Q&A: Buffalo Soldiers Live On at Fort Verde State Historic Park

Buffalo Soldier re-enactors. | Courtesy of Fort Verde State Historic Park

Each of the past 10 years, Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde has hosted a look back at a key part of American military history.

The Buffalo Soldiers were members of the first African-American regiments of the U.S. Army. Formed in the 1860s, the regiments fought in the Indian Wars, which occurred in present-day Arizona and other Western and Plains states.

The state park honors the Buffalo Soldiers’ legacy with an annual re-enactment event, and this year’s edition is this Saturday, February 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Along with learning the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, visitors can watch a vintage baseball game, with participants dressed in period replica uniforms, as well as demonstrations of how to cook Dutch oven meals.

Arizona Highways spoke with Red Turner, a re-enactor (also known as a “living historian”) participating in Saturday’s event, about what he does, what inspired his passion for history and the challenges he faces when it comes to his work.

How many years have you been participating in the Buffalo Soldier re-enactments at Fort Verde State Historic Park?
This is my third year out there in Arizona. I currently live in California.

How did you get into being a living history presenter?
I joined the New Buffalo Soldiers, based out of Los Angeles, and did things like the Rose Parade. We travel all over California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. We do about 20 to 25 events a year.

It all started after I retired. I’ve always been interested in history. I enjoy reading historical publications. I get different magazines in the mail from all over the country and saw an ad for living historians. My wife did the same thing with the Historical Citizens Association.

What motivated you to join?
People are hungry for history right now. There was a real need for good representation, and it was a good time to educate others. After seeing a need for living historians, I jumped right in to fill the gap.

Before becoming a living historian, what line of work were you in?
I’m retired from law enforcement, and now I do special operations training for the military.

What are some of the challenges that someone interested in becoming a living historian should know about?
Being a living historian is a lot of work. It’s a lot of research. You spend a lot of money on accurate costuming. When you say “living historian,” people think of it as a hobby, but it’s really a lifestyle. That’s the part that is a challenge, but it makes it all worth it when you see the faces of students, or people who show up for these events to learn something.

— Roman Russo

For more information about Saturday’s event, visit Fort Verde State Historic Park’s website.

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Ed Mell, Arizona Opera Bring Zane Grey Novel to Life

Ed Mell's iconic landscapes, such as this depiction of the Ajo Mountains, form the backdrop for a new Arizona Opera production. | Courtesy of Arizona Opera

The Arizona Opera is about to launch a production based on an iconic Western novel — with help from legendary Arizona artist Ed Mell.

Riders of the Purple Sage, based on the 1912 Zane Grey novel of the same name, is scheduled for two performances next weekend (February 25 and 26) in Tucson, and three the following weekend (March 3-5) in Phoenix. Mell, a friend of Arizona Highways (you might remember his painting on the cover of our 90th Anniversary Issue in April 2015), designed the sets for the production.

The opera is the first world premiere produced by the Arizona Opera, and is described as a "Wild West adventure through the sweeping vistas and massive canyons of the Southwest." It's performed in English and composed by Craig Bohmler, with libretto adapted from Grey's book by Steven Mark Kohn.

The Tucson performances are February 25 at 7:30 p.m. and February 26 at 2 p.m. at Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Street. In Phoenix, you can see the production March 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and March 5 at 2 p.m. at Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second Street. For tickets or more information, call 520-293-4336 (Tucson) or 602-266-7464 (Phoenix), or visit www.azopera.org.

The production is part of the opera's Western Cultural Festival, which features explorations of Arizona's history, culture and art. To learn more about other events on the festival schedule, click here.

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Happy Arizona Statehood Day! (Oh, and Valentine's Day)

Michael Newberry | Grand Canyon National Park

Today is nationally known as Valentine's Day, but in the Grand Canyon State, February 14 has another, more consequential meaning.

On February 14, 1912, President William Howard Taft signed a bill that turned Arizona Territory into the State of Arizona. At the time, Arizona had just 200,000 people living in it — a far cry from the roughly 6.7 million who today call the state home.

