Tag Archives: Ben Traywick

Listeria – Cattle Towns, Mining Camps and Other Assorted Outposts

14 Feb

True West magazine came out with their list of the “Top 10 True Western Towns of the Year”, and I had to see what they came up with. As it turns out, other lists were included – “True West Towns to Know” and “True West Towns to Watch”. A quick counting brought the total number of towns mentioned to 30.

I decided to weed that list down to those that I have visited. I have no idea what criteria the people at True West used to compile the list, but here is a little information about the places that I know about.

1. Dodge City, Kansas is, in my opinion, the most famous of all the cattle towns. It was the epicenter of a huge industry and the home of real life lawman Wyatt Earp and fictional lawman Matt Dillon. Dodge City is still a player in the cattle industry, but I do not see it as a tourist mecca. Obviously, any lover of the Old West must go there, but they will be disappointed with the fake western town that sits on the main drag. However, the trolley tour is cool.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

2. Durango, Colorado is a cool western town that has held on to its past. Historic buildings, such as the Strater Hotel, line the streets. The famous train from Durango to Silverton starts its journey at one end of town. There are restaurants, bars and a bookstore with all of the great western historians.

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

8. Lincoln, New Mexico is a state monument that looks almost like it did when Billy the Kid was roaming around. There are all kinds of buildings and museums, but the best is the old building from which he made his famous jailbreak. Billy the Kid is the most famous of those who participated in the Lincoln County War, but I find myself more interested in John Chisum and some of the others.

9. Tombstone, Arizona which its economic peak during the 1880s and had its growth stunted when the minerals ran out. That circumstance makes it still have that feel of a frontier town. Of course, that could also be because they ripped up the concrete sidewalks and put down wooden ones. The OK Corral is cool. The Birdcage Theater is cool. However, the coolest thing is talking to Ben Traywick, the town historian.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

10. Lewiston, Idaho is a place that I have never been. However, I must mention it because the Cumberland University baseball team has won two national championships in Lewiston. It is a western town, but it is also a baseball mecca.

There is half of the Top 10, but some interesting towns are on the other lists, as well.

Prescott, Arizona is listed as one of the “True West Towns to Know” and, on the surface, looks like any other regular old town. However, a walk around its square gives you an idea of what it used to be like. The square is huge and is bustling with activity, as people venture into the historic buildings.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

“True West Towns to Watch” lists several places that I have visited.

Juneau, Alaska is the state capital and can only be entered by plane or boat. It is a small place that has a frontier and isolated quality. One of my great memories of Alaska is having a drink with my brother in one of Juneau’s saloons.

Cody, Wyoming is another good western town. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is one of my favorite places to visit. A few years ago they had a traveling exhibit in Nashville, and I was able to take my students.

Checotah, Oklahoma sits on Interstate 40, and, frankly, I have never been in the downtown area. We have only stopped a few times for gas. Most people probably know it as the hometown of Carrie Underwood.

Custer, South Dakota is one of the less famous mining camps in the Black Hills and is overshadowed by Deadwood and Sturgis. However, it is a good place to stop and look around. Also, it is named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, the man who led the gold-finding expedition into the Black Hills.

Bisbee, Arizona sits several miles down the road from Tombstone and is a place that I like better. Its economic boom lasted into the 20th Century, which means it has a more modern look than other mining camps. It also has a great mining museum operated by the Smithsonian Institute.

Those are the places listed by True West that I have visited. It would be interesting to read if any of you have been to these places. What are your thoughts and stories? What other towns have you visited that you think may be or should be on the lists?

From Sports Illustrated to The Old Farmer’s Almanac

24 Dec

This is another one of those nights when I don’t have anything to write about. I thought about an expose on Duck Dynasty and the dangers of turning a real person into a television character, but I have heard enough about that topic. All I know is that I don’t agree with the opinions of most of the people around me.

Last night, my mind was running crazy with ideas to blog about. There was this movie character that I was going to compare to a person in my town. Then, I remembered how many people in my town read the blog. I also thought about writing about our dinner at a local establishment. In fact, that could be a future one.

Heck, I even thought about listing a bunch of stuff that I like. One day, I was driving down the road when I came upon a bridge. Out of the blue, I said, “I like bridges.” The lady who was with me said that I sounded like Forrest Gump. It’s true. I like bridges. That’s just the way it is.

As I sat down at the computer, I considered writing about the emails that we get from students when the semester is over, but I have already written about that. It’s usually over by down, but I am still getting emails about grades on Christmas Eve.

Of course, I could write about my current treadmill book. It is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. No Country for Old Men and The Road have already been scratched off my McCarthy list. They were both made into great movies, and I think this one would make a great movie, too. It would be one of the bloodiest and most realistic Westerns ever made. I am proud to say that McCarthy is a Tennessee guy.

Those are all things that could be written about, but I’m not going to do any of those. Instead, I am going to list some of the things that are on my desk.

There is the latest copy of Sports Illustrated.Sports Illustrated

Next to it is a box of dry erase markers.

A gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond is underneath there somewhere.

My grade book is out for those emails that I have been getting.

There is even a couple of VHS tapes.

