By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
With a bit of deception, luck and help from his cousins, Mark Brinegar, son of the late “Rawhide” actor Paul Brinegar, turned Friday’s seemingly impromptu trip to Tucumcari into a memory his mother will treasure for years to come.
As Mark and his cousins, Steve Brinegar and Paul Brinegar, neared Tucumcari, they began to point out various signs to Mark’s mother, Shirley Brinegar.
Shirley’s late husband was cast as George Washington Wishbone in the western TV series “Rawhide.” She said she had not visited Tucumcari since a cross-country trip with her late husband in 1964 and was not prepared for what she discovered upon her return.
“I pointed at a billboard and said ‘Auntie, look!’ and as she read the sign I could see her excitement,” said Paul Brinegar.
The billboard was an advertisement for Tucumcari Rawhide Days, a two-day festival honoring the series at the Tucumcari Convention Center.
“My mom began to tremble as we pulled into town and began to tear up when we were greeted at the event,” Mark Brinegar said.
Mark said the people of the festival greeted his mother as a celebrity. He said it was an amazing feeling to see his mother so happy as she shook hands and spoke with people about her memories of his late father and of “Rawhide,” a TV western that was filmed near Tucumcari from 1959 until 1965.
“I am flabbergasted and I’m still not sure all this is actually happening,” said Shirley Brinegar. “I am so grateful to know that so many people still care about ‘Rawhide.’”
Shirley Brinegar spent time visiting with the daughters of her late husband’s co-stars, Clint Eastwood and Sheb Wooley. Kimber Eastwood, Chrystie Wooley and Mark Brinegar talked about memories before attending Friday night’s concert.
Brinegar said the plan to surprise his mother with a trip to the Rawhide Days Festival began in December when he received a call from the event’s creator, Karen Alarcon.
“I immediately wanted to attend this event and thought it would be amazing to surprise my mom,” Mark Brinegar said, who added that he contacted his cousins Steve Brinegar, of Santa Fe and Paul Brinegar of Albuquerque and began to devise a plan. He said it all depended on his mother’s health and once it appeared she would be able to make the trip, the tickets were booked.
“A planned visit to New Mexico to see family was our cover story,” said Steve Brinegar.
Steve said it was a group effort by the three men to suggest a trip to Tucumcari to visit the birthplace of her late husband.
“We had to be sure not to push for the trip to hard and raise suspicion,” Paul Brinegar said.
The plan succeeded, as Shirley was surprised and honored along with Eastwood and Wooley with keys to the city presented by Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield.
“I have never had a day like this before,” Shirley Brinegar said.