Destination: Payson, Arizona
Book: Woman of the Frontier by Zane Grey
Daddy Guy, my grandfather, sat in his rocking chair and read pulp fiction. He particularly loved the Westerns, and probably had read everything that Zane Grey wrote as soon as it was printed (60 Western Books plus many other genres). Zane Grey, nearly forgotten today, was a super-star in the 1920s and 30s. His best selling book, Riders of the Purple Sage, can now be found free on line. He was the original author of the stories that became the Lone Ranger movies and TV shows as well as Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.
Writing came almost by accident and he only did it so that he could have the freedom to follow the hunting and fishing seasons throughout the West. But thanks to his wife’s careful management, he became a millionaire selling twenty-five cent books (and from the more than 100 movies based on his books).
Huett made an early start and headed north down the cañon. Deer, elk, coyotes melted up the slopes at his approach. The tips of the pines high on the western ridge crest turned gold and gradually that bright hue descended.
That passage comes from Woman of the Frontier, and gives you a taste of how lovingly Grey described Arizona and the West. Huett has just mustered out of the Army after helping chase down Apaches and he has found the canyon where he wants to start a ranch. Then he has a thought.
A new factor suddenly engaged Logan’s mind. He wanted a wife. The life of a lonely ranchman in the wilderness appealed strongly to him, but a capable woman would add immeasurably to his chances of success without interfering with his love of solitude. While he was employing the daylight hours with his labors and his hunting, she would be busy at household tasks and the garden.
Yup! That’s what a wife would do. So he sent a telegram asking a woman he had courted once upon a time, to come out to Flagstaff. She came. They were married. And this book, a more domestic book than most of Grey’s Western adventure novels, tells the story of their life together, their children, the trials of a rancher and the changes between true pioneer days and the arrival of the automobile, airplanes and WWI. Despite holes in the plot you could drive your cattle through, I was surprised to find that I kept turning pages eagerly to see what would happen to the family, starting with a recent stay in Payson and continuing as I got home.
You may have heard about the two giant wildfires that are currently threatening Flagstaff, but unless you’ve been to Arizona, you probably not heard of the Mogollon Rim (which Grey called the Tonto Rim) and the small towns under the Rim.
The cabin where Grey spent many months of each year sat on the top of the amazing geological feature, the Mogollon Rim. Picture a 500-foot- high cliff that slices across Arizona east to west for miles and miles. Ponderosa Pine forests at the top and at the bottom. Flagstaff is several miles north of the Rim, and Payson, Pine and Strawberry occupy the lower ground. Ironically, as the wildfires burn around Flagstaff, the town of Payson celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Dude Fire, which burned 85,000 acres, including Grey’s cabin.
The cabin has been rebuilt in Payson beside a lovely lake and park. Although many priceless artifacts were lost in the fire, people have contributed things like original editions of books and the typewriter that he used and the cabin looks pretty much the way it did when he occupied it.
In another irony, this book, Woman of the Frontier, is a paean to a strong woman, but his own strong wife did not accompany Grey on his expeditions. Instead, the museum in Payson shows him standing beside his attractive secretary,and she was only one of many mistresses.
I rented a cabin through VRBO, one of my favorite sites for travel. I can’t resist giving you the exact link so you can see what a great place we found. It was even better than the pictures. Family from 3 to well–whatever–enjoyed hanging out, visiting the Tonto Natural Bridge (another geological wonder of the area) and toasting marshmallows around the fire ring.
The photographs are by Amber Badertscher. Thanks Amber.( I forgot my camera.)
Have you ever tried reading pulp westerns to find out what the West was really like?