Tucumcari woman trying to keep Rawhide memories rollin’

Courtesy photo: Rosie Walker Rawhide cast members Paul Brinegar and Clint Eastwood posed with fans for this photo behind the Tucumcari Hall Motel in 1959. Rosie Walker, who lives in Mission Texas, said she's not sure who took the photo but her family members include Edna Mae Smelley of Clovis, left, and Imogene Turpin, just to Brinegar's right. Both of Walker's aunts had traveled to Tucumcari in hopes of meeting 'Rawhide' cast members.

Courtesy photo: Rosie Walker
Rawhide cast members Paul Brinegar and Clint Eastwood posed with fans for this photo behind the Tucumcari Hall Motel in 1959. Rosie Walker, who lives in Mission Texas, said she’s not sure who took the photo but her family members include Edna Mae Smelley of Clovis, left, and Imogene Turpin, just to Brinegar’s right. Both of Walker’s aunts had traveled to Tucumcari in hopes of meeting ‘Rawhide’ cast members.

By David Stevens
Editor
dstevens@cnjonline.com

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ — a Tucumcari woman is trying to keep those memories rollin’ about the time five episodes of the television show “Rawhide” were filmed at ranches near Tucumcari in 1959.

Karen Alarcon, who works for radio stations KTNM and KQAY in Tucumcari, said she was talking about the classic TV Western on the air one day and realized, “We need to take advantage of that for our town,” she said.

So Alarcon and co-worker Russell Braziel started working on a “Rawhide event.” It’s scheduled April 15-16 at the Tucumcari Historical Museum.

In preparation, they’re trying to locate cast members — including series star Clint Eastwood who played cattle driver Rowdy Yates — and family of cast members to invite them to remember that summer.

She’s already invited Eastwood, through his production studio, she said, but the only firm commitment so far has been from the daughter of Sheb Wooley; Wooley played the role of Pete Nolan, the scout for the drovers.

Since many of the cast members have died since the filming 56 years ago, Alarcon has a secondary idea for bringing back the past — she’s collecting stories of old-timers who remember the six weeks of filming around Quay County.

One of the best stories she’s heard so far involved cast members frequenting a bar at 508 E. Tucumcari Boulevard while they were in town.

She’s not sure about the bar’s name in 1959, but it became the Trails West Lounge and Alarcon owned it briefly about 15 years ago.

“We were kind of remodeling it,” she said, when an old man whose name she cannot remember walked in.

“He said Clint Eastwood and the Rawhide crew would come party there. And he said that Clint told (the owner at the time) that if he’d buy a piano, then ‘We’ll pay off your mortgage.’”

And so the owner purchased a piano, and Eastwood and Co. paid off the owner’s mortgage, Alarcon said.

She’s hoping to find the man who told her the story so she can gather more details. And she’s looking for more memories from locals.

“I have a story on my desk about a cowboy who was asked to get on a horse and jump off a cliff with his horse,” she said. “But you know cowboys don’t like to risk their horse’s life, so he said he wouldn’t do it. So that scene never got filmed.”

Joe Thomas, the former Clovis city manager who grew up in Tucumcari, can add to Alarcon’s collection of tales.

Thomas was 8 when the Rawhide crew arrived in town on Aug. 10, 1959. He said he remembers going to the A&W root beer stand on the west end of the city, where the crew often grabbed refreshments after a hot day of filming.

“One thing I do remember is I saw (Eric Fleming who played trail boss Gil Favor) and Clint Eastwood from a distance,” Thomas said.

“But the old guy with the mustache and beard and funny hat, he would get out and talk to people. He came by and spoke to my folks.”

That man was Tucumcari native Paul Brinegar, who played chuckwagon cook George Washington Wishbone.

The show debuted on CBS on Jan. 9,  1959, so Tucumcari residents knew all about it when the crew arrived for six weeks of shooting, mostly at ranches north of town.

“We never missed it,” Thomas said. “Every Friday night (it moved to Tuesdays in 1965), we always watched it.”

Alarcon said she and Braziel are trying to secure entertainment and put together a parade to help mark the celebration.

“Right now we’re just trying to have a ‘Tucumcari Rawhide Days,’” she said. “But it would be nice if it turned into a ‘Rawhide’ reunion.”

‘Rawhide’ tales
Karen Alarcon is collecting memories from the six weeks “Rawhide” filmed around Tucumcari in 1959.
Send stories to karena@majesticcomm.com

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