Years ago, when my mother joined her father on a trip to Sweden to visit his brothers, my father gave her a ride to Bowie, Arizona (Pronounced BOO EE, for you non-Arizona types) where she caught a Greyhound Bus. She took that far enough to meet up with Grandpa Anderson and their flight arrangements. From then on, though, we always said that she went to Europe by way of Bowie.
Next week, for Tombstone’s big fall celebration, Helldorado, I’ll be there as the event’s Official Author of 2017. I’ll be going there by way of Barcelona. Long story.
Bisbee is 23 miles away from Tombstone. When I was growing up in Bisbee, my mother would hardly let my dad take his foot off the gas pedal as we drove through Tombstone. She said it was a “tourist trap,” and she didn’t want to go there. So we didn’t. I do remember visiting Boot Hill Cemetery once when we had visitors from South Dakota. I came away with a pair of Mexican dolls that I bought with my own money from the gift shop, but I don’t remember stopping off for lunch along the way.
Being true to my roots, once I grew up, I didn’t slow down when passing through Tombstone, either. Then I married Bill, a guy who hails originally from Chicago. He grew up fascinated by all things “out West,” Tombstone, Arizona, included. So once we married and drove down to Bisbee, he wanted to stop, and so we did. On that trip we did the standard stuff—Boot Hill, the Rose Tree, the OK Corral. The problem is, I came away with my needle stuck on the “tourist trap” mentality.
In one of the Joanna Brady books—Outlaw Mountain, I believe—a lot of the action takes place in Tombstone. So we went there again, this time doing research rather than hitting the high spots. We started with the Ed Schefflin monument north of town. Ed was a prospector who wandered the Arizona wilderness looking for gold and silver and hoping to strike it rich. At the time, the Apaches pretty well had a lock on the whole territory. Ed took mineral samples from that neck of the woods and then he and his mule made their way to the nearest assay office to have them evaluated. Something makes me think he walked all the way to Miami, Arizona—a distance of 188 miles. Eventually, Ed filed his mineral claims and he did hit it big. Those original claims were where Tombstone got its start.
On that same research trip, we went to the real cemetery in town as opposed to Boot Hill. Walking among those aging headstones, it was clear that people tended to die in their thirties and forties. Back in the 1880’s, people didn’t go to Arizona to retire because they didn’t live long enough to retire. That was a sobering realization.
On that trip, we had a friend along with us, a guy from Washington. We were trying to explain to him the difference between yucca and agave. In order to do that, we were driving along one of Tombstone’s back streets when we went past a house with a birdbath in the front yard. And what did we see on that birdbath? An EAGLE. No one had a cell phone camera back then because they hadn’t been invented, so we didn’t snap a photo. We stared at the eagle slack-jawed, and he stared right back at us as if to say, “Hey, this is a birdbath. I am a BIRD!”
The tourist trap needle moved downwards after that, but I still didn’t bestir myself from Tucson to go down to Tombstone for Helldorado. Until now.
How did that happen? Last summer, on our Barcelona to Southampton cruise, we met a couple named Cotty and Andrea Peabody. We struck up a conversation while they were out on the deck reading books and I was out doing my steps. In the course of those conversations I learned that Cotty’s grandfather founded St. John’s, Tombstone’s Episcopal Church, which was also the first protestant church established in Arizona.
At the moment, the church has an aging congregation and is tottering towards extinction. Cotty has joined forces with a committee to preserve the church. When he asked if I’d be willing to do an event there to help with their efforts, I said yes. That affirmative answer morphed into my being the official Helldorado Author of 2017.
I’m going. I’ll be doing an event at St. John’s on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be riding in the parade on Sunday followed by another signing that afternoon. Books will be provided by Tucson’s Mostly Books.
I’ll be there wearing my black Stetson from Arizona Hatters.
So get out your own Stetsons and come on down.