Some famous (and not so famous) names that helped make our state great
When Humor Goes, There Goes Civilization
Erma Bombeck (February 21, 1927 – April 22, 1996) was a novelist, humorist and satirist whose insights into suburban home life of the 1960s to the 1990s thrust her into the national spotlight. Although she had initially put her writing career on hold to nurture her family, by 1969 when Bombeck moved to Paradise Valley, she had become an enormous success. Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” column ran in 500 U.S. newspapers, and she was a regular contributor to numerous magazines including Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Redbook and even Teen magazine. She published 15 books, most of which became best sellers including “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”, “Aunt Erma’s Cope Book”, and “Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession.”
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” – Erma Bombeck.
- By Sam Stone
Raul H. Castro: Immigrant, Arizonan, Pioneer
Raul H. Castro was the first Mexican-American Governor of Arizona, and is currently the oldest living Governor in the United States. Born on June 12, 1916 in Mexico, Castro immigrated to the United States 10 years later, eventually earning his citizenship along with degrees from the Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff (now NAU) and the University of Arizona law college. In 1954 he was elected county attorney for Pima County, and served in that capacity until 1958 when he became a Superior Court Judge.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Castro as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. His first run for state office in 1974 was a memorable one when Castro was elected governor, ending eight years of Republican control in the state capitol. After serving two years as governor, President Jimmy Carter tapped Castro to become the ambassador to Argentina. He was and remains one of the most respected figures in Arizona politics.
- By Sam Stone
Bob Corbin was Maricopa County Attorney from 1965 to 1968, Arizona Attorney General 1979 to 1991, and president of the National Rifle Association 1992 to 1994. During his term as Maricopa County attorney the case of Ernesto Miranda v. Arizona was decided resulting in Miranda warnings for all suspects interrogated during custody by police. The Supreme Court reversed Miranda’s conviction on kidnapping and sexual assault charges because police had not informed him that he had a right to an attorney before questioning him. During questioning Miranda confessed and a jury convicted him with a sentence of 20 to 30 years. Corbin decided to retry Miranda without the first confession as evidence. While in prison for robbery Miranda confessed to his wife, whom he was divorcing, and the second voluntary confession was used by Corbin to convict Miranda and impose another 20 year sentence. Miranda served about 10 years of his sentence and was paroled. He was stabbed to death by an illegal immigrant shortly after his release.
Corbin was born in Indiana, served in the Navy and began a lifelong search for the Lost Dutchman mine in the Superstition Mountains. He is known for always having a roll-top desk, spittoon, a Regulator clock and framed invitation to a public hanging nearby.
- By Benny White
Mary Katherine Horony Cummings (“Big Nose Kate”)
Mary Katherine Horony Cummings was born in Pest, Hungary, in 1850. She became known as “Big Nose Kate” and became the companion and common law wife of the infamous gambler and gunfighter “Doc” Holiday. Kate was reputed to have owned and operated a bordello in Tombstone, but that is unproven. Kate operated a boarding house in Globe for several years and made trips to Tombstone to visit Holiday until he left for Colorado.
Kate married and worked in mining camps in Colorado for several years before returning to Bisbee where she briefly ran a bakery. In 1900, Kate moved to Dos Cabezas or Cochise (now a ghost town) and worked for the Raths, owners of the Cochise Hotel. In 1931, Kate, now 80, contacted Governor George Hunt, a long-time friend, and requested admittance in to the Arizona Pioneers’ Home in Prescott. Kate was admitted as one of the first female residents and became active by writing to the Arizona State Legislature. She died in 1940, five days before her 90th birthday. She is buried in Prescott.
- By Todd Clodfelter
Geronimo or Goyathlay (“one who yawns”) was born in 1829 in what is today western New Mexico. The name Geronimo was allegedly given to him by Mexican soldiers, some of whom attributed his numerous successes to supernatural powers, including a reputed invulnerability to bullets. Geronimo was not a hereditary leader of his tribe, that role actually fell to his brother-in-law, Juh, who had a speech impediment and often let Geronimo speak for him with outsiders. In 1858, Geronimo returned home to find his wife and three young children murdered by Spanish troops operating out of Mexico. In vengeance, he vowed to kill as many whites as possible, and began raiding and terrorizing Mexican villages.
