The Houston Place


*A verbal account by Raymond M. Cline.


When the Houston brothers first arrived in this area, they had been preceded by two previous residents. One a Mr. Starr, perhaps Captain Starr, and the other, a Mr. John Asbill.


Mr. Starr came here in the early 1870's, married an Indian woman, and lived in a dugout South of my house here in the side of the ridge North on the meadow. He had been killed by wild Indians, possibly about 1875.


When John Asbill came by here and discovered that Mr. Starr had been killed and buried here, he notified the Houston brothers in Visalia, California. He was an acquaintance of both the Houston brothers and Mr. Starr. Mr. Starr was an acquaintance, and possibly a relative of the Houstons.


So the three Houston brothers came here in 1876 to see what kind of a layout Mr. Starr had, and when they looked it over they liked what they saw, they decided to move and locate here. They went back to Visalia and decided to bring a herd of cattle here in 1877. It seems that 1877 was an awful dry summer so they waited until late in the year to get started and arrived here with the cattle in 1878.


When they came here, Mr. Asbill was living in Mr. Starr's dugout. He then moved out to the East Verde and located there at what we call Lower Sidela, or the Asbill place, or the Dick Pinchem place. He had a son born there in 1880 named William Asbill.


To stay on the Asbill family for just a minute. Last year there was a Robert Asbill, a 72-year-old man, who came to see me, he was wanting to look at the place where his grandfather lived in Starr Valley, and where his father was born on the East Verde. After he found me, luckily I could show him both places.


The Houstons, when they arrived here in 1878, were not the first cattle in this country. A Mr. William Boats had brought a herd of cattle from Utah during the summer of 1877. He and a Mr. McDonald had brought them and he located at Green Valley, which is now called Payson. So the Houstons were not the first by a few months of bringing a herd of cattle into this country.


The Houston brothers immediately started building a ranch here. The built a cellar with a room over the top to live in while they built a house and a barn. Incidentally, the barn is built with mortise and tenon joints with one-inch wooden pegs, the only construction of that type I ever saw. However, I have heard of a lot of it.


They also had a sister, Katherine Houston, who came out after they got the buildings built around here. She stayed here and cooked for them and took care of the headquarters. They also had sister named Sammi, an older sister, who had come to this country before they did and married N. B. Chilson, Napoleon Bonaparte Chilson, who started the old N B Ranch down on the East Verde and who Polle's Mesa was named after. He went by the name of Polle Chilson.


This Sammi Houston Chilson is buried in the Payson cemetery alongside of Sam Houston and a son of Catherine Houston and John W. Wentworth, a son named Byron or Brian Wentworth who was 10 or 12 when he died.


When the Houstons got the ranch established here, Andrew and William Houston went all the way. Andrew moved to Tempe, AZ where he established a farm and raised race horses. Which several times over the later years he brought back to Payson to race in the horse races during the Payson Rodeo. William Houston was a school teacher, he taught school in possibly Pine and Strawberry, AZ. I found a record of his death at the Arizona Pioneer's Home. I can't remember exactly the date, but I do have it written down. Andrew Jackson Houston also died in the Pioneers Home, I think in 1933 possibly, and I got his records from Vernon Fuller. Andrew had married a Mormon girl, a Fuller girl, who died in childbirth, and they had his records in the Mormon Church records. Katherine Houston, in the early 1890's, married John W. Wentworth, a Globe and Payson lawyer and politician, who had moved here from California and had a quite a political record in Arizona.


In the early 1890's, Sam Houston apparently accidentally shot himself. I have heard several different versions of what happened in this case as follows.


Anna May Demming told me that John Lazar told her that he died near Kholls Springs Ranch roping a steer on the range, and he had his six-shooter in his waist band and the rope cut it off and it went off and shot himself in the leg and he bled to death.


Lena Chilson told me that he didn't actually shoot himself, but that the Mormons killed him so they could get the ranch, and that they made it look like an accident.


When I was checking on the Houstons with the Pioneer's Home and the Charlotte Hall Museum, the Charlotte Hall Museum had another version. They had a newspaper clipping titled "How Sam Houston Died". This account said that Sam Houston was roping a fresh horse and his rope somehow caused his gun to fire and shoot him in the leg. The horse he had been riding then went back to camp by himself and one of the Fuller boys trailed the horse back and found him still alive and able to tell what had happened.


