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Phantoms of Tombstone

By Loretta Kemsley

Apache by Frederick S. Remington
"Apache" by Frederick S. Remington


- sign in boarding area of the Butterfield stage stations

It was in the faded light preceding dawn that I first heard the piano's faraway tinkle. Unable to sleep, I'd aimlessly wandered the wooden sidewalks of Tombstone before sitting on the bench in front of an ancient saloon. "The Crystal Palace" graced the proud but faded sign over its door. The piano surprised me, breaking the still silence ever so softly from behind the saloon's shuttered doors.

It wasn't the only sound from within. I could hear the faint clink of glasses, the low murmur of pleasant conversation and muted laughter. Whoever was inside was having a good time. I turned and rubbed the dirty window before peering through. The saloon was empty; the sounds immediately faded, replaced again by silence, now turned eerie. As soon as I turned away and settled on the bench once more, the music and laughter began again. I didn't look that time, just sat wondering.

As the sun rose, I began to distinguish figures on the street, some walking slowly toward me, their boots audible on the wooden sidewalk, two horses -- a black and a bald faced sorrel with an odd white stocking on his right front leg -- were tied to the hitch rail. Not quite real. Not quite solid. But definitely there.

Gunfire erupted, killing the peace. The people walking toward me scurried for cover, the horses shied to the end of their tether, not quite sure whether to bolt and run. I wasn't either. I sat frozen as two gunmen ran, grabbed the horses, swung aboard and galloped away. The scene and sounds faded as the sun rose higher, lighting the sky in full, glorious blue.

Could this be a time warp? Was my imagination having a lovely romp? Baffled and bemused, I sat for a while longer, then wandered away when nothing more occurred. Only one establishment was open early, a local cafe with a cheery waitress and good food.

When I mentioned the morning's adventure, she merely smiled and asked how I wanted my eggs. Later she said I should visit the newspaper office when it opened. An avid reader, it was already on my itinerary but now it moved up a notch in importance. She walked me to the door and pointed the way to the offices of the Tombstone Epitaph.

History was alive on its pages, just as it had seemed to live on the streets. Browsing through time, I soon found why she thought I'd be interested. One front page listed two wanted gunmen who'd escaped on two horses -- described exactly as I'd seen them, right down to the odd white stocking on the front leg of the sorrel. My scalp prickled but I kept reading, turning the pages of time as recorded by journalists of the day. I didn't find another story detailing the capture of the two outlaws, but there were plenty of others to pique my interest.

In the mid-1800s, Arizona was home to America's fiercest fighters: the Apache. Fortune hunters and white ranchers were encroaching on their land. As the hordes increased -- some stopping in the Arizona territory, others just traveling through -- so did the manner of traveling to the hot, barren landscape of the red desert. One of these ways was the Butterfield Stage Line, formed in 1858.

John Butterfield. His name strikes my imagination; my grandmother was Leona Butterfield. What was it like to ride the Butterfield Stage Lines? Its route was the longest in the world, extending over 2,800 miles, beginning in Tipton, Missouri, and snaking south to cross the Chihuahuan, Sonoran and Colorado Deserts. Butterfield's passengers paid $200 or 15 cents a mile (about $3,000 in today's costs) for a cramped, dusty ride into the adventure of the American West.

In the summer of 1860, William Tallack, an English cleric, traveled from San Francisco to St. Louis on the Butterfield line. While awaiting departure, he worried about "how far he might be able to endure a continuous ride . . . with no other intermission than a stoppage of about forty minutes twice a day, and a walk, from time to time, over the more difficult ground . . .with only such repose at night as could be obtained whilst in a sitting posture and closely wedged in by fellow-travelers and tightly-filled mail-bags. [There was] no absolute security against [Indian attack], whilst murders and robberies were known to be of constant occurrence along the line . . . in the cases of solitary or incautious travelers . . . A third ground for apprehensive anticipation was the extreme liability of vehicles to overset [overturn] during a journey through regions possessing no macadamized roads, and often only a route the most rugged and steep. In case, too, of any accident or illness . . . there was the certainty of being placed in a very unpleasant position . . . ."

Travelers heading west first saw Arizona's beauty near Stein's Peak, passing through the Sonoran Desert via Apache Pass, and continuing west through Tucson and Yuma before ending on the coast of California in San Francisco. But it is in Globe where we stop to hear the tale of Pearl Hart, Arizona's legendary stagecoach robber.

Pearl, a Toronto native, was seventeen when she arrived in Arizona. Three decades had passed since the Wells Fargo Company took over the Butterfield Stage Lines and moved them north, traveling through Globe and into Phoenix. But not much else had changed, except the fortune hunters were finally rewarded, not with gold but silver.

Boomtowns sprang up quickly and just as quickly became infamous. According to one Wells Fargo detective, Tombstone's citizens numbered "six thousand . . . five thousand are bad -- one thousand are known outlaws."

Wyatt and Morgan Earp were hired by Wells Fargo to protect the gold and silver bullion they carried. Almost $3 million worth of silver bullion (roughly $45 million in today's currency) was transported by Wells Fargo within Arizona's boundaries in the year of 1880.

