By Brooke Curley
SAFFORD – Romance and statehood is uniquely intertwined between Graham County and Arizona.
Coinciding with Arizona’s statehood on Valentine’s Day in 1912, the story has been passed down via oral history. It includes a sweetheart ending and an infatuation that knew no state boundaries.
Tucked neatly between the Step Back in Time Café and the historical Safford Theater front on Main Street in Downtown Safford, a historian with a twinkle in his eye manned the Graham County Historical Society on Tuesday. Hal Herbert, of the Graham Historical Association and Restoration Committee, was at his desk, ready to tell the 105-year-old tale found only in the oral history of Graham County. However, the story coincides with real individuals and real locations, which lead many to believe it is factual.
The story begins with the son of the known organizer of the Wham Robbery, Wilfred T. Webb, who was elected to represent Graham County at the signing of the Arizona statehood document. Webb was a wealthy merchant who lived in Pima.
“He was designated to be one of the representatives of Arizona to go to Washington, D.C. at the time of the signing of the Arizona statehood document,” Herbert said. “He took a long train trip. On that long train trip, he met a young lady who absolutely smote him, and she was a dancer in a fancy club in New York.”
Having only just met the woman, Webb traveled with her by train to New York instead of his original route to Washington, D.C. As the story goes, Webb was having such a lovely time with his newfound sweetheart that he only remembered he was supposed to be in Washington, D.C. when she brought him the newspaper.
“He woke up with her one morning in a bedroom in New York and she brought him that morning’s newspaper about Arizona’s statehood signing in Washington, D.C.,” Herbert said. “He had totally forgotten about it, and he was in New York! So, he jumped out of bed, threw on his clothes, jumped on a train and got down to Washington, D.C. just in time for the Constitution to be adopted by Congress.”
Although many might think that this romance was a just a fling on a train, it was not. After witnessing the statehood of Arizona to be proclaimed, Webb returned to New York.
“He went back to New York, married her (and) brought her back to Graham County,” Herbert said. “And (he) bought a ranch for her on the other side of the mountain called the 76 Ranch. She – even after he was dead – still lived on and ran the 76 Ranch.”
The 76 Ranch later became a dude ranch, where other notable historical interactions took place over the time of Arizona’s statehood.