The final version was told to me by Hardin Ezell. He tells me that Sam Houston roped a fresh horse in a boxed canyon above where Malcom Pyle lives now or up under the Diamond or else in the Mesa, where Houston Creek boxes up and the rope did cause the gun to go off and shoot him in the left leg. The horse then came in to the ranch headquarters where Joe Ezell, Hardin's Grandfather, was working as a rock mason. He and Katherine Houston then trailed the horse back and found Sam Houston dead, sitting on the West side of the boxed canyon in the evening shade, trying to hold the artery together that he had shot through in his left leg. That is the version that I come nearer to believing myself.


The herd of cattle that the Houston family brought here consisted of approximately 300 head of Durham cattle. Shorthorns. Both red and roan Durhams. In the herd of cattle I have had here, there still is occasionally a roan calf or a real dark red, ring-eyed calf showing a little bit of Durham. This is after many years of breeding to Hereford and Angus bulls, and even a Longhorn bull, the Durham still shows up a little bit once in a while.


Sam Houston had appointed John W. Wentworth as administrator of his estate because of the fact that he was a lawyer. After his death, and due to the fact that they thought the ranch was in pretty bad financial shape, Mr. Wentworth hired a man to gather all the livestock he could. This man was none other than Edwin Tewksburry, Zane Grey's "last man" of the Pleasant Valley War. Edwin Tewksburry gathered and sold so many head of cattle that, according to Jess Hays in Globe, every member of the family came out smelling like a rose. They had a lot more stock than any of them knew about.


About this time a man named A. J. Franklin moved into this house. While I don't believe he bought any of the cattle or grazing rights, he lived here a few years and his daughter, Ola Franklin Wilbanks Lazar, was born in this house in 1896. Shortly thereafter, the Franklin family moved down below here to the Jim Lazar place where they lived several years. They sold this place to a John Lazar and Hi Fuller. Hi Fuller moved here and lived here several years. He raised a huge family in this house, consisting of several sons and daughters.


While the Fullers were here, about 1903, 04, 05, 06, along in there, they used the house the Houstons had built. The one room which had been built over the cellar originally to live in was used at that time for a school house. Several of the kids from surrounding families went to school here. In fact, my father-in-law, Walter Haught, and both of his brothers, Charlie and Henry Haught went to school in that building some.


Up until this time there was no homesteading in this area. If someone sold their home, they would just sell their improvements and their 'squatter's' rights. While the Fullers and John Lazar had this, Pete Lazar hadn't used his homestead rights and he homesteaded this place in 1906. It is still known on the records as the Pete Lazar Homestead, number HES-53. Fifty-three is quite a small number, so it was a pretty early homestead for Arizona.


He homesteaded in 1906, but he didn't apply for patent and he sold his homestead rights in 1910 to Fletcher and Nelly Beard, parents of Valda Mae Taylor. Nelly Beard was a sister of Floyd and Louis Pyle. Fletcher Beard was the first Forest Ranger in Payson, and along about the time he bought this place he died. His wife then completed the application for patent and she received a patent signed by President Taft in 1911. By the way Valda Mae Taylor gave me that deed which I have in my papers. I do intend to give it back to Valda Mae so she can give it to the Payson Museum.


After Fletcher Beard died, Nelly and the children could hardly take care of the cattle so she gave her younger brother, Floyd Pyle, a working interest in return for his help. He added a room to the old cellar-school house and lived here. His three oldest children, Gene, Myrtle, and Malcom were all born in that "bunk house".


The Beard family and Floyd Pyle kept this ranch until about 1917. Then they sold it to a Chicago lawyer named Babcock, a man who Floyd had met and taken lion hunting a few times. Mr. Babcock only kept the ranch perhaps a year and a half and sold at least the cattle and grazing permit to Gene Holder. Gene Holder did not buy the deeded land and farm here though. He had his own homestead on Houston Mesa and he bought the old McKamee/Wade place for "commensurate property" to fulfill Forest Service requirements to hold a grazing permit. Gene only had it a few years until the price of cattle went to hell and the bank foreclosed on the ranch.


