Gunfighters The Town Too Tough To Die

Gunfighters - Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while they coax visitors to come see the 3:00 pm show.
Gunfighters – Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while coaxing visitors to see the 3:00 pm show.

Ghost towns in Arizona are a dime a dozen. There are enough of them to fill a book. I know because I currently have five of them sitting on my shelves. The morphing of a city into a ghost town follows a familiar pattern. It starts with some loony prospector finding a valuable mineral—gold, silver, copper, diamonds, or another precious stone. News of the bonanza spreads quickly and lures a gaggle of opportunistic people. Half of them want to get rich by picking nuggets from the ground, and the rest want to pick them from someone’s pockets.

A new town springs from the ground like a children’s pop-up book. More people settled in the town and either got jobs at the mine or open shops that every mining community needed, like bars, gambling halls, and whore houses. Eventually—in a year, a decade, or a century—the gold (or whatever) pans out. The excitement of living in a mining town slowly dies, and its residents move on to the next boom town. Mother Nature reclaims the land without caretakers; all that remains is a pile of rotting wood, some foundations, and the eerie spirit of ghosts.

Of course, there are exceptions to my rule. In a handful of cases, when the mine goes bust, its residents look around and say to themselves, “This is a great place to live.” They find other sources of income. I call these places amusement communities. Examples that come to mind include Oatman, Jerome, Bisbee, Bagdad, Clifton, and Tombstone.

Of those locations, Tombstone is the odd duck. There are no gaping open pits to gawk at, historic hotels, or James Beard-worthy restaurants. I suspect that most of its visitors don’t even know about the silver mine. That’s because the silver vein wasn’t gigantic, and that’s how it got the name Goodenough Silver Mine. A gunfight between the Earps and the Clantons secured Tombstone’s historical spot. If it weren’t for that singular gang fight, Tombstone—’The town too tough to die’—would be a pile of splinters by now.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a list of exciting things to see in Tombstone. It was the Cochise County seat for a while, so there’s the old courthouse (with its gallows patio), the Crystal Palace back bar, the world’s largest dead rose bush, and the Birdcage theater should be on everyone’s checklist. Of course, if you have the time and money, you should see the show at the OK Coral, but realize that the actual gunfight was on Highway 80—behind the Coral.

I took this week’s photo on a cold, windy December afternoon. We had checked into our motel and started into town before the light faded. Standing in the middle of Allen Street (dirt, then paved until the street department poured dirt over it again—for authenticity) were four gunfighters dressed in black wearing badges. They tried to stay warm while they hawked visitors to the 3:00 pm show. I don’t know how successful they were because the streets were empty as people sheltered inside the bars. I titled this shot Gunfighters.

You can see a larger version of Gunfighters on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join Queen Anne and me throughout January as we show some of the exciting Tombstone scenes we found.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Queen Anne and I are working on our calendar for the year. We’re putting together a list of places we’d like to visit and this year’s book topics. If you have any requests, let us know in the comments section.

Mack’s Bar Picture of the Week

Mack's Bar - Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack's Bar in Willcox, Arizona.
Mack’s Bar – Something that its patrons may never see is the early morning sun shining on Mack’s Bar in Willcox, Arizona.

“Gee, had I only known …” I don’t know about you, but I’ve uttered that phrase a lot. I shouldn’t be surprised because my mom always told me that I “was a day late and a dollar short.” And, I always thought she called me sun because I was so bright.

This time I whispered the idiom to myself after getting back from our Cochise County trip. As I always do, I began looking for stories that complement my pictures. I found a great story about another Earp shooting. Not Wyatt. That would have been too good. This incident involved the shooting death of Warren Earp—Wyatt’s youngest brother—at 1:30 am July 6th, 1900, in the Headquarters Saloon.

If you’re not familiar with the controversial Earp brothers (where have you been), they were supposedly the good guys at the OK Corral shootout in 1881—even though they wore the black hats and black dusters. I don’t want to dwell on the Tombstone incident, but the short version is that Wyatt, two of his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and their friend—Doc Holiday went to the corral to disarm four Clanton Gang cowboys. The confrontation erupted in a 30-second gunfight where the Earp’s killed Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton while Ike Clanton managed to run away. (In this video, Bob Boze Bell—former DJ, artist, and publisher of True West magazine—explains the shootout’s story better. It’s longish but interesting.)

Warren wasn’t in Tombstone at that time because he was too young and lived with his parents in California, but he later got entangled in the subsequent vendetta that lasted another year. By 1900, Warren had settled in Willcox, a mountain range east of Tombstone. He worked as a stage driver for the mail and a Sierra Bonita Ranch hand. It was at the ranch where he and Johnny Boyett became close.

On the fateful night, Warren and Johnny got into a shouting match in the saloon on the northeast corner of Maley Street and Railroad Avenue (diagonally across the street from last week’s train station). As their argument heated, they threatened to kill one another, although neither was armed. Short-tempered Warren and Boyett left the bar separately. Earp wanted to cool off, and Johnny went to get a gun. When Warren returned through the back door, Boyett shot at him four times. He seemingly missed on purpose. Earp taunted the ranch foreman and opened his duster to prove he didn’t have a gun. “Don’t come an inch closer,” Johnny shouted, but Warren continued. Johnny fired another round sending a bullet through Earp’s heart. Warren fell foreword, dead onto the floor. Then things got weird.

Between the 1:00 am shooting, and sunrise, Earp’s body was dragged to the cemetery and buried in an unmarked grave. Meanwhile, the Sheriff arrested Johnny. Then he got the local judge out of bed. They held a trial, where the witnesses testified. Finally, the judge determined the shooting was justified and freed Johnny Boyett. The incident was closed and sealed forever.

There is a tantalizing clue, however. In the 1930s, a reporter interviewed a woman living in Prescott’s Pioneer Home. Her name was Mary Cummings—she was also called Kate Elder, but she was best known as Big Nose Kate. She worked as a prostitute in Tombstone and was Doc Holiday’s common-law wife. During that interview, she recounted her memories of the Earp brothers and said Warren’s death “… was the result of an altercation between two individuals involved in an unnatural male relationship.”

How does this week’s picture fit into this story? It doesn’t. The Headquarter Saloon burned to the ground sometime after the shooting, but the builders used the foundations to rebuild an identical structure. It’s repurposed now—ironically as a wine-tasting room. While I was shooting in Willcox, I didn’t feel it worthy because it has a tacky sign painted on the white stucco. This week’s photo—Mack’s Bar—is also on Maley Street, a block west of where our story took place. So, it’s a bar, it’s on the same street, and that’s as close as I got.

You can see a larger version of Mack’s Bar on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, I have another picture from Willcox, and maybe I can find a story that goes with it.

Until next time — jw

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