Tombstone History Archives

 Chronicles of Tombstone's TurbulEnt Years

Helldorado 1879-1929 by John Clum




HELLDORADO, 1879-1929:

The Semi-Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the Famous Mining


Held at Tombstone, October 24-27, 1929,

Reviewed by John P. Clum

(Founder of the Tombstone _Epitaph_–1880,

and First Mayor of the City of Tombstone–1881)


“What does that word ‘HELLDORADO’ mean?”


About the time I was leaving Los Angeles to attend Tombstone’s HELLDORADO celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of that famous mining camp, I remarked to a friend that I anticipated meeting very few of those I knew there between 1879 and 1883, and that I would need an aide to present me to the new crop of oldtimers. That was exactly what happened. Among the thousands who attended the four-day HELLDORADO carnival there were less than a score to whom I did not need an introduction. Foremost among that small and rapidly thinning group of honest-to-goodness oldsters was my valued friend, Billy Fourr, his face as brown as a berry, his abundant hair only slightly grizzled, and his eyes twinkling as of yore, despite the burden of his eighty-odd years. A cordial greeting and a brief heart-to-heart chat on matters past and present served to restore Billy to complete oldtime confidence, and at an opportune moment he turned to me with one of his cheery, quizzical smiles, and in subdued tones he asked me, “What does that word ‘HELLDORADO’ mean?” And I returned the compliment and the confidence by simply repeating the question, “Well, Billy,” I said, “what does that word ‘HELLDORADO’ mean?”


But in spite of the fact that Billy and I do not know just what the term “HELLDORADO” may mean, the HELLDORADO celebration at Tombstone, Arizona, October 24-27, 1929, was a gratifying success–from a HELLDORADO standpoint. And this success was made possible through the energetic and persistent efforts of the daring and optimistic citizens of that historic, fifty-year-old little city. For, considering the size of the community, it was, indeed, a brave undertaking, loyally and heroically carried out–to the last moment of the four days and nights of the colorful HELLDORADO High Jinks.


When the HELLDORADO celebration was decided upon, the citizens of Tombstone had nothing but the original stage whereon to present their proposed HELLDORADO show, together with some of the original settings in the form of streets and buildings–the more or less dilapidated condition of the latter proving that they had not been over looked by the gnawing tooth of time during the past half-century.


The high spots of the contemplated HELLDORADO program included the dramatic, the tragic, the spectacular, and the picturesque–all of which were more or less historic. Several blocks in the business section of the city were chosen as the arena wherein might be enacted the various and sundry woolly-wild and blood-and-thunder HELLDORADO stunts. This HELLDORADO area was completely inclosed, and two graceful and artistic arches marked the eastern and western entrances on Allen Street. The old buildings, many of them points of interest in the ealry history of the camp, were rehabilitated, decorated, furnished, and equipped in a manner suitable to the accommodation of the saloons, gambling resorts, dance halls, etc., which were destined to be conspicuous features in the bewildering array of HELLDORADO attractions. An elaborate system of brilliant colored electric lights was installed, which contributed immensely to the inspiration, safety, and convenience of the vast throngs that saw HELLDORADO by night. Ample stages and towering apparatus were erected for the accommodation of both actors and audience in connection with the free open-air band concerts, dances, and a variety of clever and daring acrobatic and athletic exhibitions.


