While romanticized in movies, vacationing in the Arizona Territory in the 1800s was actually grueling; after all, it required a dusty stagecoach ride, dingy saloons and questionable boarding houses. Today, that Wild West vacation is altogether different.
Sierra Vista has a deep-rooted history in the Old and Wild West – you can gain insight into those challenging times at the city’s attractions.
For dinner out, you won’t need to rely on hardtack and beans since Sierra Vista has many of the best restaurants in Southeastern Arizona, with 70 restaurants featuring steakhouse, German, Italian, Vietnamese and Mexican cuisines and more.
And your lodging won’t be questionable either. You can choose from one of the 1,600 hotel, motel or bed & breakfast rooms to suit even the most discriminating tastes.
Download the Sierra Vista Visitor Center’s audio CD “How the West Was Fun,” narrated by Rex Allen.
The mid to late 1800s were challenging times in the Arizona Territory.
The settlers ranged from ranchers, cowboys and miners to an assortment of drifters and gunslingers. This was also the land of the Chiricahua Apache – Chief Cochise and warrior Geronimo fostered conflict and strife for decades.
The Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s and the continuing raids on settlers by Geronimo and his band of Apache and the US Army’s inability to capture him led to the establishment of Fort Huachuca in 1877.
Sierra Vista, although not so named at the time, was central to the Wild West because of the establishment of this military outpost in the Huachuca Mountains.
Fort Huachuca’s most celebrated soldiers are the Buffalo Soldiers, stationed on the post in 1885. Twelve companies of the 10th Cavalry (696 black enlisted men and 38 white officers) mustered at the post in an attempt to quell the raids by Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache.
After three decades of evading the military forces of both Mexico and the United States, Geronimo surrendered in late 1886 in Skeleton Canyon, about 90 miles east of Sierra Vista.
Due to its historical importance, Fort Huachuca was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Old West Attractions
Learn about the turbulent times of the 1800s at the Fort Huachuca Museum and the Old Post Cemetery.
The museum tells the story of the US Army in the Southwest through exhibits about the early days at the post, the black army regiments known as the Buffalo Soldiers and the Native American conflicts.
The Old Post Cemetery, the historic memorial grounds of Fort Huachuca, is a tableau of tales of the generations of Southeastern Arizona Territory families. There are graves of Apache Scouts; a US Navy Seaman, buried so far from an ocean; and a single stone marked “The Unknowns.”
Another historic cemetery, the Fry Pioneer Cemetery in Sierra Vista, was placed on the National Historic Registry in 2010 – a major achievement since few Arizona cemeteries are granted this status due to the great number of pioneer cemeteries in the state.
Should your visit coincide with a performance by Fort Huachuca’s B Troop, 4th US Cavalry Unit (Memorial), don’t miss it.
You’ll thrill as the B Troop, in historically correct uniforms and equipment, performs the saber charge and the intricate serpentine weaving of the drill movement called “counter column.” They perform at several Sierra Vista events throughout the year.
Fairbank, a historical site managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is located near the San Pedro River, and is often mentioned along with the words “ghost town.”
During the 1800s, Fairbank was quite large and prosperous, and the Great Fairbank Train Robbery further catapulted Fairbank into the history books.
The restored schoolhouse, now a gift shop and railroad museum, is open Friday through Sunday.
Festivals and Entertainment
Sierra Vista celebrates its Old West history with entertainment and historic tours.
Every February, for three days, the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering takes center stage. The Gathering has been nationally acclaimed and honored with awards, such as the first “Arizona Treasure” designation by former Governor Janet Napolitano.
Now in its 19th year, the gathering recalls traditional Western heritage through song and poetry, and is enjoyed by nearly 5,000 attendees at the headline performances and free jam sessions.
The intimate 50-seat Arizona Folklore Preserve never fails to delight its guests with performances by musicians, singers and storytellers.
Located in beautiful, forested Ramsey Canyon, it was founded to preserve Arizona’s heritage and culture. The founder, Dolan Ellis, or a guest artist performs on weekends.
The Buffalo Soldiers are legendary and part of Sierra Vista’s and Fort Huachuca’s history. On the third Saturday of each month an escorted tour of these brave soldiers’ historical sites is available by reservation through the Sierra Vista Visitor Center at 800-288-3861.
Note: Tour participants must be United States citizens, and valid and current photo identification is required for all over the age of 13.
A Taste of the Old West
Daisy Mae’s Stronghold is one of Sierra Vista’s great steakhouses that also boasts a colorful past.
It opened as a Territorial trading post and then became the local US Post Office, a general store and even a stagecoach stop. As the 19th century drew to a close, and the ranks of Fort Huachuca soldiers burgeoned, Daisy Mae’s reinvented itself into a brothel.
Today, Daisy Mae’s Stronghold offers its clientele service of a very different type. Mesquite-grilled dinners are served in the ‘bedrooms’ including “Charlie’s Room,” reportedly haunted by the apparition of a gentleman patron who died during a knife fight over one of the establishment’s more popular ladies.
Another celebrated steakhouse is the Mesquite Tree Restaurant. Tucked under the branches of a massive, several-hundred-year-old mesquite tree, the restaurant also boasts a haunted past, with purported sightings of the ghost of Mr. Fletcher, the original owner.
Fletcher’s Roundup, a bar and gambling hall frequented by local ranchers and cowboys, was built in the mid-1800s. A renowned gambler and womanizer, Mr. Fletcher was rumored to have been shot in his own honky-tonk establishment. Fletcher’s Roundup, by turns, became a brothel and an exotic dance hall.
(Brought to you by Sierra Vista Visitor Center.)