Ultimately, clashes between cattle-rustling cowboys and Mexican ranchers would trigger history’s most famous 30 seconds of gunplay – the gunfight at the O.K. Corral – and drive the U.S. and Mexico to the brink of war. But the economic origins of the conflict were much different from those of today. This was a beef about beef.
After the Civil War, demand for meat skyrocketed. Burgeoning cities – along with the U.S. Army and Native American tribes that were forced onto reservations – all needed to be fed. And just over the Mexican border were thousands of cows ripe for the dinner plate. Consumers weren’t finicky about where cattle came from, especially if it was cheap.
Enter a new breed of man: the “cow-boy.” They were mostly young, rootless fellows seeking adventure and easy money. Many were refugees from the defeated Confederacy who bridled under the victorious Union. They made money smuggling illicit alcohol and tobacco across the border, but their main business was bovines. And they had few qualms about stealing from Mexican cattle ranches, given lingering regional tensions stemming from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Texas Revolution (1835-1836). “[Cattle rustlers] were horribly prejudiced against Mexicans,” says Fort Worth writer Jeff Guinn, author of The Last Gunfight, a 2011 look at Tombstone.
Texas made a fine place to rustle cattle until about 1875. As Guinn tells it, a group of especially diligent Texas Rangers known as McNelly’s Raiders killed a dozen rustlers near Brownsville and stacked the corpses in the town square. The cowboys got the message and hightailed to Arizona.
Here, many of them became legends. There was trigger-happy practical joker Curly Bill Brocius, dangerous depressive Johnny Ringo, two Billy the Kids, and the incomparably-named Pony Deal. Some of the cowboys, like Newman “Old Man” Clanton and sons, blurred the line between rancher and criminal, helping the cowboys market stolen goods and often joining the raids.
But border crime was two-way. Mexican bandits smuggled gold and silver into the U.S., then spirited alcohol and tobacco back home, where such vices were heavily taxed. They and the cowboys routinely robbed and retaliated against one another, usually without interference from the law. “The Mexican smugglers weren’t going to report it,” Arizona state historian Marshall Trimble says.
But 1881 witnessed an affront Mexico could not ignore. That May near Fronteras in the state of Sonora, cowboys stole 500 head from rancher José Juan Vásquez, who was shot dead while leading a posse across the border to retrieve his stock – but not before the posse killed four cattle thieves. The cowboys struck again in July, killing four Mexicans laden with bullion.
President Chester A. Arthur took Mexico’s protests seriously – after all, he needed Mexico’s permission to chase runaway Apaches across the border. And he wanted Mexico to sign a trade agreement. These issues were “never really resolved to anybody’s satisfaction,” Guinn says, and the prospect of another war was very real. “Things really were very tense. There were incursions by both sides, who didn’t observe the border as scrupulously as they might have.”
Meanwhile, residents of the Arizona boomtown of Tombstone and other border settlements grew ambivalent about the cowboys. On the one hand, a cowboy on payday was economic stimulus personified. According to Guinn, the income of a sheriff like Cochise County’s Johnny Behan hinged on his ability to collect taxes. When Behan demanded Curly Bill’s gang pay its fair share, he was astonished to collect $1,000. Some of the taxes paid for civic improvements like wetting down Tombstone’s dusty streets, or killing the rats that plagued the town’s buildings.
But eventually the cowboys went too far. They flouted Tombstone’s strict town-limits gun control. They brawled and shot up towns. They robbed stagecoaches and killed drivers, including an infamous incident at Benson. “‘He who calls the bulls has to take the horns,’” Trimble says, quoting an old Mexican proverb and summing up the predicament in Tombstone. Arizona had no death penalty for stagecoach robbery, but that didn’t stop Wells Fargo from posting dead-or-alive rewards.
Cowboys behaving badly was one root of the toxic feud between Tombstone’s factions. Though the law-scoffing Clanton clan resented town marshal Virgil Earp and his do-gooding brother Wyatt for interfering in their profit-making schemes, middle-son Ike Clanton secretly agreed to help Wyatt ambush the Benson stagecoach culprits – if only to take the reward money. After striking their agreement, Ike lived in fear that Wyatt would rat him out. The incendiary mix of politics, money, alcohol, and paranoia exploded in gunfire one cold October afternoon near the O.K. Corral.
Soon after, Wyatt’s younger brother Morgan was killed by a shot in the back from an unseen gunman during a game of billiards. When Wyatt went on a lawless vendetta, newspapers editorialized that he had become no better than the cowboys he chased, and sometimes killed. The violence got so bad that President Arthur threatened martial law. He asked Congress for an Arizona militia akin to the Texas Rangers. Impatient community leaders passed the Stetson to raise funds themselves.
In the end, the cowboys’ brand of semi-organized crime was disbanded not by an army but an icebox. Demand for their services dried up with the rollout of the refrigerated railroad car. Buyers and sellers could now ship and store beef. Rustling became pointless.
Turn-of-the-century nostalgia made the yesteryear of cowboys seem thrilling and glamorous. Dime novels and Hollywood mythologized them, glossing over their crimes, and the term that was once a grave insult became an ideal.
— Tom Marcinko
Succulent fillet d’ boeuf a la Financier. Tender lobster salad. Tricandeau of veal with vegetable glace. “The wonder of the world! A meal in Tombstone like this for 50 cents,” boasted an 1881 ad for the Occidental Restaurant, where the town’s most famous gunslingers dined the day before the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Given Tombstone’s badass portrayal in Western fiction and film, it’s hard to fathom outlaw cowboys dying with lobster salad in the belly. But the Town Too Tough to Die was far more sophisticated than the writers of the purple prose would have you believe.
The legendary town began inconspicuously thanks to a hapless prospector with 30 cents to his name. Ed Schieffelin’s friends told him he’d find nothing in southeastern Arizona but his tombstone. Instead, he found a silver belt that would reap millions of dollars. To spite his doubters, he named the settlement “Tombstone.”
No sooner was the townsite founded in 1879 than newspapers nationwide buzzed about the latest bonanza. By the end of the year, a thousand people had beelined to Tombstone. Two months later, that population doubled. By October 1881, at the time of the famous gunfight, it was a bustling burg of nearly 10,000. Most of these ambitious, adventurous settlers were in their 20s and 30s. Many had bounced from boomtown to boomtown, while others were fresh off the boat. Miners came from as far away as England and Ireland, businesspeople from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and China.
When newspaper correspondent Clara Spalding Brown arrived in June 1880, she saw “an embryo city of canvas, frame and adobe… It is a place of more pretensions than I had imagined, and full of activity.” But the town developed at lightning speed: You could practically look out the window and see it grow, time-lapse-video-style, before your eyes. Soon, Tombstone boasted 100-plus saloons, beaucoup brothels, a gym, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, performance halls that attracted world-class entertainers, and lavish hotels furnished with “rare and costly paintings” and “the most expensive silk,” noted one advertisement.
Tombstone was also friendlier than its name suggested. “The glad hand extended made us feel home at once,” wrote rancher and miner John Plesent Gray, who arrived the same month as Brown. “I looked in vain for any guns or so-called gunmen. I learned later that it was one of the town’s first ordinances that no guns were to be permitted in any public place, and Tombstone was always a quiet, safe town for the man who minded his own business.”
Certainly there were murders, drunken brawls and trigger-happy cowboys, but Tombstone’s reputation as a place where “at least one dead man was provided for breakfast each morning” was unjustified, wrote former mayor and Tombstone Epitaph editor John Clum. “I could recall only one deadly street battle and one lynching during the entire 50 years of Tombstone’s existence.”
