ARIZONA, STATE OF ROMANCE
Arizona celebrates the centennial of its statehood on February 14, because one hundred years ago a lovesick rancher took a detour to see his sweetheart. The story may not be true, but the romance is undeniable.
This is the true part.
For nearly twenty years, the citizens of Arizona Territory struggled to prove that they were worthy of joining the union. Finally, early in 1912, President Taft declared he would approve statehood. A delegation of dignitaries was selected to travel to Washington. At least some Arizonans wanted Arizona’s statehood day to occur on Lincoln’s Birthday, the twelfth of February.
This is where the legend begins.
A story told around the campfire says a rancher from somewhere east of Tucson was one of those appointed to carry the statehood resolution to Washington. Let’s call the rancher Will. Some time during the backing-and-forthing over the elements of the statehood resolution, Will had taken some time off from politics to go to San Francisco where he saw the Ziegfield Follies. One of the dancing girls stole his heart. There was little likelihood he would see his long-legged beauty again. But men in love discover ways around obstacles.
Will assumed responsibility for the precious statehood papers, which he tucked into his inside coat pocket, not wanting to risk the possibility that a luggage thief might carry away Arizona’s chance at statehood. Arriving at the bustling railroad station in Washington, D.C. on February 9, Will’s heart raced at the thought of meeting the President of the United States in just three days.
As the group discussed transportation to their hotel and sights they would see in the next two days, Will noticed the signboards for departing trains. One destination stood out: Boston. Seeing that sign triggered a memory of his conversation with the lovely dancing lady. She had told him that she would be in that city in February.
Without bothering to explain to his friends, Will raced to a ticket window and bought a round-trip ticket to Boston. The short trip would not interfere with the scheduled meeting with the President on February 12, he reasoned, as he jumped on the train.
The little group of Arizona delegates soon realized that Will was missing, and then with dread, realized that Arizona’s legal papers were with him. There was nothing to do but retire to their hotel and hope he would show up. February 11 arrived and left with no Will and no Arizona statehood papers. February 12 came and went. On February 14, the delegation rejoiced to see Will strolling up from the railway station, showing no remorse for the consternation he had caused.
The White House made arrangements, President Taft signed the papers, and Arizona became a state on February 14.
And the dancing girl? Will proposed marriage and a few months later she arrived in Tucson. She was lonely at the remote ranch near Willcox where they lived, and decided to fix up some rooms and invite Easterners to come enjoy the Arizona sun. Under her hand, the cattle ranch expanded its scope and became a famous dude ranch. The former showgirl outlived Will and continued to play hostess to the rich and famous in the new state of Arizona, which celebrates its birthday on Valentine’s Day.
Note: Back to the truth– Mrs. W.T. Webb, a famous showgirl turned dude ranch manager, ran the 76 Ranch on the southern slopes of Mt. Graham. Wilfred T. Webb, the tanned, square-jawed man who wooed her, served as a delegate to the Arizona Constitutional Convention and a member of the state legislature. There is more of interest in his background, including an indictment for stealing cattle as a young man, and an accusation that he was part of a family plot to rob a government payroll back in 1889. Allegedly, his father masterminded the WHAM robbery. According to the Arizona historical society lecture linked here, W.T. was married in 1889 to someone else, but I haven’t tracked down whether he was divorced in 1912. Mrs. Webb had a pretty colorful history, too, but that’s a whole other story.
Unfortunately, we cannot confirm that Webb went with the delegation to President Taft in 1912. The whole story may be confused with a better-documented problem he caused in the following year. According to newspapers of the time, Webb did make a detour in 1913 that made many people nervous. According to the Arizona Daily Star, January 29, 1913, Mr. Webb carried Arizona’s first electoral votes to Washington. He dallied in New York City, while worried Arizonans pursued him with telegrams. He belatedly delivered the votes to Congress for canvass, and collected his $641 in travel expenses.
However, in defense of those who told the legend of the Valentine State, newspapers from 1912 do hint that Republican politicians in the state wanted the state birthday to fall on Lincoln’s birthday.
You can read the whole story of Arizona statehood (without the romance part) in this article.