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The Old West At Its Best - And Worst

Crystal Palace 1881

Crystal Palace

For nearly a hundred years, except for the Prohibition Era, meet you at the Crystal Palace has been a familiar rendezvous-setting phrase in Tombstone. The building at the corner of Fifth and Allen streets has been the town's most popular day-and-night gathering place.

Solon Allis had barely finished plotting the townsite of a town yet to be built when Frederick Wehrfritz started construction of a two-story building to provide a spacious bar below, office space above. Wehrfritz was an optimist; his edifice not only was the most imposing in town, at first it was practically the only one. But optimism was rampant as news of the silver boom spread throughout the country, attracting an ever-increasing flow of people - good, bad and in-between - to the growing town in the San Pedro Valley. As civic leaders and elected officials lobbied for establishment of a new county with Tombstone as the headquarters, they also talked of the inevitable relocation of the Territorial capital from Phoenix to the fastest growing town in the Southwest.

The spacious Wehrfritz building first was called the Golden Eagle Brewery; but a name more grand, befitting the silver capital of the world, was deemed appropriate. The new designation: the Crystal Palace Saloon. Although the newly named Crystal Palace was the most popular and expansive of Tombstone's saloons, it had plenty of competition. At the height of the boom, there were 110 establishments licensed to sell liquor. Although estimates of Tombstone's population peak vary, an average of the high and low guesses would be about 12,000 - meaning a place of hard liquor refreshment for about each 100 persons.

In Tombstone's earliest days, a Chicago Tribune reporter, A. H. Noon, visited the town and wrote: "Nearly every other building is a saloon." Noon also was critical of what he described as the town's unattractive name, but pointed out that "the city fathers can soon amend it."

A popular saying in the area - for just cause on both counts - was that the two greatest causes of disease in the silver camp were whiskey and cold lead. And whiskey also was the cause of the first of two major fires which destroyed much of downtown Tombstone when a barrel of it exploded.

The Crystal Palace escaped destruction in both fires, although in the first, its principal competitor just across the street, the Oriental, was leveled. But after both devastations, new construction was started while ashes still were hot. It truly was the Era of the Optimists.

Although the Crystal Palace's principal attractions were fine liquor served in the best-quality glassware, and honest gambling at always-crowded tables, entertainment was added when Joe and Big Minnie (at 230 pounds) Bignon bought an interest in the Saloon after operating the Bird Cage Theater. In keeping with the atmosphere of the stately Crystal Palace, the performers were sedate - two genteel young- ladies who sang songs with nice lyrics and danced quite properly.

Not so sedate was an incident reported in the book Billy King's Tombstone. A stranger from Bisbee, it is recounted, entered the Crystal Palace pulling a wildcat on a rope. As he uproariously laughed at what he called the "sissies" who ran for the street, a calmer patron pulled a rattlesnake from his pocket and threw it on the floor. The stranger then quickly followed the sissies, leaving his bewildered wildcat behind.

Through the Palace's always-open doors strode such famous Tombstone figures as Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Curly Bill Brocius, Texas John Slaughter, Johnny Ringo, Buckskin Frank Leslie, the brothers Earp and a host of others whose deeds and misdeeds made Tombstone the historic epitome of the Old West at its best - and worst.

A regular customer was Dr. George Goodfellow, retired Army surgeon who was an authority on the treatment of gunshot wounds - most appropriate, considering the site of his practice. The highly respected Dr. Goodfellow was a founder of the plush Tombstone Club in the Grand Hotel where some 70 periodicals regularly were received for the reading pleasure of its members. He also helped organize the Tombstone Scientific Society.

It was a short trip to the bar for Dr. Goodfellow, because he was one of the occupants of the Crystal Palace's second floor offices in the boom years. The others: Town Marshal Virgil Earp; the Earps' enemy, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan; Judge Wells Spicer, Justice of the Peace who also was Tombstone correspondent for the Arizona Star and the judicial officer at the inquest into the O.K. Corral Gunbattle; and Dr. Harry Matthews, town coroner who examined the bodies of Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers after the shoot-out.


