He created the first launched submarine missiles.
He starred in international films.
He even served in World War II.
But there is one job that made Ben T. Traywick into one of the most important people in recent Tombstone history: He is the keeper of the town’s history.
And he has done it for 39 years.
“History is Tombstone’s biggest asset,” said the 86-year-old Traywick. “If we don’t protect our history, we are going to be a town full of old people with high utility rates.”
Traywick retired as the town historian in 2010, thinking that the job would be carried on. But the person appointed to replace him quickly left office and the town never officially filled the position.
Despite this, he’s never lost his passion for preserving the past.
“My worry is, and always has been, that we are sitting on a goldmine, and some of the people refuse to exploit it,” said Traywick. “We need to turn this town to cater to the tourists. The only thing we have to sell is our history.”
Meanwhile, the Tombstone Archives has been facing closure after falling into financial conflict with the city.
Council Member Herbert Linn of Ward Four said the Tombstone Archives are close to $10,000 in debt.
“If we close the archives completely and move the records we could get one full-time deputy and two part-time deputies, or we could hire two public works employees,” said Linn. “Both of those departments are running short handed. We have to take care of water. We have to take care of police. We have to take care of sewer.”
Although the Tombstone City Council may decide to close the archives, they plan to move the documents and have the city clerk handle them.
Traywick and the City Council both understand that tourism and history is very important to the city, but Traywick is worried that the history of Tombstone will no longer be emphasized.
“Nancy (Sosa, the current historic records manager) is a very knowledgeable person about Tombstone history. She is very good with dealing with the tourists,” said Traywick. “I don’t know why, but it seems we have people who are trying to do away with that, and we need it. In some measure it replaces what I have been doing, and it gives people a place to ask things about the town.”
Since Traywick has opened his bookstore in 1970, he along with his family, the Love family, who owns many of the historical Tombstone buildings, and the Tombstone Wild Bunch, a non-profit historical re-enactment group, has proven that tourism is one of the most important factors for Tombstone’s economy.
Basically, they have been putting Tombstone back on the map.
“(There was) nothing being done to attract tourists (until) we started the show at O.K. Corral, then a lot more people started coming into town,” said Traywick. “In just a few years we doubled the amount of people who came into the town.”
According to Traywick, he has published over 1,700 articles, 38 books and starred in 277 films about Tombstone.
“We made the first film for ‘Walt Disney’s (Wonderful World of Color),” said Traywick. “We made three films for them in a row about ‘Deacon, the High Noon Dog’.”
They raised over $200,000 for local Tombstone charities with their films alone.
Traywick believes that Tombstone history may be more important than just attracting tourists. It is about preserving the truth.
Among the historic distortions: the town’s population has been inflated, with some putting the number beyond 100,000. Traywick said the population never topped 6,000.
“We had 245 Chinese here,” said Traywick. “Now some of the people say we had 100,000 people and 30,000 Chinese. Anybody with an IQ over 30 can see there ain’t enough room to hold that many people.”