The grazing permit and the cattle were bought from the bank by a man named Al Vaughn about 1922. Mr. Vaughn operated the ranch for several years, longer than any previous owner up until that time. In fact, longer than any owner except us. He had it about 29 years and I think we have had it 31 now.


In 1946, Clifford Martin bought the old Jim Lazar ranch, down the creek from here, from Jim Hazelwood with the 7A brand. It was a small cattle permit, and after 4 or 5 years he bought Mr. Vaughn's 'Cross V' cattle permit and deeded land and combined the two ranches under the 7A brand. A few years later, he sold the summer range and the Cross V brand to a man named Dickerman, who then sold this to the Pyle family.


In 1960, Clifford Martin sold this ranch to a man named Tom Mulcare, who was a road contractor from Cottonwood. He kept it for about a year and a half and in 1961 sold it to Austin Haught. Austin kept it a year or so and sold it to us in June of 1962.


On the first of June of 1962 we bought this ranch, and as of June 1 this year we will have been here 31 years. Longer than any previous owner.


Some of the interesting events which happened at this ranch down through the years are worthy of mention. For example, while the Houston family was here, there was a man named Al Tomkins who had a saw mill located about a half a mile west of here, up the canyon from the meadow. It was run by a steam engine, and you can still see sign of the old skid-way. Instead of a conveyor belt to get rid of the sawdust, he ditched the spring water under the saw pit and washed the dust, knots, bark, etc. away with water. You can still go up there today and find pieces of old burned out plates that they used for the grates in the fire box under the boiler. We have taken treasure finders up there and found an oxen shoe or two, and several old grates, and the pins where they had the guy wire to stake down the smoke stack for the boiler.


I'm sure the lumber they sawed there was used to build all these buildings on this ranch. If you look at the boards on my barn, you'll see that they are fastened to the frame with square nails. If you measure them, they may any width and any length. They are anywhere from 11 to 15 inches wide, and any length up to 30 feet long. It is good lumber, and I'm sure the same kind was used on the house.


In the early 1880's Al Tomkins moved his sawmill out the other side of Green Valley and set it up in Al Tomkin's Draw. The Forest Service or somebody down through the years changed the name to Thompson Draw and now there is a subdivision there named Thompson Draw Summer Home area, but the name was actually Al Tomkin's Draw.


You can imagine that most of the people who can legitimately be considered "old timers" resent this name change to some degree. Of course, many of us blame the Forest Service for this, probably because they have always had control of what did, or did not, go down on the maps of the area, and have therefore been able to rewrite history (and certainly have in some cases). Given the friction between the Forest Service and the population of the area at the time who believed that almost any government was an imposition, it is understandable why the agency received the blame for many things. Whatever the reason, the name was changed, and it would be appropriate to change it back.


Another point of interest focuses on the tenure of the A. J. Franklin family. It seems that A. J. Franklin was an acquaintance and pretty good friend of the James Gang of outlaws, Jesse and Frank James. They made two or three trips to California horseback, when the law would get too hot after them in Missouri, and this ranch was one of their stopping places, according to Ola.


Although she wasn't born then, she heard her older brothers and parents talk about times that the James brothers used to stop here on their way to California to rest up. Jesse James even carved his name in a wild cherry tree right near Old Man Starr's grave out here south of the house. (footnote: The cherry tree died and was unfortunately cut down, probably during the 1950's.)


Another event that I think was interesting concerns a man named Dick Williams. He originally located at what is now called the Baptist Camp. He actually was the first to locate that, and had his place there and actually there is a Dick Williams Creek runs into Tonto Creek about half way between the Fish Hatchery and Kholl's Ranch. When the Pappy Haught family came to the country in 1898 they bought that place and lived there until they moved to Green Valley. I think that place is called the Baptist Camp now.


Dick Williams got older and moved down here to Starr Valley and had a camp set up across Houston Creek up a little canyon from where I live. There is a little dry lake there that made real good garden spot for him, and he still had a team and a wagon. They had built the original road from Starr Valley to Payson that went out around my meadow and up by the old saw mill site and on into Payson. It seems that Dick would go to Payson with his wagon, and he would drink a little too much Jim Beam while he was there and on his way home he would get a little intoxicated and he would just throw the lines away and the horses would take him home. They knew the way right down the road and right on around this place, and over to his camp. Well on one occasion, he had done that and something happened to bugger the horses and they ran away and forked a tree and killed him. He is buried out here west of my house. I know approximately where his grave is, but it was unmarked and the actual site has become lost. It should be located and become marked again.


