History of Rawhide

This article was written by Don Schoenau and appeared in the November 1997 issue of Agun fighters Peek at the Peak, the newsletter of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Homeowners' Association.  Rawhide is Arizona's second most popular tourist attraction after the Grand Canyon but not many folks knew about its storied past until Don paid a visit and put pen to paper.

"Re-Discover the Real History of Rawhide"

by Don Schoenau

A conversation with Charley Edwards and Lowell Petrie, and all of the things that you do not know about Rawhide.

Charley Edwards.  I am a musician and play in the bar at the saloon.   I started in 1972, six months after Rawhide opened.  In fact, there are still three of the original employees working here.  My family came from Gary, Indiana in 1936 and settled in Mesa.  At that time my family bought a house in Mesa for $7.50 a month! I learned to play guitar as a young man and it became my lifetime profession.

What do you think girls?

How did I get my job at Rawhide?  They were advertising for a single musician and my wife dared me to come out here and apply for the job.  So I came out and sat down with an old flat top guitar in the patio and several women were my auditioning group. I did 5 or 6 songs and Jim said, "What do you think girls?"  They liked what I did.  Jim said, "Do you want a job?"  I said yes and he asked, "When can you come to work?"  It was about 4PM and I said, "When do you want me?" and was asked, "can you be ready at 6 PM tonight?" So I drove to Mesa and bought a lot of equipment and returned in time.

Still alive? Back to work!

gun fighterIn the early days the steakhouse was a new concept and we were always busy. It was so original that people just had to come here once, we didn't have many employees and I remember our superintendent, the kitchen manager and couple of guys from the stockyard would do the shoot-outs, dust their britches off, change clothes and go back to work again.  Scottsdale Road was paved and, golly, there was nothing from Camelback Road north. It was pretty much open country. Herbie Drinkwater had a little bitty store, next to Handle Bar Jakes, which he later expanded.

The Sunset Room was an open air patio with a half moon stage, where I played. Jim Paul would say, "Wait till after six, Charlie, and when the sun dumps over that mountain and you don't have to stare at the son, then you can go to work." So I'd set out there and wait for the sun to go down, and then I'd go to work.

Beer for our boss or burn!

Rawhide has been visited by many famous people, including many movie stars and entertainers.  The one I remember most was when we had a party for a group call the Conquistadors and I guess it was a group of executives.  They had a big party and we run out of beer. This guy comes up and says, "If we don't have beer in five minutes we'll buy this place, shut it down or burn it." We discovered that it was Howard Hughes who arrived in a limo withrawhide wagon his guards in a wheelchair, right up to the tables for a cookout. His biggest guys were ready to commit murder to make sure that he wasn't displeased in any way.

The original property called Curry's Corners consists of 160 acres at the Southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Pinnacle Peak. It was purchased by Jim Paul who built the buildings as you see them. We were part of the county then and in the middle of nowhere. Jim's concept was to build a town that looked like many western villages in the 1880's. On opening day in 1971, it had 25,000 visitors. By 1985 there were 560,000 visitors annually, and in 1996 over 960,000 people from 67 countries visited Rawhide. This past year, we were second to Grand Canyon in attendance.

Saloon packed with interesting items for the old west

Probably some of the most interesting things about Rawhide are the early western antiques that are scattered throughout the stores in the village. Jim Paul was an avid antique collector, buying items from museums and private collectors, and these pieces remained at Rawhide after it was sold to Jerry Hirsch in 1983.  Most visitors never pause to see the history that these pieces reveal.  They're all too busy feeding sheep, watching shoot-outs, shopping or eating in the restaurant to look further.

