Did You Know: Arizona Capitol Winged Vane Was A Shooting Target For Cowboys

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, June 26, 2015 - 10:08am
Updated: Friday, June 26, 2015 - 3:52pm
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(Photo courtesy of Russell Houston)
A Russell Houston painting depicting cowboys shooting at Winged Victory on the Capitol Dome during Arizone Territorial days.
(Photo courtesy of Taylor Arrazola)
Winged Victory atop the Arizona State Capitol copper dome.

You’ve probably driven past the building and barely noticed — yet she’s been there for more than a century.

The Winged Victory statue has been on top of the Arizona Capitol copper dome since 1901. She was purchased specifically to adorn the Territorial government building.

Did you know Winged Victory was once a shooting target for cowboys?

“In the territorial days when the cowboys used to go down, Washington Street was the barbary coast of Arizona in those days, and all the saloons and things, the cowboys had come into town and they’d be drinking it up. Then they’d ride out to the capitol, way out of town to the capitol, and then they’d shoot at her wings to make her spin," said Marshall Trimble, the Arizona state historian. "People over the years thought that was just a tall tale spun.”

Well, it wasn’t. In the 1950s when the dome was first being refurbished, it was discovered that there were bullet marks on the wings.

Winged Victory is actually older than the state of Arizona. It was purchased in 1898 for $150. At the time, the Arizona Territorial capitol was under construction. When it was completed a couple of years later, it was installed on the dome. She is actually a 17-foot-tall, 600-pound wind vane. She sits on a rotating pedestal and spins when the wind hits her wings. Historians believe that’s why the cowboys shot at her.

"So, the stories were true, spinning her around," Trimble said. "And a cowboy artist named Russell Houston has a great rendering of that. Grandpa Percy, my wife’s maternal grandfather, talked about it. I believed it, you know. It sounded like something that somebody who was a little inebriated might do.”

Russ Houston put a lot of time into researching the story. His canvas depicts five cowboys in front a large grey-colored Arizona state capitol with Winged Victory on the dome. Most of the men are mounted on their horses with pistols in hand, raised over their heads, aimed toward the capitol.

"I’m not sure if that’s how it happened, but in my mind I thought that would be the best depiction," he said. "It’s to show ‘em just kind of gathered in front popping away.”

This is not the only time Winged Victory was under attack. State historian Trimble said in the 1950s lawmakers were tired of looking at her back so had her tethered in place so she couldn’t move. But by the 1970s she was back to her old spinning self.

If you want to see Houston’s painting, it’s on display at the Bashas’ Art Gallery in Chandler.

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