The Old West Comes Alive In Arizona

One thing is for certain in Arizona—the West is still alive and well in these parts! To this day, the state pays homage to its Western roots.

Prior to statehood in 1912, the Arizona Territory was home to some of the most feared outlaws and respected lawmen who walked the streets, from Bisbee’s Brewery Gulch to Prescott’s Whiskey Row. During its heyday as a tough mining town, the New York Times called Tombstone’s Birdcage Theater, “the wildest, roughest, wickedest honky-tonk between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast,” while the New York Sun labeled Jerome the “wickedest town in the West.”

Across the state, the Old West comes lives in Arizona. You can experience more than an echo of Arizona’s sand-colored, Southwestern version of the era of cowboys, Indians, cattle drives, and gunfights at locations statewide.

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

This tiny community on Historic Route 66 is the lone survivor and a reminder of Mohave County’s gold-mining boom, which lasted until the mid-1930s. The town now has about 150 residents and is barely four blocks long, but its Old West charm and laid-back attitude attract thousands of visitors each year.

The town, founded in about 1906, is tucked in the rugged Black Mountains. At its height in the late 1920s, Oatman had about 10,000 residents, mostly miners. In 1939 Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their wedding night here.

During the winter high season, weekend tourists watch staged gunfights along Main Street and feed the wild burros that frequent the town looking for handouts.

Jerome State Historic Park with the red rocks of Sedona as a backdrop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park with the red rocks of Sedona as a backdrop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park

The mansion at Jerome State Historic Park doesn’t just tell the story of its famous occupant, mining magnate James Stuart Douglas. It also tells the story of the boomtown that his mine created, how everything evaporated so quickly, and how the city found new life again.

When the mansion was built in 1916, it seemed a testament to the mine owner’s good fortune. By the 1960s, it sat abandoned and unwanted. The state acquired it and turned it into a state park.

Douglas celebrated his success by building a mansion with adobe made on-site. It encompasses 8,700 square feet and cost $150,000. It has a billiard room, wine cellar, and central vacuum system. Rooms are filled with memorabilia and artifacts from Jerome’s mining heyday. There are high-school yearbooks, which contrast with the more adult nature of some activities for which the town was notorious. The kitchen features samples of items that would have been sold in the general store.

The 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, constructed of white granite and ringed by towering pines, is the centerpiece of Courthouse Plaza. Whiskey Row, makes up the square's western edge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, constructed of white granite and ringed by towering pines, is the centerpiece of Courthouse Plaza. Whiskey Row, makes up the square’s western edge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey Row

The heart of Prescott is bustling Courthouse Square, where the Old West’s architecture and feisty spirit are still intact. The 100 block of South Montezuma Street, better known as Whiskey Row, makes up the square’s western edge. Most of the buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1905, after a massive fire leveled the original block. The saloons and surrounding businesses were reconstructed of stone and brick, which has immortalized the town’s historical charm.

In the early days, cowboys, miners, gamblers, and brawlers who put the “wild” in Wild West reigned over the cluster of rustic saloons. Today the debauchery has dwindled, yet the Row remains Prescott’s primary hub for activity, day and night.

Old Tucson is a movie studio and theme park just west of Tucson and close to the western portion of Saguaro National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Tucson is a movie studio and theme park just west of Tucson and close to the western portion of Saguaro National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Tucson Studios

Old Tucson Studios is a theme park and movie studio built in 1939 and used for more than 300 film and TV productions. Old Tucson features skits, gunfights, gold panning, and a ride through a haunted mine. Visitors get a glimpse of colorful characters roaming the boardwalks, including saloon girls and mustachioed gunfighters.

The attraction was voted the Best Western Movie Set by True West magazine. Some of the television shows and films that used the studio as a background include Little House on the Prairie, Tombstone, Gunsmoke, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne

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