Obviously, the construction of these necessary added settings on the mammoth “original stage” involved many weary hours of planning and measuring and sketching, and weeks of strenuous labor–and the expenditure of much real money. But this was only a part of the mighty task of preparation. A small army of actors, prepresenting a wide variety of talents, had to be bargained with and carefully chosen with due regard to their ability to satisfactorily entertain a HELLDORADO audience. Doubtless the problem second in importance to arranging the settings for the stage was that of assembling the astonishing array of antique “properties” which lent a true HELLDORADO tinge to the grand parade and did so much to make it the dominating feature of the entire show. And then the matter of effective publicity for Tombstone’s HELLDORADO anniversary celebration presented no trivial task–and such publicity was vital to the success of the bold undertaking, since, after all the brain-fag and labor and money expended in the preparations, the unique enterprise would prove a rank failure unless throngs of visitors could be lured within the HELLDORADO area during the period of the proposed colorful carnival. Happily for the success of the HELLDORADO show, the HELLDORADO publicity committee apparently anticipated the popular HELLDORADO idea in their selection of a cover design for their HELLDORADO publicity circulars and official programs. In this design the dominating color was a lurid, sanguinary red. The earth was red and the sky was red and the atmosphere was red. From this veritable sea of red emerged the outlines of one of Tombstone’s ancient, historic, but almost deserted streets. The buildings–which were red, save only for the outlines–appeared like the structures of pygmies as compared with the colossal figure of a red-handed cowboy which occupied the center of the design, who, arrayed in sombrero, bandana and chaps, stepped boldly from the great open spaces, in and upon and over the defenseless diminutive city and its dwarfed inhabitants, with a six-shooter in each hand spitting fire and lead, and unhindered and unafraid, he was indulging in the alleged popular cowboy frolic of “shootin’ up the town.” The picture was that of an ideal, colorful, two-gun badman literally blazing the trail–from a HELLDORADO standpoint. Across the page at the top–in bold letters–was written “HELLDORADO.”


And in order that the most obtuse might not misapprehend the big idea of this dramatic and spectacular cover design, the efficient HELLDORADO publicity committee boldly flung against a section of the flaming sky the following illuminating legend: “A true-to-life reproduction of Tombstone’s Rip-Roaring Days.”


My venerable friend, Billy Fourr, and I do not know just what the term “HELLDORADO” may mean, but we suspect that this lurid–and alluring–cover design was intended to convey a realistic impression of the actual conditions that prevailed in Tombstone fifty years ago.


And the HELLDORADO literature was equally lurid–and alluring. It alleged that Tombstone, in the hectic days of its effervescent adolescence, enjoyed the dazzling reputation of being the wickedest city in this wicked old world; that its inhabitants were engaged chiefly in gambling, booze-guzzling, and gunfighting; that the final arbiter of all disputes was the deadly six-shooter; that at least one dead man was provided for breakfast each morning; that the streets and resorts of the city presented a moving panorama of wild abandon and continuous hullabaloo performance; that, as a result of this unique and somewhat amazing social atmosphere, it was not uncommon for a man to bury his wife in the morning, kill a man before noon, and marry another woman before sundown. And if any suffered qualms of conscience, or wearied of the free entertainment provided in the streets and gambling resorts and saloons and dance halls, these flocked to the famous Bird Cage Theatre (which, by the way, accommodated only about 250 patrons) with a faint hope that the rude plays and the ruder environment might afford temporary divertissement.


With such, and similar statements, in which the roar of the six-shooter was the prevailing accompaniment, the public and his wife were cordially invited to attend the HELLDORADO celebration, the high purpose of which was to recall, revive, restore, and reenact those rather rude and riotous revelries and exceedingly startling and spectacular episodes, representing the daily doings of the populace when Tombstone was young and robust and unrestrained.


Billy Fourr and I failed to recognize in this HELLDORADO picture any semblance of the youthful Tombstone we had known so well, and, after making due allowance for possible lapse of memory, we mutually assured ourselves that we were not as desperate and devilish and depraved fifty years ago as the HELLDORADO publicity literature and press dispatches had painted us.


“Be effective and truthful, if possible–but be effective,” was the advice of a sage. The HELLDORADO literature was effective. Thousands attended the HELLDORADO show. Barring one gruesome act, it was a darned good show–from a HELLDORADO standpoint, and the thousands went away satisfied. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.


And we must not ruin that story with wearisome details. A chilling wind and some rain spoiled the fun the first day, but the remaining three days were favored with ideal HELLDORADO weather–bright sunshine and a bracing atmosphere.


