Western Characters

During the Depression in the mid-thirties there were all kinds of money-making schemes being offered by promoters. One that cost some Tucson business and professional men a considerable amount of money was the work of a little mousy, gray-haired woman. She raised over $200,000 from some of Tucson's supposedly smartest men, who invested in her project to recover several million dollars in gold bars, hidden in a cave in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. The bars had been secreted away by the Spaniards a century or more before. The cave was lost for many years, but she had found it, she claimed, and its entrance was blocked by several tons of rock left by a large rock slide.

She milked some of her clients over a period of two or three years, showing them pictures of the rock slide, which depicted much of it removed. New slides, however, showed the rock slide was increased again. She claimed that she had recovered some of the bars and placed them in another cave which also was blocked by rock slides. She showed pictures of the worst looking swayback horse anyone had ever seen, claiming that the horse had become swayback from carrying the heavy gold bars from the first cave to the other one.

Someone finally blew the whistle on her, and she was tried and found guilty. Some very prominent doctors and businessmen were called as witnesses. She served time at Florence, but when she got out, she moved into the home of one of her former clients who still was not convinced she was a crook. Several others on her list of suckers helped support her for a year or so while she lived here. She finally moved away, but what a super saleslady that old lady was!

One summer three couples, the Harold Tovreas, the Mike Casteels and the Dr. Holly Trimbles, joined us on a trip to the White Mountains of Arizona for a long weekend of fishing, drinking and the playing of pitch, a very popular card game in the West.

"Doc" Trimble never got over a half-block from the lodge where we stayed, but late one afternoon he decided to try his luck at fishing. He took some worms and started to fish off a bridge nearby. While trying to put a worm on his hook, the hook ended-up deeply imbedded in his forefinger. Mike Casteel said the worm outfought Trim and shoved the hook in him instead of vice versa as Trim planned.

Anyway, we could not get the hook out, and the owner of the lodge suggested we take him to a nearby CCC camp where there was a doctor. The four of us drove over to the camp where we found an old, country doctor in a small frame-building. He looked at the patient and his fishhook. He said he would have to push the hook through his finger, cut off the barb and pull it back out.

He told his male attendant to get the whiskey bottle off the shelf and pour a healthy drink into a water glass. Trim brightened up at the thought of his getting a big drink of booze. Much to our delight and Trim's disgust, the doctor took the glass, put it to his own lips and drained the whiskey from the glass. He performed the task he had described, and we took the patient back to give him a drink of our own booze.

One afternoon the girls got into the martini patch while we were out trying to catch our dinner. When we got back, one of the ladies was in need of fresh air and a walk. We took her down to the stream in front of the lodge. The stream was about six feet-wide and a foot deep where we sat her on a rock with her feet in the cold water in an effort to reduce the effects of the excess alcohol. There was a white tent a few feet away from where we were sitting. She suddenly looked up, saw the white canvas and excitedly said, "Say, we better get out of here -- here comes a sailboat!

On Sunday, our last day at the lodge, the couple who ran it promised us a chicken dinner, the fowls to come from their chicken yard. On Sunday morning the husband, who was supposed to kill and pluck the chickens for his wife to cook, got loaded very early.

She told him to kill three or four chickens and get them ready for her to cook. In his drunken condition he thought it would be easier if he were to shoot the chickens rather than behead them. He felt he was too drunk to run them down but not too drunk to hit them with a six-shooter, which he fired several times at the fowl without hitting a one. The rocks were flying and the ricocheting bullets were whining. It was a wonder one of us didn't get shot. Shooting chickens with a six-shooter is not the way to kill chickens, we learned that Sunday. If he had hit one, only feathers would have been left.

Another of Tucson's colorful characters was the late Jake Meyers. A real man's man, he had starred as a football player at the U. of A. He later became the truant officer for the Tucson schools and got to know just about everyone in town.

Jake could entertain by the hour with his stories and his guitar. Although he was as tough as nails, he never caused any problems; in fact, he was more of a problem-solver, often stepping into touchy situations to avoid fisticuffs.