There is a tape measure sitting on top of a book called John Henry: The Doc Holliday Story. It was written by Ben Traywick, native of Watertown, Tennessee and official historian of Tombstone, Arizona.

Sunglasses and a stapler are butted up against each other.

Beside them are a couple of lottery tickets that didn’t pay off.

My trusty iPhone is next to my trusty calculator. I know. The phone has a calculator, too. I don’t care because I like the old-fashioned kind.

There is a stack of bills and a newspaper clipping from the Civil War.

A little further away sits the 2014 issue of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.Almanac

If you want to get smarter, then you need to pick up a copy. It’s full of all kinds of great information. For example, November 25, my birthday, is one of the best days to set posts or pour concrete.

That’s the stuff that’s on my desk, and that’s also the reason my wife keeps telling me that I need to clean it.

Walking in the Footsteps of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Some Biosphereans

15 Oct

Necole and I just returned from Tucson, Arizona and the conference of the Western History Association. The conference was informative and will be covered in the next post. This post is about the touristy things that we did while there. Obviously, there are lots of places to see, but our time was limited. Necole had never spent much time in that part of the country, and I wanted to make sure she saw some good stuff. With that in mind, I picked one place that neither one of us had ever seen and another place that I have visited several times. In fact, it’s one of my favorites.

North of Tucson sits a giant scientific experiment called Biosphere 2, which was recently named one of the 50 Wonders of the World. In the 1980s, it was built by a private firm for $150 million as a way to study the environment in a controlled setting. For two years, eight Biosphereans were sealed in the facility to live and study their surroundings. After our tour, I am still not sure what they were trying to accomplish, but they came out alive. More people probably remember Pauly Shore wrecking the place in Bio-Dome than they do the actual experiment.

I have always wanted to see Biosphere 2 and thought it would be something good for us to both see for the first time. We had to walk through a little village that is supposed to be the model for a perfect community. I have no idea why people keep trying to create one of these. People aren’t perfect, and, therefore, communities will never be perfect.

Then, we saw it.Arizona 2013 001

Before we went in, I was afraid that we might run into a Sandman. The crystal in my palm has already turned black, and there was no way I was going to Carousel. My options started to run through my mind. I could look for Farrah Fawcett at the plastic surgeon, or I could run. It turns out that I didn’t have anything to worry about. Instead of a Sandman, we found a tour guide.

He took us through a building with miniaturized versions of different environments. There was a rainforest. There was an ocean. There was a swamp. There was a desert.Arizona 2013 004

After touring the upper world of Biosphere 2, we went into the underworld and saw the guts of the place. Then, we sat the dining table in the living quarters of the Biosphereans. It was a nice place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

It was at some point toward the end of the tour when a German tourist asked about the power source for the structure. The tour guide said that it ran on 2% solar power. Necole said what I was thinking. How can an experiment design to study the environment run on 2% solar power? Shouldn’t they be more environmentally friendly than that? As Necole said, it made the entire thing seem hokey.

The next day, I took Necole to one of my favorite places, Tombstone, Arizona. Known for the Gunfight at the OK Corral, this town has been immortalized in movies, books and television. It’s a good thing because without a gunfight that lasted a few seconds “The Town Too Tough To Die” would be dead. The old mining camp lives off tourist who want to walk in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. I won’t destroy anyone’s opinion of those guys in this post. Instead, I may do it in the next one.

My parents took me to Tombstone when I was a kid, and I have been back several times since. I wanted Necole to see one of the places that made me want to study and teach the history of the West. To do that, we needed to step into the streets of a famous mining camp.Arizona 2013 007

Our first stop, like everyone else, was at the site of the gunfight. Of course, you have to go through a souvenir shop before they will let you in the corral. In truth, that’s not where the gunfight took place. We walked through the corral to a backlot where the action took place. Now, there are cheap animatronic figures representing the combatants. As the narrator describes the fight, they move. However, they don’t fall down when they are shot.Arizona 2013 008

After watching the fake gunfight, which I had explained to Necole before the narrator ever began, we walked down the street. Necole wanted to stop in a jewelry store, and it turned out to be a good thing. That was the place where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday stopped to buy cigars before going toward the corral. Movies make it look like they walked a long way. It was just a block away.

Then, it was on to the highlight of any visit to Tombstone, a meeting with Ben Traywick. We entered his bookstore to find him behind his desk. I introduced myself and introduced him to Necole. Mr. Traywick is the Tombstone historian. He also happens to be from Watertown, a little town in our county where my dad grew up. For the next hour, he told us how he got to Tombstone; talked about the actors who have visited him; talked about people back home; and showed all of the books he had written. I bought too many of them. Mr. Traywick is an interesting person who has lived an interesting life. I wish more people knew to stop in and see him.

We went further down the street to the Birdcage Theater, perhaps the most famous saloon in the West. It served as a theater, a gambling hall, a bar and a brothel. In fact, prostitutes plied their trade in the theater boxes that overlooked the main floor. The boxes looked like birdcages.Arizona 2013 009

If you see anything weird in this picture let me know. The Birdcage is supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in the country.

After the Birdcage, we did like Doc and Wyatt and went to a bar for a drink. I was tempted to order a shot of redeye. Instead, I got a Jack and Coke.