As our state turns 105 years old, there are plenty of things you can do to celebrate, with or without a valentine — from hiking and scenic drives to fine dining and overnight stays. We've got plenty of options on our website, and we hope you'll take a look at them.

If your focus is on Valentine's Day and you still haven't found a gift for your sweetie, why not stop by our gift shop (2039 W. Lewis Avenue) in Phoenix? We suggest our vintage diner mugs, which feature art by longtime Arizona Highways Art Director George Avey.

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Cave Creek's Historic Buffalo Chip Returns After Fire

Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse owner Larry Wendt displays some of the Cave Creek restaurant's Western memorabilia, including a photo of Tom Mix. | Kirsten Kraklio

On Thanksgiving Day in 2015, Larry Wendt watched as the restaurant he took over in 1998, Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse, burned to the ground.

The fire, started by an arsonist, destroyed more than 60 years of Cave Creek history, leaving behind just two charred statues as a reminder. “The building was full of old relics and things from the past from the Buffalo Chip and Cave Creek locals,” Wendt said.

A year and a few months later, the Buffalo Chip is in a brand-new facility and offering the Western charm regular customers have grown to love. But it almost didn’t.

“At first, I didn’t intend to rebuild,” Wendt said. “Then there was such an outpouring from the community and the Town Council and all of our old customers and everything. I decided to rebuild, but we knew it was going to take a year or longer.”

Wendt said the community rallied to support him and his staff. “This community — it’s not a large community, it’s only about 3,000 people — they raised $55,000 for my staff. It was right during the holidays, from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and 121 people were out of work,” he said.

Once construction began, it took about four months to complete the new facility. During the rebuilding process, the Buffalo Chip was able to serve customers out of its outdoor bull-riding venue, which was unscathed in the fire. It wasn’t fancy or big, but it allowed Wendt to keep his staff taken care of.

Now, Wendt considers the fire to be a blessing. “We had a very loyal following, but it really taxed the infrastructure of the building,” he said. “The restrooms were small; the kitchen was small.”

“Other than the fact that I didn’t insure it very well, this is a blessing, actually, because everything’s new and updated,” he added.

The new building’s restrooms and kitchen are bigger, and it includes a second floor. But not everything is new. The rustic look is authentic, with antique wood used throughout the restaurant. “When we rebuilt, we could have built out of all new material and made it look like every other place,” Wendt said, “but we were determined to buy all antique lumber — a whole sawmill — and build it back like it would have been in the '50s. I’m proud of it.”

The traditions have stayed the same, too. Visitors can still find boots hanging from the ceiling above the packed dance floor, autographed Western photos on the walls and, of course, the Green Bay Packers memorabilia — in honor of original Buffalo Chip owner Max McGee, the hero of the Packers’ win in Super Bowl I.

“[The Packers] support us unbelievably,” Wendt said. “The third call that I got Thanksgiving morning when I was watching my place burn down — the first one was from my wife, the second was from a neighbor who saw the smoke — the third one was from the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who said, ‘I’m seeing your place is on fire.’ They’ve just been a tremendous support. I couldn’t ask for a better family away from the Buffalo Chip. The Packers and Wisconsin have been wonderful.”

And, yes, it was a large but sad crowd at the Chip on January 22 for the NFC Championship Game. “We ran into that steamroller, the [Atlanta] Falcons, and they just ate our lunch,” Wendt said.

The disappointing outcome aside, fans of the Buffalo Chip continue to come out and show their support, in part, Wendt says, because of the friendly staff. “You can go any place in Cave Creek and get a hamburger or some barbecue and a longneck beer and a friendly bartender that might say, ‘Hey, how are you doing,’ but the only thing that really sets any place apart is how you treat the customer,” Wendt said.

— Kirsten Kraklio

Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse is located at 6823 E. Cave Creek Road in Cave Creek. For more information, call 480-488-9118 or visit www.buffalochipsaloon.com.

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Throwback Thursday: Arizona Highways, February 1942

From the issue: "Our cover this month might remind you of the Alps or much colder climes, but in truth the picture was taken by Bob Fronske of the Fronske Studio, Flagstaff, high up on the San Francisco Peaks. It looks cold, doesn't it? But it should catch the eye of any skier, expert or otherwise."

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ADOT Considers Reversible Lane on Stretch of I-17

Sunset Point, which features a stunning view of the Bradshaw Mountains, is on the northern end of a stretch of Interstate 17 known for congestion and crashes. | Colleen Hoyt

The Arizona Department of Transportation is considering ways to reduce backups from crashes and congestion along a stretch of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix.

The 8-mile stretch of the interstate between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point is the focus of the ADOT initiative. A series of recent crashes there, some of which backed up traffic for hours, have put the focus on the area. Due to the remoteness of that part of I-17, there's no easy detour around a crash.

One option being explored, according to a news release, is adding a reversible lane to the stretch of highway. Such a lane would feature barriers at either end, allowing either northbound or southbound vehicles to use the lane during periods of heavy traffic.

ADOT says a preliminary estimate put the cost of such a system at $125 million, and while there currently is no funding available for the project, the department is looking at ways to reduce the cost, such as a public-private partnership. Ultimately, the department hopes to be able to widen more of I-17 than just this 8-mile stretch.

ADOT Director John Halikowski said in the release that while the department explores solutions, drivers can do their part by exercising patience and good judgment to improve safety on the highway. We'll add that if you're headed north and traffic is bad, stopping at Rock Springs Café for lunch and a slice of pie is never a bad choice.

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Meet the Author of Our Wildlife Guide in Tucson

Bobcats are among the Arizona species featured in the Arizona Highways Wildlife Guide. | Maribeth Brady

Do you have your copy of our new Arizona Highways Wildlife Guide yet? If not, you can pick one up this week in Tucson — and get it signed by the author.

Brooke Bessesen will appear from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, February 10, at Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Avenue), a Central Tucson institution since 1973. Bessesen will talk about the book and sign purchased copies. Joining her will be Arizona Highways Art Director Keith Whitney and some of the photographers who contributed images to the publication.

Subscribers to the magazine may remember Antigone Books from our September 2016 issue. Tucsonans continually rank Antigone among the city's best independent bookstores, and it's also a trailblazer — it's the first 100 percent solar-powered bookstore in the United States.

The Arizona Highways Wildlife Guide contains detailed information on 125 of Arizona's native species — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. It's been a rousing success so far and is about to head into its second printing. If you can't make it to the Tucson signing, you can pick up a copy on our website.

Bessesen has worked with wildlife for decades and recently has focused on conservation research. A longtime certified veterinary technician for the Phoenix Zoo, she also writes scientifically under its auspices. To learn more about the author, visit her website.

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Jack August, Prolific Arizona Historian, Dies at 63

Jack August was an expert on Arizona history. | Via Twitter

Jack August, a historian who made Arizona's people, places and past his life's work, died last month in Phoenix after a brief illness. He was 63.

August authored 10 books, including biographies of former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini and former Governor Raul Castro. At the time of his death, he was working with former Governor Fife Symington on an 11th book project. He also was an expert on water resources, as The Arizona Republic noted in reporting his death.

But longtime Arizona Highways readers might remember August for his contributions to the magazine, and for We Call It 'Preskit': A Guide to Prescott and Central Arizona High Country, an Arizona Highways book that's now out of print. August also contributed to The Republic and other publications in the state.

Since last year, August had served as historian and director of institutional advancement at the Arizona Capitol Museum in the Arizona State Library, a division of the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Linda Valdez, an editorial writer for The Republic, wrote January 24 that August "was a man who loved Arizona and its history the way a great state deserves to be loved: with curiosity, delight, humor, honesty and a scholar's thoughtfulness."

August's surviving family includes his wife, Kathy. A memorial service was held January 28 in Phoenix.

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