Sunday, May 27, 2018

May 28th, 1918: On this Day in Arizona History (Memorial Day edition)

It's Memorial Day, May 28th, 2018 - and an appropriate time to remember the first Arizonan killed in World War I, exactly one hundred years ago today. That man who died a hero's death on May 28, 1918, was a Pima Indian, Matthew B. Juan. Born in San Tan, Juan grew up in Sacaton, a village of the Gila River Pima Community. Juan was part of the first American offensive on a German stronghold at Cantigny, France, in the first major American battle of the war. 

Matthew B. Juan had already survived the January 24, 2018 torpedoing of his troopship, the U.S.S. Tuscania, in an attack which killed 210 of his fellow troops. The Tuscania, originally a luxury Cunard liner, had been repurposed as a troopship. The German submarine UB-77, under the command of Wilhelm Meyer, launched two torpedoes at the three-year-old ship and brought her down.

Juan was later transferred to the First Division, 28th Infantry, Company K. As his unit advanced on the Germans at 0645, Juan took machine gun fire and was killed.  Although he was initially buried in France, his body was later exhumed and returned home to the reservation at Sacaton. Nearly three years later on April 9, 1921, Juan was laid to rest in the desert. Juan is honored by a stone memorial at the Matthew B. Juan - Ira Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton on his native reservation south of Phoenix. The name Ira Hayes, another famed Pima veteran from Sacaton, is recognizable to many from the Johnny Cash song about him. Those who know their history, though, will recognize Ira, a US Marine, as one of the six flag-raisers at Iwo Jima commemorated in the poignant Joe Rosenthal photograph.

When Matthew died, a friend visited the Arizona Republic office to tell them not only of his death but of his life. Matthew (who also went by the name "Matthew Rivers") had been an athlete and a star baseball pitcher at the prominent Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, California. When American entered the war, he promptly enlisted out of Texas, where he was at the time. Matthew's friend also said, "If you put anything in the paper about my friend, tell the people that 30 boys from Camp Kearny, all Indians, have just started for France, and tell them too - tell them that the fighting spirit of Matthew Rivers will live long in the hearts of the Pima Indian people."

That fighting spirit did indeed live on and continue to grow. A tribute to Juan in the May 30, 1941 Arizona Republic, as the nation again faced war, said 81 Pima Indians had entered military training camps to again fight. In May, 1943, the Pima High School at Sacaton had no graduation ceremony. Every single graduate, with the exception of one girl, either enlisted or was drafted into the war. One of those was Ira Hayes.

 Only three of the soldiers in the iconic photo survived the war; one with physical wounds, and all scarred by their experience. Ira's fame - and perhaps the inevitable and tragic survivor's guilt - contributed to his downfall. Ira now lies at rest in Arlington National Cemetery. 

With gratitude to all who gave all under the colors of our flag, and with special respect to the Native American heroes of our wars and conflicts. 

Copyright (c) 2018 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the author * Links, however, are truly appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, forwarding, tweeting, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting and - veterans - thank you for your service.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Historic, Under-Appreciated Willcox, Arizona

The Willcox Depot

I'm a sucker for authentic old western towns, unspoiled by tourism and kitschy re-creations of sites and events. Put a life-size diorama at an old fort site and I'm unimpressed. Do mock shoot-outs in the streets and I'm heading the other way. But leave the old buildings intact, and do tasteful markers and monuments - well, I get a bit weak at the knees.

That's Willcox. Still a cow-town with cow-haulers parked on the streets and the livestock auction grounds barely on the edge of town, it has that slow-paced and wonderful western feel. There aren't scads of out-of-state plates, nor do easterners clog the sidewalks. It's still genuine. Many of the old buildings are still intact, although perhaps the most famous building of all - what was once Brown's Headquarter's Saloon, where Warren Earp was shot to death - burned down in that most-Arizona-of-fates in 1940.

Willcox, part of the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, owes its origin to the Southern-Pacific railroad. The depot, shown above, was built in 1881 to service the area. It's the oldest extant redwood station in the country and has been lovingly maintained. To the left, partly obscured by the stop sign, you can see the old signal booth, complete with early phone numbers scratched into the metal on the door.

The historic downtown area is quiet now, but during territorial days, it was a notoriously tough town. Many of Arizona's most nefarious characters passed through, and many made Willcox their home. Working girls populated the saloons, and rival rustlers and cowboys engaged in gunplay on the street. Shootings weren't uncommon.  Train robber Burt Alvord, infamous in the state's history, was deputy sheriff under the famed Sheriff John Slaughter (a much tougher Arizona sheriff than Joe Arpaio ever was, by the way). Here in Willcox, Alvord killed the cowboy William King.

At left, the site of the original Headquarter's Saloon, where Warren Earp was gunned down in 1900.

Another notorious outlaw, train robber Bill Downing, kept a house of ill repute appropriately named the "Free and Easy Saloon" on Maley Street (the street across which the above photo is taken). Downing was killed by Arizona Ranger Billy Speed in 1908, just a year before the Rangers were disbanded after an eventful - and highly successful - eight-year run.

Willcox's most famous son, though, was cowboy star Rex Allen. As a boy, Allen performed in a barber shop on the street where today stands the Rex Allen Museum. The museum itself is in the old Schley Saloon building. Rex Allen never let his fame ruin his natural down-to-earth personality. He often visited old friends in Willcox. Leonard Sly performed in town, as well, before becoming Roy Rogers.

Although Marty Robbins was from Glendale, the Marty Robbins Museum and Gift shop stands next to the Rex Allen Museum. You can pick up my favorite Marty Robbins CD there, too - Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. I grew up listening to it on vinyl; it was one of Dad's most-played albums.

In the town square, a larger-than-life sculpture of Rex Allen by prominent Arizona artist Buck McCain looks over the town. Rex is keeping an eye on more than the passers-by, though. In front of the sculpture is a section of concrete imprinted with ranch brands, and beneath the concrete lies Rex Allen's famous co-star and stallion, KoKo. KoKo traveled half a million miles with Rex. 

KoKo's Grave

Throughout town are the sort of subtle gems that make photography a delight: ornate scrollwork accents on building facades; old signs painted on red-brick walls; the occasional amusingly misspelled business sign. 

Willcox is cult-free, so don't hesitate to step inside. They mean "Cutlery."

An accent piece on a vintage building.

Should you make your way to Willcox, stop in at the Friendly Book Store - they're friendly, and they have a good selection of Arizona history books.  The milk shakes at the Mother Lode ice cream store are not to be missed, either. You can pick up a free self-guided walking-tour map at the Chamber of Commerce (or many of the local businesses). 

If you'd like to enjoy some vintage photos and history of Willcox, you can pick up your copy of Arcadia's "Images of America: Willcox" book here:  Willcox, Arizona  (affiliate link).  Support local authors!

On the edge of town is the Old Willcox pioneer cemetery, too - but more on that later, so make sure you sign up to follow my blog by email.  

Copyright (c) 2018 by Marcy J Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, tweeting, sharing, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for stopping by and sharing my enthusiasm in the great American west.