The Story of Their LivesJinx and Jayne Pyle like to tell stories. True stories about their families' lives along the Mogollon Rim. It's fascinating material that includes tales of black bears, mountain lions and range wars. They're not just storytellers, though. The Pyles are also authors, publishers and performers
By Nora Burba Trulsson
Payson Settle down into one of Jinx and Jayne Peace Pyle's overstuffed leather easy chairs with a glass of lemonade and be prepared to listen. The two of them will mesmerize you for hours with tales of cowboys, ranchers and pioneers. The tales are their stories — the stories of their families' lives along the Mogollon Rim and in the Tonto Basin of Central Arizona.
There's the one about Floyd Pyle, Jinx's cowboy grandfather, who roped a live mountain lion and a bear in the 1920s for Western author Zane Grey to use in his movies. Then there's the saga of Jayne's great-grandparents, Will and Ellen Neal, who drove a wagon from Texas through a New Mexico range war to Gisela, Arizona, arriving in 1891 to start a new life of ranching and farming along Tonto Creek.
The Pyles' stories aren't just exercises in chewing the fat. The husband and wife are keepers of regional history, serving as official Town of Payson historians. They were named Arizona Culturekeepers in 2005, an honor bestowed by the Arizona Historical Society and Sharlot Hall Museum on those who make a positive impact on the state's history and culture. They're also authors — with more than a dozen local history books between them — as well as publishers and performers.
Eugene "Jinx" Pyle was born in 1944 to a family whose ancestry includes David Harer, who, in 1874, became the first white person to build a house in the Tonto Basin, and Elwood Pyle, who led his family to Star Valley in 1890 to farm and ranch.
"I was a premature baby," explains Jinx, a tall, lanky man whose character was formed in the saddle. "The nurses called me 'the little jinx,' and the nickname stuck."
Jinx grew up learning to ride and rope on his parents', grandparents' and great-grandparents' ranches, and helped his father with his work as the foreman of the R Bar C Boy Scout ranch at Christopher Creek. "We'd saddle up horses and ride to mend fences, move cattle, whatever needed to be done." During the week, he rode the bus into Payson to attend school.
Like his grandfather and father, Jinx learned to hunt mountain lions. "Back then, livestock was a huge part of Arizona's industry," Jinx explains. "A mountain lion could kill a calf a week if it got on your cattle allotment. They were considered predatory animals. The government paid a $75 bounty for lions, which was good money during the Depression and war years."
Back in the day, Jinx's grandfather became legendary at hunting not only mountain lions, but bears, too, and caught the attention of author and filmmaker Grey, himself an avid outdoorsman. Grey tapped Floyd Pyle to be an assistant hunting guide and procurer of live feline and ursine extras for films.
During long rides and in the evenings when ranch chores were done, everyone told stories, sagas of local history that ranged from family anecdotes to an oral history of the Pleasant Valley War. For entertainment, Jinx went into town for dances and learned to play the guitar, performing at Kohls Ranch and honky-tonks as a youth.
Jayne was born in Globe in 1949 ("There wasn't a doctor in Payson at the time") and raised on the family ranch in Gisela, the fifth generation to work the land there. "My first memory is of being in front of my mother on a saddle," she says. With her sister, she milked cows, fed the animals, worked in the garden and watered fruit trees. During the school year, her family shifted to a townhouse in Payson so the children could attend classes.
On the ranch, it was all about family. "We didn't have electricity or phones until 1970," Jayne says. "So entertainment for us was to get together with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents to talk and sing. A lot of my uncles played guitars and fiddles. Music and stories were our culture."
On separate but similar trajectories, Jinx's and Jayne's ranch lives ended about the same time, dwindled by a combination of economics, Forest Service edicts and environmental issues.
Jinx and his father sold the family ranch a few years before the 1990 Dude Fire obliterated the area, then ranched in Oregon from 1987 to 1997. After his father passed, Jinx and his mother ranched in New Mexico before moving back to Payson.
Jayne married, had a son, worked as an editor for the Payson Roundup, then went back to school at Arizona State University to become a teacher. By 1980, she realized she was a witness to the evolution of an entire town and wrote her first book, History of Gisela, Arizona, detailing the lives of all the families — including her own — that founded the town and, inadvertently, chronicling the demise of ranch culture. "The Forest Service took our cattle permits," she says. "We sold our cattle in 1991, and just sold our last land in 2011." She moved to Payson in 2001.
Though Jayne and Jinx had known each other all their lives, they didn't reconnect until 2002, when Jinx wrote a draft of his first book, a novel called Blue Fox. He approached Jayne, who'd written several more history-themed books, about editing his manuscript. The collaboration worked on numerous levels. They opted to start a company, Git A Rope Publishing, to publish not only their works, but books by others, and operated Git A Rope Trading Co. on Payson's Main Street for several years, offering ranch and cowboy antiques, memorabilia, their books and books by Zane Grey. In 2004, they also roped each other in holy matrimony. "Let's just call it a late-in-life marriage," says Jayne with a smile. "It's the icing on the cake."
Since their marriage, they've collaborated on books about the Pleasant Valley War, rodeos, Payson and cowboy cooking. Jinx has written more regionally themed novels, as well as a history of Rim Country cowboys that focuses on his father and grandfather. Jayne is working on a cookbook with recipes from the founding settlers of the Tonto Natural Bridge area and a book about the women of the Pleasant Valley War. In honor of Arizona's Centennial, the two are also planning to publish a book on the early history of Payson.
In between writing and publishing, the couple keeps a busy calendar filled with speaking and performing dates around the state. Jinx sings, recites cowboy poetry and tells stories. "Jinx is the entertainer, and I'm the genealogist and researcher," Jayne says.
Later this year, the Pyles will be honored again with their fellow Arizona Culturekeepers in a special Centennial event at the Westin Kierland Resort in Phoenix.
Perhaps their most important role, though, is as witnesses — keepers of the flame. "We know all the stories about the Mogollon Rim and the Tonto Basin," reflects Jayne. "Our job is to remember — to write everything down before people forget — [so that] our history and culture [aren't] lost forever."