Wild West Podcast

Tombstone's Silver Rush: a Wild West Adventure from Barren Lands to Silver Town

March 03, 2022 Michael King/Brad Smalley
Wild West Podcast
Tombstone's Silver Rush: a Wild West Adventure from Barren Lands to Silver Town
Wild West Podcast +
Exclusive access to premium content!
Starting at $3/month Subscribe
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this fictitious episode based on a true account of Bat Masterson's arrival in Tombstone, he meets with Doc Holliday at the stage station, and they take a stroll along Allen Street. During their walk, Masterson inquires about the whereabouts of Big Nose Kate. Holliday extends this opportunity to provide Masterson with the ongoing troubling affirmations and differences between Kate and himself. Finally, Holliday concludes his conversation with Masterson about the history and founding of Tombstone.

Join us for a thrilling walk back in time, all the way to the Wild West. Ever wondered how a desolate patch of land transformed into a bustling silver town brimming with miners, traders, and gamblers? In this episode, you'll learn how the barren landscapes of Tombstone, Arizona, underwent a dramatic metamorphosis following a silver strike, attracting all sorts of characters from the legendary Bat Masterson to the infamous Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers. We'll also shed light on the vibrant and lawless lifestyle that was born in this historic boomtown.

Strap in as we recount riveting tales of these renowned figures, highlighting the intriguing narratives of their lives, including the fascinating story of Doc Holliday's common-law wife, Big Nose Kate. Catch a glimpse of the untamed life of Doc Holliday himself, the notorious gambler who was also a dentist once upon a time. Our exploration of Tombstone won't stop there - we will meander through the rough terrains of this Wild West town, offering you a seat at the table of a past life and leaving no stone unturned. Get ready for a whirlwind adventure that will awaken the spirit of the Wild West deep within your heart.

Support the show

Return of the Great Hunters
Cattle Drives Website
Legends of Dodge City Website
Order Books

Speaker 1:

In 1879, the Arizona Territory was a harsh, barren and savage land occupied by the Apache and Mexican bandits. This location, called Goose Flats, had always been a cursed place, a virtual hell on earth, where it was thought life itself could never prosper. Then, in 1879, a prospector named Ed Sheffelin set off alone into the Dragoon Mountains. Friends told him he was crazy, that the only thing he'd find in this Godforsaken place would be his tombstone. But instead he uncovered silver Lots of it. And overnight the town of Tombstone sprang up, mining out millions in ore. Land value in the area shot sky high and speculators, gamblers and opportunists of all nations scrambled in by the thousands to make Tombstone Queen of the Boomtowns. Tombstone became so rich that the latest Paris fashions, hard to find even in the biggest cities, were sold there by the wagon load from makeshift storefronts. The early life of Tombstone, the most famous place in the American West, is where men hurried to the spot with barrels of whiskey and billiard tables, traders crowded in with wagon loads of pork and beans, gamblers with cards and monday tables. The silver strikes that began in 1879 assured that Tombstone would become an attraction for all that sought riches. And where there were miners, there were gamblers Among the early Tombstone gambling men were Luke Short and Charlie Storms from Texas, lou Riccobau and Ed Clark from Colorado and many lesser lights. Deputy Sheriff William Breckenridge considered Bat Masterson, doc Holliday, wyatt, virgil and Morgan and Warren Earp from Kansas and Oklahoma the most conspicuous gamblers. Attorney Wells Spicer observed in February 1880 that the town boasted two dance houses, a dozen gambling places, over 20 saloons and more than 500 gamblers. Wells Spicer, in his summary of the situation in Tombstone, stated Still there is hope for I know of two Bibles in town. Wild West Podcast proudly presents Bat Masterson in Tombstone, part 3, doc Holliday's Silver Dollar. Throughout our travels across the rugged desert landscape of Arizona, bob filled me in on all of the political speculation coming out of Tombstone. Time went by fast, as it was in no time that Bob pulled the horses up to a stop in front of the long, low adobe building in the station yard. I looked over the single tree of the coach and noticed some hustlers began bustling around the horses, and it was then that I saw Doc Doc Holliday grinding away at his tobacco pouch. So I thought to myself I'll be. Doc is standing in the doorway of the station house. Doc struck a match from the heel of his boot. He walked toward the coach as I climbed over the luggage rack, throwing my bag to the ground. After saying thank you to Bob for his company, I moved in the direction of Doc Holliday. I never cared much about Doc Holliday, I kept those feelings to myself. Yet I think Doc sensed my detestation toward him. Doc was close to six feet tall, weighed 160 pounds, had a fair complexion, a groomed mustache, blue-grey eyes and a fine set of teeth which he knew well on the care of teeth. You see, doc was a dentist by trade who by necessity in life made him a gambler. He was a gentleman whose disease made him a frontier vagabond. Some thought him to be a philosopher whose life had made a caustic wit. Simultaneously, he was the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun. I greeted Doc with a smile and a handshake as Doc inhaled his tobacco roll in a glimmer of light, then coughed out smoke from his inhale. Holliday had few friends anywhere in the West, but I knew Doc as well as anyone. Holliday had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and one under the influence of liquor was a most dangerous man. Moreover, he was selfish and had a perverse nature, traits not calculated to make a man famous in the early days on the frontier. Well, if it isn't my old friend Mr Masterson, how are you, bat? Did you have a comfortable ride down that there, coach? She's one of the finest you know, a concord stagecoach, I believe, built by no other than J Stephen Abbott and Lewis Downing in the great city of New Hampshire. Now how about you and I take a walk down the great metropolitan city streets of Tombstone? We'd have a little talk on the way. I had to snick her under my breath. Doc's southern accent had a sort of charm to it. His words were no other than elegant to the English language. I looked around the complex to see if Kate was about to greet me. I began to think back to when I knew Doc's common law wife, kate. It was in 1875 when I had first met Kate. She went by the name of Kate Elder at the time. Kate was well-educated and came from a fine Hungarian family. Her father was a physician. Kate had established a moniker for herself over time, most notably Big Nose Kate. Yet I found this moniker somewhat troubling. Contrary to what one would assume, it appears that it was not the extent to which her nose protruded from her face that caused her to be called Big Nose Kate. From this perspective, her nose was large, but not that much more prominent than the norm to warrant her earning the label. The fact that her nose began very, very high on her face and therefore was enormous in height rather than in length might have been what won her that not-so-flattering tag. Dog must have found her to be a pleasant surprise in the often crude surroundings he was forced to endure, as she did him. She worked as a dancehall girl for a couple of years at Dodge City, and before that she worked in a sporting house for Nelly Bessie Earp, the wife of James Earp. After a couple of years in Dodge, she moved to Fort Griffin, texas, and met Doc in a saloon where he was dealing cards. Say how's Kate, I asked. Doc looked at me as if surprised by my question. He placed his cigarette to his lips and drew in a long breath of air through his nostrils, fanning a fiery blaze sparking a fast burn at the