So was Tombstone really Mayberry in Gomorrah clothing? Hardly. Some of the most colorful characters in history were temporary Tombstoners. Clum came to Arizona as an Indian agent and was presented with a severed head his second day on the job; he later captured Geronimo. Endicott Peabody, a smooth-talking hunk of an Episcopal pastor, challenged the local Methodist minister and an outlaw cowboy to boxing matches, and won both. Bartender Frank Leslie paraded through town in head-to-toe fringed buckskin and enjoyed standing his sweethearts against a wall and “drawing” their silhouettes in bullet holes.
But the fun didn’t last long. Tombstone miners soon hit water, and by 1887, most of the mines closed due to flooding. By the 1890s the town was in its death throes, and many of its most famous citizens, including Wyatt Earp, had already moved on to the next big ore rush in Alaska.
— Keridwen Cornelius
THE GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL
It was a botched arrest canonized as a tale of justice. A suspicion-and-booze-fueled blunder that bestseller-seeking biographers fashioned into a good-guys-versus-bad-guys pulp classic. They even fudged on the location (it actually took place at a vacant lot and was referred to at the time as the Fight on Fremont Street), latching instead onto the nearest landmark with a Western-sounding twang to give it that authentic appeal. Perhaps no event better illustrates the wildness of the West, where the lines between lawman and criminal were as blurry as borders in desert sand. Today, it’s entertainment. But on that cold October day in 1881, it served as a chilling reminder that law must be kept in check as much as lawlessness, and order finally had to come to the frontier.
It began on March 15, 1881, when outlaws held up a Wells Fargo stagecoach heading from Tombstone to Benson, killing the driver and a passenger. To hunt down the criminals, the Sheriff of Cochise County, Johnny Behan, organized a posse that included Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan. Wyatt was a former deputy sheriff who had lost his position in a political reshuffle, but he and Behan had made a deal that if Wyatt didn’t lobby for the position of sheriff and Behan won, he’d name Wyatt his undersheriff.
The Behan-Earp posse found a drifter named Luther King, who admitted to assisting the robbers – cowboy criminals Bill Leonard, Harry Head and Jim Crane. Behan arrested King and put him in the Tombstone jail. The Earps continued the manhunt till their horses collapsed, but when Virgil wired Behan to send replacements, he didn’t deliver. Wyatt walked to Tombstone to get fresh horses, only to discover Behan had broken his promise and named Tombstone Daily Nugget editor Harry Woods undersheriff. Then King escaped jail by simply walking out the back door. This cast suspicion on Woods and Behan, who were known cowboy sympathizers and rumored to be in cahoots with them. Why Behan doublecrossed Wyatt is unclear. Perhaps it was politics – Behan, Woods and the cowboys were Southern Democrats, while the Earps were pro-Union Republicans – but the rivalry would intensify when Behan’s fiancée left him for Wyatt.
Meanwhile, stagecoach operator Wells Fargo offered a reward of $3,600 for the capture of Leonard, Head and Crane – dead or alive. Wyatt, determined to beat Behan in the next election, approached ranchers-slash-cowboys Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury with a deal: Tell him where the fugitives were hiding, and they could have all the reward money. Wyatt wanted only the glory of the arrest – a virtual guarantee he’d be elected sheriff. Ike and Frank agreed and sent a friend to lure the fugitives to the McLaury ranch.
Not long after, Leonard, Head and Crane were shot in unrelated incidents, and the deal was off by default. But Ike became obsessed with the fear that if Wyatt revealed Ike’s traitorous intents, the cowboys would murder him. Suspicion ran like poison through the town. Because Wyatt’s pal Doc Holliday had been a friend of Leonard’s and possibly went to visit him on the day of the stagecoach robbery, many Tombstoners suspected him of involvement. Behan went so far as to ply Doc’s common-law wife, Big Nose Kate, with alcohol and get her to sign an affidavit accusing Doc; the charges were later thrown out. Some people suspected Behan of conspiracy with the cowboys, while others suspected the Earps.
Fear and Loathing
In September, another stagecoach was robbed, and the Earps arrested Deputy Sheriff Frank Stilwell and cowboy Pete Spence. They were released, but Frank McLaury and other cowboys threatened the Earps’ lives for arresting their friends. Despite regularly buying cattle stolen from Mexico, Frank saw himself as an upstanding rancher and resented the Earps’ meddling. Then, to stir up trouble, crooked Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams told Ike he heard about his deal with Wyatt. Ike sought out Wyatt, accusing him of telling Doc Holliday and others about the deal. Wyatt denied it.
On the night of October 25, fear gnawed away at Ike’s psyche as he drank at successive saloons. The thought obsessed him: If Wyatt and Doc were out of the picture, his secret would die. Doc confronted Ike in the Alhambra Saloon, denying Wyatt had told him anything. “Get out your gun and get to work,” Doc ordered, but Ike said he wasn’t armed. They got into such a spat that Morgan and Virgil Earp had to break them up. All night, Ike continued to drink and threaten to fight the Earps and Doc. “You must not think I won’t be after you all in the morning,” Ike blustered. “Fight is my racket. All I want is four feet of ground to fight on.” He was still drunk and at it the next morning, this time roaming the streets with rifle and pistol in hand, looking for the Earps and Doc.
Because Ike was a blowhard coward, the Earps didn’t take him seriously. It took numerous locals warning them before Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan reluctantly decided to act. Virgil disarmed Ike, pistol-whipped him and took him to court. But instead of seeking more serious charges, low-key Virgil merely accused him of possession of a weapon in town. The judge fined Ike, stowed his weapons and set him free, still dangerously pissed, in both senses of the word. Wyatt left the courthouse in a huff, exchanged threats with Frank McLaury’s brother, Tom, and buffaloed him.
That afternoon, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, Ike’s brother, arrived in town. After they heard what was happening, they decided to gather their brothers and leave, but not before loading up on ammunition at the gunsmith’s. Behan went to disarm the men, encountering them on Fremont Street. Frank said he’d only give up his guns if the Earps gave up theirs. Behan could have pressed the issue, but he walked away. Meanwhile, Virgil, who had previously deputized Morgan, Wyatt and Doc, asked them to go with him to disarm the cowboys. On the way, they passed Behan, who said, “For God’s sake don’t go down there or you will get murdered.” Virgil replied that they were going to disarm the men. Behan lied and said he had disarmed them, but the Earps apparently didn’t believe him. If the lawmen hadn’t been rivals, they could have worked together and avoided a fight. Perhaps Behan wanted the Earps and Doc to get killed; perhaps the Earps were really looking for a fight. Whatever the reason, they kept walking. Anger and bravado propelled them with inertia to the inevitable.
The eight men – Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, Doc, Frank, Tom, Ike and Billy – met on an empty lot off Fremont Street. “Throw up your hands. I want your guns,” Virgil called out. In the heat of the moment, any movement could be interpreted as an attack. Tom opened his coat – either to show he wasn’t armed or to grab a gun – while Frank and Billy started to raise their hands – either to surrender or to prepare to fight. The Earps thought they heard Billy and Frank cock their pistols. “Hold on, I don’t want that!” Virgil said. But the sound was enough for Wyatt. He whipped out his pistol and shot Frank in the stomach, triggering a volley of 30 shots in 30 seconds. Morgan was shot across the shoulders and Virgil in the leg. Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury died.
The incident divided the town, with some saying the Earps’ actions were justified, while others accused them of murder. Undeniably, it was a tragedy that could have been avoided multiple times, a cautionary tale of personal rivalries obstructing justice. Doc’s reaction sums it up best: After the shootout, he went back to his room, said, “That was awful – awful,” and wept.
