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New Mexico: An Interpretive History

(1988, by Marc Simmons)

Originally published in 1977 under the title New Mexico: A Bicentennial History, part of a book series commemorating the U.S. bicentennial, this might be the best overview of New Mexico’s history before and after it became a U.S. territory and then the 47th state. This edition includes a new introduction by author Marc Simmons, who first saw the state in 1950 and has written more than 40 books on New Mexico and the Southwest. Simmons has said history runs close to the surface in the “Land of Enchantment,” adding, “Here one continually runs into Indians, Hispanos and fourth or fifth generation Anglos whose lives and outlook are firmly rooted in the years before yesterday.” Also see his 2005 book New Mexico Mavericks: Stories From a Fabled Past.

Arizona: Historic Land

(1982, by Bert M. Fireman)

This might be the best source for an introduction to Arizona’s Indians, mining, ranching, transportation, politics, territorial days, fight for statehood and all-important water rights. Published posthumously, the book runs less than 300 pages but provides solid information from a man who knew Arizona history inside out. Born in San Francisco in 1913, Bert Fireman came to Arizona in 1917 and was a longtime newspaperman, writing about history and current events for The Phoenix Gazette. In 1959 he, Sen. Barry Goldwater and Benjamin Sacks founded the Arizona Historical Foundation [www], to preserve and promote the history of the state. For a longer (434-page), updated history of the“Grand Canyon State” see Thomas E. Sheridan’s 1995 book Arizona: A History.

Roadside History of Arizona

(1986, second edition 2004, by Marshall Trimble)

Arizona-born musician-historian Marshall Trimble makes it easy and entertaining to learn more about the 48th state. One of a series of roadside histories written by various authors, the book presents five sections centered on geographic areas—Southern Arizona, Central Arizona, Northern Arizona, Eastern Arizona and Western Arizona. Deciding how much space to devote to each area must have been as hard as trying to find a saguaro cactus outside the Sonoran Desert (which covers the southern third of the state), but Trimble achieves a good balance. Along with such intriguing places as the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the White Mountains and the Four Corners region, the author covers interesting people such as Army officer and diarist John Gregory Bourke, Army officer and surveyor William H. Emory, Army wife and writer Martha Summerhayes, lawman Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon explorer John Wesley Powell and Chiricahua Apache Geronimo.

Roadside History of New Mexico

(1989, by Francis L. and Roberta B. Fugate)

The husband-and-wife team of authors married in 1939, settled in the Southwest in 1949 and died about a year apart in the early 1990s. After 40 years of roaming the state, the Fugates concluded, “Some of the oldest history in the Untied States and some of the newest scientific developments have unfolded [in New Mexico], bringing the land about us to vibrant life.” As one might expect, they give plenty of coverage to the state’s most infamous bad lad, Billy the Kid. And they hardly neglect frontiersman Kit Carson, who somehow has become almost as controversial if not as popular as the Kid. But the authors note that New Mexico also hosted legendary lawman Elfego Baca, Billy the Kid slayer Pat Garrett, frontier lawyer Albert J. Fountain and, for a short and most memorable time, Pancho Villa.

It Happened in New Mexico

(1995, second edition 2009, by Jim Crutchfield)

It Happened in Arizona

(1994, second edition 2009, by Jim Crutchfield)

Countless fascinating stories have unfolded within the borders of New Mexico and Arizona, and Jim Crutchfield had the pleasure of picking out his favorites. In the New Mexico volume Crutchfield covers such familiar incidents as the death of Billy the Kid and the death of Pat Garrett. But he also tells lesser-known but no less intriguing tales such as the 1866 kidnapping of Andrés Martinez by the Apaches and the 1847 killing of Governor Charles Bent during the 1847 Taos Revolt. The Arizona edition includes accounts of conquistadors, buffalo soldiers, the Earps and Geronimo. These two concise, easy-to-read books, like the others in the It Happened in… series, are ideal for students.


