The Ox Bow Saloon has always played a prominent role in Payson’s history. Offering drinks and "entertainment." the saloon’s legacy included rowdy street parties, and late nights bands. Main Street was “the” location and people would watch parades from the Payson Hotel's balcony. For a long time the August Doin’s, the original Payson Rodeo were held on Main Street in front of the Oxbow.
In the early days commercial stores, saloons, and dance halls were the main attraction in Payson, but as the community grew so did the need for rooming facilities. The August Doin’s brought the greatest demand for lodging. The Oxbow Inn began as the Payson Hotel in 1933. William and Estalee Wade built the hotel next to their restaurant the Busy Bee. “Willie” Wade had experience building log structures in Yellowstone National Park. He took on a partner, Randolph (“Dolph”) D. McKamey, and they built the Payson Hotel, which is the Lounge portion of the Ox Bow today. The hotel had nine rooms upstairs, a shared bathroom and a linen closet. The downstairs originally housed the owner’s kitchen, dining room, bar, and lobby.
The ponderosa pine logs used throughout the building were from the surrounding Mogollon Rim forests. The trees were usually cut into rough lumber by mobile sawmills, and the lumber was hauled in for building on Main Street. They squared off three sides of the logs leaving the rounded part for the building facade. The whole logs being dragged into town was unusual and caused much admiration. The huge log running horizontally over the door, which is still visible today was raised by Willie and Dolph using just a block and tackle. Native red sandstone rocks from the now depleted local rock quarry was used around the base of the building, for front accents and the porch piers. “Dolph” McKamey, who also worked another job did the rockwork. Willie made some much the hotel furniture out of cedar. The original flooring consisted of hardwood in the dining room and carpeting in the restrooms and hallways.
The Payson Hotel charged 50 cents per meal, $ 2.50 per room, and served liquor to the patrons (prohibition ended in 1933). Local residents used the Payson Hotel for meals and social gatherings. The hotel was elite and the best place for the nicest dinners and large group gatherings. Even during the Great Depression the Payson Hotel survived.
Today's Oxbow Inn and Saloon is much bigger than the original Payson Hotel. The saloon portion of the Oxbow was originally a corrugated iron building, built by Alf and Mel Randall in 1932. He sold cars and appliances from the bottom floor and lived in the bedrooms upstairs. The land was owned by early merchant and cattleman, Guy Barkdoll who had his home, a livery stable, and the dance hall where the Ox Bow is now. The original dance hall burned down twice.
In 1945 the Wades retired from the hotel business and Jimmy Cox became the new owner. Cox immediately began expansion and changed the name to the Ox Bow Inn. It was toward the end of World War II and servicemen and women were returning. Payson was booming. In 1946, Cox built nine new rooms in an L-shape at the rear of the main lodge, a swimming pool, kitchen, and a dining room (which later became the Ox Bow Restaurant). The Payson Hotel's original nine upstairs rooms were converted into one large room for entertaining large groups.
The Ox Bow has had a colorful past and holds many secrets and years of memories of by gone days. The Ox Bow is the cornerstone building in the Main Street district and one of the most recognizable and significant buildings to contribute to Payson’s history. It has weathered times of crisis but generations of locals and travelers alike have stopped to enjoy western hospitality and Payson's local flavor.
For more amazing history insights of the great Gila County visit www.discovergilacounty.com/blog or follow us on social media accounts @discovergilacounty