They’ve heard enough about 19th-century
Indian uprisings, outlaws and shootouts to know that there once
was an untamed Old West, but I wanted to show them the actual
remnants and symbols of our country’s long-gone Wild West.
That’s how Alyssa, Samantha, Andrew and I ended up on the road
(It was easy. They live in Phoenix
and I was visiting them.)
the Wild West of the past is still present. In the
1870s-1880s, this capital of the ArizonaTerritory
had its share of lawlessness. To prove it, we headed for
old train depot to see the verdigris statues of Wyatt Earp
and Doc Holliday poised with guns in their hands.
at the depot
My grandkids were wide-eyed when
I told them that in 1882, outlaw Frank Stilwell killed
Earp’s brother Morgan and hid in wait at the train depot,
where he planned to kill soon-arriving Wyatt. Forewarned,
Wyatt Earp shot Stilwell dead on the train tracks.
Statues of Wyatt Earp and
Now, instead of a dead body,
historic Locomotive #1673 rests on the tracks. Built by the
Southern Pacific Railroad in 1901, this coal burner-turned
oil burner was the first train to come to Tucson,
and it hauled people and freight in and out, bringing
civilization and growth to the city.
The Wild West is best captured at
Old Tucson, a mini-theme park that’s a mammoth outdoor stage
set. A tram transports visitors around the Town Square,
cantina, saloon with live Can-Can girls, etc. TV and movie
Westerns have been filmed here since the 1940s. That
includes “Little House on the Prairie,” “Bonanza,”
“Maverick,” “Gunsmoke” and movies starring John Wayne, Burt
Lancaster, Clint Eastwood, etc.
and Samantha panning for gold at Old Tucson
My grandkids and I laughed during
the humorous cowboy stunt show; we locked ourselves inside
the old jail and posed for pictures, and we panned for gold.
Seeing the costumes and old posters reminded me of all the
Westerns I had watched at Saturday movie matinees during my
childhood. Pure nostalgia!
Andrew and grandma in Old
Every Old West town had a
church, but as an offbeat tourist attraction, Mission San
Xavier del Bac, a Moorish-inspired, Baroque Spanish Catholic
church dating to 1783, is spectacular, thanks to intricate
interior carvings, frescoes, paintings and statuary. The
still-active mission is on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier
(It is the image
in the header.)
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Museum of the Horse Soldier is a compact niche museum
commemorating the United States
horse cavalry and dragoon units from the Civil War onward. A
display of uniforms, a rare McClellan saddle, and other
items tell the story of the trusted relationship between
horse and soldier.
The museum is part of
an outdoor shopping center called
TrailDustTown, which is actually the remnants
of an abandoned set from a Glenn Ford western that never
completed filming. The “town” features a Ferris wheel,
mini-train ride for kids, shooting gallery, nightly
slapstick Western stunt show and a 1920s carousel.
Museum of the Horse Soldier
Alyssa and I learned
an interesting fact about Wyatt Earp when we made a brief
stop at an offbeat but insightful little museum, the Jewish
History Museum, which preserves and exhibits the Jewish
heritage of the American Southwest. The museum was
formerly Temple Emanu-El Synagogue (1910-1949), the first
Jewish house of worship in the
What we learned is
that Wyatt Earp’s ashes are buried in a Jewish cemetery next
to his third wife, Josephine (“Sadie”) Marcus. The
Brooklyn-born daughter of Jewish immigrants, Josephine
sought adventure out west and met Wyatt while she toured
with a stage troupe. Together for forty years, they lived a
whirlwind life in
Through its artifacts,
photos and displays, the Jewish History Museum unfolds the
stories of Arizona’s early Jewish settlers, including
Senator Barry Goldwater’s grandfather, “Big Mike”
Goldwasser, who opened mercantile shops throughout the
state, and singer Linda Ronstadt’s great-grandfather,
Alexander Levin, who owned a local brewery and who married a
well-educated Spanish senorita.
There is history of a
different kind in
Tucson. At on the third Wednesday of every month, a bell
rings in memoriam inside the brick clock tower of the
Student Union on
stands for December
7, 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,”
the date that the
U.S.S Arizona was attacked and sank in
Pearl Harbor. The bell was salvaged from the ship.
The salvaged USS Arizona bell in the
Student Union clocktower at University of Arizona in
I refused to leave
Tucson without seeing this hallowed
bell. I used my camera to zoom in on the visible part of the
bell, but I wished I could have heard it ring. And I thought
about all the brave men for whom the bell tolls.
Tucson’s most beguiling museum
deserves mention because it is enchanting for visitors of
all ages. It is the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures,
displaying 275 miniature houses and room boxes divided into
three areas: the Enchanted Realm, the History Gallery and
Exploring the World.
The snow village beneath the glass floor at the Mini
Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
I fell into
conversation with a Tucson
resident, Jane Kaskel, who was making her first visit to the
museum. Her expression, like mine, was one of awe.
Visitor Jane Kaskel enchanted by the Irish Fairy
“This is enchanting.
Look at all the exquisite details,” she exclaimed. “I have
to bring my grandchildren here.”
The museum collection
includes a recreation of a French chateau; a “Charlie’s
Angels” room with three tiny dolls representing Sabrina,
Jill and Kelly; a castle; and a central “tree” with a
Tinkerbell-like sprite that flits through the branches. A
glass-enclosed mouse family’s bedroom is embedded in the
tree trunk. But the most wondrous sight was the expansive
glass-covered snow village visible through the museum’s
For multi-generational travelers,
is a wonderful way to “see” the Wild, Wild West.
Want more information?
Contact Metropolitan Tucson
Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 638-8350;