— Keridwen Cornelius
Think of Doc Holliday as the 19th-century equivalent of TV’s loveable misanthrope Dr. House – with a six-shooter and a knife named Hell Bitch. Wyatt Earp said of his best friend, “Doc was a dentist, not a lawman or an assassin, whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit.”
Born John Henry Holliday in 1851, Doc got his dapper sartorial sense and Southern gentility from a Georgia upbringing. A brilliant student, he graduated young from dentistry school. A respectable position in a family practice was in the cards. But then in his 20s, life dealt him a rotten hand: The love of his life rejected him to become a nun, and he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and given an indeterminately short time to live.
So, as he later joked, he coughed up his conscience along with his lungs and embarked on a reckless decade of gambling, drinking and gunfights. He shacked up with Big Nose Kate, and they vagabonded around the West, leaving a trail of blood and legend in their wake. It was rumored he disemboweled one man and quite possible he killed two in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But when he wasn’t drunk, he was known for his strong sense of loyalty, his kindness to children, and his sense of humor. He died of tuberculosis in Colorado at age 36. His last words: “This is funny.”
— Keridwen Cornelius
“Shoot first and ask questions later.” Somebody had to say it first, and legend attributes it to lawman, rancher and gambler John Horton Slaughter (1841-1922). He personified the quick-on-the-draw lawman, writes historian Bob Boze Bell in True West magazine.
Louisiana-born Slaughter fought for the Confederacy, relocating to Texas after the Civil War. Threatened by a cheater he unmasked at a San Antonio poker game, he plugged his opponent with one .45 shot to the heart.
After retiring from the Texas Rangers, “Texas John” settled in Arizona. Elected sheriff of Cochise County in 1887, he told cattle-rustling cowboys: “Get out or get killed.” They complied for Slaughter’s two terms in office.
Slaughter lived a peaceful last three decades at the San Bernardino Ranch near Douglas. He wagoned in 300-pound blocks from the new Douglas icehouse so his wife, Viola, could make ice cream. The Slaughter Ranch Museum is located along the trail where songwriter Stan Jones scared the hell out of music lovers with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” in 1948. Ultimately, he was immortalized in Disney’s 1958-61 series Texas John Slaughter, starring actor and future bestselling novelist Tom Tryon. Talk about moldy oldies: The show is available on videotape only.
— Tom Marcinko
“Rivers without water, clouds without rain, men without honor, women without shame.”
So went a familiar toast to the mining town of Jerome at the end of the 19th century, according to amateur historian Charles A. Brown. And he would know. As a young man, Brown was one of the laborers who helped blast Arizona’s nascent copper industry into existence. “Perhaps there was some basis for such a nasty toast, perhaps not,” Brown later wrote in his unpublished memoir.
The Illinois native came to Arizona in 1896 as an 18-year-old to work at a mining camp “about two days by burro from Jerome.” He also toiled in a foundry operated by United Verde Copper Company. Brown’s memoir, provided by the Jerome Historical Society, doesn’t sugarcoat the town’s hardscrabble conditions: “The mountain, Mt. Mingus, is sear. All vegetation that had earlier flourished among the jagged outcroppings, had long past given up the ghost… As one came in from the ‘Junction’ on the dwarf-sized cars snaked along behind Shay cog-engines; he was greeted with stinging and stinking sulphur fumes wreathing from roasting ore pallets, located on the various mine ‘levels.’”
The 70-odd pages of verse-laced purple prose, whimsical philosophy, and deadpan humor reveal that miners of the era were not necessarily the uneducated, grim-prospected prospectors one might have thought them to be. They were merchants, bankers, and farmers. They came from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, the Balkans, and across North America. Many followed a well-trodden boomtown path – California Gold Rush, Nevada’s silver bonanza, Arizona’s silver and copper boom.
Some were prospectors, like the classic stock figure with the bushy beard, the pack mule and the pickax, wandering lonely deserts in search of elusive bands of ore. A few of those achieved folkloric status, like Ed Schieffelin, George Warren and Henry Wickenburg, whose rich finds resulted in the founding of Tombstone, Bisbee and Wickenburg, respectively. Other mining men were businessmen, investors or innovators, like Charles Poston, “The Father of Arizona,” and James Douglas, founder of the eponymous Arizona town and president of Phelps Dodge mining company.
To no small extent, mining is the history of Arizona. This is the case – as the Arizona Mining Association modestly points out on its website – not only because the promise of mineral wealth drew explorers, prospectors, capital and development to the region, but also because the products of mining, especially copper for electrical power to run air conditioning and the like, have been instrumental in making Arizona more habitable.
One could go a step further: Mining is the reason the West was settled – or at least the reason it was settled at such breakneck speed. Ore was the magnet that pulled pioneers to the frontier by the hundreds of thousands – and not just miners, but a support staff of saloon-keepers, Chinese laundrymen, Jewish tailors and prostitutes. Mining was the dot-com boom or real estate bubble of the day, except that it didn’t require a technology degree or a substantial nest egg to start – just a pickax and some pluck. Anybody, theoretically, could strike it rich.
And a few did: Prospectors found gold in Arizona towns like Gila City, La Paz, and Wickenburg; silver in Tombstone and Jerome; and copper in Bisbee and Jerome. Initial 19th-century prospectors hoped for gold and silver, but eventually, with corporate backing – and with the rise of copper jackets on bullets, and of copper electrical wiring – territorial Arizona began to earn its future nickname, the Copper State.
But many people found a reality that was far more grim than their El Dorado dreams – especially the mining laborers. If you were a miner in this sense, says Colleen Holt, Collections Manager for the Jerome Historical Society, “You worked, and maybe you drank, and maybe you had a family, and you didn’t have much money.”
In his pious and amusingly unromantic diary, A Tenderfoot in Tombstone, banker-turned-miner George Whitwell Parsons describes the working conditions in a Tombstone-area mine: “Hard, hard work. I used to think the laboring man’s a hard life at the best, but their work is child’s play alongside of this. Breaking stone, making mortar, shoveling dirt… The terribly cramped and strained positions at times and strength required to manage a hole in soft ground enforces a great physical strain and much nerve when the swinger of the heavy sledge hammer has to aim over and draw in to prevent hitting you and sometimes will graze the edge of your mustache in striking a hundred pound blow upon a piece of steel ¾ of an inch in diameter… Why even these rough miners themselves – men used to manual labor all of their lives – are sometimes laid up for weeks at a time when they first try the mines. Hands, arms, bodies all used up.”
Eventually, many of the mines were used up, too, and almost as quickly as the miners moved in, they and their entrepreneurial entourage moved out. By 1950, Arizona’s mining boom was over and the baby boom was on. But those rough-and-tumble heydays laid a sturdy foundation for Arizona’s statehood, and the spirit of both the mining towns and the miners lived on.
— M.V. Moorhead
“A bit Dantesque,” is how a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star described Bisbee in 1901. Today a lazy, pretty drop-out for artists and retirees, Bisbee was once the opposite of small and quaint. In the late 1800s and very early 1900s, it was one of the most populated cities in Arizona, and one of the more consequential towns between the Mississippi and the Pacific. For more than half a century, it hummed with industry, drama, labor strife and eccentrics, one of whom resides in the middle of the state’s official emblem.
Ever look closely at the Great Seal of the State of Arizona? Noticed the little guy standing under the words “Ditat Deus” (“God bestows wealth”) with a shovel and pickax? That’s prospector George Warren.