General Custer, Kit Carson Reminders

For example, the Golden Belle's steakhouse entrance is a fine wood and stained glass gazebo made in Sweden for Tex Rickard's Great Northern Saloon in Goldfield, Nevada at a cost then [old west storefronts]of $10,000. The 300 year old leaded glass in the foyer came from London, and the brass lamps originally lighted a Denver hotel. The lobby contains such items as General Custer's hunting rifle and a section of a log with Kit Carson's initials cut into the bank. A set of scales from the King Jean Bird Mine in Ouray, Colorado were used to weigh the gold that bought two famous diamonds - the Hope and Star of India - for the daughter of Evelyn Walsh.

The bar in the Golden Belle Saloon was made in France and wound up in Tex Rickard's Great Northern Saloon together with the gambling tables. It was at this bar that the teen aged Jack Dempsey acted as a bouncer, taking on miners and other tough characters. Later, he went on to become the heavyweight champion of the world.  Many of the nude paintings hanging on the walls were used in many old movies. An original Budweiser poster also hung on one of the walls. The brass chandelier, one of two, together with the brass and crystal wall lamps were originally made for the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake city but were rejected as too ornate. The great French mirrors were purchased by William Randolph Hearst for use at San Simeon.  He decided that he didn't like them, so he gave them to Gloria Swamson, who gave them to MGM Studios where Jim Paul acquired them.  Well, fellas, I got to go to work, so I'll turn you over to Lowell Petrie to continue your tour.

Tour of Rawhide continues; the Old West everywhere!

Mr. Petrie. In addition to the all the articles for sale in the General Store, it contains interesting historical surprises.  For example, on the top shelf at the back of the store is a collection of new ladies shoes from the 1880's. We offered to let some ladies that work here wear them if they fitted them.  However, they are all too narrow for the women of today. The Post Officegunmen came from the Dalton boy's home town of Newsome, Texas.  It was at this post office that famous outlaws such as Jesse James and the Daltons received their mail. The grocery section contains artifacts from a store in Onray, Colorado that date back to pre-Civil War days. The great stove in the center of the store dates back to a house of assignation called the Mansion House, in Silverton.  The apothecary jars come from the old Elk Drug in Tucumcari, New Mexico.   The back bar comes from the Navajo Hotel and was made by Baldwin Piano Company in 1887.

Geronimo, Edison and Ray Charles; Now that's American history!

The Pavilion is the covered structure that is used for private parties and seats about 4,500. Performers such as Ray Charles, Barbara Mandrell, Glen Cambell, Johnnie Cash, Waylan Jennings, Charley Daniels and many others have entertained guest at private parties.

To continue on, the window in the Western Clothing store has a pair of cowboy boots and a hat worn by Tom Mix in one of his early movies.  Another very interesting place to visit is our Museum. It displays a wide variety of artifacts. The Museum is divided by categories such as early tools, household items, early lamps, mining tools, and a replica of Michael Goldwater's store. One of Thomas Edison's first photo projectors is on display together with early air conditioning devices, namely women's fans. One of the most interesting artifacts is Geronimo's moccasins taken from him when he surrendered. The bottom of the moccasins are almost worn out from running to escape the soldiers chasing him after he rode his horse to death. After time in a reservation prison, he was released to join Buffalo Bill's wild west show. Visiting this museum is truly "a buck well spent"!

Conestoga Wagons, Ben Franklin and more!

Many of the Conestoga wagons are original prairie wagons, while others are replicas that were used in the movie, "How The West Was Won". Many contain the primitive tools that the pioneers used to clear land for their homes, including water barrels. Also included among the display of wagons is an old army wagon from Fort McDowell as well as ore and freight wagons from Ouray.

The building housing the Rawhide Sentinel has two antique presses, including the big Washington Press that belonged to Benjamin Franklin when he had his print shop in Philadelphia.  Now that's history.

Last but not least, is the display of old stage coaches, carriages, a funeral coach, and a buckboard wagon "pickup truck" of its day. Come see, read and look!

Don Schoenau

  Copyright 1996 All rights reserved.
Friends of the Scenic Drive, Division of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association
Scottsdale, AZ 85255