Thursday, October 30, 2014

Small Arizona town boasts impressive museums to a pair of singing cowboys

Willcox, Arizona, appears to be a town that life has pretty much forgotten. Several motels and lots of houses are boarded up in this community between Tucson and Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Sidewalks in the small downtown area roll up pretty early. Travelers who venture away from the freeway exit will find limited options for dinner.  Life, just as I-10 does, appears to have passed Willcox by.

But wait! Willcox is well worth a detour if you’re a fan of Western music. Tucked away on Railroad Avenue are museums devoted to two of the finest singing cowboys who ever strummed a guitar while riding the range: Rex Allen and Marty Robbins.

Rex Allen and Koko
Rex Allen is the hometown boy who made it to the big time, singing and riding his way across the West. He is probably the only cowboy who insisted his horse, Koko, receive star billing after him in the movie credits. In his later years, he narrated a host of Disney films, including Run Appaloosa Run because, one of my favorites because it was filmed in Omak, Washington, where I lived for four years.

The museum is filled with his costumes, movie posters and other memorabilia related to his entertainment career. There’s even a framed check he wrote to Field and Stream for a subscription in 1997, two years before he died. Across the street, at Railroad Park, is a statue of Rex Allen strumming on his guitar. The remains of his beloved Koko are buried just a few feet away.

The Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame is located inside the Rex Allen Museum. It’s a room filled with dozens of pictures of local cowboys.

Some of the 71 albums Marty Robbins made
Two doors down from the Rex Allen Museum is the Friends of Marty Robbins Museum. Marty Robbins is another Arizona boy (he was born in Glendale, however) who made a name for himself in show business. It’s about half the size of the Allen museum, but just as impressive when you consider most of its contents came from the private collection of one woman, Juanita Buckley, and her son Shawn Ring.  

Robbins recorded 71 albums during his lengthy career, but is his signature song is El Paso. Posters from his movies cover the walls. One of his early hits had the lyrics, “a white sport coat and a pink carnation.” Sure enough there’s a white sport coat in the collection.

A highlight of this museum is a documentary on Marty Robbins’ career. It’s narrated by John Schneider and features some of the biggest names in country western music reminiscing about this talented singer.

Both museums are open on a limited schedule, but it’s worth rearranging your travel plans to visit them.

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