For centuries, Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains area was scary, isolated Apache country. “Nobody was coming here except the stray prospector, or the Apaches,” says Annie Larkin, curator of collections at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Enterprising U.S. Army officers and scouts passing through the region began to suspect it was mineral-rich, and in 1877 scout Jack Dunn and Lt. John Rucker employed Warren to find out if they were right. Warren discovered the spot that would become the Copper Queen Mine.
“He did file some claims,” Larkin says, “but not with Mr. Dunn’s name on them. Warren had millions of dollars’ worth of claims in his hands at one time or another, but he had a drinking problem and a gambling problem, and a third problem: He did both at the same time.”
Warren eventually gambled away his claims; most ruinously, it’s said, in a massive bet on a horse race – between himself and a horse. Ditat Deus, maybe, but not upon those who think they can outrun a horse.
Developing copper mines wasn’t a job for lone prospectors anyway. It required corporate commitment, and the growing town soon had it. Prompted by mining engineer James Douglas, Phelps Dodge acquired the Copper Queen in the mid-1880s, and Bisbee – named for another early investor, DeWitt Bisbee – became a magnet for a striking diversity of miners.
“When the word got out that there were jobs here, miners came from all over,” says Larkin, but especially from parts of Europe where mines were beginning to play out. “Italy, Serbia, the Isle of Man and Cornwall – I believe there were about 50 countries represented here ethnographically. It’s quite a melting pot. We have one of the few Serbian Orthodox churches in the state.”
Copper became big business with the rise of commercial electrical power during the early 20th century, and the companies that owned Bisbee mines enjoyed major profits. The miners themselves, not so much. Labor relations worsened, culminating in the notorious Bisbee Deportation of July 1917, a reaction to organizing efforts by the International Workers of the World. More than a thousand striking miners, suspected of being “Wobblies” (IWW members), were forcibly herded into and detained at Warren Ballpark by Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler and a huge force of deputies, then shipped out of town in freight cars and stranded in the New Mexico desert.
Despite the introduction of open-pit mining, the industry declined in Bisbee throughout the first half of the 20th century. The depleted mines had closed by the mid-’70s. The town gradually reinvented itself as a hip, artsy retirement community and tourist destination, thanks to its distinctive hillside architecture.
“I’ve visited pretty much every mining camp in the West,” historian Dr. Peter Molloy says, “and Bisbee’s the prettiest.”
— M.V. Moorhead
By 1890, most towns in Arizona had calmed down and assumed some semblance of civilization. But Jerome apparently didn’t get that memo. The “Wickedest Town in the West” stayed wild well into the 20th century.
After gold was discovered in Prescott in 1863, prospectors swarmed Yavapai County, and in 1876, famous Army scout Al Sieber filed a claim near an old Indian excavation on Mingus Mountain. A few years later, United Verde Copper Company took over the operation, and soon a mining camp took root on Cleopatra Hill above a rich deposit of copper, silver and gold. The settlement was named after Eugene Jerome, a New Yorker who invested money in the mining operations but never visited his namesake town.
Over the next few years, the price of copper dropped, yet the hardscrabble town hung on. Then, in 1888, William Clark bought the United Verde Copper Company and proceeded to put Jerome on the map. Clark was a wily entrepreneur who didn’t want to depend on mules and wagons to haul his precious minerals to the valley below, so he built a narrow-gauge railroad. The technology helped the mine become a 24-hour, three-shift operation. This spurred an influx of miners, plus businessmen, saloonkeepers, gamblers and prostitutes like famous madam Jennie Bauters, aka Belgian Jennie.
Rowdy and raucous, Jerome wasn’t the kind of place to set down roots and raise a family; people came to make a quick buck and get out. This transience allowed them to endure the harsh conditions and indulge in a “What happens in Jerome stays in Jerome” philosophy. Every day and night, the noise of gunfire, saloon music and fistfights filled the air.
Johnnie Hudgens was a hard-nosed sheriff who took the job of keeping law and order in Jerome after Sheriff Charlie King was gunned down in the street in 1910. During his first two years on the job, Hudgens killed two men and shot two others.
With the outbreak of World War I, copper prices soared and Jerome continued to grow, at one time boasting 13 hotels, 21 saloons and eight brothels, many of which were located in the “Cribs” district in an alleyway between the town’s winding streets. By the 1920s, more than 15,000 people lived and worked in Jerome. (Today, as a repurposed art colony, the town is home to just over 400.)
Mining operations in Jerome all but ground to a halt when the Great Depression hit. Phelps Dodge bought the majority of the mineral rights and began using explosives to open a pit. The blasting caused many of Jerome’s buildings to crumble and slide downhill. The town jail slid hundreds of feet below its original location, much to the delight of residents.
Finally, after another roller coaster market fluctuation coinciding with World War II, Jerome’s days as a wild mining town were over. In 1953, Phelps Dodge closed its operations in Jerome, burying a mining legacy that yielded a billion dollars worth of gold, silver and copper.
— Sally Benford
The Changing Cartography of Arizona
1853: In the Gadsden Purchase, Mexico cedes what is now Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico to the U.S. It becomes part of the New Mexico Territory.
1860: A provisional Arizona Territory is created with Arizona located south of New Mexico.
1863: President Abraham Lincoln signs an act creating the Arizona Territory, with Arizona now located west of New Mexico.
1867: Nevada absorbs Arizona’s northwest corner into its borders. Arizona had protested but had no clout because it had sided with the
Confederates in the Civil War.
1912: Arizona becomes a state.
“Our route was not only dreary, it was positively hostile in its attitude towards every living thing except snakes, centipedes and spiders,” wrote Martha Summerhayes about her wagon-road journey through Arizona in 1874. “At every stage of the road we saw evidences of hard travel, exhausted cattle, anxious teamsters, hunger and thirst, despair, starvation and death.”
It would be easy to brush off Summerhayes’ remarks as the complaints of a pampered woman, except that she was a well-traveled wife of an army officer and had endured overland journeys to frontier military forts across the country. Arizona was just much tougher and wilder.
The harsh land – desolate, rough, and stubbornly unyielding to human comforts – took its toll on the pioneers who traveled West looking for adventure or a better life. But still they came from all around the world, facing arduous months-long journeys by steamship, train, paddle boat, wagon train, and stagecoach.
Stage travel involved a bumpy journey along boulder-strewn trails, where dust and sand swirled through the air surrounding the stagecoach, filling the passengers’ eyes, ears, throats and nasal passages. Water was scarce along the way, and was generally found only at designated stage stops where desert wells provided some liquid relief – if they hadn’t dried up in the summer heat.
In August 1874, Summerhayes and her party traveled 200 miles by steamboat up the Colorado River from Fort Yuma to Fort Mohave. From there, they joined a wagon train to their new post at Camp Verde. Writing her memoir, Vanishing Arizona, in 1908, Summerhayes explained that the heat was unbearable and the always-present dust irritating. “The first day’s march was over a dreary country; a hot wind blew and everything was filled with dust. I had long ago discarded my hat as an unnecessary and troublesome article; consequently, my head was now a mass of fine white dust, which stuck fast, of course. I was covered from head to foot with it and it would not shake off, so although our steamboat troubles were over, our land troubles had begun.”
In the desert, dust, wind and heat were constant companions in the summer months, and mountain winters could be brutal. In 1881, John and Viola Slaughter drove a herd of cattle from New Mexico to Arizona when a blizzard hit as they crossed the mountains west of Fort Bayard. It snowed heavily for three days, and later Viola recalled, “Mr. Slaughter had an ear frozen and I had a foot frozen. We had no tents or shelter and often in the morning we could hardly turn over for the snow on us.”
