Tucson, Trainyards, and Festival Tents

Tucson, Trainyards, and Festival Tents

Photo by Steve Nguyen / The Daily Wildcat

Tucson, Arizona, is a small city with a big blue sky and wonderful warm temperatures when the rest of the country is still shivering from a too-long winter.  So we were glad to get away from chilly Atlanta in March to sunny Arizona and the Tucson Festival of Books, an annual celebration of all things literary, with author speakers and signers and over 100,000 eager readers.

Historic Train Depot, Tucson

Historic Train Depot, Tucson

Tucson is also the place where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday left their days as lawmen and became outlaws.  They had come to Tucson honestly enough, escorting Virgil Earp and wife to the California-bound train after the murder of Morgan Earp by the cowboys in Tombstone.  Virgil had been attacked a few months earlier and was still recovering from a crippling gunshot wound; now it was clear that Arizona was too dangerous for the Earps, and Virgil would need to do his recuperating elsewhere.  Was it only a coincidence that Frank Stilwell, one of the suspects in Morgan’s murder, was at the train station, too, skulking around the tracks?  Wyatt Earp didn’t wait to find out.  According to some stories, Wyatt put a shotgun to Frank’s belly and blew him to hell.  The coroner’s report on the body of Frank Stillwell, found the next morning along the railroad tracks, doesn’t support that single-shooter scenario, placing the blame on an assassination-style attack by several assailants, including Doc Holliday.  According to witnesses, they had “never seen a man so shot up.”

Doc & Wyatt Monument

Doc & Wyatt Monument

Although Frank Stillwell surely deserved punishment, being a known stage robber and suspected murderer, Wyatt and Doc weren’t commissioned to act as judge, jury, and executioners.  By the end of the month they had fled the Arizona Territory as wanted men, after disposing of more of Morgan’s suspected killers.  But Frank Stillwell stayed in Tucson, where some say his unhappy ghost still haunts the old trainyard.

My own trainyard story had a happier ending, visiting Tucson’s Historic Train Depot Museum and taking a tour of the antique steam engine out on the tracks.  The museum has interactive displays of the history of railroading in southern Arizona – but not a mention of the trainyard shooting that made Doc and Wyatt wanted men.  Their memorial is outside, a life-size bronze statue of two armed men keeping watch over the tracks.

Festival crowds

Festival crowds

But it was the Tucson Festival of Books that had brought me to Arizona, one of the largest book events in the country and deservedly growing every year.  The festival is held on the beautiful campus of the University of Arizona, the grassy central mall lined with canopied tents and open-air entertainments.

Signing in the Author Pavilion

Signing in the Author Pavilion

It was fun visiting with fellow Western Writers of America authors Johnny D. Boggs, Candy Moulton, and Sherry Monahan (check out Sherry’s fascinating new bio Mrs. Earp), and chatting with the editors of True West magazine – watch for my writing to be featured in upcoming issues.  The highlight of my author-hopping, however, was meeting the famous Larry McMurtry, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove series.

Chatting with the great Larry McMurtry

Chatting with the great Larry McMurtry

He was there to discuss how books become movies, and I was excited to ask him about his newest release, an imaginary story of Wyatt and Doc called The Last Kind Words Saloon.  But his own words to me took me completely by surprise, when he said, “I’ve heard of you!”  Hope what he heard was true – or good, at least!

Tucson landmark El Charro Café

Tucson landmark El Charro Café

And after a great book festival, sharing stories of history, what better ending than dinner at a legendary restaurant located in a historic 1800’s home?

El Charro Café, the nation’s oldest continuously family owned Mexican restaurant, is decked out in authentic Southwestern decor and serves great Sonoran-style food — and is the home of the very first Chimichanga.  Isn’t history delicious?

Fun Links

El Charro Café
Tuscon Historic Depot
Does Frank Stilwell Haunt the Southern Arizona Train Museum?
Tuscon Festival of Books
True West Magazine