Arizona Charlie" Meadows is finally getting his due.
Not only has Meadows been chosen as the mascot for Payson's Third Annual Western Heritage Festival, which unfolds in and around Green Valley Park this weekend (Friday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Sept. 15), he is also the subject of the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon an American: A Las Vegas hotel and casino, Arizona Charlie's, has just been named after him.
Well, it's about time. Consider this biography:
Around the turn of the last century, Meadows was a marksman, roper, Indian fighter, gambler, steer-roper, a member of Buffalo Bill's famous Wild West Show, and the promoter of the first bullfight in America.
In the early 1880s, Meadows' family arrived in Payson, then known as Green Valley, and it was here (according to some historians) that Charlie started the country's first annual rodeo. But when his father and brothers were wiped out in an Indian attack, Charlie left home and went on to become one of rodeo's first star attractions.
In fact, he was named "King of the Cowboys" at the 1888 Territorial Fair in Phoenix, where he established a new world's record by roping a steer in 50 seconds flat. Buffalo Bill was so impressed, he asked Meadows to join his famous Wild West Show and always introduced him as "the best all-around man the West has yet produced."
Meadows toured Europe with Buffalo Bill's famous traveling show along with another famous performer, Annie Oakley. In 1893, Arizona Charlie took his own show on the road and ended up promoting the first bullfight in America at Cripple Creek, Colo. in August of 1895.
In 1897, after gold was discovered in the Yukon, Meadows made a small fortune selling provisions to the miners, and used his profits to build the Palace Grand Opera House in Dawson City. When the gold fields started to dry up, he left for Yuma.
Meadows' last big adventure of record was his expedition to Tiburon, a little-known island off the coast of Mexico inhabited by a cannibalistic tribe of Indians called the Seri. His plan was to take the island by force, eliminate the Seri, and use the island for cattle ranching. It might have worked out that way if the Mexican government hadn't stepped in and sent Meadows back to Yuma.
Born in 1860, Meadows died in 1932. The day he was buried, it is said, was the only day it ever snowed in Yuma.
"I think it's fun that Charlie Meadows is part of Payson history," says Sharese Von Strauss, whose many titles include director of the Northern Gila County Historical Society. "In fact, we're sort of tossing around the idea of creating a separate Arizona Charlie Festival."
Until that time, the Third Annual Western Heritage Festival at which Meadows will appear on the cover of the event catalog will have to do.
"This festival gives everyone the opportunity to get a real feel for, and to help maintain, our Western culture, which we are in many ways quickly losing," Von Strauss said. "Plus, you get to see the work of more than 20 outstanding artists, cowboy poets, authors and musical performers."
Some would argue that it's the cowboy poets who are the stars of this event, and this year brings another formidable lineup. It's led by Payson's own Dee Strickland "Buckshot Dot" Johnson, who's not just a poet but an all-around cowboy entertainer; the popular Bud Strom, last year's featured Western wordsmith; and Phoenix-based folksinger/musician Sue Smith, who sets classic cowboy poems to music.
More musical entertainment will be provided by Marshall Trimble, Arizona's official state historian; musician Frank Rodrigues of Chino Valley; and Barb Wire, "Buckshot Dot's" backup group featuring local classically-trained musicians Barb and Chuck Casey along with Rim country fiddler Bob Crose.
As is tradition, there will be a children's mini-festival-within-the-festival, and a host of published authors and poets autographing copies of their books.
In a break with tradition, the theatrical melodramas of past festivals have been dispensed in order to bring professional-level theater to town. The Blue Rose Theatre Company, an offshoot of Prescott's Sharlot Hall Museum, will offer two performances of their acclaimed play about women of the Old West, "Soiled Doves," a book-to-stage adaptation by the troupe's Jody and Ron Drake.
Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the Julia Randall Elementary School gymnasium, "Soiled Doves" will be paired with an hour of cowboy poetry and live music under the umbrella title, "Ghosts of the Mogollon Rim."
"Soiled Doves" returns to the gym Saturday for a solo 2 p.m. performance, and there will be an additional JRE performance of the cowboy poets and musicians Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Outside of those ticketed attractions, all other festival activities are free including admission to the Rim Country Museum, which will be offering its brand-new "Grazin' Saddles II" exhibit.
"The first 'Grazin' Saddles' we did was very popular, and since then, we have acquired a much larger selection of saddles," said Von Strauss, who is also the museum's director. "And in the upstairs exhibit hall there will be paintings, drawings and sculptures reflecting the life of the cowboy."
In other words, everything a Western Heritage Festival is all about.
Western Heritage Festival schedule of events
FRIDAY, Sept. 13
6:30 p.m. "Ghosts of the Mogollon Rim," a combined performance of "Soiled Doves" and the cowboy poets/musicians in the JRE gym. Admission: $7.50 general and $3 for children under 12.
SATURDAY, Sept. 14
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Art show on the museum grounds; free admission to Rim Country Museum and "Grazin' Saddles II" exhibit.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cowboy poets and musicians perform on the balcony of the Rim Country Museum. Free.
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Children's mini-fest with teepee raising, archeology exhibit and lots of fun activities.
2 p.m. "Soiled Doves," JRE gym. Admission: $5 general and $3 for children under 12.
6:30 p.m. Cowboy poets and musicians, JRE gym. Admission: $5 general and $3 for children under 12.
SUNDAY, Sept. 15
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open microphones; free admission to Rim Country Museum and "Grazin' Saddles II."
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Art show on the museum grounds.
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Children's mini-fest with a trio of storytellers added to the activities.
(Unless otherwise noted, all activities will take place at the Rim Country Museum in Green Valley Park, at the west end of Main Street and just north of the lake.)