|Polly Brown, a rodeo performer, rancher and businesswoman in Payson, made her mark through her businesses, ranching, roping abilities, and stamina. Named the queen of Payson's rodeo in 1966, she exemplified the strength of early Arizona women who withstood adversity and kept their families together during
Region: North Central Arizona
Theme: Women at Work
|Polly Hicks was born on a ranch near Waco, Texas, but her family relocated to
Arizona when she was young. They eventually established a ranch 12 miles
northwest of Globe. Her father left her mother to raise eight children alone, so
Polly helped the family with garden and household chores, while also learning to
rope cattle on the ranch. She recalled, "I had a cow by the tail since the time
I could run."
While working as a waitress at a stagecoach stop in Grapevine in 1903, she met
and married J. Harry Brown, who owned some cattle and horses and ran his own
freighting business. With her earnings from waiting table she bought 15 head of
cattle and combined them with Harry's ten head of cattle, and the young couple
established a ranch in Round Valley. Harry was a champion rodeo roper, and Polly
also participated in the Payson Rodeo when the event was still held on Payson's
unpaved Main Street, prior to construction of the rodeo grounds.
Polly and Harry encountered a setback when Harry suffered a severe accident; his
pelvis was crushed by a loaded ore wagon. Polly ran the ranch alone while
raising their children, a boy and two girls. Looking for less physically arduous
work, Harry turned to running the Sixteen-To-One Saloon and Gambling Hall in
town. But in 1914 the voters passed a statewide initiative to outlaw alcohol
consumption. Many of the local saloons continued to sell bootleg liquor in their
back rooms, but it is impossible to say whether the Browns did that.
To diversify their business during prohibition the couple sold the ranch in 1918
and used the proceeds to buy the Herron Hotel, only to see the hotel burn down
two months later. Polly remodeled the Sixteen-To-One into a successful
restaurant downstairs and hotel upstairs. Polly also was an expert seamstress,
sewing wedding dresses for local brides to earn extra income. One of her quilts
featuring a Hereford bull took the first place ribbon at the 1933 Chicago
When Harry recovered sufficiently from his accident, the Browns returned to
ranching and freighting, homesteading the 7Y Ranch on Rye Creek. One day they
decided to see the Sixteen-to-One one last time and were riding into town to
collect the proceeds of the sale when the hotel burned down. They continued to
expand their ranch holdings in the area until 1935, when Harry died of a stroke.
Polly then ran his freighting business and the ranch. Eventually she moved to
Payson and bought the Elks Bar in 1949. By then, prohibition had ended, and
according to one patron, Polly "kept pigs down there (at the bar) and she fed
them beer. And if you didn't guard your beer, it was tossed in the feed bucket
before you were finished with it and you had to buy another one." She showed
motion pictures shows on Saturday afternoons in the hall and expanded her
businesses to include the Rim View Motel and the Cowboy Corral.
In 1966, at age 83, Polly received the title of Rodeo Queen at Payson's World's
Oldest Continuous Rodeo in honor of her years of ranch work and her expertise in
roping. She died that same year and was buried at her Rye Creek Ranch. In 1989,
she was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame.
The Rim Country Museum in Payson has the same façade as the old Herron Hotel.
Visit the museum at 700 Green Valley Parkway in Payson.
Polly Hicks Brown - Courtesy of the Peace-Pyle Collection, Rim Country Museum
Rim Country Museum - Courtesy of Rim Country Museum