Geronimo and his followers launched a guerilla war against authorities in both the United States and Mexico that would not end for decades, making Geronimo the most famous Apache in history. After a number of defeats and escapes, in 1876 Geronimo and his band were confined to the reservation at San Carlos, where they promptly escaped once again into Mexico. Eventually more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers (about a quarter of the entire U.S. Army at that time), plus 500 trackers and 3,000 Mexican soldiers were employed hunting down Geronimo and his tiny band of followers. It took them more than a decade.
At the time of Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886, his band consisted of only 16 warriors, 12 women and six children. He and his people were transported in custody to Florida. Although he remained a prisoner of war until his death in 1909, Geronimo became a rancher in his last years. He also appeared at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, where he sold Geronimo souvenirs and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.
- By Sam Stone
Barry Morris Goldwater
Barry Goldwater was born in Phoenix, Arizona on January 1, 1909, to a wealthy family. Barry Goldwater’s family had owned a number of department stores across Arizona which his grandfather, a Polish immigrant, had started. Barry’s father had run the business until his death in 1929. The younger Goldwater was a generous employer paying higher wages than his competitors including covering his employees’ insurance costs.
During World War II, he joined the U.S. Air Force, reaching the rank of brigadier general by the time the war was over.
The late Barry Goldwater, an almost mythical character in conservative circles, passed away on Saturday, May 30, 1998, after suffering a stroke and Alzheimer’s. Goldwater had served five terms in the U.S. Senate from the great state of Arizona and attempted a presidential run, gaining the Republican nomination in 1964. He is credited with awakening the conservative heart of the Republican Party, taking control from the liberal arm of the Party.
- By Greg Harris
George O. Hand
I want to recognize an Arizona figure that only a Tucson, Arizona, native would remember…George O. Hand.
U.S. Army soldier. Indian fighter. Saloon keeper. Diarist.
Hand first came through Tucson in 1862. His diaries mainly run from 1875 to 1878 while he ran a bar on the corner of Broadway and Church.
As a child growing up in Tucson during the 1960s and ‘70s, I read Hand’s diary entries in the Arizona Daily Star every morning. Fascinating stuff like, “Cool morning. Kelly’s wife had apoplectic fit this morning. No mail for me.” Mostly mundane but sometimes life in 1870s Tucson was a bit more raucous like this entry dated June 23, 1876 , “Took a long buggy ride this evening with Jack Long. He was full of rot gut and drove like the devil over brush, adobes, holes and people.”
While I grew up during the Space Age, George O. Hand gave this young Arizonan a glimpse into the grit, sadness, boredom and flavor of territorial Tucson, Arizona.
-By Bruce Ash
Randall David Johnson
In 1998 the Arizona Diamondbacks became an expansion team in the MLB’s National League. Just three years later they were the World Champions, winning the World Series against the New York Yankees with the help of “The Big Unit” Randy Johnson.
Johnson, the lanky lefthander (6’10”), pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2004 and again from 2007 to 2008. He retired from baseball with 10 All Star appearances and five Cy Young Awards after playing with the San Francisco Giants on January 5, 2010.
How did Randy Johnson get the moniker “Big Unit?” Johnson was 6’10” tall, but it wasn’t his height that led to the name. During batting practice in Johnson’s rookie season with the Montreal Expos he collided head first with outfielder Tim Raines. One of his teammates yelled out “you’re a big unit.” Oddly enough, the biggest player ever in the Major Leagues was Jon Rauch, a former teammate with the Diamondbacks at 6’11.”x
- By Greg Harris
Frank Luke: Medal of Honor Rebel
Born in Phoenix on May 19, 1897, Frank Luke was responsible for 18 confirmed air-to-air victories, second only to the legendary Eddie Rickenbacker among U.S. Army Air Service pilots, in the First World War. He was also the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor for his service. On September 29, 1918 after a spat with his squadron commander (in addition to his skill, Luke was known for flying off on his own, and generally ignoring the chain of command) Luke left the French forward air base at Verdun to attack three heavily defended artillery balloons. Luke completed the mission, shooting down all three balloons before he was fatally wounded by a machine gun position atop a hill near his third target.