edge of the tobacco paper. Well, that no good dove has fought me all the way to Tombstone every minute since we arrived. I'm a professional gambler now and I have found my place, you know I spent time this winter on Whiskey Row in Prescott's gambling district, but after receiving a letter from Wired Up urging me to come to Tombstone, kate became very perturbed. I looked in Doc's deep blue eyes to check for sincerity. He had the look of a man who had put his life behind him, a man who was waiting for just one thing before he dies to select the ones whom he will take with him. Yet his eyes had a deadly sense about them, as he could bluff a person into a willing state of mind. These blue eyes with slate outer rings, glared with teal and deepened to the black, could fix on a man's fate in all the worst ways. That is unfortunate, doc, I replied. She and I quarreled over the letter for some time. Finally she told me that she would not go to Tombstone and vehemently said If you are going to tie yourself to the brothers, go to it. What do you think will come of it, I asked. Doc nodded. Just recently she told me someday she would leave me and go to the globe and open her own business. My reply to Kate was terse, as I simply said All right, I don't think I will like it in Tombstone anyway. Doc paused, looked directly at me and said Well, bats, here I am testing the waters of Tombstone. Where she is now is the place I never went, but we shall soon find out. Doc, with a look of disgust, continued to his rant. I remember when that dove of mine was an absolute pleasure to be around, especially when her intense love for me pulled me away from a hanging in a town that was unknown to me. That's when I admired my dove the most. I am unsure you have shared this story with me in our past conversations. I inquired, doc smiled at me with a glimmer in his eye and replied If you must, mr Masterson, I will oblige you. In that story it was during a card game and a camp. I do not remember the town's name, but I believe it to be San Angelo. Doc paused, scratched his forehead under his hat and coughed out the words oh, maybe it was in bracket. No matter where it occurred, a fellow gambler by the name of Bailey drew his pistol on me, to the great surprise of Bailey's firearm appearing from the phantoms of the unknown, and before he could fire, I whipped out my knife. Doc looked to the ground, shook his head, almost as if he had some doubts about his following words, which he held back and then spouted. I silenced that fellow gambler. I drove him hard until he retired. It was his last breath which troubled me the most. Damn, doc. That sure is a tragic tale. I said. What happened next? I was then arrested for I know not what, for it was clearly self-defense. These self-proclaimed law enforcers provided me with a hotel room, for at that time a jail ceased to exist. However, a vigilante committee began to muster about my hotel room and claimed their full right to a hanging. It was my true love, kate, who decided to take it upon herself to save me. By all accounts, doc, I can see and are thankful to the idea that you're still alive to tell this story to me. I said what bravery did Kate provide that evening from the foreign vigilantes to free you from your fate? Doc laughed and looked directly into my eyes, as if to reach for salience in his words. She set fire to an old shed behind the hotel, and the town was soon in danger of going up in flames. Doc's upper corner of his lip climbed to a half-smile. While all the men in town were fighting the fire, she confronted the officer guarding me with a pistol in each hand. Then, with the guard disarmed, the both of us stole a pair of horses and headed for Dodge City I'll be Doc, that's for you and I first met. Right after you and Kate escaped from Illuminous Paral, I said with great surprise yes, sir. Mr Masterson, it was a time in our life when we decided to make a change for the good. We registered in the boarding house as Doctor and Mrs J H Holliday. I was so appreciative of what Kate had done for me that I was determined to make her happy. So I gave up gambling and hung out my dentist shingle. Kate promised to give up the life of prostitution and stop hanging around the saloons. These were solace times for us, indeed, a time of great gratitude and immense regard for life itself. Doc lingered like everything that was happening in the world went on hold. He then dropped the slightly burning half-smoked cigarette to the ground, stuffing it out with the toe twist of his right boot. It was like a sort of personal lockdown. Then everything opened up as he yelled hey boy, come here. Doc waved in the direction of a young lad walking across the boardwalk. I looked in the direction of Doc's wave and caught a glimpse of a blonde-haired boy about ten years of age, dressed in minor overalls, with his pant legs tucked into his boots. The boy's blonde hair brought memories of golden wheat fields, of those many-hued stems that danced in the autumn light was bring gentle songs into the wind. Yes sir, mr Holiday, the boy said as he arrived. I could tell instantly that this boy's endless fun packaged into a tiny human. I saw it dancing in his eyes, that sense of mischief that needs release. Now, here you see this Billy Doc held up a silver dollar in front of the boy's eyes. Now take a real good look at this here, fine-looking coin. It could be yours, billy Boy, if you find and deliver this here. Note I have from my Miss Kate. Doc pulled from the inside pocket of his waistcoat a folded paper parchment and handed it to Billy. Now, mind you, boy, you get no reward unless you return a reply from my lovely lady. Doc then motioned with his right hand as if he was ridding himself from a pesky fly. Now, scat, be you gone. Well, doc, you know you sent that boy into real trouble, I exclaimed. Never mind him, replied Doc. Like me, he's an adventurous type