I remember June 17, 1955 as the day “Hell Let Out For Recess” in Payson. The day was just like any other hot day in June, but we knew there was no rain in sight. It doesn’t rain in June; if it does, there won’t be any summer rains because if it rains in June, it upsets “some cycle or other” and there won’t be any summer rains. All the old ranchers and dry-land farmers in Gila County know this to be a fact, however, they all will tell you that “rain anytime is a blessing and we will take it.”
June 17, 1955 was hot and dry - very dry. It was a little after noontime and I was feeding lunch to my three kids (Tommie, Jerrie, and Jon) and waiting lunch for Raymond, who was working on a pump for Aunt Babe Holder who lived down on Texas Flat (east the Julia Randall Rock School House). We lived up on Cedar Lane, east of Highway 87. We had a dogie calf out in the front yard and three dogs. I went out to refill the “dog rock” with water for them. The dog rock was – is – a big metate that any animal fenced in the yard drank from, be it dog, cat, calf, rabbit, or bird.
I looked to the east and saw it was getting dark over that way, so I supposed it was getting ready to storm over in Pleasant Valley and on the reservation. We always said that those people in Pleasant Valley and on the reservation paid their tithe better than we did in Payson. Then I thought, nah, this is June, it never rains in June. That is just old Mother Nature teasing us.
Back in the house, the kids finished lunch and my oldest girl, Tommie Rae, said, “It sure is getting dark. Is it going to rain?” I looked out the window and agreed with her that it sure was getting dark, but it probably wasn’t going to rain.
About ten minutes later, the phone rang and there was no one there, but there was the awfulest howling on the line that I had ever heard. I looked outside in time to see all of the dogs and the dogie calf trying to get onto the porch, but they couldn’t make any headway, because the wind was howling so hard. The kids were pointing out the window and yelling, but I couldn’t hear them over the wind. I threw
the phone on the hook, yanked the baby out of his highchair, and put all three of the children in the hallway. I told them to stay there. I tore out the front door and was slammed to the ground as if I had been hit. The wind was so terrible! I grabbed the calf by a hind leg and an ear, dragged it onto the porch, and shoved it through the door. The dogs staggered onto the porch just as the hail hit us. We took a few good licks and it hurt, let me tell you! The hail was the size and shape of your fist and it knocked the pup just goofy. I got everything in the house and into the hallway. I picked up the baby who was mad about being made to stay in the hall by his big sisters. I didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t hear each other yell because of the noise. My foot was bleeding all over the place where I had gouged it on something in the yard.
We sat there in the hall and I listened to the howl of the storm. We still couldn’t hear each other. The baby went to sleep. The baby was my son, Jon; we hadn’t named him yet. Jon still doesn’t get excited about too much of anything. We always say, “If Jon Cline gets excited or worried about anything, you better hang on tight because it’s going to be a rough ride.”
The storm slowly began to wind down and when the roar died down to where we could hear ourselves think, the kids and I went outside to look around. The ice was 16 to 18 inches deep all over the neighborhood. All of the slate on our roofing and that of the neighboring houses was on the ground in piles. The paint was beaten off of every house. There wasn’t a leaf left on any tree. My rose bushes were sticks – short sticks at that. Every flower and shrub was beaten to a pulp.
Down on Main Street, across from where the firehouse is now, were four dead horses all in a heap under a big oak tree. One of the horses, Stormy, belonged to Little George Miller. Another one, Linda, was Jinx Pyle’s mare and one was a very fast horse named Clipper. He belonged to Gene and Malcolm and had won some races in Payson. I don’t recall the name of the fourth horse, but he was a good one. The only horse in that meadow that lived through the storm was an old gray mare named Trixie.
Over in Texas Flat where Raymond was working on the pump, they didn’t even know it had sprinkled.
Out on Diamond Point, Walter Lovelady was on duty in the fire tower and he had seen the “thing” come off the Rim and go down Tonto Creek. Then he saw it turn and come over the buttes in the Green Valley Hills and head toward the tower he was in. It turned and headed for Starr Valley. Walter got on the phone and called his wife, Belle Lovelady, who was the telephone operator in Payson. He told her it was coming and she just plugged in all the lines and turned the crank. She was able to warn some of us, but the storm hit the phone line and all I heard was a roar.
When it was all over and tallied up, there was a swath cut through the Buttes into Starr Valley, through Starr Valley, to the southeast side of Payson, west to the Payson Rock on the hill on the south side of the old meadow, and then it moved on to the southwest. No tree had a leaf. No garden or corn field in Starr Valley survived. There were five dead cows under the pine tree where you turn into the County Maintenance Yard in Starr Valley, four dead horses in Payson, and about a hundred stunned people with no paint on their houses and a need for new roofs. I can’t remember about the windows, windshields, and car paint jobs, but it must have done a lot of damage to them, also.
And then it rained. It rained for four or five days in a row. It stopped for three or four days and then it rained some more. It rained all through June, July, August, and into September. We got four and a half inches during the fall equinox. It rained enough that we collected our rain insurance during the rodeo.
So, all of us ranchers and farmers who believe that if it rains in June we are just sunk for the rest of the summer with no summer rains, know that to be a fact, except for the time in 1955 when it made liars out of all of us. It may do it again this year.
-by Pat Cline
It’s nice to hear from old-timers like Pat Cline who can recall incidents like the storm in June of 1955. History usually repeats itself, so be prepared, it could rain.
I was just six years old and living in Gisela when this storm hit, but I can certainly remember the flooding. When it rains hard in Payson, Gisela is flooded. I was standing on my Grandmother Birdie Hale’s big screened-in porch watching it rain and listening to the sandwash and Tonto Creek roar by. All of a sudden, the ditch bank broke and water flooded us. It was three feet up on the sides of the porch and quite frightening. The rushing water lifted up my grandmother’s wash house and her old wringer-washing machine and tossed them along at the top of the foam and muddy flood waters. Many other things went, too, but watching the washing machine go bouncing past the house has always stuck in my mind.
After the flood subsided, we walked down the fields toward the creek. There, at the back, hung in the tangled fence, was the washing machine – or what was left of it. Boards from the wash house were scattered all over the lower field.
When my dad (Calvin Peace) came home, he found his field fences had been wiped out by the flooding waters. It took days of work to replace what the flood waters had wiped out in a few minutes.
This was one heck of a storm.
*In loving memory of Tommie Cline Martin and late great historian Jinx Pyle
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