The HELLDORADO band was composed of twenty thoroughbred Yuma Indians gaily attired in red shirts, dark trousers with gold stripes down the sides, beaded moccasins, and gaudily feathered war-bonnets. The leader sometimes waved a six-shooter as a baton, but the players broadcast smiles with their music and were charmingly good-natured and persistently on the job–and they kenw their music. Billy Fourr and I enjoyed the Yuma Indian band immensely–although we could not remember ever having seen or heard anything like it during those “early days” of the camp.


The Big Parade was the dominating feature of the HELLDORADO program. At its head marched the Indian band, broadcasting inspiration for the entire column. In the wake of the band rode George R. Henshaw–Sheriff of Cochise County. A stalwart figure astride a prancing steed–he looked the part. Following the sheriff and mounted on bronchos came a pair of prize antique exhibits in the persons of Colonel “Billy” Breakenridge and myself, we having been assigned to that advanced position in the formation for the reason that we, respectively, were holding down the jobs of honorary sheriff, and honorary mayor and editor of the Epitaph during the HELLDORADO period. There was small choice between our mounts, but a wide difference in the character of our respective armaments. Very properly, the honorary sheriff carried a rifle and a six-shooter, while I, as honorary editor of the Epitaph, was–most appropriately–armed only with a fountain pen–sometimes the mightiest of weapons.


Trailing us came that marvelous assortment of time-worn, travel-scarred, marred, mutilated, and antiquated vehicles, motive power for which was supplied by those old reliables–the horse, the mule, the ox, and the burro. Mayor Krebs and some of the older pioneers rode in state in the venerable passenger conveyances, and the lumbering “covered wagons” and “prairie schooners” completed this section of the parade.


A group of husky cowboys followed as a guard to the wagon train, and, believe me, they were there with bells. Spirited mounts, snappy saddles, boots, spurs, chaps, sombreros, bandanas, lariats, six-shooters, etc. They were from the headwaters of Bitter Creek–and they looked it. They captured the crowds–particularly the ladies. They were the real stuff.


The cowboys having rid the trail of all imaginary marauding Apaches, the women–picturesquely attired in the ancient, ample, secretive, flounced and frilled, and fluffy-ruffed costumes of the early 80s–followed with willing feet and smiling faces, even as our pioneers women have ever done. And with the women, as might be expected, were many children, dressed as the children dressed when Tombstone was no older than the youngest chlid in the parade.


The two outstanding realistic, antiquated, and amusing features of the parade (barring, of course, Honorary Sheriff Billy B. and myself), were represented by a covered wagon equipment and a prospctor and his outfit. Among other misfortunes the covered wagon had lost a rear wheel. “First aid” had been rendered and the wheelless axle was supported by a stout mesquite pole, the front end of which was securely lashed to the middle of the wagon-body, while the other end dragged on the ground at a proper distance to the rear. The “team” consisted of three animals. A lank, spavined, and utterly discouraged horse, and a meek and stunted specimen of the genus bovine were harnessed at the pole, while a recalcitrant mule ambled as the “spike” in the lead. From the front of the wagon peered the faces of a woman and a child–each framed in by an old-time regulation sunbonnet. On the side of the wagon-cover was boldly emblazoned that mystic word, “HELLDORADO.” The outfit was slightly disabled, but still on its way, and it presented an artistic and accurate picture of the “moving accidents by flood and field” so often met with by those early pioneers. The outfit was a scream.


The other realistic, antiquated, and amusing unit was represented by two inoffensive burros patiently bearing the rough-and-ready belongings of a typical optimistic prospector with a fortune awaiting him just over the hill–provided his grub-stake would sustain him until he reached that long-sought paystreak. Protruding conspicuously from the packs were the inevitable pick and shovel and frying-pan and coffee-pot–and the indispensable canteen. The rude garb of the prospector was camp-worn and travel-stained, his hair had grown grey while he had trudged along the solitary trails, but as he raised his head to greet a fellow pilgrim his face beamed with a generous, soulful smile–a spontaneous radiation of the pleasures of hope. A blue ribbon should be awarded to that whole-souled, well-seasoned frontiersman, J. A. Rockfellow, who enacted so perfectly the part he had learned while tramping over the mesas and deserts of Arizona two score, or more, years ago.


