Johnny One Dog

Johnny One Dog and his sarsaparilla booth.

 

Arizona has come a long way from its Wild West days and storied past. Plenty of cowboys and folks can still ride off into the sunset, but gone are the “break everything in the place” saloon brawls, shady lawmen and infamous gunslingers who took the law into their own hands.

We may no longer have this kind of vigilante justice, but the Wild West mystique is still alive in Tombstone, Arizona, known as The Town Too Tough to Die. The shootout at the O.K. Corral only lasted 30 seconds, but it was enough to put Tombstone on the map and eventually turn it into a thriving tourist destination.

On October 26, 1881, four men in long black coats strode down dusty Fremont Street. Around the corner, behind the O.K. Corral, waited six cowboys. In a fateful 30 seconds, thirty shots were fired at close range, killing three people, wounding three others and becoming the most famous shootout in the history of the American Old West.

Over 140 years later, the streets of Tombstone still look the same – yet there’s something different about them. You can catch the daily reenactment of the infamous gunfight between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp versus the McLaurys and the Clantons in the streets of the Tombstone theatre.

Allen Street is filled with saloons like Big Nose Kates and the Crystal Palace, but new claims have also been staked. There are now tasting rooms by local wineries and an award-winning brewery over on Tough-Nut.

Old or new, Tombstone is still one-of-a-kind. Take Johnny Fields, for example. He is a former RV salesperson turned “Sarsaparilla Slinger.” He first made a name for himself by walking around town with his dog. People would ask, who is this guy, and what does he do? According to Fields, some guy answered: “That’s John and his dog.”

That went on for months until another shop owner asked, “Who is that guy? I see him all the time.” Yet another guy answered, “That’s Johnny One Dog” – ever since then, that’s been his name.

Johnny One Dog said an idea came to him when he walked past a little general store on 6th and Allen and saw a display of Sioux City Sarsaparilla.

He thought, “Tombstone is more famous than Sioux City, Iowa – they should have their own sarsaparilla.” After some research, Johnny partnered with a micro-brewery in Kansas City to make the drink especially for him. He scraped up enough money to buy a pallet of the specialty soda and created labels and packaging decorated with the likes of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers.

He picked up a secondhand fridge, turned a rolling television cart into a bar and set up shop in an old stagecoach repair garage across from the O.K. Corral. “All of a sudden, I have twenty accounts. I’m selling maybe 5,000 bottles a month,” Johnny said. He now has customers driving from five other states to buy his cases, and he’s selling around 50,000 bottles a year, but Johnny says he has no plans to go mainstream. “It turns into root beer. You get into mass production, and it screws it all up,” he said.

Johnny prefers his one-person operation and likes to deliver his bottled soda personally, just like the old days when Tombstone was still a one-horse town. Tombstone will always be connected to its storied past, but like Johnny One Dog, a few new places hope to be part of the narrative.

Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of Arizona HighwaysTelevision, Saturdays and Sundays on CBS.