Despite his wound, Luke still managed to strafe a group of German soldiers on the ground before landing his plane in a field near a stream. Intending to take cover in the underbrush lining the stream, Luke was approached by German infantry before he could reach his hiding spot. Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 and fired at the approaching patrol before passing out and dying of blood loss. Today, Luke Air Force Base stands as a reminder to his courage and pioneering spirit, and the spirit of all the brave airmen and women who have fought and died for our nation.
- By Sam Stone
Rose Perica Mofford
Most know Rose Mofford as the 18th and first female governor of Arizona, but few appreciate the governor’s dedication to softball, even long after she hung up her spikes.
It’s where she began and where her name remains today. Mofford was born in Globe, on June 10, 1922, to two Austria-Hungary immigrants. Mofford, a former high school softball all American, by 1939 had turned down an opportunity to play professional basketball, opting to swing a bat instead for the Queens professional softball team. She only played one season.
From the 1930s through the early 1950s, Phoenix was the softball mecca, with teams like the A-1 Queens and the Ramblers bringing thousands of fans for the low ticket price and a number of national championships. By today’s standards the early women’s softball league would be no more risqué than local roller derby.
Mofford remains a fan of the game, a member of the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame and has two municipal softball complexes that bear her name.
- By Greg Harris
Sandra Day O’Connor
It’s an iconic photograph: two black-robed people contrasted against the white marble steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger, and Arizona’s very own Sandra Day O’Connor—the first female to serve on the Supreme Court.
Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1930, Justice O’Connor grew up on the Lazy B Ranch outside of Safford. She attended Stanford University for both college and law school. In law school she briefly dated a young William Rehnquist—the man who succeeded Warren Burger as Chief Justice. Though graduating third in her class, top law firms in California were only willing to hire the future Justice O’Connor for secretarial work.
Eventually, she and her husband John returned to Arizona to raise their three boys. Dedicated to public service, Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in 1969. She was re-elected twice before running for Maricopa Superior Court Judge. In 1979, then-Judge O’Connor was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Two years later she posed for that iconic photograph with Chief Justice Burger.
After 25 years on the Court, Justice O’Connor hasn’t slowed down. She still “rides the circuit,” sitting on Federal Courts of Appeal. And she’s still dedicated to Arizona—lecturing at the state universities and spurring public policy dialogue through her O’Connor House initiative.
Sandra Day O’Connor is America’s First Lady of Justice and an Arizona original.
- By Ted Vogt
Dr. Lewis Sumpter Owings
Lewis Owings was both a doctor and the provisional governor for the Arizona Territory twice. Born in Roane County, Tennessee, on September 6, 1820. After a stint as postmaster in Helena, Texas, Owings served in the Texas House of Representatives before moving to New Mexico. Owings had become a miner. In 1860 he became the provisional governor of the Arizona Territory. In 1860 that included both New Mexico and Arizona. After the secessionist conventions, an official Territory of Arizona was established and Owings was elected its first provisional governor. He served in that capacity until 1861, when John Baylor assumed the role with support of the Confederacy.
In 1862, after Union victories, Owings was once again appointed governor of the territory.
- By Greg Harris
Born Sept. 13, 1851, Belroi, Va. Died Nov. 22, 1902, Washington, D.C.
At age 18 in 1869, Walter Reed was the youngest ever to receive a medical degree from the University of Virginia. It is thought he joined the U.S. Army as his young age limited his professional influence. In 1876 Lieutenant Walter Reed was posted at Fort Lowell in Tucson, Arizona, (near the intersection of Craycroft Road and Ft. Lowell Boulevard) where he cared for Cavalry troopers, civilians and Native Americans. His fame came later after a posting in Cuba in 1900. He led a team that postulated and confirmed that yellow fever (a disease with a high mortality rate) was transmitted by certain mosquitoes rather than by contact. This discovery saved many thousands of lives and led to several other breakthroughs in medicine and epidemiology, as well as the resumption of construction of the Panama Canal. A 1938 feature film titled “Yellow Jack” was a dramatic portrayal of Walter Reed’s research.
- By James Massee