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.


16 thoughts on “Helldorado

  1. Enjoy your visit. I have never been to Helldorado Days, although I grew up in Willcox. I hope to see you again at Mesa’s Red Mountain Library book signing! We talked about the correct pronunciation of Bowie the first time we met….

  2. Thanks for all the information…sounds like a fun weekend in Bisbee…makes me wish we would be there…leaving later this month for Arizona.

  3. Earlier this week the old city hall in the warren district of
    Bisbee was pretty much destroyed by fire. May not be salvagable.
    Such a loss!

  4. Hadn’t seen news of the fire in Warren, Loved that old building, like so much in Bisbee,
    I have suffered from the “tourist trap” take on Tombstone, too. Always said, “There’s more REAL history in Bisbee.” But in later years, I have cut Tombstone a bit of slack. Have a great time!

  5. Tombstone has the best “people watching” parade! Seeing folks living the life of their historical fantasies so intrigues us.
    Yes, we Minnesotans do the tourist thing frequently. Dining at the Copper Queen, meeting old hippies on the Bisbee courthouse lawn, being shown the vertigres gate to a mostly hidden mansion just blocks away, checking out the Cochise Co sheriff’s office, indulging in the Sierra Vista Cowboy Poetry & Music event, seeing the Ft. Huachuca AFB….
    Rich in history and folklore, but interest heightened by Joanna Brady. Thank you both.

  6. Love that you will.be honored at Helldorado Days! I have read all of the Joanna Brady books and many others as well. Speaking of your black hat, please stop by the Arizona Ranger museum there. It is just off Main Street. You see, I am one of a few women Arizona Rangers for over 5 years now. I am in the Show Low Company, State Recording Secretary and Assistant State Historian, so as you can see, I love our state history as well. I often work our larger Az Ranger Museum in Nogales, Arizona at the courthouse on Saturdays along with other Rangers including our State Historian, Anita Korhonen. Would love if you would delve into the Az Ranger Territorial History and maybe even pay an homage to us by mentioning us in one of your stories. Feel free to call me and we can arrange a special visit to the museum and chat a bit. Oh, we are celebrating our 60th year as Modern day Arizona Rangers November 18, in Mesa. Hope we can touch base sometime and meanwhile enjoy! Sincerely, Lt. Reba Serrano

    • Wow, what a really great idea and interesting story that you shared. I live in Sierra Vista and go to Tombstone from time to time and never knew about the Arizona Rangers. Thanks for sharing that information. And yes it would be really fun to see if that could show up in one of the Joanna Brady Mysteries.

    • Dan, one of the instructors at the JROTC program at the Tombstone High School, is also a Ranger and my son. When the Tombstone ranger museum was named for my great grandfather, J R Hilburn, I may have met you at the dedication last fall. I think it would be really neat for my “favorite author” to include that history in a book. I hope she gets with you to work on it.

  7. Emmett Kelly had a place in Tombstone as I recall. It has been quite a while. Bisbee also had the tourist trap moniker at that time. Jerome, even FL Wright’s Taleisen. All interesting. More amenities now, I am sure.

  8. Looking forward to the celebration Saturday. The day begins with 10:30 service in the historic building, Bishop Kirk S. Smith presiding, followed by barbecue lunch at noon, book signing at one! and tours and talks in and around the church 1:30-2:30 … come early and park nearby! You are always welcome at St. Paul’s Church: Eucharist ever Sunday at 10:30

  9. Obviously, you need to write a novella set in Tombstone during Helldorado Days, and featuring an eagle. God is sending you a message; or maybe I am. But I do love your novellas, as well as your full length books. By the way, this is coming to you via my MacBookAir which is still doing just fine. Thank you so much for the recommendation, friend.

  10. I agree with your mom. Most of Tombstone is a tourist trap most especially Boot Hill. The tombstones look as if they were planted a few days ago.

  11. Looking forward to meeting you at St Paul’s Episcopal Church 135th Anniversary in Tombstone next week! Thank you for saying “yes” to the Peabody’s.

  12. While you’re in Tombstone, don’t forget to come and watch some of the gunfight shows on Allen Street! Especially keep an eye out for the Goose Flats Gunslingers! We are a COMEDY gunfight group, so you never know WHAT to expect from us! I just hope that our performance times don’t interfere with me getting to the book signing!

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