Cattlewoman; Payson entrepreneur; epitomized Western womanhood as seamstress and wrangler; rodeo queen at age 82.
“Why, dammit, my life’s been full to the brim! I’ve had three babies and raised them; I’ve got six grandchildren. I’ve had my health and plenty of work to keep me busy. I loved Harry Brown enough to live under a mesquite bush with him. I’ve known pain and grief, and lots of happiness and pleasure. What more could a woman ask for?”
Polly responded with the quote above when someone asked about her “hard” life.
A rancher and businesswoman, Polly Hicks Brown was a very resourceful and talented woman who coped with life’s obstacles with an incredibly strong spirit. A woman of multiple skills, she quilted, sewed, ran ranches and businesses while also raising three children.
Polly Hicks Brown moved to Arizona as a child with her family. She grew up on a ranch near Globe with seven brothers and sisters and her mother, who ran the ranch after her father left the family in Arizona when he returned to Texas. As a teenager, Polly took a job as a cook at a stage stop in Grapevine to help with her sister’s expenses at Tempe Normal School. There she met Harry Brown, her future husband. Harry and Polly married in 1903 and moved to Harry’s ranch in Round Valley. Polly had made enough money at the café to buy 15 head of cattle which she brought with her to the ranch.
In addition to ranching, Harry Brown freighted ore from the mines in Miami. While hauling ore, Harry was thrown from the wagon and run over by other wagons, breaking his back and crushing his pelvis. Harry’s prognosis was poor, but he recuperated at the Round Valley ranch and was walking within a year although he was still infirm.
Due to Harry’s condition, Polly took over the major responsibilities of running the ranch and caring for their family that grew to 3 children by 1910. To make ends meet, the Browns bought the Sixteen-to-One Saloon and Gambling Hall in Payson. In 1918, they sold the ranch and bought the Heron Hotel, also in Payson. Unfortunately, tragedy struck, and the hotel burned to the ground two months later. At that point, Polly moved her family into the Sixteen-to-One and remodeled it into a hotel which became quite successful.
When not working in the business or on the ranch, Polly Hicks Brown enjoyed sewing and was known as an excellent seamstress. She designed and sewed almost every wedding dress in Payson between 1914 and 1918. In addition, Polly quilted and took first prize at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair for her quilt with the pattern of a Hereford bull.
The Sixteen-to-One Hotel became quite profitable, and the Browns purchased ranch properties on Rye Creek. They bought the 64 Ranch, the 7Y Ranch, where they homesteaded, and later the Holder Ranch, Hardt Ranch and Carther Ranch.
Although the Browns thought of themselves primarily as ranchers, they also looked for business opportunities. They bought and operated the Rye Store. Harry was in the store when he died in 1935, leaving Polly a widow at the age of 52. Polly refused to leave the ranch and learned to drive the truck supplying the ranches with equipment, food and fuel. She paid off a $5,000 mortgage and operated the ranches profitably and efficiently.
Then in 1942, she sold her ranch properties to her son Harry James, although she continued to live on the Rye Creek Ranch. By 1948, she could no longer ride horseback comfortably due to varicose veins in her legs. Not wanting to be idle, she moved to Payson and purchased the Cowboy Corral, the Elk’s Bar and the Rim View Lodge which she ran herself.
At age 83, Polly Brown received a new title: Rodeo Queen over Payson’s “World’s Oldest Consecutive Rodeo.” She reigned as queen in 1966 at the age of 83. This was a fitting tribute to Polly and the pioneer spirit she embodied. In December of 1966, Polly Hicks Brown passed away and was buried on her beloved Rye Creek Ranch.