The Right Reverend Peabody

In 1882, Tombstone, Arizona, was a wild frontier town. Of every three downtown businesses, two were either saloons or gambling dens. Only a few of Tombstone's 4,000 residents were interested in attending church, which was usually held in a tent where the sound of honky-tonk pianos coming from the nearby saloons often drowned out the minister's voice.

All of this changed on January 28, 1882 (just three months after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), when the Reverend Endicott Peabody arrived in town. Although the Reverend Peabody was an Episcopal minister formally educated back East and in England, there wasn't anything typical-man-of-the-cloth about him. He weighed around 200 pounds, enjoyed boxing and baseball, and worked out every day. As one contemporary said, "He had muscles of iron."

The Episcopal women had been trying to raise money for the church building fund by holding raffles, but progress was slow. The Reverend Peabody, who was not one to be easily intimidated, decided to solicit donations on both sides of Tombstone's "dead line."

He walked into a hotel casino, ambled up to a high-stakes poker game, introduced himself, and asked for a donation for the church. One player handed over $150 in chips- and promptly told everyone else to do the same. The local musical society put on the opera H.M.S. Pinafore and gave the proceeds to the church fund. The performance raised $250 - way more than attendance warranted-because the saloons bought a number of tickets that were never used.

Six months after the Reverend Peabody's arrival, St. Paul's Episcopal Church was completed - and so was the Reverend Peabody's work in Tombstone. As soon as the church opened its doors, he returned to Massachusetts, where he went on to found the Groton School for Boys and later became Franklin D. Roosevelt's headmaster, eventually officiating at his marriage to Eleanor.

Characters Inhabited Rotten Row

There are many fascinating tales told of the characters who inhabited the area of Fourth Street between Allen and Toughnut Streets in Tombstone, during the 1880's. This short stretch of street bore the unbelievable name of Rotten Row. The buildings here were one story, adobes, weather stained and eroded by the elements.

The characters inhabiting Rotten Row were the attorneys who handled Tombstone's legal matters. They were quite content with the location of Rotten Row, as they considered it ideally situated near the courthouse and a saloon. Actually more legal cases were settled in the saloon than in the courthouse. At any rate the legal lights spent a great deal of their time traveling between the two.

The best of these - the most talented lawyer Tombstone ever had - was Allen R. English. He was a man of humor as well as an artistic persuader of judge and jury. But as many another good man his downfall was brought about by John Barleycorn.

English was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in the year 1860. At the age of 19 he received his law degree from the University of Virginia. At- 20, he arrived in "the town too tough to die," and went to work in the silver mines. Shortly after his arrival, he attracted the attention of Marcus Aureliua Smith, a well-known lawyer and congressman. Impressed by this unusual young man Smith made him a junior partner in the law firm of Smith and Goodrich.

English moved into his newly acquired office with his unbelievable wit, his law books, and a bottle of good bourbon. On one occasion English appeared. to defend a client in the court of Judge George Davis so intoxicated he could scarcely stand. Angered at such a display by one in the legal profession, Judge Davis fined him $25 for contempt of court. With the assistance of a sturdy chair English rose to his feet and yelled: "Your honor, $25 won't pay for half the contempt I have for this court."

More often drunk than not, English always made a fantastic appearance in court. He was an excellent lawyer, drunk or sober, and perhaps a little better when "under the influence." With an unusual ability to consume an unusual amount of liquor, he readily drank with friend and foe, alike at any occasion.

Once, while totally and completely inebriated, he successfully defended Wiley Morgan. Morgan, a participant in the Earp-Clanton feud, had shot a man and the county had charged him with murder. English had attempted to convince the jury to change the charge to self-defense.

When the judge declared the court adjourned for lunch English hurried to Billy King's Saloon to clear his throat. By the time court reconvened he had imbibed too much and lay in the saloon floor completely unconscious. Billy King took him back to the courthouse in a buggy from the O.K. Corral. It required two strong men to usher the wobbly English into the courtroom. Drunk as a lord, he made his final appeal to the jury and, as it was the best he'd ever made, cleared Morgan.

Once, during his law career, the Santa Fe Railroad offered him the job as their head attorney, at an unheard of $25,000 a year. However, they did ask English to agree that he would quit drinking. "What!" he yelled, livid with rage. "Give up my rights! Hell, no!" And he didn't.

