Ed Keeylocko, 85, is living his legend of the Wild West.
With cactus green eyes, red hair and black skin, Keeylocko is a minority of minorities, but he never let this stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a cattle rancher in the Southwest.
Forty-four miles outside of Tucson is the 80-acre ranch run by the man who calls himself Cowboy Keeylocko. He lives in Cowtown Keeylocko, a running cattle ranch that he built in the 1970s.
At the age of 14 his adoptive mother kicked him out of his South Carolina home, so he spent several years roaming the countryside. He enlisted in the Army and served 23 years fighting in Korea and Vietnam.
Afterward, he attended the University of Arizona, where he studied agriculture. He didn’t end up graduating but left believing that what he needed to learn he could learn on his own.
“I wanted to farm alfalfa and nurture a special breed of cows, a special breed of everything,” Keeylocko said. “I wanted to change the lifespan of the horses and un-domesticate the cow to give them back their horns so they could fight and protect themselves.”
Once he got the farm up and running, his first special breed of cattle established with a brand of his own, he was ready to go to auction. However, what he wasn’t prepared for was the racial discrimination that he would face there.
He would drive the cattle up on a Thursday afternoon then go back to the ranch to do some work. Friday morning he would return for the auction. As he arrived for auction one morning in the early 1970s, he saw that his cattle got out of the fence and into the road.
After he herded them back into the corral, all of the auctioneers lined up and asked if the brand on those cattle was his.
“When I told them it was, they looked at each other then back at me and then one man said, ‘Well now where the hell you come from?’ and I told them that I was building a farm out west,” Keeylocko said.
Nobody bought his cattle that day. Disappointed, he loaded them back into the trailer.
“One of them Texas boys started laughing at me, as he spewed chewing tobacco from his mouth he said, ‘Why don’t you build your own town and sell your cattle from there, ain’t nobody going to buy your cattle in this town, boy,’ and I said, you know I’ll do that,” Keeylocko said.
He never knew that people could be so biased that they would refuse to buy cattle from a black man.
“Boy they were laughing up their sleeves … but nobody laughs today. And that’s the way it all started,” he said.
From that moment at the cattle auction in the 1970s, he was determined to build his own town; nothing was going to stop him. Now, Cowtown Keeylocko is located at the end of a bumpy dirt road just west of Tucson. Visitors know they’ve reached the final road leading to Cowtown when they pull up to a signpost that reads: “Population 5 – most of the time.”
Every piece of Cowtown was hauled in with Keeylocko’s half-ton pickup truck — from the 80-foot pole for the roof lining of the saloon to the signs hung around Cowtown he carried in himself.
He built the Blue Dog Saloon, a post office, a jail and a general store. Keeylocko created a make-believe town in the middle of the desert, but the saloon is the only operating building.
Antique items of all sorts — from rocking chairs, old-fashioned coke bottles, and figurines, big and small, to picture frames and license plates — fill the Blue Dog Saloon. The items came from friends, old storage sheds and junkyards from all over the place.
Hanging on the wall behind the bar is a sign that states the Keeylocko Cowtown laws: “No cussin’, No spittin’ on the floor, No disrespecting the ladies. … No ifs ands or buts about it!” just to name a few.
“My favorite thing about this town goes back to where it all started, the cattle. I love sitting out on the porch listening to the cows talking off in the distance,” he said.
Keeylocko sits up on the barstool in the Blue Dog Saloon, sipping on a glass of 1800 Tequila Silver, and stares off into his fantasyland that he created.
“It’s not everyday that a person gets to do what he likes to do, and I like to do this,” he said. “I can’t imagine me being a policeman, a bus driver a businessman in a suit. I have to do something that keeps me occupied with things that I love doing.”
This cowboy’s way of life may not be for everyone, but it sure shows the true colors of Keeylocko. The sheer quirkiness of the town alone has brought in tourists from all over the country.
Cowtown Keeylocko is now established as a destination for curious travelers wanting to see the mystical town created by a man determined to follow his dreams. The town now holds events and gatherings, bringing in folks from all over. In mid-April, a motorcycle rally drew 200 people.
Keeylocko has found peace here. He was thrown out of his house, so he built his own house on a farm. And when that wasn’t enough, he built his own town.
His sunset days are upon him, yet he is still making plans for the future of Cowtown. He wants to build a new saloon and turn the original Blue Dog Saloon into a museum, where he’ll put things on display. The new saloon will be called the “I Ain’t Here Saloon.”
Mackenzie Boulter is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.