Ana Mae Deming believes she can show me the tree that Dick Williams team forked when he was killed.


Ana Mae Deming was born on the adjoining homestead just north of this place where I live. Her father was Andy Oglvie and her mother was Agnes Lazar, a sister to the Lazar boy who had this place.


In 1906 I think, when Ana Mae's mother and father were married, their wedding was held in this old house, and they had a wedding dance was in the upstairs of this old house. It was in January with snow on the ground and I guess a lot of the people in the country came, I have talked about it with Vern Gillette and talked about it with Charlie Haught. He came by here, Pat's uncle Charlie, and he wanted to go look upstairs. We took him up there and he said that it wasn't near as big up there as it used to be, that there wasn't near as much room.


The Houston family left their name attached to everything in this country. This is the old Houston Ranch. Houston Creek runs right by here. Houston Mesa is north of Payson, I think everybody knows where it is, and we have a winter camp in a place called Houston Pocket. Houston Pocket is somewhat isolated, but we can get into it with a four-wheel drive rig. In about 1879 or thereabouts possibly, the Houston family built a one room rock house there. It shows on all the old Forest Service maps as Old Rock House. We have kind of restored it enough that we can use it for a barn. We also have a two room frame house that was built I think by Clifford Martin in about 1951 or 52.


Also in Houston Pocket we have about a five section pasture, a real good pasture, that is enclosed almost entirely by natural boundaries. The bluffs of Tonto Creek on the bottom and bluffs of mountains around. We do have a little bit of barbed wire fence, but mostly it is natural boundaries. In years past, before the country was fenced, all the cattle in the country gravitate towards hat place in the winter and spring and all the big roundups were held there. Always the cook would camp in the rock house and all the cowboys would camp all around the outside of it. They had a little corral there where they kept a wrangling horse, and they had the big corrals down in the pasture a little way where they worked all the cattle. They would keep a wrangling horse there to wrangle their other horses out of the pasture every morning.


After all the country was cut up into allotments by the Forest Service, and fences built, during the tenure of the Beard family and the Floyd Pyle family, Floyd Pyle, in the spring, would hold his round-ups there. During the first few days at the start of round-up, you don't have very long rides and you work lots of cattle. Consequently, you can use a little extra help.


Floyd Pyle had a man hired named Nellie Cox to help him and it was an awful big job for two men so they hired an extra man from Gisela named Ambrose Booth. He came up and helped them and they got the big bunches of cattle worked. It came time to start making the longer rides and finding fewer cattle, which means it becomes harder on the horses because they're doing more work. Since they were short of horse flesh, they didn't need Ambrose any longer and they wanted him to go home then but he didn't want to go. He was having a good time and he said no, that he was going to help them and not charge them anything for wages, he just wanted to stay there.


Since they couldn't get him to leave so they pulled a sham gun fight. Floyd and Nellie Cox would each cuss the other when they were alone with Ambrose, and he would try to keep the peace in camp and talk them out of having a fight. One day, Ambrose was in camp fixing lunch when Floyd and Nellie came in from riding and they started cussing each other and went to shooting at each other and Floyd Pyle grabbed himself and fell over "dead" in the doorway. Ambrose then "escaped" by climbing out the window and went to Gisela afoot. Five miles. However, it's mostly all downhill.


I never did find out what Ambrose thought later on when he found them still alive, but he did leave camp. I guess those guys didn't have any television sets in those days, so they had to create their own amusement.


We don't have any patented ground at our winter camp in Houston Pocket. We do pay taxes on the buildings and the improvements, the corrals and squeeze shoots, attached to two good water rights we have there.


Houston Pocket was homesteaded three times that I know of but there never was a patent applied for there. It was homesteaded the first time by Vern Gillette, about 1908 or 09, maybe even 1910. But he had trouble with the neighbors and it didn't turn out right, so he moved away and used his homestead rights over on Heagler Creek, over near Young at the Vern Gillette Place over there.


