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Cowboys of Heber – Days gone by

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I am a history buff and I have collected all sorts of historical information on Arizona and my family roots here in Heber-Overgaard, AZ. Recently I rediscovered an essay my Dad, Richard Gibson wrote when he was a freshman in high school and it sparked an idea. Heber and Overgaard have changed a great deal over the years and I love to learn about the information our family, friends and neighbors have in their memory banks. I discussed this with Barb Samples and she agreed that it would be fun and enlightening for the readers of the Mogollon Rim News to have the opportunity to learn this history. This story is the first in a series of articles about Memories of Heber/Overgaard.

My Grandfather Irving Gibson purchased our ranch near Heber in 1935 when my dad, Richard Gibson, was 3 years old. The family continued to reside in Chandler, AZ for part of the year and then at the ranch for the grazing season.

For his freshman English assignment Dad wrote several essays. One titled “My Favorite Day” states, “My favorite day usually comes during the last of May when the days begin to get warm and the pupils lazy. There is a general let-down in accomplishment. Yes, you have guessed it-I mean the last day of school. But the next day is the one I really like best for that is moving day when we say goodbye to the valley and turn our faces toward the hills.

We always get an early start. Our chickens, dog and cat are loaded in the pickup with our trunks and bedding covered with canvas. Behind the pickup, in a trailer is the family milk cow and my Hereford heifer. The passenger car is also loaded very heavily with books, dishes and food. Now is the last moment to glance around to see if everything is in. Then we are off in a cloud of dust.

The first leg of our journey is through fields and desert lowlands but after Florence Junction is reached there are hills and mountains to climb for nearly two hundred miles. In due time we reach Globe. We all feel conspicuous while going through the city limits when the rooster crows, cat meows, dog barks and the cow moos but we tough it out and go on towards Show Low. The half way mark between Globe and Show Low is Salt River Canyon where the highway winds across this masterful gorge. After going down about a mile we reach a turnoff where we park the cars. Here we take our lunch and walk to a lookout point overlooking the whole canyon. Our fried chicken tastes very good as we feast our eyes on the wonderful engineering of the road below us.

Before reaching Show Low we have long since left the cactus behind and come into the region of tall pines and cool breezes. All of us, as well as our furry and feathered passengers are glad to be out of the heat. But many miles lie between us and our destination. The road is slower because it is unpaved but it does not seem tedious for there is so much to see.

At last, around a bend in the road, we see the small town of Heber with its rambling, untidy streets and struggling sawmill. Now, we take a narrow road that leads to the ranch. We cross the creek nine times and finally reach our haven, a green paradise in the pines-home.”

I sat down with my Dad to visit about his essay and how much Heber has changed over the years. He said, “It used to take 2 hours to get from Show Low to Heber since it was a dirt road.” Dad said, “Heber got the first pavement in 1952 when the road was paved from the gas station to the top of the hill.” He laughed as he said, “Little Beaver drove barefooted from the top of the hill into town, steering the car with his bare feet.” I got the feeling he was saying, “Yee Haw” as he drove.

Dad said the traffic sure has changed, when he was young there might have been one car per week that drove by the ranch, now on a busy summer day sometimes 500 cars drive by in a single day.

Houck cabin
Houck cabin

Back in the days of my dad’s childhood the original cabin built by Jim Houck the homesteader of our ranch was still standing and in use by my Grandpa and our family.

heber overgaard arizona
Richard Gibson and Ann Blake (Original Houck Cabin in the background)

Dad said the part of the cabin that was built in the 1880’s had square nails and the sheep herder that camped there while taking care of the sheep would use the original wood stove for cooking and keeping warm but he wouldn’t stay in the cabin overnight, he said “Jim Houck’s ghost gonna get me.” Jim Houck was a man with a frightening reputation and history that outlived him. He supposedly had many notches on his gun marking the men that he had killed while using his position as Sheriff to carry out vendetta’s against local residents.

Gibby and the Boys at the BCR
Gibby and the Boys at the BCR

Dobbie Porter, grandfather to many in this town, was a good friend and Cowboy who worked on the Ranch for many years. Dad says when Dobbie was 6 years old in 1904 he would travel by horse and buggy to Turkey Springs where he would fill barrels with water and haul them to town for the community’s drinking water.

Heber-Overgaard, AZ
Dobbie Porter

Dad said, “There was one diesel generator for the whole town and the lights would flicker 3 times before they turned the power off for the night.” He and his friends would spend all day exploring the mountains and the creek. They would pick the corn that grew abundantly in the fields around Heber and eat it raw. Dad says it rained so much more then, there was no need for irrigation.

Heber, AZ
Heber Country Store 1940’s

Dad remembers shopping at the Heber Country Store when they had no refrigeration and if you wanted fresh meat you had to order in advance or make sure you were there on the day the store got a hind quarter of beef. He said there were 20 gallon bins of hard candy. Horehound, licorice and candy corn were some of the featured treats. He could buy a Big Hunk candy bar for 5 cents. Mr. Shelley who was the store owner would write down all the customers purchases on a ledger and he would bill the customers once a month. The west wall of the store was lined with shoes, material and other dry goods. There was a sign that read, “Do not spit on the floor if you do it will spread disease.’ It was the only store in town until Donny Porter put in a store in the 40’s. Dad also said it was the only place in town to get gas or patch a tire.

Richard and Bonnie Gibson-the cowboy and his cowgirl
Richard and Bonnie Gibson-the cowboy and his cowgirl

My Mom, Bonnie Gibson, said that when she and Dad first got married Mary Tenney was the clerk at the Heber store. I think Mary is one of the interesting people in our town that I need to visit with and hope to have the opportunity to do that in the near future. If you would be interested in visiting with me about your early memories of Heber/Overgaard or you know someone with great stories, please call 480-570-1586 or email me at Kathykg26158@msn.com.