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The Constable - Walter Lovelady Part 4

Walter and Belle Lovelady took their baby son, Lawrence, and daughter, Dorothy to live at the house Walter built on the Lovelady Place. The home was located about a quarter-mile northeast of what today is the junction of Highway 87 and Highway 260. They spent the next twelve years, 1927 through 1939, at this home. Like the Hammonds Ranch, it had a big porch with beds to accommodate the many relatives that stopped in for a few days – or weeks.

The Lovelady Place was out of town and Walter had a Copper Top Ford that he drove to serve papers. Payson was a peaceful little town on week days, so he was able to tend his livestock and care for his land.


Walter served as Payson’s Constable from 1929 to 1936 then again from 1939 through 1950. Although serving papers was central to the job, a constable’s duties in early day Payson incorporated all the responsibilities of a lawman.


No jail existed in Payson during the early years of Walter’s tenure as constable. He made do with handcuffs, often cuffing the wrist of one of his prisoners to one of Grady Harrison’s electric poles. The poles were made of pipe a little bigger than a man’s wrist; just the right size to accommodate handcuffs. Walter sometimes cuffed perpetrators to the big blackjack oak that stands in front of the Woman’s Club today, and in a pinch, he would use a car bumper.


He was always concerned with regard to the safety of his prisoners and during the Payson Rodeo or other busy times he would send his wife, Belle and daughter, Dorothy, to check on them. Most of these arrests were related to drinking or fighting and Walter simply released the offenders without taking them before a judge, whenever he figured they were tamed down enough to function in polite society once more.


The week-to-week entertainment during those years was dancing. Many of the old-timers told how Walter would tap a man on the shoulder and ask him to remove his hat while dancing with a lady. I can still remember his telling me when I was just a kid, “Always treat a woman like a lady, son. Not because they always are, but because you should always be a gentleman.”


Walter had a demeanor that summoned respect. He was quiet and polite, but he made it clear that he represented the law. I later saw the same character in Howard Childers and Ronnie McDaniel. They all had the same quiet assurance and strong, but easy way of handling trouble makers. Walter wore his .45 all during the years he was constable, but I only know of one time that he used it, although he came close on several occasions.


Dorothy recalls a time when ,as a little girl, she was with her father down near the old Pioneer Bar. She remembers that there was a man there she didn’t know. This was a rare thing in Payson, because Dorothy knew almost everyone. Harsh words were exchanged between Walter and the stranger. Walter ended the conversation saying, “Where I come from we settle things like this with hot lead and wooden overcoats” (caskets).


The man told Walter, “Well, I don’t have a gun.”


Walter asked an armed bystander for the use of his sidearm and handed it, belt and all, to the stranger who did not accept the challenge, but crawled under a vehicle, rolled out the other side and ran down the street. Walter did not pursue the man. Dorothy tells that she never saw the stranger again. She thinks that it might have been someone her dad knew long ago, and that the matter must have been personal. Dorothy also said that Walter never mentioned the altercation to Belle. She took the cue from her dad and didn’t talk about it either.


The only time I know of that Walter pulled his gun in the line of duty he used it in an unconventional way. There was a Mrs. McPherson who lived in Payson. She would threaten to commit suicide about once a month and her son and daughter-in-law would ask Walter to go and talk to her. This he did for over a year. Finally Walter had heard enough of her threats. He went to see Mrs. McPherson, and in front of her son and daughter-in-law, Walter handed the old lady his .45 and said, “If you are going to do this, do it now while I am here to see it. That way I can write up a report and that will end the matter so it will save the county the expense of an investigation.”


Well, that ended the matter. Mrs. McPherson didn’t want anything to do with Walter’s “hog laig,” or with suicide. The threats stopped and hopefully the old lady found a less nerve-wracking way to get attention, and Walter was able to spend his time attending other matters. (Sam Brewer, don’t try this today!)


Walter’s knowledge of the Apache language served him well during his term as Payson’s Constable and beyond. Just as he was at most of Payson’s Saturday night dances, Walter kept the peace at the Apache dances. The little Tonto Band still had their ceremonies during the 1930s and 1940s. Henry Evans would tell Walter when there was a “doins” at the Indian Camp. The word would always get around town and folks would come up to watch the ceremonies. Walter would be there to make sure that the spectators stayed back a respectable distance.


Dorothy relates that she had a favorite rock where she would sit and some of the Tonto Apache women would often come and sit with her. “They liked Daddy,” she said, “because he liked them and protected their rights just as he did everyone else’s.”


Walter had several good friends among the tribe. I can remember when I was a little boy how Obed Rabbit would come to see my Grandad Walter. He and my Grandmother Belle had moved to the Ralph Hubert house which later would become the Payson Telephone Office. Rabbit would come down off the hill, pick up an axe at the woodpile and begin splitting wood. After a half-hour or so, Walter would come out to the woodpile and the two men would sit and swap stories in the lingo of the Apache for a spell.


Rabbit’s visits were a random thing. He simply walked off the hill and split wood when he wanted some pocket money or some conversation and my granddad would oblige him with whatever he could spare. I have often wished that I had picked up more of the Apache language from my granddad. I did learn that, “Our ways are not theirs. It’s better to let Rabbit go and come when he wants than to try to tie him down to a certain day or time. Then if I really need him, I can ask him and he will show up.”


In Walter’s time, the duties of constable included hauling loads of firewood to all the old widow ladies in Payson, or at least he seemed to think it did. Dorothy often went with her dad to get wood when she was a little girl. When I came along, Grandad Walter started taking me. We would load his old pickup with wood until we had what he called “A pretty fair little jag o’ kindlin,’” then haul it back to the house. He would start up his ol’ one-lunger donkey engine which ran a circle saw. With this we would saw the wood into lengths. Then we could load it back onto the pickup and haul it to someone who Grandad said, “Needed it more than we did.”


Dorothy remembers another time when she was a little girl. She and Walter were walking up the bank of Webber Creek. A big rock set on the creek bank near a bend in the trail. They stepped around the rock and walked right into a bear. Dorothy said, “Daddy jerked his hat off and swatted that bear right in the face. It startled him and he turned tail and ran. I thought my daddy could do anything after that.”


Walter could be slow and deliberate, but in any kind of emergency he thought and moved quickly. My dad, Gene Pyle, once had occasion to be thankful for Walter’s quick action. A local man and his wife had been drinking in the Pioneer Bar. They started fighting and Walter was called. Gene was driving by, saw the fracas and stopped to help Walter. The couple continued to try and fight all the way from the bar up to the old Jail on McClain.

Walter pushed the man into a cell and turned to see that the woman had pulled a knife and cut Gene several times. Walter had the long padlock to the cell in his hand. He reached out with the lock, caught the knife blade in the hasp and twisted it snapping the blade.


Walter served as Payson’s constable for 18 years. This is longer than anyone before or since. He enforced the law and made many arrests, but I have yet to hear anyone say an unkind word about Walter Lovelady.


To hear the previous parts of Walter Lovelady's Story Click here.


These stories were written and told by Jynx Pyle.


For more great Gila County History visit www.discovergilacounty.com/history


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