Fort Mc Donald Was A Refuge

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Page 24, March 26, 1999
Back When...Fort McDonald Was A Refuge
By Stan Brown

By the second half of the 1870's the Apache and Yavapai tribes were crammed onto the San Carlos Reservation. They suffered not only old animosities among themselves but also the corruption of agency administrators who diverted promised rations. It was to be expected that bands of the discontented would bolt from the reservation boundaries and raid white settlements for sustenance, as well as venting their anger.  Furthermore, some family units had never been rounded up with others, and continued to hide out in the canyons and obscure forests of the Rim country. Occasionally they would reveal themselves long enough to raid the ranches for needed livestock.

The growing village of Green Valley (Payson) was looked upon as a refuge from Indian attacks, and when the alarm was raised outlanders would head for town to "fortup". Word raced up the Tonto Basin that a raiding party was on the loose.

Charley Bouquet's ranch was the hiding place for a family that included six children. Charley went out to do chores and was met by an Apache bullet which grazed his chest leaving a powder burn. The attacker daubed in war paint stood by the hitching post, gun raised to shoot again as the rancher raced to the cabin for his own rifle.

While the family fled toward Payson in the horse drawn wagon, Charley held off the several Apaches with a steady stream of fire, and made his own escape on horseback.

Meanwhile, the residents of Green Valley were building a fort on a lone hill where two valleys meet, southeast of today's Pioneer Cemetery. Charley Bouquet and the others reached it in time for safety. A prime mover in the effort was William McDonald, a partner with Bill Burch in the first local sawmill. McDonald had arrived in town that same year 1878, and his fort took advantage of the red sandstone rocks which were there from the ruins of an ancient pueblo. By 1889 Bill McDonald and his wife Sarah Hazelton had moved their family to Buckeye, leaving his name attached to the "fort".

In later years it was thought that the "fort" was named for Mart McDonald, no relation to William. Mart's family owned the ranch at the foot of the fortified hill. However, Mr. McDonald did not move to Payson until 1894, after Bill McDonald had left and the Indian scares had ceased.

Sarah McDonald (Mart's daughter) remembered how as a girl she used to play among the stones of the fort. "It was a big building" she said. "It must have been fifty feet long probably twenty feet wide... The walls were eight, ten feet high." There were portholes built in for gun barrels. Sarah said her mother also told of playing up there as a pre-teen in 1880's.

During the 1878 scare the families stayed there for several days, while the single men were elected to scout for signs of imminent danger. When the threat subsided everyone went home.

In 1881 the bloody fight at Cibicue, and the subsequent part of renegades raiding through San Carlos and Pleasant Valley, sent local families again scurrying to Fort McDonald for safety. During that 1881 scare some families, such as the Chilson's from Marysville, sought refuge in Globe where they had friends. The next year, 1882, brought another alarm and this time the raiders came close. About 100 renegade Apaches raided through Pleasant Valley, Christopher Creek, and up the East Verde River leaving a trail of death, burnings and stolen livestock. The pursuit culminated in the Battle of Big Dry Wash, north of Payson on the Rim. When warnings reached the Payson area, ten days before the renegades actually arrived, the Meadows family out in Whispering Pines raced to town seeking refuge. The family's biographer, Jean Beach King, states "When they arrived (in Green Valley) they boarded up at Fort McDonald, a red sandstone stucture on McDonald Hill a half mile west of Payson. Other settlers boarded up at August Pieper's Dance Hall inside town". (Ariz. Charlie, pg 19).

Her reference to Pieper's Dance Hall in this context is unfortunate, because August and Wilhelmina Pieper did not arrive in Payson until 1887. They purchased the Sidell's poured mud house (still standing), operated the old Pioneer Bar, at the corner of Bootleg Alley and Main Street and eventually built a dance hall where the late Winchester Bar and dance hall succeeded it. The basement of the Piper hall did become a place for residents to fort up during later Indian scares, but by that time there was little or nothing to the alarms. Pieper also had a stockade behind his saloon, where he boarded horses and which served as a "fort" when residents thought it was needed.

Meanwhile, back in 1882, after a couple of days in the disagreeable quarters of Fort McDonald, John Meadows decided there was nothing to the alarm and took his family back to the ranch. That night the raiders struck, and John Meadows was killed, his son Henry mortally wounded. They became the first burials on the hillside along the road going west from town, which would become the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. After those eary years, Fort McDonald was simply a playground for children and a source of local lore. Sarah McDonald Lockwood remembers that "old man Armer" (James "Bud" Armer) started hauling that rock away and they put a stop to it. He tore about half of it down; was going to build a barn out of it. (The town) stopped him and what he left is still up there."

In recent years homes have been built on McDonald Hill, and the remaining rocks of the "fort" have been integrated into the walls, gardens and landscape of the homeowners. The need to "fort up" has passed, but the view from the top is one of Payson's best.

Sources: Oral Histories by Ira Murphy with Sarah Lockwood and Charley Chilson; by Stan Brown with Sarah Lockwood; Jean King's book Arizona Charley.



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