They had been living with his sister, but the older four had arrived to move in with them. The oldest was a boy named Andrew Jackson Holder (older than Sarah), the other three were girls, one being the same age as Sarah and the other two just younger.”

Sarah adjusted to her new situation and two children were born to her and John in Texas: Mattie in 1876 and Spyas in 1878.

The Holder family moved to New Mexico in 1880, where John continued to provide meat for army posts. Because he had acquired quite a number of Angora goats, John settled his family near Magdalena, New Mexico, where he started a store and post office. Pat Cline believes that her grandfather (John Holder) is credited with starting 17 post offices in Arizona and New Mexico. She said that he lived a rather “nomadic life,” and that wherever he settled for a while, he started a store and post office.

“The goat herd grew to number in the thousands,” Pat continued, “and they moved them all over New Mexico while Sarah bore six more children: Frank (Francis) in 1882, Armenta in 1885, Gene (Eugene) in 1888, Ogden in 1891, Allen in 1893, and Watt (Thomas Watson) in 1895. As soon as a child was big enough (six or seven) to herd goats, Mr. Holder cut out a band and turned it over to him or her to herd everyday, all day long.”

In 1896, the Holder family moved to Arizona and bought three places on the East Verde River. They bought the improvements on the upper and lower Sidella Places (now called Flowing Springs), where John built a stone and adobe house. They bought the Belluzzi place where in 1900, John established a post office and named it Holder. Later he moved his family farther down the river and established post office that he called Angora, after his Angora sheep.

These were not the best years for Sarah. Pat Cline said, “During the six years between the birth of Watt and my mother, Mae, Sarah “lost” five babies. At least one of her babies is buried on the East Verde River at what now is Beaver Valley. Her daughter, Armenta, is also buried there, having died from undulant fever not long after the family reached Arizona.”

John Holder bought the Azbill place (now called Beaver Valley) and we know he was living there in 1900. “Sarah hooked up the horse team on July 1, 1900, and drove herself upriver to the Belluzzi place to tell her sister-in-law that she had come to spend a day or two because she was due to have a baby any day,” Pat continued. “Since she was then 48 years old, she thought she might have some difficulty, but bright and early the next morning, Sarah gave birth to her last child, a girl named Sarah Mae, who was my mother.”

In 1902, John and Sarah Holder with children Frank, Eugene, Ogden, Allen, Watt, and Mae, moved to Gisela and homesteaded the last place down the creek. They took 3,000 head of Angora goats into the valley nestled along Tonto Creek at the foot of the northern Sierra Anchas. John built a post office and a store. There had previously been a post office in Gisela, but it had been discontinued in 1899.

All of the children attended the Gisela School, except Frank who was grown. He married Nona Stewart, daughter of Sam Stewart and made his home in Gisela also. Nona had two sons from a previous marriage, Lloyd (Sandy) Holiday and David (Dave) Holiday. Then Nona and Frank had two sons of their own, Kendrick and Leon Holder.

“While living in Gisela, Sarah went out one morning to find quite a bunch of Apache Indians in her front yard wanting to pick the Careless weeds and the Lambs Quarter. They had just that morning returned to this place (Gisela) where they had lived all of their lives before being forced onto the reservation at San Carlos. They had walked all the way back, old men and women, and young women and children, and had not eaten in many days. Sarah told them to start picking, then went to the store and got them a big kettle and a slab of bacon for seasoning. They and their descendants and Sarah and her descendants formed a tight friendship that still holds to this day,” Pat Cline related.

“Three of the young women were very pregnant when they arrived from San Carlos, and Sarah midwifed their delivery. One of the babies didn’t cry enough to suit them when he was born and they put him outside to die, since they couldn’t allow him to die inside their house. They would have had to move camp and start a new structure. Sarah went to check on the mother and found the baby out under a tree. She took him home with her and kept him several days until she decided he was ‘out of the woods’ and then returned him to the mother to nurse.

“As a point of interest, this baby DID live. He was Sam Gilson, who later married a lady from Camp Verde named Rose Bread and they had three children. Everett and Flora were born in Camp Verde, and Vivian was born in Wheatfields. When Vivian was very young, possibly three or maybe four, Sam and Rose separated and Rose later married Paul Burdette of Payson. Vivian took Paul’s name and might even have been adopted by him. Today, Vivian is the Chief of the Tonto Apaches.

John Holder stayed in Gisela until March 1906. He moved his family to New Mexico, then to back to Sheldon, AZ in 1908, where John started yet another post office. In 1909, John decided that the family should move back to Mississippi where he had been born. This time, Sarah put her foot down and said, “No!” John left in the night and did not come back to Arizona. He died in Mississippi in 1922. He had sold the store, but left the goats for Sarah and the children.

In 1913, Sarah married H. D. Shepherd. They lived at Kirkland Junction until 1918, then sold their goat herd to a neighbor. They lived on the west coast a year or two, then in 1921, they moved to Payson. They built a house on Bootleg Alley and in 1921, H.D. opened a butcher shop.

Pat Cline was born in her grandmother’s house on Bootleg Alley.

Mr. Shepherd died in 1943 in Globe and is buried there. Sarah died on April 15, 1948 and is buried in Payson.

Children of John and Sarah Holder:

(1) Mattie married a Mr. Saunders; had eight children

(2) Spyas married Nora Osborne; no children

(3) Frank married Nona Stewart; two sons, Kendrick and Leon. Kendrick is married to Laura Mae Clark.

(4) Armenta died at age 12 (1885-1897)

(5) Eugene married Edna Childers, later married Helen Wilbanks

(6) Ogden married Elizabeth Brink; had three children: Myrtle Alice, Dorothy, & Walter

(7) Allen never married; killed in 1926

(8) Watt married Lillie Young; had six children: Jim, Sara, Biddie, Tom, Tiny Lee, and Ada. Sara is married to Stuart Jones of Ox Bow Estates.

(9) Mae married Walter Haught; had three children: Vernon, Patricia, and Fred. Patricia (Pat) is married to Raymond Cline of Star Valley.

This article was written by Jinx Pyle.

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