The parade was unique, entertaining, picturesque, and historic. It delighted the throngs of visitors. It represented a lot of hard work. It was a distinct success. My hat is off to Harry Kendall and the other members of the parade committee.


The most spectacular stunt in the HELLDORADO celebration was the “hold-up” of the old original “Modoc” stage. The group of passengers who were the terrified victims of the daring robbers, developed several talented actors who delighted the throng of spectators with a series of comedy stunts which were the results of clverly feigned fear. The great crowd of spectators was handled with much skill and good judgment. Ample space was necessary to allow the stage, drawn by four mustangs, to come bounding into the arena, and for the mounted bandits to charge from the opposite direction. And then, after the robbery, when the stage was allowed to proceed, and the bold bandits were about to make their get-away, a sheriff’s posse of a dozen or more dyed-in-the-wool cowboys came thundering down the road, yipping and shooting as they charged the robber-gang in a most thrilling, spectacular, and realistic fashion.


The stage hold-up was a bully stunt–admirably enacted. The crowd liked it. There was one old-timer in the audience who had wandered about Oklahoma and Texas before coming to Arizona, and who admitted that his personal conduct had not always been strictly “within the law.” He watched the hold-up with unfeigned interest, and while the passengers were being relieved of their excess wealth, he turned to a pal and whispered, “I’ll say, Bill, there never were so many looking on when I stuck ‘em up.”


Each day, promptly at four o’clock p.m., a wild-eyed, bedraggled prospector, dirven mad by thirst, came stumbling and mumbling up Allen Street, dragging his rifle and empty canteen. His rude antics offended a drunken desperado, who deliberately shot and killed the unfortunate prospector. Without hesitation or delay the infuriated mob seized the desperado-murderer, and before one might say “Jack Robinson,” the ruthless killer was dangling at the end of a rope.


The mock street battle between the city police and the rustlers was a grim exhibition that should have been omitted. The spectacle of men engaged in mortal combat is repulsive and distressing. It is inconceivable that any normal spectator derived either pleasure or benefit from viewing the mock battle. The lamentable clash between the city police and the rustlers on October 26, 1881, occasioned more partisan bitterness than anything else that ever occurred in that community–and traces of that bitterness linger to this day. There was no justification for the inclusion of that gruesome act in the HELLDORADO program, and, in my judgment, the mock street fight was reprehensible–even from a HELLDORADO standpoint.


Fortunatley, very few among the throngs that ssembled daily to witness this mock combat were able to see it. Only those on the fringe of the crowd along the edges of the space reserved for the actors could see any of the details. The multitude merely heard rapid pistol shots during a period of about one minute.


Each day during the HELLDORADO festivities there was enacted upon the streets of Tombstone a deadly street battle, a murder, a lynching, and a stage robbery. Billy Fourr and I could recall only one deadly street battle and one lynching during the entire fifty years of Tombstone’s existence. Only three men met violent deaths within the city limits during the 365 days of 1881–barring the three killed in the street battle. The crime that led to the lynching in 1884 was committed in Bisbee, and the lynching party was organized in Bisbee and came to Tombstone to execute their purpose–and their victim. These facts have given Billy Fourr and myself some hint as to just what that word “HELLDORADO” may mean.


The famous Bird Cage Theatre proved to be one of the “best sellers” within the HELLDORADO area. In fact, at the first show the full capacity of the house was sold out within ten minutes. Mayor Krebs honored my party with seats in the royal box overlooking the footlights–where I was able to indulge in a bit of wide-open flirtation with a fascinating flapper jig-dancer, much to her amusement–as well as that of the audience. That was my woolly-wildest HELLDORADO stunt.


The HELLDORADO entertainment program presented a well-arranged, continuous performance, and, in addition to the features aleady mentioned, including trick rope twirlers, expert boomerang throwers, fancy shooting, singing, dancing, boxing, wrestling, fortune-telling, a variety of mysterious side shows, and a number of high-class athletic and acrobatic stunts. Special mention is due a company of acrobats composed of two women and four men who gave three open-air exhibitions daily (free). They performed most daring and graceful feats on a steel trapeze 110 feet in height, without nets or other safety devices. Their act was admirable in every detail–a genuine thriller from start to finish.