It then was homesteaded by Fletcher Beard, the man who bought this place here. According to the old Croxton Papers, he didn't patent it because he would have had to pay taxes on it. And just with it located, he could keep anyone else from locating it and still have the use of it, and not have to pay the taxes.


When Gene Holder had this cattle permit, he had a man named Ben Copel homestead the Pocket. Somehow Ben didn't quite live there long enough to be eligible for patent, and then when Gene lost the outfit that effort was lost as well. Therefore, the Pocket never was patented, in spite of its being an ideal homestead location.


The water rights I refer to in Houston Pocket consist of rights I have on a spring and a stock water storage tank. The spring itself holds a kind of an interesting story. There are several Indian ruins around there and to support the population that these ruins indicate must have lived there, they must have had a plentiful source of permanent water. Evidence of this is a cieniga there.


In spite of this, down through the years, through the Houston's time and all the people afterwards, the only water anyone could find was from "wet weather" springs that would crop up during the rainy season. They would dig into these and get enough water for camp use, but they couldn't find anything permanent so in real bad years they had a problem getting enough water.


In 1951, Malcom Pyle was helping Clifford Martin and they couldn't hardly find enough water for camp use. Since they knew there had to be water under that cieniga somewhere Clifford decided he would try to find it. So he took a "witching" stick and went out there and "witched" around. Where his witching stick indicated water should be, he went in with his D-6 Caterpillar and dug a trench across.


He didn't find water in the trench, but right where he stopped digging, his dozer hit some old rock work where something was walled up there. So, he moved the Caterpillar out and he and Henry Ferell dug out the rock work and lo and behold it was an old rocked up well into a spring that the Indians had used years ago that had been covered over by mesquite logs and dirt. In all those years since the white people had been there no one had ever found it until Clifford Martin accidentally found it in the early 1950's.


Clifford Martin and Henry Ferell then put two barrels on top of each other down inside this rock work, and put a pipeline from there into a horse trough which then overflows into a dirt stock tank. We've never been short of water since.


Since we've been there, we have replaced the horse trough with two sections of galvanized road culvert set side by side on their ends. The water comes into one which is covered and is where we get water for our use. It then drains into the second larger one which is open and stock can drink from before it overflows into the dirt stock tank.


I mentioned earlier that pasture in Houston Pocket was surrounded by mostly natural barriers and some barbed wire fence. However, I didn't mention the fact that there is quite a long stretch of rock fence that the oldest settlers built across the upper end of it instead of barbed wire. In fact, we still have a quite a long stretch of that rock fence still in use. I guess those old timers had more time than money to buy barbed wire. In any case there is sure a lot of work involved in building that rock fence.


We have a management plan with the Forest Service. On that management plan it says that my wife's only maintenance responsibility on the whole ranch is the maintenance of that rock fence.


A few years ago in Globe, they had an 80th birthday party for a man named Kit Jones who was raised in Pleasant Valley and Globe and around the country. I called him to wish him happy birthday, which happens to be the same day as mine, and he told me then that he had been in Houston Pocket when he was 16 years old to carry an emergency message to Pat Hughes who was camped there breaking horses. He said that the one thing about the camp in Houston Pocket that impressed him the most and remained in his mind all those years was looking at that rock fence.


Our camp in Houston Pocket is actually closer to Gisela than it is to Starr Valley. From our cabin to Tom Connolly's house in the upper end of Gisela is only about 5 miles airline, and from there to our house in Starr Valley is every bit of 8 miles.


Just east of our camp is a huge mountain composed almost entirely of solid granite with very little soil on it. When we first acquired this place, my kids named that mountain Wolverton Mountain. There was a song about Wolverton Mountain back then and they called it that for a few years. Then a few years later there was a man from Geodetic Survey came through there locating some bench marks and some old survey corners. He asked my kids what the name of that mountain was and they said "Wolverton Mountain", every one of them right quick, so by golly he put it on the official record and on the map it shows now as Wolverton Mountain.


Between our camp and Gisela there is a big red mountain that has always been known as Squaws Nest. It's where some of the Indian women and kids hid out during the Indian war days, and it has been called that forever but wasn't noted as such on any map. When this same man from the geodetic survey was there, he also put that on the map officially as Squaws Nest Mountain.


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