and will enjoy reporting Miss Kate's wailings once he returns. As Doc and I walked down Allen Street, I heard the sounds of a carpenter's hammer sticking nails and a mason's trowel scraping cement on freshly laid brick. Tombstone was unlike the dreary, weather-beaten western cow towns like Dodge City, which had scent of fresh manure. Instead, tombstone was new and colorful. It was part town and mining camp, a wild mixture of brightly painted wooden storefronts and half-finished stone buildings rimmed by clusters of tents and shanties, all perched atop a hill with magnificent view of the desert and the purple dragoon mountains beyond. I heard the resounding den of hammers and saws, player pianos, herdy-gerties clip-plopping horses' hooves and peeling laughter emulated up and down Allen Street. Allen Street, the main drag, was lined with saloon after saloon, the sidewalks bustled with jovers, miners, chinaman and sill in gun-toting hard cases. Doc, how did all this town building and prosperity of Tombstone begin, I asked. Well, sir, your question is most inspiring. For once I arrived, I myself wanted to know the history of this godforsaken place. As for me, it was the most inquisitive of my historical inquiries. I learned of this story from among the locals, they say a man by the name of Shefflin Indeed, his name was Ed Shefflin. Ed, being a servant to the US military at the time and noted prospector, left Fortichouca and decided to venture off into the wilderness. Doc lingered in his speech with a cough. He then swung his fashion cane into the air over his head in a glorious way. He then, with his left hand, waved to the clouds above us as if preaching the gospel. Now, this was not without warning. You see, the soldiers at the time were in the midst of an uprising band of Chiricawa Apaches, who were not a friendly bunch, especially to the white man. Now, the warning given to Mr Shefflin was a simple one that rebounded the name of this place called Tombstone. Doc paused and, with his southern refinement and an unerring style and confidence, he made his tubercular cough sound as if he'd merely clearing his throat. ——excuse me, bat. You see, it was a strict warning that if Mr Shefflin wandered off into this godforsaken territory to find silver, the only thing he would find is his tombstone. He, of course, ignored this warning, for he was an adventurous man who found one of the wealthiest silver mines in this heap-pots. Doc stalls, kicks his left foot in the air and strikes a rock with the tip of his cane, sending the projectiles to a sudden stop on the porch of the cosmopolitan hotel. ——now, where was I, mr Masterson ——Oh yes, I was getting to the pot about the naming of Tombstone. ——you see this here. Mr Ed Shefflin took the advice his fellow soldiers gave him. He named his mine Tombstone. And so here we all are profiting from one man's adventure. It did not take long before word quickly spread about this here, silver strike. Likewise, it wasn't long before homesteaders, cowboys, speculators, prospectors, lawyers, business people, gamblers and gunmen headed to the area Known as Goose Flats back then. A town site was situated near the mines in 1879, and was named Tombstone due to the first claim of silver mining by Ed Shefflin. I asked with great curiosity what's the population of this place? Doc paused, rendered a smile to me and, in full Southern refinement, languidly stated the popular in Tombstone has increased over the years. According to the latest consensus, I believe it to be approximately 7,500. However, this figure only consists of the white males over 21 who are registered to vote. Otherwise I think it would be about 15,000 glorious individuals. After our conversation, long walk and the retrieval of the slain rock along Allen Street, we arrived at the front door of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. It was then we both heard the voice of Bill's return, yelling joyfully. I did it. I found her, mr Holiday, I got your note to Miss Kate. It was the kind of yell that bypasses the ears to speak right to the heart the boy's joy for both his quest journey and the reward was now almost complete. I have your message for Miss Kate. Billy said Well, how did it go, billy? Was Miss Kate enthused by my words to her? Asked Doc, I do not think so. Billy replied. She had a few words I could not understand. I think she's very angry at you. Now, why would you say such a thing about Miss Kate's anger with me? Replied Doc. Mr Holiday, once I gave her the note she read it and got angry, like my mother does when she catches me spitting on the porch. Except, this was much worse. How much worse, would you say Billy? Asked Doc, I almost did not get her to return her reply. It was at one point feeling helpless. I felt my opportunity for financial gain was surely going to slip away. So I pleaded with Miss Kate. Billy sighed with some relief and said I told Miss Kate just to send you a piece of paper. I said to her Miss Kate, if you only put your name on it so I can get that dollar, I said. Miss Kate laughed at me uproariously I think it was because I was begging but in the end I won her over, for she regained her composure and she wrote you her reply on this here paper. You are such a courageous young fellow, my young Billy. So here is your reward. Doc reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. Billy smiled at the sight of it. Billy's smile was one of happiness, growing much as a spring flower opened. I could see how it came from deep inside to light his eyes and spread into every part of him. I heard it in his voice, in the choice of his words and the way he relaxed. It was beautiful. He simply said Thank you, mr Holiday. I'm going to enjoy a store full of ice cream. And with that Billy disappeared among the busy streets of Tombstone. I did not know what was in the contents of the note, nor did I ask how these two individuals