Willcox is a small town with big shoulders.
It was labeled the Cattle Capital of the Nation in 1936 and to this day it still holds Arizona’s largest livestock auction.
The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in southeastern Arizona in 1880 and a decade later ranchers had 1.5 million head of cattle grazing in the Sulphur Springs Valley of Cochise County.
Agriculture still operates on a massive scale here. A new dairy farm south of town plans to raise 150,000 cows on 37,000 acres. The Willcox area is one of the largest producers of pistachios. And corporate growers have more than 300 acres of hydroponic tomato greenhouses.
Plus, the area is known for wine grapes, apples, pecans, chili pepper seeds and cotton. Ten percent of the local jobs are in farming and mining.
The town is named for Gen. Orlando Bolivar Willcox, U.S. Army commander in Arizona during the military campaign to subdue the Chiricahua Apaches. The town of Willcox, originally called Maley, supplied Forts Bowie, Grant and Thomas after the railroad arrived. Geronimo surrendered in 1886.
Willcox also was an important shipping point for supplying mines in southeastern Arizona and Globe with freight wagons. In 1898, a spur rail line was built to Globe.
Today, the original railroad depot serves as the Willcox City Hall. It’s Arizona’s only original redwood-frame depot built by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The 1880 depot had a waiting room added in 1920.
Willcox’s Old West lore includes a shootout in 1900 at the Headquarters Saloon. Warren Earp, brother of Tombstone lawman Wyatt Earp, was gunned down. He’s buried in the City Cemetery with a marked grave.
The town’s most famous son is Rex Allen, aka the “Arizona Cowboy” and “The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys” in Western movies. Allen (1920-99) is honored with a bronze statue by artist Buck McCain in the Railroad Park where his horse KoKo is buried.
Don’t miss the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame across the street.
Western music fans will be thrilled to discover the Friends of Marty Robbins Museum just two doors away. Robbins (1925-82) was a native of Glendale, Ariz., best known for his hit song “El Paso.” But Willcox has been home to a museum honoring him since 2008.
A more recent country music star -- Tanya Tucker -- has roots in Willcox. Born in Texas, she spent her early years in Willcox and sang at talent shows with Rex Allen, Ernest Tubb and Mel Tillis. Tucker is in the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame with Rex Allen and Rex Allen Jr.
Other attractions in Willcox include the Chiricahua Regional Museum and wine tasting at area wineries. There are eight tasting rooms in Willcox wine country. Arizona Wine Country, a local consortium of growers, says about 74 percent of Arizona wine grapes are grown in the Willcox region.
Winter and spring attract bird-watchers to the Willcox Playa, a prehistoric dry lake that is a seasonal home to as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes. It’s really quite a spectacle. The birds visit from as early as October to as late as March. There’s a webcam for remote viewing of the cranes. https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/
Willcox is also the closest town to Chiricahua National Monument. The park, once known as the Wonderland of Rocks, is 75 miles away but well worth the trip.
Elevation: 4,182 feet
Visit nearby Chiricahua National Monument: