Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Zane Grey & Lovely Payson

     How many of us were introduced to the American West through the novels of Zane Grey?  And since Payson has made the effort to preserve some of the history of this great writer, well, Payson just became a "must visit" location for "Finding Arizona." 

Payson, Arizona is the gateway city for those escaping into the Mogollon Rim Country of Arizona.  Too often travelers just pass through this mile-high community and never stop to enjoy the historic sites found in this old, lumbering town.  One of Payson’s most famous sites is found at Green Valley Park where the replica cabin of author Zane Grey is located and open for the public to visit.
Zane Grey is known as the Father of the American West.  He was given that title for writing 57 novels, 28 of whose storylines were based in Arizona.  Those novels told the stories of America’s Manifest Destiny and of the conquest and settlement of the American West.  His books would be turned into 130 movies and 145 television episodes of Zane Grey Theater.  Not only was Zane Grey the greatest of western storytellers but also he was also a sportsman, avid adventurist and a record-setting fisherman.
Born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1872 young Zane grew up loving baseball, fishing and writing.  His baseball skills won him a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied to be a dentist. 
In 1907 he traveled with to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to trap mountain lions.  He journaled about this adventure during his entire trip and those field notes would become, in 1910, the bases for his first best selling book, Heritage of the Desert.  His best known book, Riders of the Purple Sage, was published in 1912.  By 1915 Zane Grey had 15 books in print.
The success of Riders of the Purple Sage allowed Grey to begin his own movie company which he soon sold to Jesse Lasky, founder of Paramount Pictures.  Over the years Paramount Pictures would turn many of Zane Grey’s books into motion pictures.
Zane Grey would become one of the world’s first millionaire authors.  His financial success allowed him to spend a part of each year traveling and seeking more wilderness adventurers from which he would gleam the plots and characters for another book.  He would then spend time along the Rogue River in Oregon, living in a rustic cabin located on his favorite mining claim or living in another of his rustic cabins near Tonto Creek on the Mogollon Rim in what he called “my beloved Arizona.”
Grey built his Mogollon Rim haven in 1921 as a place of solitude to escape and write.  He also loved the abundant wildlife found in the Rim Country that allowed him to hunt and fish when taking a break from his writing.  But that same passion for hunting and fishing brought him into conflict with the Arizona Game and Fish Departments and Zane Grey left his Arizona cabin forever in 1929.
Zane Grey’s Arizona cabin was left abandoned and fell into disrepair.  It was not until 1962 that a Phoenix resident, Bill Goettl, who with his brother had invented the evaporative cooler for Arizona’s desert homes, bought the Grey cabin, rebuilt it and turned it into a popular tourist destination. 
Zane Grey’s refurbished cabin would now see over 20,000 visiting tourists each year for the next 30 years.  Then in 1990 the historic cabin became one of the tragic victims of the terrible Dude Fire that roared through this part of Rim Country consuming over 30,000 acres of pristine, ponderosa pine forest.  Many thought that the Zane Grey story in Arizona would now be lost and forgotten in the ashes of this tragic fire.
But even though Zane Grey’s cabin was gone, his memory for the thousands of people who loved his novels was not.  In 2003 the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation was formed with the major goal of rebuilding a replica of Zane Grey’s Tonto Creek cabin.
A home was found for the new cabin in Green Valley Park near the historic district of Payson.  Funds were raised and old plans were re-drawn that resulted in the opening of the Zane Grey Cabin to visitors on October 15, 2005. Once again those who loved the stories of Zane Grey could come to gaze at the bear skin rug that lies in front of the petroglyph decorated fireplace mantle and remember the man, Zane Grey, who became the Father of the American West. 
Zane Grey’s cabin is operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society in Payson, Arizona. The society oversees both the Zane Grey Cabin and the Rim County Museum at Green Valley Park on West Main Street.

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