Never name a cow you plan to eat. Speak your mind, but ride a fast horse. Don’t squat with your spurs on. These are just a few bits of advice from the Wild West—still an integral part of Cochise County.
That’s right. In the “Land of Legends,” the breeze still kicks up dust from the Sonoran Desert, gusting through 6,200 square miles of mesquite and agave, cottonwoods and fir trees. The clouds roll over roughly 1,100 farms and ranches, and the sun shines on 57,000 head of cattle and the occasional coatimundi. It may not be as wild, but it’s still the west, and the rules still apply!
When the going gets tough, ‘Cowboy Up’
Cowboy up. What does that mean exactly? Perhaps John Wayne said it best, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Fans of “The Duke” can stay in the John Wayne room at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, where Wayne himself stayed quite a few times, going so far as to have custom furniture made for the room, which is now displayed in the bar. Or you can play cards on his card table and chairs in the second-floor foyer.
The Copper Queen Hotel has several rooms dedicated to other notable visitors, including Lily Langtry—a British-American socialite, actress and producer—and President Teddy Roosevelt.
On the left: The Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee (Credit: Cochise County) // On the right: A reenactor in Tombstone greets guests to the town. (Credit: Sean Yeterian)
Cowboys behind the badge
Cochise County is famous for lawmen: those who walked the untamed streets and those who portrayed them in the movies. Cattle rancher and Cochise County sheriff “Texas John” Slaughter (1841–1922) was one of the Southwest’s most beloved characters and most feared lawmen. At the Slaughter Ranch Museum, just outside of Douglas, you can see what life was like during his time. Various buildings, including the old adobe ranch house, were painstakingly restored in the 1980s and have been maintained since. (Tip: Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the one-acre pond and many shade trees.)
Northwest of Douglas lies Tombstone: the “Town Too Tough to Die” and home to lawman Wyatt Earp and the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Tombstone, a former rough and tumble silver-mining town, entertains visitors with reenactments and celebrations like Wyatt Earp Days (May 26–28 in 2018). Mark your calendar for June 30 and July 1, 2018, for the 25th reunion of the movie Tombstone.
Where cowboys are king
Head further northwest from Tombstone to visit the old Willcox Cemetery, where you’ll find the grave of Warren Earp, brother of Wyatt. You’ll also be able to explore the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Rex Allen Museum. Each October, during Rex Allen Days, Willcox celebrates the life of “The Arizona Cowboy,” with a rodeo, a parade, concerts and tractor pulls.
A famous Western singer, Rex Allen was also a real cowboy who became the last of the singing cowboys of Western movie fame. Throw on your cowboy boots for an adventure into Allen’s hometown.
Cowboys taking on the Wild West
John Butterfield tackled the communication hardships of the West by forming his Butterfield Overland Stage Company in 1857. The Stage negotiated treacherous Indian territories, carrying passengers and mail from the East to the West. Although it was only in business for two years, the Stage carried important news from relatives to the pioneers of the Western frontier twice a week.
Each October, the city of Benson recreates a Pony Express ride to honor its heritage and celebrates with the Butterfield Overland Stage Days, which includes a rodeo, a parade and many family-friendly events.
Where the cowboys once roamed
What would the West be without a ghost town or two? The 19th century saw hundreds of towns spring up across the West, many of which became abandoned when resources dried up. Today, most are just floors and some walls. Echoes of the booming West can still be heard in the ghost towns of Fairbank and Gleeson, where historic buildings have been restored.
Buildings line the former main street in Fairbank / Credit: Cochise County
Fairbank was built along the San Pedro River as a transport hub and supply depot close to Tombstone and the Copper Queen mine. Travelers can stop by the former schoolhouse, which was restored as a visitor center and bookstore. Only 25 miles east, Gleeson was a prosperous copper mining town from 1909 to the 1930s. The owners of its restored jailhouse hold monthly open-house events for visitors.
Fort Huachuca’s own version of cowboy life
At one time or another, starting in 1892, Fort Huachuca housed every regiment of the original Buffalo Soldiers – and its own 10th Cavalry is thought to be the first regiment to earn the name. History holds that the American Indian tribes they fought compared the Calvary’s fighting to that of the mighty buffalo. The Fort Huachuca Historical Museum tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers alongside the history of the U.S. Army in the Southwest and its conflicts with American Indians during the early days at the post.
Sonora’s cowboy influence
Sonora, Mexico, is a stone’s throw south of Cochise County. So, it’s no wonder that rich Mexican heritage is a huge part of border communities such as Douglas. These Sonoran roots are reflected in the buildings, art and culture of the people.
Mexican cowboy traditions are deeply entrenched in the ranches of southern Arizona today. Celebrate the way of life shaped by the Land of Legends at SonoraFest on June 16–17, 2018, in Sierra Vista.
Ride, cowboy, ride
More than a century after achieving statehood, the Sweetheart State still romanticizes the cowboy life. And who can blame it? While bumpy stagecoaches and seedy saloons played their part, the cowboy did get to ride off into an amazing sunset. However, vacationing in the Land of Legends today is a whole different horse.
With guest ranches and hotels with pools, microbreweries and wine tasting rooms, and plenty of paved or graded roads leading to your next adventure, Cochise County invites you to saddle up. Plan your legendary visit at ExploreCochise.com.
Brought to you by the Cochise County Tourism Council, (520) 432-9215, ExploreCochise.com.