Jake was appointed U.S. Marshal for Arizona and served for many years in that capacity. Once, while transporting two very rough prisoners who were to be charged with a couple of murders when they were returned to Tucson, one of the tough guys began taunting Jake, who was sitting in the front seat. The prisoners were locked in back and were talking through the wire mesh. One of them said, "Mister sheriff, what would you do if I started to run? Would you really have the guts to shoot me?" He kept this up until finally Jake told the driver to stop the car. He pressed the button which made it possible for the prisoners to open the back doors.

Jake told them, "You wonder if I have guts enough to shoot you, is that right? Well, the door is unlocked, get out and start running. Then you'll find out if I will shoot you or not. Go ahead, open the door and try me out!"

The prisoners shut up, and for the rest of the trip they taunted Jake no more.

Arizona's football program was at its all-time peak during the thirties under the direction of G. A. "Tex" Oliver, the Wildcats' coach for five seasons. For years the Wildcats had been struggling against inferior teams just to have "break even" seasons. But "Tex" was a great recruiter, bringing in outstanding kids from California where he was well known. Under "Tex," the Wildcats won more than their share of games.

The schedules were toughened to include Midwestern universities. At the end of one season, the Wildcats were scheduled to play the University of Kansas in the last game of the year. The week before the game with us, Kansas had played and tied Minnesota when they were the scourge of the Big Ten. Fred Enke, scout for the Wildcats, was supposed to see that game and prepare a scouting report for "Tex" to use in preparing his defenses against the Kansas Jayhawks. Unfortunately, Fred's plane was grounded, and he didn't get to see the game. "Tex" knew a little about the next opponent but was pretty much in the dark about their passing game.

This was while I was at the Fox Theatre. On Tuesday the newsreel we received contained a film report on the Minnesota-Kansas game. I called "Tex" that evening and invited him down to see it. After seeing how Kansas scored their touchdowns in the film, "Tex" asked if we would show it for him after the last show. We ran it a couple of times, and then he said he'd surely like to borrow the film so he could study it more carefully.

I had the projectionist cut the strip on the game, out of the newsreel, and gave it to "Tex." He took it with him, and the next day he just about wore out the film, running it over and over again trying to see each player's assignment on each play shown. Needless to say, Arizona won that game 9 to 7, and "Tex" credited the film report with making the win possible.

During the time "Tex" was building Arizona's football program, the student body officers decided to establish Arizona's first group of girl cheerleaders and a "pep squad" of girls clad in shorts and sweaters of the school's colors. The story was told that one of the girls from El Paso wrote home and asked her dad to send $10 for the cost of a pair of "pep pants. " He sent her $20 and instructed her to send a pair of "pep pants" home for her mother also.

George Butler was the city manager of Tucson during the late thirties and was a very amusing guy. He always spoke of Mrs. Butler as "Mother." She was a very domineering type of woman and kept a tight rein on George, who liked to get loose once in a while and have a little fun. "Mother" hated the hot weather, and, as soon as the nights got hot, she would go away for the summer to the Coast. Early in June before the nights generally got warm, George would sneak down into the basement and start a fire in the furnace so that "Mother" would be nice and hot, encouraging her to leave a little earlier than originally planned.

Back in the early twenties, and for most of the time after Arizona became a state, we had a man who was almost a fixture in the governor's office. George W. P. Hunt, a Democrat from Globe, Arizona, was almost impossible to beat. He was elected to seven terms before he finally retired.

Once when the Republicans did knock him out of office, about 1922, Arizona's Republican Senator Ralph Cameron went to the State Department and asked that George Hunt be made an ambassador and sent out of the country. The Republicans wanted to get rid of him for once and all.

When the man at the State Department asked where the senator wanted Hunt sent, the senator walked over to a large globe of the world, but one finger on Arizona, reached around to the other side of the globe and put the index finger of his other hand on the other side of the world. Then he slowly turned the globe and learned that his finger was on Siam, known now as Thailand. Ex-Governor George W. P. Hunt was appointed ambassador to Siam, where he served for two years, returning afterwards to Arizona to be elected again, even though he had been sent to the other side of the world by his political opponents.

With the passing of time, many customs Tucson inherited from its Spanish and Mexican heritage disappeared from the scene. One of these, and perhaps one of the most enduring, was the evening serenade that lovers would bestow upon sweethearts, or that romanticists would use to entertain their friends. It was quite common, when we lived close to the Elysian Grove, to be awakened in the middle of the night by strains of lovely music, played by musicians who worked for my dad at his amusement park.

