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A celebration of the Old West in Phoenix in 1903

When I first started collecting old photos of Phoenix, I had some idea that I would categorize them by certain eras, such as “territorial”. After a while, as my collection became larger, I came to realize that the term “territorial” really didn't work. That would be from 1863 until 1912, which is nearly fifty years. And as much as I resent the term “back in the day”, the old photos of territorial Phoenix all looked pretty much the same to me. Then I started looking closer at images of parades in Phoenix around the turn of the century, and especially something called the Indian and Cowboy Carnival.

Take a look at the photo above of Washington looking west towards 1st Street. No, it's not really the Old West, it's a parade showing how the Old West might have looked, in their imagination. It's 1903, and Phoenix had already become very modern. Take a closer look - those are telephone and electrical wires. There are trolley car tracks in the street. Even though it was only 1903, an effort was being made to create the look and feel of the “Old West”. You know, back before it was all erased by modern stuff, like electricity.

1900 ad for the Indian and Cowboy Carnival, Phoenix, Arizona.

Now, waitaminute, I'm not criticizing the people who organized this kind of stuff. Phoenix was never really an “Old West” town, with gunfights in the streets, that sort of thing. Phoenix was, and is, a law-abiding and modern city. Phoenix was a town of banks, and of merchants. It wasn't a lawless place, like many other western towns (I won't mention any names, but you know where I mean!). But tourists want to see the "Old West"!

I also have photos of fake gunfights in the streets of Scottsdale in the 1960s. And really, the 1903 photo is just as much of a fake. It was for the tourists. It brought people into town to spend money. And I really hate to spoil the illusion, but that's all it is, an illusion. And there's nothing wrong with fantasy, as long as we don't look at old photos and imagine that it was the truth.

Staged gunfight in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1966

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