Together, the couple built the famous Slaughter Ranch in Cochise County, but the rigors of ranch life were challenging. In 1887, an earthquake destroyed every building on the ranch, and falling beef prices offered little income. When John told Viola he wanted to quit, she wouldn’t give in. “We’ll go out there and put our shoulders to the wheel. We can’t give up now and I can help.” So went the lives of Arizona settlers.
Far from the comforts back home, long hours of hard labor, dangerous living conditions and financial hardship faced these pioneers. In the rural areas, where most of the ranches and mines operated, extremes of every manner filled everyday life. Settlers had to worry about the scarcity of water, wild animals, foul weather, raiding Indians and lack of medical care. While at Camp Verde, Summerhayes wrote that she gave birth alone because the army doctor “was much better versed in the sawing off of soldiers’ legs than in the treatment of young mothers and babies.”
People in towns like Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott had less to worry about. In Phoenix, the Maricopa and Pima Indians afforded protection from rival tribes, newly dug irrigation ditches meant a steady water supply, and the comforts of city living were beginning to take hold. According to a January 3, 1872 story in the Arizona Miner, Phoenix was growing into its own. “One year ago, to-day, Mr. Hancock was making the adobes for the first house in town, now we have a flourishing village with three stores, one brewery, three saloons, two boarding houses, two blacksmith shops, corrals, and a great number of private dwelling houses.”
Away from town, many ranches were built and lost to invading Indians. Along the remote and unruly stretch of land between Tucson and the Mexico border, Pete Kitchen ran a ranch where other settlers didn’t dare. Near Potrero Creek, Kitchen built his ranch, El Potrero, from the ground up with the help of his Mexican wife, Rosa, their extended family and a crew of 30 Opata Indians recruited from Sonora. They tilled the land and planted corn, potatoes and melons, and dug irrigation ditches to water the crops. Kitchen raised cattle, horses and hogs, and built a main ranch house of 25-inch thick adobe, calling it “The Stronghold.”
Kitchen created a self-supporting ranch with its own blacksmith, saddler and wagon-maker, as well as cooks, cowboys, field workers, seamstresses and sharpshooters. El Potrero sat along a raiding route used by Apaches, who coveted Kitchen’s horses and livestock. Although the ranch buildings and corrals were enclosed behind thick adobe walls, every worker, including the women, carried rifles or revolvers.
In a written account, Army officer John G. Bourke, who served in Arizona during the Indian Wars, described a “ceaseless” war between Kitchen and the Apaches. Bourke gave harrowing details of the attacks on Kitchen’s ranch, saying, “His employees were killed and wounded, his stock driven away, his pigs filled with arrows, making the suffering quadrupeds look like perambulating pin-cushions.”
Despite attempts by the Apaches to overrun it, Kitchen’s ranch became a safe haven for travelers along the dangerous road between the border and Tucson. In 1880, the railroad came to Tucson and brought with it opportunities for commerce and growth. The old days of wild conquest were changing and, in 1883, Kitchen sold his ranch and moved to Tucson.
By 1886, when the Apache warrior Geronimo and his band surrendered to General Nelson Miles, Arizona had begun the difficult task of transforming its rough and rowdy reputation. And, while still fiercely independent, the Territory’s residents seemed ready to leave the frontier experience – along with the romance and excitement of the Wild West – behind.
— Sally Benford
John Wesley Powell
If John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) were alive today, he’d have a Discovery Channel show: King of the Colorado: A One-Armed Man’s Quest to Tame the Mighty River.
The son of a New England abolitionist preacher, Powell lost most of his right arm serving under Ulysses S. Grant at the battle of Shiloh. After the war, the Washington, D.C. power-elite laughed at his plan to explore the Colorado River and its canyons. He financed the trip by striking a deal with the Illinois Museum of Natural History: equipment for specimens.
In May of 1869, his 10-man expedition, the first of its kind on record, set off toward the Colorado via the Green River in Wyoming. Along the way, they traversed and named Glen Canyon (later flooded to form Lake Powell) and became the first expedition to navigate the Grand Canyon. A second, larger and better-organized expedition in 1871-72 yielded a Mars-probe’s worth of data and images. As Wallace Stegner notes in his introduction to Powell’s Exploration of the Colorado River, this Merriweather Lewis of his day didn’t want land, gold, or conquest. He wanted to see, know, and report back.
— Tom Marcinko
In front of Wickenburg’s City Hall stands a bust of the town’s namesake. To judge from the surviving photographs of the subject, the sculptor has done an impressive job, not only capturing Henry Wickenburg’s likeness but also his expression: thoughtful, melancholy, haunted.
Wickenburg may have been a brooder, but he was certainly adventurous. Details about his life are sketchy and tied up in legend, but he is said to have been born in Prussia in 1819, and to have served in that empire’s army before finding his way, as part of the crew of a steamship to California, where in the 1850s he became a Gold Rusher.
He was in Arizona by 1863, prospecting along the Hassayampa River, when he discovered the Vulture Mine – on the spot where a vulture he shot fell to the ground, according to one tall tale. He sold 80 percent of the mine in 1866 to Benjamin Phelps for a fraction of its value, and took up farming at the place where a town would one day bear his name. The Vulture Mine ultimately became profitable, producing an estimated $30 million in gold and silver ore before closing in 1942, but Wickenburg never saw his hoped-for millions. With no family and little property, he died in 1905 of a gunshot wound to the head, apparently self-inflicted.
— M.V. Moorhead
It was known as the governor’s mansion, but the log structure that now houses the Sharlot Hall Museum was originally built without floorboards or glass windows and looks like a restaurant that serves blue-plate flapjacks. The humble structure says a lot about Prescott during its time as Arizona Territory’s capital, from 1864 to 1867 and 1877 to 1889.
Though it sits near the center of Arizona, Prescott was picked chiefly for its remoteness. The Civil War raged back east when Arizona was made a territory in 1863. Its largest city, Tucson, was a snake pit of rebel sympathizers and unsuitable as a capital. Prescott was deemed safely indifferent to Union-Confederate issues.
John Noble Goodwin, the governor who laid the city along the banks of Granite Creek in 1864, wanted to stay far away from the people he was governing. So Prescott was built amongst mining claims and named not for a soldier or saint but for blind history book author William Prescott.
The forces of demand quickly shaped Prescott into a place where miners could exchange their hard-won bullion for strong drink and sexual favors. It was much the same for
Arizona’s political elite. Once a year, statesmen traveled to the capital, leaving their families behind for what amounted to a prolonged stag party. Having made the arduous journey, either by braving the rugged hinterlands or taking a circuitous train journey through Los Angeles, the politicians became a part of Prescott’s licentious tapestry, funding their exploits with bribes and government slush.
The chief concerns of the territorial legislature in Prescott were lobbying the federal government to exterminate or remove American Indians, and divvying up the territory’s money. The group met every year until 1869, when the U.S. Congress, which had been hustled to double the legislators’ per diem the year before, intervened, rescheduling the party for only once every two years.
The group still found time to pass gag legislation, like an 1879 prohibition on horse racing at the behest of one legislator who’d lost a big bet and asked for a vote on outlawing the sport. The Thirteenth Legislature in 1885 was particularly out of hand. Dubbed the “Thieving Thirteenth,” the session saw legislators rack up $46,744.50 in expenses – 11 times their budget – accompanied by fistfights in the statehouse and local bars.
The party cost Prescott in the end. In 1889, Phoenicians convinced legislators to move the capital to their then-sleepy farm city, thanks to one of the Yavapai County delegates’ dalliances with a prostitute. Read about that on page 113.