claimed a relationship had always been a mystery with me. It is now my pleasure, mr Masterson, that I introduce you to your place of abetting. Now you can freshen up and meet the boys for supper at the Can Can. Then, with an operatic motion of grandeur, doc points to the butterfly door entrance to the Cosmopolitan Hotel why it will be waiting for you at 6 pm. Shop Doc handed over my bag and bid me farewell. What about you, doc? Will you be dining with us, I asked? Doc turned, walked backward, held his hands up high over his head and said no, sir, I have my own fish to catch over at the Alhambra Lots of fish playing tonight in my ferro bank. Doc turned and continued to walk away from my sight as I entered the Cosmopolitan Hotel. As I entered, a clerk stood firmly at the registration counter. Can I help you, sir? The clerk questioned as I approached the counter. Do you have a registration? And if not, would you like to register with us today? The clerk handed me a pen. Yes, I do believe I have the appropriate registration, I replied. And your name, sir? The clerk inquired Bat Masterson. I looked over the counter at the clerk and it took a second or two for this new information to sink in, even though I was right before his eyes, larger than life. Then the clerk slipped, stretched wider into a gaping grin and his eyebrows arched for the ceiling. Yes, mr Masterson, we have a sweet reserve for you. I am so pleased to have you, as a guest of your reputation staying at our hotel. May I show you around, asked the clerk. Yes, that would be gracious of you, I said most kind. The clerk asked for my bag and said he would place it behind the counter while we took a tour of the hotel. Well sir, just in case you need it, the address of the Cosmopolitan Hotel was 409 Allen Street and the building next to us is Hafford Saloon and Browns Hotel, which is near 4th Street. The clerk stammered for a slight moment, as if to gain his composure. It should be noted that, like all buildings in the makeshift town, we began as a canvas tent. I can say we were the first hotel to offer actual beds rather than cots. As you can see, over time the Cosmopolitan grew to a two-story affair, now offering 50 beds to our proprietors. I looked about the entry hall, as the hotel was ordained with rich rosewood and fine black walnut furnishings. As you can see, within our walls we have a ladies' sitting room and our hotel is noted to be the very first of its kind in town. The clerk continued. We also claimed to have established the very first piano. So I can say you will be staying at one of the grandest lodgings likely anywhere in the Arizona Territories. The Cosmopolitan even offers orange trees and planters along the veranda so that our guests can pick fresh fruit to eat while relaxing. As I further toured the hotel, I noticed a bar, a restaurant and a general outlet for merchandising. After I was given the complete tour of the place, I thought, all in all, not many flawed features for a hotel in the middle of the Wild West, especially in the desert of southern Arizona. I can say to you, sir, our hotel is one of the finest buildings in Tombstone and I am pleased to have you as a guest. The clerk handed me a key to my room and retrieved my bag from behind the counter. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, entered my room and prepared my six o'clock appointment with Wyatt and the boys. After cleaning up for my long journey, I decided to venture out into the streets. I walked outside my hotel and found a bench to rest on while waiting for the clock to strike six. I looked out over the streets of Tombstone. The one-story buildings lining the wide streets, saloons, dance halls and gambling houses were packed to the doors with customers. I could imagine how, like Dodge City, these streets would roar on through the day and night while the stores were open at all hours, the broad sidewalks, under the wooden awnings, which ran the length of every block, were crowded from wall to gutter with men in tent on getting wealth or spending it. Like all western towns laden with riches, the bad men mingled with the sidewalk crowds. But then these men dropped into and out of the birdcage opera house, a place where painted women sang in voices that changed like impudent gongs. These painted women took their positions before the gambling tables of the Crystal Palace, or girls were found dealing pharaoh. They joined the long lines before the bars and drank the stinging whiskey which the wagon trains had brought from Tucson. As they met one another, to me it was like the meeting of strange dogs who bristle on site and often fly at one another's throat to settle the question of supremacy. Their big caliber revolvers spat steams of fire in the roadways and bellowed in the dance halls, and gradually, among the ranks of the survivors, there came aggradation to their badness. Tombstone would be the life I had wanted to avoid but was willing to endure as I once again chose to be a part of a Justice League. That's it for now. The reflective ending of this podcast is credited to Frederick R Bechtolt when the West was young, from the chapter Tombstone's Wild Oats and rewritten by Mike King. Remember to check out our Wild West podcast shows on iTunes, podcast Pandora or at WildwestPodcastBuzzsproutcom. You can also catch us on Facebook at wwwfacebookcom or on our own YouTube channel, whiskey and Westerns on Wednesday. Thanks for listening to our podcast. Join us next time as we take you back to the days of Buffalo Hunters and tell the story of the aftermath Battle of the Washitaugh. You can learn more about the legends of Dodge City by visiting our website at worldfamousgunfightersweeblycom. If you would like to purchase one of our books, you can go to worldfamousgunfightersweeblycom or wwwworldfamousgunfighterscom.

Gambling and Life in Tombstone
The Origins and Development of Tombstone