Move over, Virginia. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we rustled up 10 of the Grand Canyon State’s best love stories.
One Arizona sunset. That’s all it takes to understand the intoxicating romance of the Southwest, which has served as a backdrop and supporting role for love stories from Territorial ranch courtships to 21st-century political pairings.
“I have a feeling that every couple, especially when they’re first together, is quite romantic,” says Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian. “Famous sheriff or colorful ranch woman or prominent merchant’s wife… they didn’t have an exclusive on giving your heart to each other.”
To celebrate February 14, both our statehood day and Valentine’s Day, we share some of the best Arizona love stories.
Cora “Viola” Howell and “Texas” John Slaughter
It was a May-December romance for the legendary rancher and sheriff John Slaughter and his second wife, Cora “Viola” Howell. Slaughter was a 40-year-old widower raising children on his own when he spied 18-year-old Viola on a cattle drive from his birth state of Texas to his adopted homeland in Arizona in the late 1800s. “The funny thing is, he started moving his herd closer and closer to the Howell herd and it was just his way of subtly getting closer to her,” Trimble says, so that when the families stopped for the night to camp, he could make time with Viola. You know, just a little bit of friendly cow-flirtin’.
“The father-in-law was happy – he thought John Slaughter was quite a man, quite a catch for his daughter,” Trimble says. “But the mother-in-law just had a fit. This was a man twice her daughter’s age… but she finally gave in and they came to Arizona and started ranching.” Viola raised Slaughter’s children and they adopted an Apache girl together. Slaughter later became the sheriff of Cochise County and helped found the town of Douglas. Despite Mrs. Howell’s initial objections, their love endured for 40 years.
“It was a happy marriage, too. They had this beautiful ranch,” Trimble says. “They stayed married all those years and on May 4 of 1921, he and her, armed just with shotguns, held off a band of outlaws that had tried to attack the ranch. That was his last gunfight. He died about three years later. She lived clear into the late 1930s… She saw the frontier from the trail ride herding cattle on horseback to the advent of the automobile.” Trimble details their story and others like it in his latest book, Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen: Gunslingers, Bandits, Heroes and Peacekeepers.
Josephine Sarah Marcus and Wyatt Earp
When they first met, the famed lawman and the California-born actress were in other relationships – he with third, common-law wife Mattie Blaylock and she with Earp’s nemesis, Sheriff Johnny Behan. “Let’s just say he [Behan] was not a very trustworthy boyfriend. We all know what that is,” Trimble says. “She finally had enough of him and broke off with him and it was just about that time she met Wyatt Earp. He was tall, handsome, quiet, strong. She was petite and very pretty, dark eyes, dark hair. They fell in love.”
She returned to San Francisco for a spell, but Earp made the trek to pick her up and “off they went until his death in 1929,” Trimble says. There is no evidence that the two were officially married, but their nearly 50-year union earned them common-law status several times over. “A lot of people on the frontier didn’t bother to get married, they just were married [for all intents and purposes],” Trimble says. “They were married in their hearts. Over those years, [Earp and Marcus] traveled to all the colorful towns of the west” looking for gold and adventure. After Earp died in 1929, Marcus dedicated herself to guarding his legacy when biographers began digging into his life’s events. “The rest of her life she protected his memory and fiercely defended him in death when he couldn’t defend himself,” Trimble says. “She remained loyal that way right up to the end. Any time somebody wrote something bad about Wyatt Earp, they heard from her.”
Hattie Josephine “JoJo” Williams and Baron M. Goldwater
It all could have ended tragically if not for some serious moxie on the part of Hattie Josephine “JoJo” Williams. After graduating from nursing school in Chicago in 1903, Williams was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Determined to get better without worrying her family, she followed her doctor’s advice to head to Phoenix to convalesce, under the guise of shepherding a TB patient to do the same. After arriving in Ash Fork (north of Prescott), she hopped on a cattle train and rode into Phoenix in the caboose. She made a remarkable recovery and started practicing nursing. “She was the first trained nurse in Phoenix,” Trimble says. “Folks in Phoenix called her ‘that trained nurse.’”
A few years later, “she ventured into a Downtown department store one day and she caught the eye of the owner, who was a confirmed bachelor. It was kind of like love at first sight for both of them,” Trimble says. “They got married on New Year’s Day 1908, and exactly one year later she gave birth to their first child. They named the child Barry. The father was Baron Goldwater, of the famous Goldwater family, and this was future senator of Arizona, Barry M. Goldwater. That’s my surprise ending.”