Many of the musicians who played in night clubs in Tucson for many years were of Mexican descent and were familiar with the custom of serenades. The Mexican people still follow the custom. It was only natural that the Americanos would pick up the idea, probably suggested by the Mexican-American musicians, and often would employ a group from the orchestra at La Jolla Club or the Santa Rita Hotel after the place closed, to go on a midnight tour of homes of friends.

Sometimes there would be two or three carloads of people who would quietly drive to the home of a friend, sneak around to the bedroom where the honorees were sleeping, and surprise them with lilting melodies. Generally, the visitors would be invited in for a round of night caps and more music. It was truly a lovely way to salute someone you held in high esteem.

The custom of serenading became more modernized later, and many times amateur musicians would gather for their own amusement and spend the evening visiting homes of friends.

The music was not so good and became a secondary consideration: getting free drinks was the principal aim.

Dr. William Schultz, for many years a Tucson physician, played a guitar and loved to serenade people. We would often go with him on the evening serenading trips, visiting friends we liked especially, or those who we knew had good bootleg whiskey. Tim Cusick, our old, attorney friend, fell in both categories. At one time he represented a local bootlegger by the name of Guy Bunch, who made the best whiskey in town. Tim usually was well supplied with Guy Bunch's booze.

Late one summer night, after having been to several other places, we called on the late Tim Cusick, whom we knew was a summer bachelor. There was a vacant lot next to his bedroom window, and we quietly drove up alongside the house. Bill Schultz started playing his banjo, with the drunks who were with him singing. It may not have been good, but it was loud. At least it was enough to awaken Tim, we thought. However, he didn't respond. No lights came on; nothing happened.

Soon Oliver, my erstwhile cousin, went to the window and yelled at Tim, who stirred and said, "Go away. I don't like your brand of music." This insult was not lightly taken. The window was open with only the screen to protect Tim. Oliver found the garden hose, turned it on full and sprayed Tim through the screen while he was still in bed.

That got some action. Tim jumped up, told us to come around to the back door and come in. He wasn't a bit happy, but he produced a gallon jug of booze, plopped it down on the dining room table and went back to bed, with the suggestion that we turn out the light when we left.

Generally, we were received in a more friendly fashion, as were most serenaders in those days. I am afraid that today if someone awakened a neighborhood with music, the cops would be called and the serenaders charged with disturbing the peace. It's a shame that such a lovely custom has passed from the scene.

A real estate man, who unfortunately is no longer with us, was one of the damnedest guys to do unusual things. I refer to my good friend Newsome Holesapple, who, one evening in his heyday, went into the Santa Rita Hotel bar in Tucson and ordered 1,000 scotch and sodas. He had just made a big deal and wanted to have anyone who came along help him celebrate. I watched one of the bartenders spend most of the evening mixing the drinks. The hotel ran out of glasses and finally ended up using paper cups for the last two or three hundred drinks.

On another occasion he had a gay evening getting even with one of the local public officials who had turned down a request for zoning on a piece of property in which he had an interest. He had an ambulance go to the home of the official to pick up a patient at midnight. The family was considerably upset by the arrival of the ambulance, but not nearly so much as they were two hours later when a hearse arrived from a local mortuary to pick up the body of a recently departed relative.

On a visit to Phoenix, Newsome was staying at the Westward Ho Hotel, where a local florist operated a flower stand in the lobby. The shop was run by a very attractive, young lady who, Newsome decided, should have dinner with him. The young lady was hesitant about accepting the offer and stalled the ardent suitor by telling him that she couldn't leave until she sold all the flowers in the shop; whereupon, Newsome asked how much it would cost to buy all her posies. The price of $110 seemed fair to Newsome, and he promptly whipped out $110 to pay for the flowers. The lady said she had to report to the main store that she had sold all her stock, which seemed logical. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the machinery when they said that they were sending another truckload of flowers over immediately.

Newsome bought those also and finally ended-up taking the gal to dinner -- thereby making it possible for the Westward Ho flower shop to have the most profitable day in its history.

Part of which site