Rex Allen and Willcox, Az

The Last of the Silver Screen Cowboys

by Ellen Robson

Willcox, Arizona, located 80 miles east of Tucson off Interstate Highway 10, has a population of less than 4000, but don’t let the size of the town fool you.  Willcox, like small communities across America, has its stories to tell. 

For example, an adobe building that housed the rowdy Schley Saloon from 1897 until 1919, when prohibition forced it to shut down, is now the home of the Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame. 

Allen, destined for stardom in Hollywood westerns and television, was born in Willcox on December 31, 1920.  When he was very young, his family had moved to a ranch outside the town.  There, tragically, Allen’s older brother got bitten by a rattlesnake, dieing before the family could get him to the hospital in Willcox.  Distraught, Rex Allen’s mother insisted the family move back into town, closer to medical care.


Allen discovered a love of music when he received a Sears and Roebuck mail-order guitar.  When his dad would start playing his fiddle, Allen played the guitar right by his side.  He spent his Saturdays playing for tips at the town’s barbershop.  At night he would play with his father at local dances.  He began to sing professionally in the 1940s, a move that eventually led to his acting career.  His first film, Arizona Cowboy, was released in 1950.  He starred in the television series, Frontier Doctor, in the mid-1950s.  His resonant voice landed him a job as the narrator for more than 100 Walt Disney TV shows and movies.

In 1989, the residents of Willcox, proud of their native son, opened up the Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame.  The museum, in the front part of the building, is dedicated to the life history of Allen, beginning with his Willcox childhood and following through to his Hollywood career.  Allen’s western and personal memorabilia as well as his sequined cowboy suits, his boots, his saddles, guitars, photographs, movie posters and even a buggy used in one of his films are on display.  The Cowboy Hall of Fame, in the back of the building, pays tribute to respected individuals in the region’s cattle industry.  Historic photographs provide an interesting contrast between glamorous Hollywood cowboys and real-life working cowboys and ranchers.   

Allen’s horse, a stallion named Koko, was originally selected for Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, but Rogers decided that the animal was just too big for his diminutive wife.  Allen, on the other hand, fell in love with Koko the minute he saw him.  When Koko died, Allen had him buried in Hollywood, where he could stay close to his beloved horse.  When Allen moved back to his hometown of Willcox, he had the remains of Koko reburied in Railroad Park, across the street from the museum.  The horse’s grave marker is located next to a larger-than-life bronze statue of Allen.  In the chest of the statue is an exact replica of the human heart, which the legendary silver screen cowboy had custom-made.  He explained to the residents of his small community that the bronze heart represented his heart, which would always remain in Willcox. 

Rex Allen died on December 17, 1999, and at his request, his ashes were scattered at the same small park where his horse Koko is buried.  His presence is often felt there, say residents of Willcox.  Allen never forgot his roots.


Willcox honors its favorite hometown boy the first weekend in October every year with the Rex Allen Days.  The town’s entire population, as well as families from across the United States, participate in the celebration.  Events always include a colorful parade, a two-day rodeo, stage shows, a turtle race, a golf tournament, a western dance and a concert, always featuring Rex Allen, Jr.  Country western fans wait all year for Rex to serenade them with both his father’s well-known songs and his own favorites. 

After you visit the Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame, take time to see the rest of Willcox.  Stroll down historic Railroad Avenue and on the corner you’ll come across another old adobe building, The Willcox Commercial.  Built in the early 1880s, it is the oldest continually operating store in Arizona.  When Geronimo had a craving for sweets, he went to the Willcox Commercial to buy his sugar.  He didn’t trust the white men but he knew how much a pound felt and before purchasing the sugar, he would balance it in his hand to feel the weight of it.  Geronimo was determined not to let any clerk cheat him.  Today, just as in the 1800s, The Willcox Commercial sells hats, cowboy boots and western wear as well as dry goods.

The Headquarters Saloon, on North Railroad Avenue, is where Warren Earp, the youngest of the fabled Earp brothers, met his demise.  He was shot and killed on a scorching hot day in July of 1900.  He is buried in the Old Willcox Cemetery.

The Chiricahua Regional Museum & Research Center is where you’ll learn fascinating legends about Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches.  Exhibits feature Apaches, John Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company stagecoach line, and the U. S. Calvary. 

For such a small town, there are plenty of historic sites for you to explore.  If you decide to make it a weekend trip, there are hotels as well as RV parks in the vicinity.


There are hotels and motels in Willcox with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list. Click Here. (Rates, availability and reservation online)

For more information, contact:

Willcox Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture
1500 N Circle I Road
Willcox, Arizona 85643

Phone 1-520-384-2272

Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame

150 North Railroad Avenue
Willcox, Arizona 85643
Phone 1-520-384-4583

The museum is opened from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There is a small admission charge. 

Willcox Commercial Store

180 North Railroad Avenue
Willcox, Arizona 85643
Phone 1-520-384-2448

The Willcox Commercial store is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Chiricahua Regional Museum & Research Center

127 East Maley Street
Willcox, Arizona 85643
Phone 1-520-384-3971

The Chiricahua Regional Museum & Research Center is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.  Donations are suggested.

More on Willcox, Arizona




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