Heroes of the Old West came about gaining public recognition in a variety of ways. Some, like Buffalo Bill Cody, came about it by self-promotion. Custer’s greatest glory came after his death at the Little Big Horn. Jim Bridger was glorified in the dime novels of Ned Buntline. The prolific journals of Pathfinder John C. Fremont, along with florid writing of his talented wife Jessie, made Kit Carson a legend in his own lifetime. Others like Pauline Weaver, Tom Fitzpatrick and Ewing Young never got the recognition they so richly deserved. Perhaps the most deserving of them all, yet the least known in Arizona, is Antoine Leroux.
If there’s any doubt that Max’s Sports Bar and Restaurant is actually a sports bar, the suspicions are allayed immediately after entering the establishment and meeting the Jocko Bird.
It is a fierce-looking creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a beer-bellied athlete who wears football, baseball, golf, hockey, bowling, basketball and lacrosse gear while standing guard at the front door. The late Max Beyer, original owner of the place, created the “bird” in the 1970s to serve as a mascot for the sports fans who gathered there.
YUMA — This city is so proud of its sunshine that it has always been willing to be on it. According to the Guinness World Record book, Yuma is the sunniest place on earth, with bright skies prevailing an average of 4,055 hours out of a possible 4,456 hours every year. That’s 91 percent of the time. Or 350 days per year.
More than a century ago, Yuma hotels backed up the sunshine boast by offering free board to visitors every day the sun didn’t shine. Times have changed, but there are still freebies.
Q: What are the canals for, and how do they work?
A: Bibbity, bobbity boo. Next question, please.
Oh, all right, we’ll tell you: Farms and gravity.
The miles and miles of canals maintained by the Salt River Project were put there to bring water to thirsty acres of alfalfa, cotton, citrus and dates. Although there are a few pumping stations along the way, nearly all the system operates on the principle that water flows downhill.
That’s what worked for the Hohokam, who dug the first canals about 1,300 years ago to water their corn, beans and squash.
The ancient ones had quite a little civilization going—check out the Pueblo Grande Museum in east Phoenix — before they vanished about 500 years ago, probably chased off by a long drought. By the time the Europeans arrived, the desert had reclaimed the Hohokams’ 135 miles of canals.
In 1867, Jack Swilling, a former Confederate soldier living in Wickenburg, realized what those lines in the sand meant. He formed the Swilling Irrigation Canal Co. and dredged out one of the canals. A
meager harvest resulted and—voila!—agriculture was reborn in the Valley, and Phoenix had a reason for being.
The subsequent flood of farmers expanded and improved the canal system, but they lacked what the Hohokam had lacked: a way to tame the Salt, which actually had water in it in those days. The problem
was, it either had too much water or not enough.
Back in those halcyon days, when getting someplace was an adventure, daring drivers ran road races across the Arizona desert to promote the building of better highways. It’s hard to believe but as recently as 1929 Arizona had less than 300 miles of paved highways. In 1908 promoters began staging road races between Los Angeles and Phoenix. Billed as the Cactus Derby, they attracted such racing daredevils as the legendary Barney Oldfield, Olin Davis and Lewis Chevrolet. Drivers vied for a $2,500 prize and the title, Master Driver of the World.