It’s safe to say that Ben Traywick, hailed as a “Tombstone legacy,” shares a place in the town’s history with such notables as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Ed Schieffelin.
On Friday, Traywick was honored in a ceremony where a building was named in tribute to the 95-year-old researcher, author and historian.
Traywick, who has published nearly 40 books, dozens of pamphlets and more than 1,000 articles, served as Tombstone’s official historian for 40 years. Though he announced his retirement on Oct. 26, 2010 — the date of the 129th anniversary of that iconic gunfight at OK Corral — retirement evaded him. Always willing to accommodate anyone hungry for accurate information about Tombstone’s history, Traywick’s expertise about the old mining town has been sought by National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, filmmakers, historians and writers long after his retirement.
He continued to write and could be found most days sitting behind a cluttered desk at Red Marie’s, the bookshop he started in 1970 and named after his first wife who died in 1997.
Today, the shop is home to Jimmy and Kathy Green’s Spirit of the Ranch Olde Western Art Gallery, located at 12 S. Fifth St., and is the building that now bears Traywick’s name.
“We’re honoring the man who is as much a part of the town’s history as the gunfights, the boardwalks and the mines,” Jimmy Green read during the plaque unveiling and dedication ceremony. “He is part of the fabric of Tombstone and the motto ‘the town too tough to die.’ His legacy will live on forever.”
The unveiling showcased a wall-mounted plaque dedicated to Traywick with the writer’s quote: “If not for our history Tombstone would just be another small town in the high desert. Preserve the town’s history and Tombstone will always be here. Remember these magic words ... Tombstone, OK Corral, Earp & Holliday.”
Green also praised Traywick’s contributions to Tombstone’s history through his books, articles and acting roles.
In 1972, he started the Wild Bunch, a re-enactment group with an emphasis on historically correct productions. While the Wild Bunch no longer exists, Traywick said the group gave Tombstone’s tourism a tremendous boost.
“We were known internationally and were featured on “Good Morning America” and appeared in more than 200 films,” Traywick said during an earlier interview.
After visiting Tombstone for the first time in 1968, Traywick was immediately drawn its Old West history and theme.
“I was so impressed with the town and the people, I ended up staying three days,” he recalled. “After returning to my home in California, I told my wife that we’re moving to Tombstone.”
The couple sold their 19-acre ranch and six horses, packed up their three kids and moved to Tombstone on Thanksgiving day in 1968.
“I never regretted leaving California and have thoroughly enjoyed my life in Tombstone,” Traywick said.
From the time he arrived, Traywick started researching the story of the Earp clan, events surrounding the OK Corral gunfight and the area’s history. He visited historic sites throughout Cochise County and spent countless hours reading old newspaper articles and studying archived documents.
“What I soon discovered is that the town’s true story wasn’t being told,” he said. “I have focused my research and books on telling Tombstone’s real story.”
Born in Watertown, Tennessee, in 1927, Traywick enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served in the South Pacific. He earned 13 major battle stars, a Philippine Presidential Citation and a combat service ribbon, plus numerous other ribbons.
He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics in 1953. After arriving in Tombstone, he worked as a manager for nearby Apache Powder Co. before retiring at 56 to pursue his passion of Southwest history.
Respected and admired by Tombstone officials, business owners and residents, Friday’s building dedication drew a large crowd of friends and family members.
“This dedication is a well-deserved tribute,” said Tombstone Marshal Jim Adams. “When you look at everything that Ben (Traywick) has done for Tombstone, his contributions and all the writing that he’s done, he is an important part of the town’s history.”
Scott Dyke, a columnist and one of Traywick’s close friends, said he has spent literally hundreds of hours with Traywick through the years.
“Of all my memories with this guy, and there have been a bunch, this is a wonderful thing that you folks have done,” he said of the dedication. “I’d like to take it a step further, because if it were up to me, I’d name the town after him.”
After sharing stories about his 54-year friendship with Traywick, Tombstone Mayor Dusty Escapule said, there’s no better man that has ever come to Tombstone than Ben Traywick.
“Ben and I are deeply honored by this,” said Mary Traywick, Ben’s wife. “We are so grateful to Jimmy and Kathy (Green) paying tribute Ben’s legacy this way.”