Mayor Krebs and Editor Kelly were ubiquitous–always active and effective, and they were supported by scores of competent and willing assistants of both sexes. The ladies deserve special commendation for the interest and effort and art displayed in the creation of costumes similar to those their mothers and grandmothers wore. And the men–well, about one hundred of them devoted at least thee months to the daring task of growing brutal beards and wicked whiskers, with the result that when they donned broad hats and rough shirts and bandanas and high-heeled boots and deadly six-shooters and swaggered forth as the representatives of the early days in Tombstone, they had little difficulty in arousing in their HELLDORADO visitors the suspicion that they might be qutie as bad as they looked. This feature of the HELLDORADO exhibits interested Billy Fourr immensely, and once more he turned to me with that confidential quizzical smile as he remarked quietly, “Don’t you remember that away back there in 1881, when you were mayor, the men seldom grew anything but a mustache, and there was a city ordinance forbidding anyone but a peace officer to carry firearms within the city limits?” “Well, Billy,” I replied, “you must also remember that we were not giving a HELLDORADO show away back there in 1881.”


The Executive Committee had planned to officially open the celebration with appropriate memorial services at the Schieffelin Monument on the boulder-strewn hill three miles west of Tombstone, but were compelled to defer the ceremony because of inclement weather. The postponement was compensated by the fact that it permitted the many friends and companions of the late Ed Schieffelin to assemble at his last resting place on “Pioneers’ Day” to pay personal tribute to the man who made Tombstone possible. The group included a sister and two nieces of the honored dead. Superior Court Judge Albert M. Sames presided, and opened the ceremonies with an eloquent tribute to the character and achievements of the deceased pioneer. Judge Sames then introduced Colonel William Breakenridge, who delivered a brief eulogy to the memory of the man we sought to honor. A wreath was then placed upon the grave by the sister of the deceased prospector. In concluding the ceremonies, Judge Sames requested all present who had known Ed Schieffelin personally to step forward, and as thie venerable group of old acquaintances of the discoverer of Tombstone filed past the judge, the name of each was announced. The ceremonies were brief, simple, sincere, and impressive, and stirred the emotions of every one of that little band of pioneers who stood with bared heads beside the solitary grave.


When the good people of Tombstone have fully recovered from their HELLDORADO celebration and its reactions, let us hope that they may be aroused to be realization of the fact that it is not good morals, nor good taste, nor good sense, nor good business to permit sarcasm and contumely and ridicule and oppropbrium to be employed in a drive to advertise their pioneer cemetery for commercial purposes.


The Southern Pacific Company gave a cordial support to the HELLDORADO celebration. The big attraction was liberally advertised on their dining car service menus and otherwise, and on the last day of the show a special train was put on which brought several hundred visitors from Phoenix, Tucson, and way stations.


The facilities provided for feeding the multitude were ample. The food was good, and the prices moderate. In fact, all charges were modest–a situation that was fully appreciated by the HELLDORADO throngs.


The citizens of Tombstone extended a whole-hearted welcome to their HELLDORADO visitors, and were tireless in their courtesies and sincere endeavors to give everyone a good time. The fine spirit of hospitality and friendliness on the part of the HELLDORADO hosts was cordially reciprocated by the thousands of visitors who thronged the HELLDORADO area. I have never seen more orderly and uniformly good-natured crowds. All seemed bent on making merry in a considerate and neighborly fashion.


I did not observe, or learn of, a single instance of disorderly conduct or intoxication. There were no visible indications that any liquor was consumed within or about the HELLDORADO area. Too much credit cannot be given to the officers charged with law enforcement. While efforts are being made to plug up booze leaks at the national capital, we may “point with pride” to TOMBSTONE as a model bone-dry municipality throughout the period of its four-day HELLDORADO High Jinks.


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