— Martin Cizmar
It must have been a long, nervous trip for Santiago Ward. He rode 170 miles from Sonoita after hearing that his half-brother, Felix, had turned up – alive! – decades after being kidnapped from the family farm. One can only guess what Santiago expected to find in the town of San Carlos, or whether he was worried about his safety in a land where non-Indians weren’t always welcome.
Marching into San Carlos in 1881, Santiago found Felix alive, but now very much an Indian by custom and dress. The adopted tribesman was unkempt, with a smooth, hairless face and gaunt frame that appeared small and boyish given his age. He looked neither Anglo nor Spanish nor Apache, yet he was all three. “I did not know him at first, but he looked very much like his sister,” Santiago said decades later. “They called him Mickey Free. I do not know why. I tried to get him to come home, but he would never do it.”
As white settlers increasingly moved West, clashes with Native Americans were inevitable. But every inevitability has its impetus, and in some ways, the decades-long series of vengeful hostage-takings and executions that spiraled into a full-on war between white Arizonans and Chiricahua Apaches can be traced to this boy.
Born Felix Telles in Mexico to a Mexican mother and renamed Ward for his Irish stepfather, the future Free spent much of his childhood on a Sonoita Valley ranch, in what’s now Arizona wine country. Who, exactly, took the boy and some oxen from the Ward ranch is still hotly debated. Some sources have said he simply ran away from an abusive stepfather – managing the unlikely feat of herding a dozen head of oxen by himself – to live with friendly natives. The most recent scholarly take on the subject, Victoria Smith’s Captive Arizona, says he was taken by the White Mountain band of Apache, with whom Free chose to live out his later days.
The raid and kidnapping was duly reported to a nearby U.S. Army fort, prompting the dispatch of George Bascom, an ambitious young West Point graduate seeing his real first action in the West. Knowing very little about this land or its peoples, Bascom determined that the raid was conducted by Chiricahua Apache. Like many people then and now, Bascom considered the Apache to be a united group. Rather, they are a loosely-related collection of clans bound by mutually intelligible language and ancient feuds. Apaches had both battled and bartered with Mexican settlers when Arizona was Spanish territory but had traditionally seen whites as uneasy allies seemingly uninterested in taking their land.
Bascom quickly and capriciously apprehended one of the first suspects that crossed his path. Unfortunately for Bascom and thousands of unlucky settlers who ventured into Arizona over the next quarter century, the Indian he grabbed was a proud and vengeful man named Cochise. Cochise knew nothing of the boy when confronted by 50 gun-toting soldiers at what was supposed to be a friendly parley, according to Cochise biographer Edwin R. Sweeney. But complex relations between Apache sounded like lies to the suspicious young lieutenant, who knew Cochise had made public vows to drive away settlers, and took the chief and his family hostage.
Slicing his way out of Bascom’s tent and fleeing the army’s camp with only a minor wound, the chief took white hostages to trade for his family, killing two settlers. A stubborn Bascom refused to release his captives until he had the boy. More soldiers arrived at Bascom’s camp, spooking Cochise, who then killed his prisoners. The white soldiers hung their native captives near the spot the white bodies were found, unleashing two decades of violence.
A gang war of attrition followed, claiming the lives of hundreds of settlers. Apaches tortured American captives in ways previously reserved for the Mexicans they’d been battling for decades. The settlers responded in kind, but many also fled Southern Arizona. The 1975 nonfiction book The Conquest of Apacheria puts the final death toll for the wars between the Apache bands fighting white settlers as high as 5,000: “No traveler, no settler, no miner, no small party of soldiers, no community was safe from the avenging warriors.”
The violence was only beginning to subside in 1881, when Santiago Ward found Free on the San Carlos reservation, where the U.S. government had carelessly interned Apache bands, whose traditional hostilities stretched back for generations. Like Arizona’s other native peoples, the first generation of reservation-dwelling Apache found itself suspended between worlds. Deprived of their nomadic customs, they were also not yet fully adapted to reservation life. Some watched impotently as settlers rooted through their ancestral homeland. Others, like Geronimo, went off the reservation, sneaking away to raid nearby settlements and evading capture. In many cases, some went hungry as profiteers took fat sacks of government coin to deliver the meagerest of rations.
By the time Santiago Ward arrived, Geronimo, the fiercest of the late Apache fighters, was the last major instigator, and Santiago’s brother, a member of a rival Apache band with marketable translation and scouting skills, was employed by the U.S. Army as a scout helping Chief of Scouts Al Sieber track him down. Sieber found the notorious Free, who was trilingual and understood something of both white and native customs, useful but unlikeable, describing him as “half Mexican, half Irish and whole son of a bitch.” Some Native Americans also resented Free, calling him “the coyote whose kidnapping had brought war to the Chiricahuas.”
As a member of a docile band of White Mountain Apache with no love lost for the warring Chiricahua, Free joined the scouts as a “half blood” Indian but was forced out for “disrespectful language to the chief.” The next day, he was allowed to reenlist, but this time as “Mexican-Irish.” Before rubber stamping the order, a bureaucrat asked whether Free was a member of a native tribe. “He was stolen by Indians as a child,” his commanding officer wrote. “Adopted as a member of the tribe, a position he now holds in full fellowship.” Free, a man caught between worlds, had made his choice.
— Martin Cizmar
John Lorenzo Hubbell
Trading post mogul John Lorenzo Hubbell (1853-1930) is indelibly associated with popularizing Navajo arts and crafts, but his greater role was that of touchstone for the Navajo community following one of its greatest trials.
After being forced to walk from their homeland to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and enduring a miserable four-year internment there, the Navajo returned to Arizona to find their land destroyed. Enter John Lorenzo Hubbell, the New Mexico-born son of a Danish-American father and a Spanish mother. Around 1876, he opened the first and most famous of his trading posts, in Ganado, to do business with the Navajo.
Hubbell sold the locals wool and silver to make their blankets, rugs and jewelry, which the Navajo then sold or bartered for the types of foods and tools they’d been introduced to during their exile. In turn, Hubbell sold the Navajo crafts to the nascent tourist trade. He also brought in outside influences, like Mexican silversmiths, to teach the Navajo artisans new techniques. Later, he became sheriff of Apache County and a Territorial Arizona senator.
Hubbell died in 1930, but his business carried on, run by his family, until 1967, when the Ganado post was purchased by the National Park Service. It’s maintained as a National Historic Site – both as a museum and as an active trading post. Visit nps.gov/hutr/index.htm.
— M.V. Moorhead
Cochise had been dead only six years when the Arizona Territory named the county at its far southeastern corner after him in 1881. Such an honor would be an accomplishment for anyone, but it’s especially impressive considering the Apache warrior had been waging bloody rebellion against the territory not even a decade before. The name didn’t pass without notice – Maricopa County representative Nathaniel Sharp protested the “depredation and murderous attacks of that bloodthirsty savage” – but it passed, even as the Apache Wars still smoldered.
Though feared, Cochise was well-regarded for his impeccable honesty and fairness. A tall, straight-backed man with the sharp features of a Roman – his name translates loosely to “oak-like” – Cochise fought bitterly for a decade before settling onto a reservation.
Born to a hardy band of Apache that lived near the Mexican border, Cochise came of age as his band warred against Mexico. He was on good terms with Americans until just before the Civil War, when an arrogant young army officer accused him of kidnapping a white boy during a raid in Sonoita. Taken hostage along with his family, Cochise escaped and took white prisoners to exchange, only to be rebuffed. Through a series of botched negotiations, both sides killed their prisoners, and a full-scale war erupted. The war ended in 1872 when Cochise agreed to live on a reservation in Southeastern Arizona, where he died two years later. His body was buried at one of his favorite mountain camps, a location that remains secret.