Into this rough and tumble territory of Arizona stepped the comely Miss Hart, ready to use her wits and beauty for survival. She'd married at seventeen following a period of popularity with a bevy of beaus. By twenty-two, she fled her abusive husband, traveling through Colorado and ending her journey in Phoenix, only to have him hunt her down and reclaim his husbandly rights. In the next few years, he introduced her to the world of smoking, drinking and morphine use before leaving to fight in the Spanish-American War. He never returned.

No longer as beautiful, Pearl struggled hard to survive, growing ever more depressed. Four times, she attempted suicide. Four times, others intervened and thwarted her death wish. A new job hailed in Mammoth, bringing with it a new lover, known by the alias of "Joe Boot."

Joe decided Globe was the place to find riches, and Pearl reluctantly agreed to the move. Heavy rains flooded the road, stranding the pair until they enlisted the help of two Mormon boys. It was all for naught. They were dead broke when a letter arrived for Pearl, begging her to return home before her mother died. Pearl later admitted she was desperate. "That letter drove me crazy . . . I had no money. I could get no money. From what I know now, I believe I became temporarily insane."

Pearl's first crimes involved luring men to her room, promising them a romp in bed. Joe hid inside, attacking the unsuspecting victims and stealing their money, but that didn't produce enough cash. The discouraged duo turned their attention to the stagecoaches laden with gold bullion. Just one robbery would be all they needed. Pearl hacked off her hair and donned men's clothing before they set out for Cane Springs, located in the Dripping Springs Mountains, just south of the Pinal Mountains.

It was May 29, 1899, when Joe and Pearl blocked the Wells Fargo Stage traveling from Globe to Florence on the Howard and Reduction Toll Road. Waving guns at the stage's three passengers, they collected $380 and a watch from a salesman, $36 from a tenderfoot, and $5 from a Chinaman. Alas, the stage wasn't carrying any gold. Pearl's conscience nagged her into returning a dollar to each of the passengers -- enough to eat on -- before the duo fled south, promptly becoming lost in unfamiliar surroundings. The next day, the Sheriff's posse found them sound asleep under a stand of trees.

Initially, both were held in the Florence Jail, but the idea of a woman bandit caught the public's fancy. The publicity irritated the sheriff, and he shipped Pearl to the Pima County Jail in Tucson. Newspapers took up Pearl's cause, provoking public sympathy because of the reason she resorted to crime. They also gave her a forum as a voice for women's emancipation. "[She] would never consent to be tried under a law she or her sex had no voice in making, or to which a woman had no power under the law to give her consent."

An inmate trustee, known by the alias "Ed Hogan," roamed the jail in Tucson. Pearl soon caught his attention, and the two became amorous. Hogan cut a hole in Pearl's cell wall and the two fled to New Mexico, only to be apprehended and returned. Pearl stood trial at Joe Boot's side. He received a thirty-year sentence while she received five, although the jury released her on probation, only to be returned to court for packing a gun. This time she was sent to the Territorial Prison in Yuma.

Notoriety followed Pearl, who was the first woman prisoner; the guards loitered in her cell, causing "enthusiasm that was harmful to discipline." Her fame grew, with reporters clamoring for interviews and requesting photographs of her with a Winchester or a Colt 45. Pearl was pardoned in 1902 after she became pregnant and scandal threatened. Rumors said the father had to be a prison employee or one of only two other men known to be alone with her: a preacher or Gov. Alexander Brodie. It was the governor who signed her pardon at the urging of the prison warden. The official reason was the prison "lacked accommodations for women prisoners."

Pearl promptly disappeared. Some said she was told to get out of Arizona. Others claimed she headed to Kansas City to join a gang of pickpockets and dabble in prostitution. Still others said she joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, traveling and performing with the troupe before returning to Globe to marry. Calvin Bywater was a cowboy; he bought her a ranch near the old Christmas mine in the Dripping Springs Mountains, not far from Cane Spring. She grew old there, working hard and obeying the law. Her spirit remained undaunted though. Census records show Pearl Bywater refused to answer a question about her birth, "I wasn't born anywhere."

The sun had already climbed high before my stomach's loud growls overrode my interest in the musty newspapers. I ate lunch before wandering on, easily finding the OK Corral, the Bird Cage Dance Hall, Big Nose Kate's Saloon and Boothill, wonderful treasures to delight the imagination. But something was missing. Perhaps the afternoon light was too bright, because I didn't meet another ghostly scene to rival my morning outside the Crystal Palace.

Loretta Kemsley is the president of Women Artists and Writers International, which publishes "Moondance: Celebrating Creative Women." Her sense of adventure began in childhood: "Surrounded by the magical world of carnivals, circuses, rodeos, and movie stables, I took my childhood for granted, only learning how unique this atmosphere was after reaching adulthood. Mr. Ed lived across the street, Lassie two blocks away. Gene Autry was my first boss, at age eight, hiring me to ride as a double for Calamity Jane in The Buffalo Bill Jr. television series. When your father's best friend, a ventriloquist, can make it seem like little people are stuck in a drain pipe; when Lassie barks a greeting as you pass each morning on your way to school; when the palomino which nuzzles your hair each afternoon is adored by millions, who wonder how he 'talks,' when your own best friend disappears behind clown's make-up, the power of magic is never doubted." You can write to Ms. Kemsley at LKemsley@travelwriters.com or LKemsley@moondance.org



On Friendship and Coffee ]
My Life with Bulbs ]
Phantoms of Tombstone ]


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