CASA GRANDE -- How did some of the area’s most notorious historical figures celebrate Christmas? A group of history buffs on Casa Grande Main Street’s monthly historic walking tour has the answers.
While Christmas was a family time for many of Casa Grande’s early residents, master forger James Addison Reavis, also known as the Baron of Arizona, may have spent the holiday in seclusion in his fortress near Casa Grande, said Ralph Miller, who read everything he could about the Baron to portray him on the walking tour.
“He probably spent some Christmases in Europe surrounded by royalty,” Miller said. “But he wasn’t liked very much in Arizona or Casa Grande because people thought he could evict them at any time.”
The Baron’s Christmas would have been much different than that of the average Casa Grande resident of his time. He claimed vast areas based on a faked Spanish land grant but eventually was found out and sent to prison.
“He’s a fascinating historical character. It’s mind-boggling, all that he was able to get away with,” Miller said. “A lot of people don’t know that the baron had a fortress near Casa Grande.”
Notorious stagecoach robber Pearl Hart also would have celebrated Christmas much differently than the average Arizonan, said Mary Hynek, who plays her on the walking tour.
“She probably would have spent Christmas drinking and having a good time,” Hynek said. “She didn’t like children so Christmas probably wasn’t a family holiday for her.”
Pearl Hart and the Baron of Arizona probably never knew each other, but they are among several historical figures who come to life once a month and stroll through downtown as part of Casa Grande Main Street’s historic walking tour and Day Out Downtown. Other characters from the area’s past are also on the monthly tours including the infamous Apache Kid, Amelia Earhart, Angela Hutchinson Hammer, Fannie Garr and others, to offer a glimpse into Arizona’s past.
Casa Grande Main Street has offered the historic walking tours for several years with actors dressed in costume as some of the state’s most notable historic figures.
But in recent years, new and notorious figures, such as the Baron of Arizona, have been added for a richer, fuller look into history of the region.
Last week was Miller’s debut portraying the Baron of Arizona.
“We wanted to add the Baron of Arizona to the tour for a long time,” said Casa Grande Main Street Director Rina Rien. “We’re excited to have Ralph now playing his part.”
Using forged documents and his marriage to a woman he said was a Spanish heiress, the Baron of Arizona claimed to hold vast acres of land grants in the Southwest in the late 1800s, spanning from the Phoenix area to parts of New Mexico. Much of the land included ranches, mines and railroads, from which he collected rents that made him very wealthy.
“Everyone believed him,” Miller said. “He was probably the biggest crook that ever lived but a lot of people don’t know about him and all the land he controlled.”
Hynek said her character, Pearl Hart, is also not the quaint image people like to imagine when they think of early Arizona settlers.
“There were a lot of women and a lot of drinking in Casa Grande’s early days,” Hynek said.
Hynek, who worked for years in the medical unit of the county jail, said she enjoys playing a character with an unsavory past.
Hart, who along with her boyfriend robbed a stagecoach between Globe and Florence, is believed to be the only woman in history to take part in a stagecoach robbery.
“She’s a colorful character and fun to play,” Hynek said.
The walking tour is narrated by preservationist Marge Jantz, who also dresses in costume. Along the way, she points out some of the historic buildings, murals and other sights in downtown.
Sharon Jenkins was on Thursday’s walking tour to learn more about the area’s history. She recently moved to Casa Grande from Colorado.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time downtown and wanted to learn more,” she said. “It’s fun.”
The historic walking tour meets on the third Thursday of every month, October through May. The next one is set for Jan. 18. It departs from the Casa Grande Main Street patio in the alley north of 110 W. Second St. at 10 a.m. and takes about an hour and a half to complete. There is no charge to attend.