Thursday, January 11, 2024

Tombstone Legends


Tombstone owed its creation to the discovery of silver.  The mines sat in the richest productive silver district in Arizona.  The population of Tombstone grew from 100 to around 14,000 in less than seven years.

Tombstone had four churches, a school, two banks, three newspapers, and an ice-cream parlor, which sat amidst 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dance halls and brothels.  The town is best known as the site of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” At about 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, 1881, the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil and James along with Wyatt’s pal Doc Holiday, representing the law, shot it out with an outlaw gang known as “The Cowboys.”  Three of the outlaws were killed. During the next five months, the gang struck back. Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed, and another of the Earp brothers, Morgan, was murdered. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and others formed a posse that killed three more Cowboys whom they thought responsible.

After the shootout in Tombstone, and after leaving Arizona, Wyatt Earp was often the target of negative newspaper stories that disparaged his reputation.  Some regarded him as little better than a murderer.  This all changed with a heroic biography published in 1931, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. The book became a bestseller and created Wyatt Earp’s reputation as a fearless lawman. Since then, films, television shows, and works of fiction further added to the fame of Wyatt Earp.

Two months after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, on December 26, 1881, the Birdcage Theatre opened in Tombstone.  The theater was owned by William Hutchinson. Hutchison originally intended to present respectable family shows but found that he could make more money by catering to a rougher crowd. The walls of the Bird Cage were riddled with gunshot holes from the frequent shootouts.  The theater also did extra duty as a saloon and brothel.

Performing under the stage name “Fatima”, Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, better known to history as “Little Egypt” got her start at the Bird Cage.   Spyropoulos popularized the form of dancing, which came to be referred to as the "Hoochee-Coochee", or the "shimmy and shake.”  We now call this belly dancing.  There is a larger-than-life sized painting in the Bird Cage, which Spyropoulos donated, entitled "Fatima". It bears six patched bullet holes; one can be seen above the belly button and there is a knife gash in the canvas below the knee.

Arizona Legends and Lore