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Volume 7062

DUM-DUM 2019: WILLCOX, ARIZONA
4. EXPLORING WILLCOX

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Willcox Chamber of Commerce

Roughly 45 miles west of the New Mexico border, Willcox has a population of about 3700. The town was originally established as a whistlestop along the Southern Pacific Railroad, but has been reinvented several times since then. The large old railroad depot now houses Willcox Town Hall. The town was meant to be a main centre along the Southern-Pacific but once it was realized that the town was unknowingly built in the middle of a flood plain, the depot was abandoned and the main stop moved to Bisbee.

At one time Willcox was the largest beef-producing town in America, giving it the nickname the Cattle Capital of the West. Currently, Willcox is in an up-and-coming wine region, which grows 74% of Arizona's wine grapes. There are over a dozen wineries in the area, many with tasting rooms. Seventeen miles north of Willcox on what was once the York ranch, there are now miles of apple orchards and pistachio groves.

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 travelled half a million miles with Rex.

Willcox is the birthplace of "The Arizona Cowboy" Rex Allen, who wrote and recorded many songs and starred in several Westerns during the early 1950s. Later he was in the syndicated television series Frontier Doctor (19581959) and he narrated countless Walt Disney nature programs. A downtown must-stop is the Rex Allen Museum just across the street from the large bronze statue of the "last of the singing cowboys" in Historic Railroad Avenue Park. 

As a boy, Allen performed in a barber shop on the street where today stands the Museum. The museum itself is in the old Schley Saloon building. Every year the town still celebrates him with what they call Rex Allen Days in the first full weekend in October. The high school also plans its homecoming at the same time.

I was a fan of his movies, comics and songs back in the '50s. A friend of ours, radio personality Lorne Ball, emceed a show in Winnipeg featuring Rex and other country stars in the early '60s. Rex had lent him one of his western-style dress suits for the show. A few days after that show Lorne worked with us at the Morris Stampede and he wore the same dapper suit . . . he and Rex had lost contact after Winnipeg show and Lorne hadn't had a chance to return it to him yet.

Associated with the Rex Allen Museum is the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame which features portraits of old-time cowboys who worked in the ranch industry in the area.

A few doors down is the museum for another famous Arizona singer and actor, Marty Robbins, although he was from Glendale. This museum was moved here from West Phoenix where it was crowded out by busy freeway overpasses. I had been a fan of Marty since seeing him in the Country Show series on TV back in the '50s. When he performed in a small town near our hometown in the early '60s his lead guitar player was sick and Mary played lead and piano during his whole show. Much of the time he played guitar, sang and chatted and joked with us while he sat informally on the edge of the stage. Needless to say I never strayed far from that stage apron. 

Around this time I was a regular listener to Ralph Emery's all-night show on WSM radio out of Nashville. Marty often appeared on this show where he took song requests -- backing himself on guitar and piano. I stayed up most of the night taping these shows on my new reel-to-reel tape recorder. Years later, Sue-On and I saw him a number of times on the Grand Ole Opry at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. He always came on near the end of the Opry broadcast after racing his stock car over at the raceway. And he always ran overtime past midnight to the mild frustration of the folks at the nearby Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Each Saturday they moved the record displays back against the walls to make room for a SRO crowd that gathered for their live midnight radio broadcast.

Another country music star, Tanya Tucker, spent her early childhood in Willcox. We've never met her but Sue-On has performed many of her songs over the years - Delta Dawn, etc.

Apache Leaders Cochise and Geronimo are from here and gunslingers Warren Earp & Johnny Ringo are buried here at the Willcox Historic Pioneer Cemetery.

Much of the 1993 movie Red Rock West starring Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, J. T. Walsh and Dennis Hopper was filmed in and around Willcox. A short film documentary called "Lonesome Willcox" released in 2018 documented the town and in particular, its country music radio station KHIL. Other town events are "Wings over Willcox" in January and the popular 4th of July fireworks display.

The Historic Willcox RR Station where Burroughs arrived on a train from Chicago.
Coming into the station are a series of photos of a much more modern train than ERB came in on.
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WILLCOX PIONEER CEMETERY
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Sue-On and fellow ERB fans explore the unique pioneer cemetery
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The Warren Earp monument with three "Bills": Hillman, Ross and Frank William Puncer.
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INTRO and CONTENTS

ERBzine 7059
Willcox: Intro/Contents
ERBzine 7060
2. Goodie Bag
ERBzine 7061
3. Journey and Arrival
ERBzine 7062
4. Exploring Willcox
ERBzine 7063
5. Huckster Room 
ERBzine 7064
6. Presentations
ERBzine 7065
7. Exploring Willcox II
ERBzine 7066
8. Fort Grant I
ERBzine 7067
9. Fort Grant II
ERBzine 7068
10. Fort Grant III
ERBzine 7069
11. Wind Up
ERBzine 7070: 
12. Rex Allen Museum
ERBzine 7071: 
13. Marty Robbins Museum
ERBzine 7072: 
14. Chiricahua Museum
ERBzine 7073
15. Billy the Kid
ERBzine 7081
16. Willcox History I
ERBzine 7082
17. Willcox History II
ERBzine 7083
18. Willcox History III
ERBzine 7084
19. Meet Kathy Klump
ERBzine 3469
20. ERB at Fort Grant
ERBzine Arizona
ERB in Wild West

More pages will be featured in the coming weeks


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