(1940, on DVD, Sony Pictures)

 California may have been the promised land, but for one reason or another immigrants sometimes landed in Arizona Territory, in this case 1860s Tucson. In a place where the words “law and order” are rarer than the words “rest in peace,” independent cattle rancher Phoebe Titus (portrayed by Jean Arthur) manages to thrive. Men, most notably Peter Muncie (William Holden), naturally take notice. With the onset of the Civil War, however, the citizens of Tucson face hardships as soldiers withdraw to the East and the area Indians begin acting up. At one point the strong-willed Titus challenges a sheepish man: “Mr. Oury, am I hearing you right? Are you talking about giving Arizona back to the Indians?” The fine cinematography actually captures Arizona, outside 1930s Tucson on a set designed to look like 1860s Tucson—making this the first of many films shot at Old Tucson Studios.


(1948, on DVD, Universal Studios)

Santa Fe

(1951, on DVD, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

 Despite the titles of these movies, neither really captures the unique flavor of either New Mexico Territory city. But Randolph Scott fans won’t care. In Albuquerque he plays Cole Armin, who arrives in town by stagecoach to work for his Uncle John (George “Lassie, where’s Jeff?” Cleveland). But when he sees for himself that his kin is ruthless, greedy and nasty, Cole helps the little people trying to get a freight business off the Albuquerque ground. Juke (Gabby Hayes) is on the hero’s side, while the evil uncle’s main henchman is Steve Murkill (Lon Chaney Jr.). Albuquerque was shot on location, but the location was Sedona, Ariz. In Santa Fe Scott plays Britt Canfield, one of four ex-Confederate brothers, but the only one who operates on the right side of the law, for the Santa Fe Railroad. Yes, it’s an iron-horse Western, not a New Mexican town Western, and it was shot in California.


(1993, on DVD,Walt Disney Video)

When it comes to cities, nothing says “Wild West” (at least south of Dodge City) as much as Tombstone, Arizona Territory. And the classic Western Tombstone captures that frontier spirit in high style. Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and especially Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday captured the fancy of many filmgoers as they battled the Clanton brothers and other killer Cowboys. In the movie, as was the case in 1881 Tombstone, the good citizens of the wide-open boomtown seek law and order so the community can grow. The showdown near the O.K. Corral happens in a few blinks of the eye in the movie and in fact was a 30-second bloody affair in real life. The filmmakers take more Hollywood liberties as Wyatt embarks on his even bloodier 1882 vendetta to avenge the wounding of brother Virgil and killing of brother Morgan. No matter. There is hell to pay in wild and woolly Arizona, and on the screen it sure looks like wild and woolly Arizona. In fact, the movie was shot in Sonoita, Mescal and Old Tucson.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

(1973, on DVD, Warner Home Video)

The titular subjects of this powerful Western are as well known in New Mexico as roadrunners and sunshine. While director Sam Peckinpah shot the story of Sheriff Pat Garrett (played by James Coburn in perhaps his best-ever performance) and outlaw Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) down in old Mexico, the plot line unfolds in New Mexico—Lincoln, Fort Sumner, Santa Fe, etc. Ironically, Peckinpah’s rebellious but likable Billy refuses to head south of the border to escape the long arm of the law (Garrett’s). Even Sheriff Colin Baker (Slim Pickens at his finest) tells Garrett, “One of these days when I get my boat built, I’m going to drift out of this damn territory.” Instead, Baker is soon gut shot, and we’re hearing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (one of the Bob Dylan songs written for the movie). The Kid will be next, and Garrett, too, down the road. “When [Garrett] finally kills Billy at Old Fort Sumner,” writes New Mexico historian and Western film analyst Paul Hutton, “he realizes he has committed spiritual suicide— destroying the very freedom that made his life, and the West, meaningful.”


(1939, on DVD,Warner Home Video)

Most of the action in this character-driven classic John Ford Western takes place in and around a stagecoach headed eastbound from Tonto, Arizona Territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory, in 1880—the same year the real Lordsburg was born, thanks to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Real-life Arizona claims a Tonto National Forest, Tonto Basin and Tonto Natural Bridge, but no town of Tonto. In any case, the big-screen towns of Tonto and Lordsburg are Hollywood back-lot creations. Many of the outdoor sequences were filmed along the Arizona-Utah border, well to the north of the stage’s fictional “road to Lordsburg.” Yes, this was the first time Ford used as his main natural backdrop picturesque Monument Valley, in the Navajo Nation. (The Geronimoled Chiricahua Apaches that attack the stage in the film are in fact Navajos.) Ford staged the great Indian chase sequence, though, across the Muroc Dry Lake salt flats outside Victorville, Calif.


Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.