Doc Holliday’s Tucson Pleasures

November 3, 2022

Doc Holliday’s Tucson Pleasures

    In the last weeks before the OK Corral gunfight, Doc Holliday and his mistress, Kate Elder, were enjoying more pleasant times, visiting Tucson for the annual Fiesta. La Fiesta de San Agustin del Tucson began as a Catholic festival honoring the city’s patron, Saint Augustine, with all the customary pageantry: a street procession of children carrying a statue of the Saint, a vespers service and ringing of bells, a High Mass and an evening rosary, a benediction and recessional. Then a German Jewish brewer named Alexander Levin saw a way to profit off the Catholic celebration, opening his brewery grounds as a “pleasure park” for two months following the festival. Soon, Levin’s Park was being advertised as the finest resort in the Arizona Territory, with shade trees and an open-air ramada for dancing, croquet grounds, a bowling alley, skating rink, shooting gallery, gambling hall, and, of course, a beer garden—especially appropriate, since Augustine was also the patron Saint of brewers. The park later added a dance hall, restaurant, and an opera house that seated an audience of 2,000.

     In March of 1880, Levin’s Park had been the site of the welcoming banquet when the Southern Pacific Railroad first reached Tucson. Thousands gathered to watch the train steam into town, the Sixth Cavalry Band played, and Southern Pacific Railroad President Charles Crocker was presented with a silver spike from the Toughnut Mine in Tombstone, signifying the economic tie between the railroad and the boomtown. As the Arizona Daily Star extolled on the day before the celebration:

     Go on brave toiler for the benefit of mankind. Open our opulent mountains until treasures stream down their sides; gladden the valleys with the harvest and the vine; make the cattle on a thousand hills skip for joy; span the Rio Grande; stretch over the plains of Texas and rest your head by the waves of an “American lake” called the Gulf of Mexico.”

     In 1890, park owner Alexander Levin’s daughter Sara married Federico José María “Fred” Ronstadt. The couple had four children together, but Sara died while expecting her fifth child, a casualty of a scarlet fever epidemic. The next year, 21 year-old Guadalupe “Lupe” Dalton applied for a job as a bookkeeper at Fred Ronstadt’s company, and the two fell in love, marrying on Valentine’s Day of 1904. Fred had four more children with Lupe, raising them in a Tucson home now on the National Register of Historic Places. Fred and Lupe’s look-alike granddaughter is singer Linda Ronstadt, whose grandfather’s father-in-law entertained Doc Holliday in the last quiet days before the shooting started near the OK Corral.

From The World of Doc Holliday: History & Historic Images by Victoria Wilcox, TwoDot Books/Globe Pequot Press.