— Martin Cizmar
In the long series of wars against Native Americans, Major General George Crook was the U.S. Army’s ace closer. Born to an Ohio farm family, the West Point grad saw his first service in the Pacific Northwest before being called back east to fight Confederates in West Virginia and Virginia. Then, after another stint in the Northwest, he was sent to Arizona.
Crook was known for being fierce but never cruel and remained sympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans he fought as he saw treaties broken again and again. “When they were pushed beyond endurance and would go on the warpath, we had to fight when our sympathies were with the Indians,” Crook said.
Like a middle man parachuting into long-simmering conflict, Crook sought to strike a balance between white settlers’ and natives’ needs. Fearing Arizona land didn’t have the carrying capacity to provide enough wild game for both groups, he set about brokering peace treaties and helping peaceful tribes build canals to farm. This position was unpopular in Tucson, where locals pushed hard for the army to kill off the Apaches. Resisting the pressure, Crook was able to convince Cochise to settle on a reservation. He was then sent to battle the Plains Indians that had killed Custer before being brought back to force the hand of Geronimo. In this he failed. Instead, his rival, General Nelson Miles, made a bargain to disarm the last Apache warrior, then forced him to move to Florida along with the Apache scouts that had helped the U.S. Army track him.
— Martin Cizmar
The U.S. Army opened old wounds when it gave Osama Bin Laden the code name “Geronimo” during the raid that killed the terrorist boss. It’s easy to see why: From the perspective of Native Americans, Bin Laden was a terrorist who killed innocents, while Geronimo fought honorably to stop the conquest of his homeland.
But both men, separated by a hemisphere and a century, certainly shared an ability to avoid capture by a well-funded army. And until Bin Laden, Geronimo may have been the most slippery foe the U.S. Army had faced, evading capture for decades even as he was pursued by 5,000 of the brightest young soldiers the army had.
Born the grandson of a chief in an area that’s now part of New Mexico, Geronimo was called Goyathlay, or “one who yawns,” by his own people. He was jarred awake when he returned from a trading trip in 1858 to find his mother, wife and children had all been murdered by Mexican soldiers. His chief, Mangas Coloradas, sent the unhinged man to attack the Mexicans in revenge. It was while running through a hail of bullets to stab his foes with a knife that Geronimo earned his new name, possibly due to the cries of his victims for Saint Jerome – Jeronimo – to preserve them.
“I have killed many Mexicans; I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them,” Geronimo once wrote. “Some of them were not worth counting.”
Geronimo refused to surrender, even as Cochise, a senior member of the Chiricahua tribe, settled onto a reservation. Geronimo’s decision to keep fighting was reinforced when Cochise died and his band was forced to move from the mountain land they’d been promised to the desolate San Carlos reservation. Eventually captured, Geronimo was also sent to San Carlos, where he lived for four years before escaping to raid the countryside again, a run that ended in 1886 when he became the last Apache to hand himself over.
He became a star in captivity, penning an autobiography and drawing crowds at fairs, but he was never allowed to return to Arizona.
— Martin Cizmar
There is no denying that the brightest stars of Western folklore are all men. Compared to headliners Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Arizona’s territorial women seem like extras. When we do think of women in the early West, we tend to view them in a binary fashion: There were good girls (long-suffering pioneer wives) and there were bad girls (prostitutes), and ne’er the twain did meet. But the reality is far more complex. “Women did not stay at home or on the ranch doing just domestic work,” says Heidi Osselaer, professor of history at Arizona State University. Arizona women were entrepreneurs, photographers, lawyers and successful businesswomen – tough cookies and heroes in their own right.
The economy of territorial Arizona was unstable. The most prevalent industries of the time, such as mining, involved significant danger and left families vulnerable to the fluctuating prices of commodities. Women had to take on a variety of trades to supplement the household income, and of course the frontier attracted many bold single women who had to make their way in a harsh world. But local conditions were in some ways rather favorable to women, at least compared to their counterparts in the ostensibly more enlightened East and Midwest. Women found it easier to borrow money in many Western towns because lenders figured that even a woman could make it in a boom-or-bust economy, Osselaer says.
Furthermore, moral lines became blurred because enforcing strict boundaries between good girls and bad girls was an unavailable luxury in the late 19th-century West. According to Osselaer, it was not uncommon for “respectable” women to teach in classrooms located near saloons, run restaurants that attracted miners who drank heavily, or sew dresses for prostitutes in order to bring in extra funds. And women were often partners with men in running businesses, including saloons, restaurants, boardinghouses and shops. One such woman, Nellie Cashman, ran several businesses by herself and in partnership with men, and occasionally enlisted prostitutes to help her nurse sick miners. Cashman’s many enterprises were less rooted in capitalist ambition than practical altruism, a philosophy embodied in her well-known quote, “When I saw something that needed doing, I did it.”
Arizona’s pioneer women demonstrated a knack for business. One of Tombstone’s earliest entrepreneurs was Samantha Fallon. She opened the San Jose Lodging House and drew a steady supply of miners with her affordable rates. Jessie Brown set trends with the Grand Hotel, a structure a local newspaper described as “the most elegant hostelry in Arizona.” Brown outfitted her hotel with stylish furnishings from San Francisco and recruited a famous chef to helm the dining room. Brown also understood her market. French cuisine was very popular at the time and menus were often printed in French, but many patrons were not proficient in the language. So Brown printed her menus in English. Her approach proved so successful many other restaurants followed suit.
C.S. Fly is famous for his photographs of Geronimo and numerous Tombstone residents, but it was his wife, Mollie, who deserves the credit for many portraits attributed to him. A proficient photographer, she was also the savvy, organized complement to his more lackadaisical artistic personality and was responsible for the successful running of their studio and boardinghouse, where Doc Holliday stayed at the time of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Mollie’s biographical entry in the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame at the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records describes her as “a typical frontierswoman – didn’t know what fear was.”
Even “shady ladies” evinced an admirable entrepreneurial spirit. Big Nose Kate, born to a respectable family in Hungary, had to fend for herself after her family immigrated to the U.S. and she was orphaned. She eventually owned a boardinghouse in Globe and allegedly ran a bordello in Tombstone. Ah Chum, better known as China Mary, ruled the prostitution ring and opium business in 19th-century Tombstone’s Chinatown, as well as running a general store and investing in several businesses. She was also known to lend money to miners and care for the sick and injured, sometimes even paying for their medical bills.
Women in Arizona also used their wits to serve rural areas. Eulalia Elias managed Arizona’s first major cattle-raising operation, a vast setup established in Southeastern Arizona in the late 1820s. Cordelia Adams Crawford ran errands of mercy to ranches in central Arizona and developed a special kinship with local Apache women. These women trusted Crawford so much they brought their sick children to her for treatment and would warn her about impending raids. In her 1943 obituary, family and friends called Crawford “a remarkable woman of courage, tall and straight as an arrow, who was as easy on her horse as she was in a rocking chair.”