Luckily for Arizonans, “it’s not really the end.” While Baron Goldwater was tied to the daily operations of the store, his adventurous wife “just couldn’t get enough of Arizona under her belt,” Trimble says. She packed little Barry and his brother and sister up in their Chalmers Touring Car and drove them all around the state to explore. At night they camped, and JoJo would lecture about Arizona’s history, geology, geography, ecology and people while the kids sat around the campfire.
“Barry later said that it was then and around those campfires that he developed his passion and love for Arizona. It became legend,” Trimble says. “It’s what created the love affair between Barry Goldwater and the state of Arizona, and in a way it was really a love between a woman who was condemned to die, pretty much, and a store owner who just thought she walked on water, I guess. It’s a story I always like to tell.”
Mary Kidder and Charlie Rak
Even by today’s norms, the early 20th-century romance between Mary Kidder and Charlie Rak was pretty progressive. After graduating from Stanford, Kidder fell in love with cattleman Rak around 1918. Their love nest? A ranch near Rucker Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains, 40 miles from Douglas. “It seemed like the end of the world out there,” Trimble says of their isolation.
“It wasn’t long on the ranch before her and Charlie figured out that she was a lousy cook; she hated to cook. And he was a good cook, and he liked to cook,” Trimble says. “She liked the calves, and the calves liked her better than they liked Charlie, so they decided to trade responsibilities. She would look after the cows – except during roundup time, when it took more hands – and he took care of the housework and did the cooking.” The traditional gender roles swap worked – Kidder-Rak even authored two best-selling books about her life on the ranch: Mountain Cattle and A Cowman’s Wife.
“She said it worked out just perfectly until some of her Stanford girlfriends showed up at the ranch to pay a visit,” Trimble says. “They thought she was being mistreated and abused by her husband because she was having to work outside and he was working inside!”
Ernestina Carrillo and Robert Espinoza
For Latinos in the 1940s and 1950s, the Riverside Ballroom in South Phoenix was the place to mix and mingle, says Phoenix’s “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore, who shares Arizona history stories on marshallshore.com. “For Hispanics, that was a time period when they were not allowed to necessarily go into some establishments. Riverside Ballroom had a Sunday night where Hispanics could go and they played big bands and brought in national acts, so that’s where everybody went.”
It’s where Phoenix beauty pro Sandra Espinoza’s parents met in 1942. “My father Robert walked in and this brown-eyed beauty on the dance floor caught his eye,” she says via email. “He said to himself, ‘I’m going to marry that beautiful girl.’”
Espinoza and his brown-eyed girl Ernestina Carrillo met again and again to dance at the Riverside Ballroom – until Espinoza joined the U.S. Marine Corps and went off to fight in World War II. He returned to Phoenix on leave and wed his sweetheart. They had five children, nine grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren and were happily married until Ernestina died in 1986. “He fondly remembers every moment as if it were yesterday,” Sandra Espinoza says. “My father is 94 years old and carries that love many, many years ago for my mom to this day.”
Wanda Patton and Roosevelt “Rip” Woods Jr.
Shore says African-Americans had similar date-night complications in pre-Civil Rights era Phoenix. He tells the story of Wanda Patton and Roosevelt “Rip” Woods Jr., who met at Dunbar Elementary School and started dating when they were students at Carver High School, an African-American school. “Rip would pick up Wanda in a Model T he had named Josephine and painted with polka dots. Wanda, embarrassed, would crouch down out of view,” Shore says. “They would go to Sing High [Chop Suey House], which was one of the few places where black people could go on a date.” They married in 1951 and Woods later attended Arizona State Univeristy and became an art teacher at Camelback High School. They had three children and one granddaughter and remained married until Rip’s death in 2001.
Patricia Steiner and Raúl Castro
Dating a mama’s boy can be a rough road. Just ask Patricia Steiner-Castro, who dated former Arizona governor Raúl Castro (our only Latino governor) for five years before he introduced her to his mother. “My mother would tell me, ‘Son, whatever you do, don’t you marry an American girl,’” Castro told the Arizona Republic before his death last April. Señora Castro feared American girls would drink, smoke and neglect their children. Steiner, a German-Irish girl from Milwaukee, was far from the esposa Castro’s mother envisioned for her son.
But, when Castro finally plucked up the courage to bring Steiner home to meet his mother in Douglas, the ladies clicked. “Since that day, Mother always took her side, never my side,” Castro said.
Despite the language and cultural barriers, she gave her blessing and Steiner and Castro married in 1959 and honeymooned in Mexico City. They had two daughters and remained married until Castro’s death.
Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams and Muhammad Ali
Though he was “The Greatest” at boxing, Muhammad Ali wasn’t the greatest at making marriages work until he married Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams in 1986. He was a thrice-divorced father of eight with a hot temper; she was a young, vivacious Vanderbilt graduate with no desire to be a wallflower. Though they married when Ali was in his 40s and she was in her 20s, they first met in 1963, when Ali (then Cassius Clay) visited his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Photographer Steve Schapiro snapped a shot of Ali as a young man talking with Williams and other neighborhood children. “I do believe it was fate that I met Muhammad that day and you were there to memorialize it forever in black and white,” Williams wrote in a letter to Schapiro in 2012.
The Alis adopted a son together and have become tireless champions of Parkinson’s disease treatment, research and education initiatives in their adopted home state of Arizona and beyond. Asked about her caregiving role in a Boxing.com interview, Lonnie said her most important contribution to the relationship is “a true passion and love for Muhammad and everything he stands for, willingness to be his foundation and his rock, my mothering instincts and perhaps the business practices and principles I have learned,” she said. “He never complains and has such a positive attitude about life, the human condition, other people and our ultimate reward. Muhammad always rises above.”
Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
It’s easy to be in love when things are going swimmingly – that’s why reality TV relationships crumble as soon as producers aren’t footing the bill for dream dates. But when tragedy strikes, as it did when Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt in 2011, you find out what real love is made of. “The last month has been the hardest of my life,” her husband, retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain Mark Kelly said at the National Prayer Breakfast a month after the incident.
He later told Glamour, “Gabby inspires me to deny the acceptance of failure. I feel it when she walks faster than she did the day before. When her smile lifts the spirits of a room full of people. She is proof that the human spirit can triumph in the face of tragedy.”
The two met in 2003 on a trade mission trip to China and married in 2007, with Giffords becoming stepmother to Kelly’s two daughters from his first marriage. At their wedding, the New York Times reported, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich toasted: “To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds 17,000 miles per hour.”
Since the shooting, Kelly has devoted himself to Giffords’ recovery and gun control advocacy. Kelly and Giffords also wrote a book about their ordeal, Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love and Resilience. “They have inspired our nation with their commitment to making America a safer place,” Senator John McCain told Glamour. “And their devotion to each other is an example to us all.”
David and Kevin Patterson and Cayden and Cayla
Some love stories just aren’t complete until that love is multiplied by children. In September 2011, longtime loves David and Kevin Patterson took an impromptu trip to Disneyland that got them seriously thinking about starting their own brood. “We took a look at who we were as individuals, and who we were as a couple,” David Patterson says via email. “In this moment we decided that we had more love to give and were ready to share that love with kids.
They returned to Phoenix and began exploring their options – private adoption, surrogacy, international adoption – and “eventually landed on adopting through the state of Arizona. We had both grown up in this community and wanted to raise children who were a part of it,” David says. It was especially meaningful for the couple because they were plaintiffs in the case that secured marriage equality in Arizona. “As far as I know, we were the first [gay] Arizona couple married” when it became legal on October 17, 2014, David says.
After the usual adoption rigamarole, they began to get discouraged. Then, one day, they saw a profile for two sisters, Cayden and Cayla. It was love at first sight. “We read every word again and again to be sure that this was real. These were the girls that we were going to raise,” David says of their daughters, now 9 and 6, respectively. “We were blessed to be chosen as their family. Through the last few years we have all learned so much from each other. Most importantly, we have learned that love is love and we are blessed in this world when we find each other.”
You never know where you’ll meet the love of your life. For these Arizona-linked couples, their first impressions were worthy of a romantic comedy.
Valley politicos Kate and Ruben Gallego met at a date auction for charity held after September 11, 2001. He was a pretty cheap date – Kate told Marshall Shore she bought Ruben for $44. “He benefited the Red Cross.”
Rocker Alice Cooper met ballerina/dance choreographer Sheryl Goddard when she performed on his 1975 tour. He reportedly left Raquel Welch for the dancer, and they married in 1976.
Governor Doug Ducey and his wife Angela were college sweethearts who met during their Sun Devil days at Arizona State University.
Actor George Takei and his husband Brad, who split their time between Arizona and California, met in 1988 when they were both part of a gay running club. George was impressed by Brad’s looks and skills and asked him to train him.
Retired basketball great and current sportscaster/analyst Ann Meyers-Drysdale met her late husband, Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, when he was covering ABC’s “Superstars” competition in 1979. Meyers-Drysdale took fourth in the competition but was later inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, making the Drysdales the first married couple to be inducted into their respective sports’ halls of fame.