In addition to all his other numerous talents, English was evidently one of the better actors of the period. At will he could send large tears coursing down his cheeks. In turn he could reflect any mood necessary to sway judge or jury; he could be serious, demanding, indignant, outraged, sentimental, ironic, sarcastic, or poetic as the need arose.

Lawyer English demanded and received fantastic fees for his services. When the Irish Mag in Bisbee was sold the new owners hired him to check the title papers. English complied and sent them a bill for $25,000; an amount completely unreasonable.

Some way he acquired several shares in the Black Diamond Copper Mine near Pearce. At the opportune moment he put his holdings up for sale and picked up $84,000. He used these same tactics to make $80,000 from the Emerald Silver Mine in Tombstone. Although he made fantastic sums of money English seldom managed to keep any of it. With the proceeds from the two mining ventures he and his wife took a trip east. When they returned after several months of high living he was flat broke.

All of English's problems seemed to be because of drinking. Once, in the midst of a murder case in Judge Alfred Lockwood's court, he requested a recess. During the time granted he scurried to a nearby outhouse and drank an entire bottle of bourbon that he had hidden there earlier. By the time court went into session his speech was slurred and he staggered noticeably.

Because of his condition the judge recessed court till the following day after reprimanding English quite severely, warning him never to appear in his court under the influence of alcohol again. English solemnly promised that there would never be a recurrence. Still, on the following morning he staggered into the courtroom drunker than ever. It was apparent that he had spent the night with the bottle. "Counsel English," thundered the judge in anger, "I warned you, concerning your behavior in this courtroom, yesterday and you have ignored me and your promise. I hereby sentence you to 30 days for contempt of this court!"

For the following 15 minutes the judge and court were subjected to English's speech in which he quoted the Bible, Shakespeare, Greek and Latin poets, motherhood, and the pilgrims. Judge Lockwood and individuals in the courtroom let tears roll unchecked and unheeded at the unparalleled eloquence of a drunken lawyer.

At last the judge could stand no more. "Enough, Mr. English, enough. I hereby reduce your sentence to 15 days." As he was led from the courtroom, English remarked to a friend seated nearby, "Well, I talked my way out of half of it anyway." English went to jail on the contempt charge, but served only a part of his sentence. He made such a nuisance of himself demanding a lawyer, reciting the classics, and yelling about his constitutional rights at all hours that the authorities released him rather than endure his presence.

A fellow barrister once remarked about English. "He may be outsmarted, out-fought, out-thought, and out-maneuvered, but he will never be out-spoken." In 1887, English was elected by an overwhelming, vote to the post of district attorney, a position he held for three full terms.

English was married three times, losing each wife because of his love for whiskey. John Barleycorn was a much more important factor in his life than any mere female could ever be. His first wife gave him two sons and his second gave him one. The third lasted only long enough to rive him her opinion of him.

In 1900, Arizona politics were such that Allen English was assured the offer of the position of United States Commissioner. However, before the offer could be made English opened his mouth when he should have kept still. According to old time Arizonans it always rains on San Juan's Day. When he heard a discussion to that effect in Billy King's Saloon, English's perverse nature made him instantly disagree. He was so convinced that it would not rain that he boasted he would stand naked under the public rain spout if it did.

Tradition held on San Juan's Day and it came a downpour. English, true to his word, removed every stitch of clothes and stood naked under the public rain spout. Some weeks later a photograph of English under the rain spout with his name below was received in Washington. Not long after he was denied the post of United States Commissioner.

As the years pased, English slipped more and more into the role and habits of an alcoholic. When the Cochise County Courthouse was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee he went along although he was seldom involved in any legal work at all. Allen English died penniless and alone on November 8, 1937. His favorite and aft heard expression still lives on with the ghosts of Tombstone: "Oh moon, thou art full! But you ain't a damn bit ahead of me?"

Wallace E. Clayton-Epitaph Editor, 1964, Now Secretary-Treasurer of the Epitaph corporation / Ben T. Traywick Associate Editor. More Than A Saloon ... / Rotten Row's Finest. Tombstone Epitaph. March / April 1979.


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