Ola Young, meanwhile, was a successful rancher in Pleasant Valley in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Young was also a problem-solver. Timely distribution of mail was an issue for local ranchers because the nearest post office was in Holbrook, more than 300 miles away. So Young had mail deposited at her family’s ranch and then organized the distribution herself. Ultimately, Young persuaded the U.S. Postal Service to establish a post office in her house. She served as the local postmistress for nearly 50 years. Sallie Davis Hayden, mother of Arizona congressman Carl Hayden, was postmistress of modern-day Tempe in the late 1800s. She also served on the local school board, campaigned for politicians, worked to bring good teachers to the area, and engaged in numerous charitable enterprises. “There was scarcely ever a time when some... unhappy person was not being entertained at the Ranch House throughout the winters, and often without charge,” Carl Hayden said of his mother. “Delicate teachers, poor college professors, any educated person with limited means, and lame ducks of every sort, appealed to her sympathetic, generous heart.”
Many early Arizona women were especially committed to education. Sister Clara Otero was one of the first Arizona women to enter a religious order. Otero’s faith inspired her to perform many charitable works, including teaching Spanish, music, art and needlework at St. Joseph’s Academy in the Southern Arizona territory. Mary Bernard Aguirre led a public school for girls in Tucson. Although enrollment initially suffered because of her consistent disciplinary measures, the school grew from 20 pupils when she started to 85 pupils when she resigned in 1879. Eventually, Aguirre became the first instructor of Spanish at the University of Arizona and also led the university’s Spanish language and English history departments.
And then there was the law. Arizona’s tradition of pioneering female legal eagles, embodied by the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor and Lorna Lockwood, was established even before statehood. In 1892, Sarah Herring Sorin was admitted to practice law in Arizona. Sorin practiced throughout the territory and developed a reputation for her proficiency in mining law; she even represented the Phelps Dodge Corporation before the United States Supreme Court. Appearing before all-male juries and male judges, Sorin became highly regarded for her keen mind, relentless preparation and notable ability to deconstruct complicated legal issues into digestible pieces. Fourteen years after Sorin became Arizona’s first female attorney, she became the first female attorney from Arizona to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1913, Sorin became the first female attorney to ever argue a case before the Court without an accompanying male attorney. She won the case.
Perhaps Arizona’s tradition of tough pioneering women is one reason we voted in suffrage eight years before the rest of the country, and why we’ve had more female governors than any other state. As Arizona continues to celebrate its Centennial, Arizonans must surely acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our many female leaders. Thank you, ladies, and well done.
— Anjali Abraham
Nellie Cashman may have been called the “Angel of Tombstone,” but an ethereal waif she was not: With her blunt manner, stalwart spirit, and repeated tendency to rescue groups of near-dead men, she was quite simply one of the gutsiest good girls who ever lived.
Fleeing Ireland’s Potato Famine as a young girl, Cashman and her family immigrated to America around 1850. She eventually ran boardinghouses in Nevada’s silver fields and British Columbia’s gold-rich Cassiar Mountains, where she spent 77 days rescuing dozens of snowstorm-stranded miners. Following a boomtown trail, she headed to Tombstone, where she ran restaurants and boarding houses; raised funds for a church, school and hospital; prospected and gave most of her earnings to charity; nursed the sick; and became treasurer for two miners associations. Once, she joined a group of miners on a prospecting trip to Baja, Mexico; they became lost and nearly died of thirst, so she ventured on her own to find water and saved them all.
Though most women of the era sought security in marriage, Cashman remained single, telling a reporter, “Why, child, I haven’t had time for marriage. Men are a nuisance, anyhow, now aren’t they?” When Arizona got too civilized, she followed the gold rush to Alaska, where she prospected, ran mining companies, and set a record for dog mushing at age 77.
— Keridwen Cornelius
If your taste in Old West lore leans toward banditry, look no further than feisty Pearl Hart. Born in Canada and saddled with difficult circumstances – an abusive husband, a beloved but ill mother, and abject poverty – Hart took work in 1898 as a cook for miners in Mammoth, Arizona. She met a miner named Joe Boot, and the pair decided to rob a stagecoach in Globe. Hart, dressed in men’s garb, fled into the desert with Boot after relieving the coach of its money and guns.
Soon apprehended by a sheriff’s posse, Hart faced a trial that captured the public’s attention. She charmed many observers with her spirited nature and loved to give interviews. Some media reports even suggested she flirted with the all-male jury. Hart was acquitted, but a guilty verdict in another trial – for interference with U.S. Mail – netted her a five-year prison sentence.
Hart was released three years early, allegedly because she was pregnant – possibly by the very governor who pardoned her – but there was no evidence of a pregnancy and no record of birth. The stories of Hart’s later years, just like those of her early years, are often embellished and difficult to verify. Most likely, Hart ended up back near Globe, married to a cowboy or miner and working the land.
— Anjali Abraham
Raise a glass and toast the resource that helped turn the once-sleepy settlement of Phoenix into the populous state capital: water. Cheers to the Salt River, and cheers to a prostitute’s drinking glass.
When South Carolina-born adventurer John “Jack” Swilling arrived in what would become the Valley of the Sun, he could see that someone was here before. The all-but-vanished waterways created by ancient Hohokams encouraged Swilling to dig canals along the same routes to build a modern irrigation system. Perceiving that they were resurrecting a city from the remains of canals, Swilling’s friend and fellow pioneer Phillip Darrell Duppa named the settlement after the mythical bird that rises from ashes to live again.
If Swilling, credited with Phoenix’s 1868 founding, was the city’s father, then it also had a mother: his Sonora-born wife, Trinidad Escalante. In fact, the city has always been a blend of cultures. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half the town’s population in 1870 (240 people) was Hispanic. 1872 saw the arrival of Phoenix’s first Chinese immigrants – three men and two women who opened a laundry between dusty adobe houses, flour mills, bakeries, and blacksmiths.
Meanwhile, Tucson (population 3,000-plus) and Prescott (population 600-plus) were taking turns hosting the territorial capital. There seemed little indication that sleepy Phoenix – a hodgepodge of trailside tents, horse-drawn carts, budding businesses, and farming fed by the Salt River – would become the thriving metropolis it is today.
The Arizona Canal, constructed to help distribute water from the river, boosted its growth. Completed in 1885, the project was spearheaded by W.J. Murphy, future founder of the city of Glendale, who used the water to plant Phoenix’s first orange groves on 14 acres just south of Camelback Mountain.
In 1889, the 15th Arizona Territorial Legislative Assembly met to discuss a proposal to move the state capital from Prescott. According to state historian Marshall Trimble, the Maricopa County delegates knew their hometown was an underdog, so they employed a bit of chicanery. They arranged for one of the Yavapai County delegates to spend a night with a prostitute named Kissin’ Jenny. Every night, this gentleman took out his glass eye and plopped it in a glass of water. This night, Jenny drank the entire contents of the glass. The next morning, the delegate – too vain to be seen sans eye – refused to show up at the assembly, and the bill to move the capital to Phoenix won by a single vote.
With the capital secured, the population in 1889 grew to 1,708. A map from that year shows mixed land use in the center of town: Along Adams, Monroe, and Washington, feedlots and blacksmiths operated next to restaurants and homes. Around this time, Phoenix got its first meat-packing plant and saw the arrival of California palms, along with enterprising transplants like Julia Crump, a black woman from Denver who opened a popular oyster bar on Washington Street, and upstart institutions like the Valley Bank of Phoenix, which assured customers that it had $100,000 of paid-up capital on hand.
Water continued to shape the city. In 1891, the flood-prone Salt River created the city’s first segregation: The poor and minorities stayed on the floodplain in the southern part of the town, while the affluent moved north to higher ground. In 1911, Roosevelt Dam, dedicated by Teddy himself, finally tamed the Salt River for irrigation and power, helping usher Arizona into statehood and spawning a population boom. Cheers, once again, to water.
— Tom Marcinko
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