Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Three Men Hurled Into Eternity...."

          Those words just might be a part of the greatest newspaper headline ever written in the Wild West.  They told of the Gunfight at the OK Corral which occurred on October 26, 1881 when three young cowboys died from the guns of the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday.
          Now, 131 have passed since that 3:00 p.m. showdown but Tombstone, the "Town Too Tough To Die", is worth visiting in any season.  We have written several stories over the years about Tombstone.  Here is the first one dealing with their just completed annual Helldorado Days.

Credit Photos:  Dan Germain
            “Three Men Hurled Into Eternity…” is arguably the most famous newspaper headlines ever written in the Wild West.  It appeared as the banner for the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper, retelling the events of October 26, 1881 along Freemont Street, just outside the back entrance to the OK Corral.  And even though the Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred 128 years ago, the good folks of Tombstone, Arizona continue to memorialize that historic gunfight during their annual Helldorado Days*.
          It was a lonely miner by the name of Ed Schieffelin who was warned by a United States Cavalry patrol that if he did not watch himself, the only thing he would find in the isolated hills of the San Pedro River Valley in southeastern Arizona would be his tombstone.  Well, Ed remembered that warning and when he struck a rich vein of silver in the spring of 1877, he named his strike and the town that grew up around it, Tombstone. 
          Other mines quickly were discovered and given some of the Wild West’s most unique names -- the Tough Nut, the Mattie Blaylock and the Good Enough.  To these new mines came thousands of people to both work and to serve this newest of western boomtowns.  And what an amazing group of human kind they were.
          If ever there was ever a perfect template for a Wild West town, Tombstone must surely be the model.  Between 1879 and 1889 the streets of Tombstone saw the most unique mixture of miners, gambles, rustlers, ladies of the night, lawmen, preachers, saloon owners and plain common folks that  any town in the Arizona Territory.
          One such group of newly arrived Tombstone residents were called by the law abiding folks of Tombstone, cow –boys.  In 1881 this term, cow-boys, was not an endearing name as it was used to describe those “ranchers” who earned a living by stealing other folks cattle. And as fate would have it, in mid-afternoon on a cold October day in 1881, on the dusty streets of Tombstone, a group of cow-boys would come face-to-face with their destiny in the form of another historic Western clan, the Earp brothers.
          In a space no large that 15 feet wide and 30 feet deep, eight men and two horses came to stand within a few feet of each other.  A sixth man, Doc Holiday, stood with a shotgun on the edge of Fremont Street.  “Throw up your hands”, U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp shouted to the cow-boys!  Within a moment, the guns of both groups began firing; 30 shots were fired in less than 30 seconds.  When the smoke and dust cleared, 3 cow-boys lay dead.
          The Gunfight at the OK Corral was not the most deadly gunfight of the Wild West but it is surely the most famous.  And it is this gunfight along with all the historic people and events of this Wild West Silver Boom Town that is celebrated each year during Helldorado Days.
          The first Helldorado Days were held in 1929 so this year’s celebration will be the 80th anniversary of those early, rip-roaring days of Tombstone.  The Tombstone Vigilantes are the sponsoring organization of Helldorado and they always plan to make the 3-day festival fun for everyone who makes the effort to come and to join in the merriment. 
          This year's celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. on October 16 along Allen Street with the playing of our National Anthem followed by entertainment “every ten minutes” till 5:00 p.m.   Saturday is filled with all sorts of entertainment from gunfighters, line dancers, belly-dancers, cowboy stories and western music.
           On Sunday the 18th, the official parade steps off from 6th Street and Allen and features the renowned Cowboy Walkdown followed by the always, crowd pleasing “Yee Haw” contest.  Yes, Tombstone, the “town too tough to die” is celebrating their historic past once again and warmly invites all Arizonans to get out and enjoy this year’s Helldorado Days on their famous streets of Tombstone.   

*In July 1881, a down-in-his-luck miner wrote a letter to the Tombstone Nugget newspaper, lamenting the fact that most miners like he, had come to Tombstone to find their “Eldorado”, their fortune in mineral riches.  Instead, they ended up washing dishes, sweeping saloons or cleaning corrals, thus finding instead their “Helldorado!”

Past Helldorado Days fun...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wings Over Willcox

     Before leaving the Willcox area, we want to highlight an annual area event called "Wings Over Willcox."  Check out this website for updated information,, but this is usually a late January/early February celebration.  It is very cold at sunrise in these barren fields around Willcox so if you choose to go, dress wisely. 
    The photos here belong to Robert Shantz.  We thank him for sharing with us his pictures.  Hope you enjoy our story.    

     The small towns of Arizona have many unique and fun celebrations and Wings Over Willcox would certainly be at the top of that list. The National Geographic Society ranks this Arizona avian gathering of Sandhill Cranes one of North America’s two greatest wildlife events, sharing the spotlight with the great caribou migration in Alaska.
    In an area defined by the Dragoon Mountains to the west and the Dos Cabezas Mountains to the east, a natural bird sanctuary is created which attracts over 500 species of birds that spend their winter in this Cochise County avian paradise.  It is within this natural corridor that the annual Wings Over Willcox celebration occurs.
    Last year over 36,000 cranes visited the 60-square mile preserve owned and operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department who flood a portion of the land each year to create a 6-inch deep pool that the Sandhill Cranes find just perfect for winter roosting.
    The highlight of a visit to the Wings Over Willcox celebration is the pre-dawn guided tours to the crane roosting fields.  Here, dressed in cloths created for mid-January in Chicago, the curious and enthusiast people wait for sunrise and the Sandhill “liftoff.”
    In a moment, thousands of birds, with wingspans up to 6-feet and weighing up to 14 pounds, take flight.  The sight and sound of this morning leap into the air is what attracts thousands of nature lovers to Willcox each year.
    Once airborne, the cranes quickly line into a V-formation to pass another day flying from harvested cornfield to cornfield in search of food.  Their daily adventure delight and mesmerize onlookers who just can’t seem to get enough of these long-legged, longneck-flying wonders.
     The Sandhill Cranes will hang around the Willcox area until early March when the lengthening days will again make them take flight to their summer artic breeding grounds.  Some of these Arizona winter bird visitors are known to migrate as far as Siberia.
    Wings Over Willcox organizers promise that this year’s event will be better than ever before.  New tours dealing with astronomy and wildlife of the Chiricahua Mountains will be offered.  Seminars will be presented with topics ranging from the Arizona jaguar to wildlife tracking to rainwater harvesting and more.  For those who love nature and the out-of-doors, Wings Over Willcox is an ideal opportunity to get out and discover another special part of our Arizona!