Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Last Gun Fight -- The Death of Ordinance Number 9 (Chapter Four)

Written by Terry McGahey


Chapter Four: First Council Meeting

The following day was cold and blustery with high winds not uncommon for the area during the winter months in Tombstone. During these blows there is an old saying which the people in Tombstone like to repeat. “When your hat blows from your head there is no need to chase it because another one will be coming by shortly”.

As usual, I drove to town to pick up my mail and as I walked out of the Post Office, I noticed Ed standing in front of the Birdcage Theater waving his arms beckoning me over to talk to him.

He was holding up a piece of paper in his hand and as soon as I came within earshot he said “You are not going to believe this Terry”.

Looking at the document I saw that it was a city permit which allowed Ed to carry a cap pistol during his working hours and only during his working hours. We both had a good laugh over it. But actually this was not funny at all and once the laughter had come to an end, the reality of it had turned into anger and disdain over the arrogance of the city fathers who were thumbing their noses not only at Tombstone’s citizens but also the Arizona State law.

I told Ed that I was going to the council meeting on Friday and asked him if he would come along so that we could show the council and the citizens the permit while reading the actual Arizona gun laws to them.

He agreed to do so for moral support and added that I should also try to gain support from several others in town. I told him that I would catch up to him later, and we would lay out a time to meet before the council meeting.

I drove home and as I parked in front of my place Jack opened the door to his shop and asked if I would come over for a cup of coffee.

I walked in, and he told me that he had been to town earlier and wanted to know if I had seen the permit issued by the city which allowed Ed to carry his cap gun?

I said that I had just spoken to Ed and that I couldn't believe it. I told him that I had planned to go into town later that evening to try and gain support from several more people for when it came time for the council meeting.

Jack said that he would go with me but only for moral support. He still he did not want to be involved otherwise. I thanked him for any help he might offer and dropped the subject.

Later, about seven thirty, Jack and I drove uptown and first went to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon where most of the folks seemed to be on my side. Several of them agreed to go to the council meeting to support my argument and some even stated that they would stand up with me and fight the city Tombstone over the old ordinance.

News spreads like a wildfire in Tombstone, and by the time we had walked over to the Crystal Palace Saloon there were many members of the Wild Bunch inside who already knew why we were coming, and wanted nothing to do with changing the old ordinance, so we left there drawing nothing but a blank cartridge.

By evening’s end I was absolutely stunned to find that most of the citizens in Tombstone did not realize that the old Earp ordinance was illegal, and even more stunned to realize that some of them didn't even care that their rights were being trampled on.

I was equally amazed at how many people were afraid to even show up to the council meeting, fearing the reprisals which might come their way from the mayor and marshal's office. I just couldn't comprehend how people could live in such fear. It was as though they were afraid of the school yard bully and they hadn't enough sand to stand up to him.

Later, I called Ed at home and told him that we had gathered several people who would go to the council meeting with us and that we would all meet on Allen Street about a half an hour before it began on Friday evening. He agreed to come, and also said that he couldn't wait to see the looks on the faces of the council members and the mayor when an actual crowd of people came to the meeting to stand up for their rights.

About nine thirty the phone rang, it was Jeff, the cowboy I had worked with on Steve’s ranch in Gleason. He told me that he had taken a job for maybe a full day, riding the fence lines and checking for any damage for one of the local ranches in the Dragoon Mountains.

 He needed an extra hand to ride with him and explained that the ranch was supplying the horses. All we needed to do was show up in the morning and bring our own gear.

The following morning Jeff showed up at my place about 4 a.m., and we headed out. When we arrived it was still dark, but by the time we gathered and saddled our horses the sun was just peeking over the horizon.

Rather than go into a long summation of that day, I will just put in the poem I wrote about it. I call it, "Riding Fence."

We were out ridin’ fence line and keepin’ an eye out for strays.
Old Jeff was on the paint and I was ridin’ the gray.

We had a lot of ground to cover and the country sure was rough,
Full of cactus, catclaw, and all kinds of prickly stuff.

I rode up on a rattlesnake and my horse jumped clean away,
he then went to buckin’ and jumpin’ as though on earth it
would be his last day.

Well, we just kept on ridin', talkin' about anything on our brain,
when the wind started blowin' the lightin' started flashin' and
soon it began to rain.

It sure came down in buckets so we put our slickers on, pulled our
hats down over our ears and just kept movin' along.

About two hours later the storm had passed us by, when we came up
on a hole in the fence which we fixed in minutes maybe five.

We just kept on ridin' over rocks, hills and through ravines, thats when
Jeff’s horse threw a shoe, Ya should have heard him scream.

It wasn't much longer when we gave the horses a break, seems as
we had no choice, the next wash looked like a lake.

So, we unsaddled our horses and let em’ eat awhile, then the wash it
finally subsided, so we saddled back up with a smile.

Well, we finally got back to the ranch about fourteen hours hence,
then looked at each other and started to laugh, all this for five minutes
of fence.

Sometimes that's the way these things go. You can never tell what you're going to get into when you're working as a cowboy. Most days are long hard and dirty, while some others are just long and boring.

Now maybe you can better understand what I meant earlier with the poem "A Cowboy’s life". There isn't much glamour to it, but the freedom one lives in this life style is a freedom which cannot be explained. You have to live it to understand it and once it's in your blood you are hooked.

That evening, when we arrived in Tombstone, Jeff and I went directly to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Normally we would have cleaned up and changed clothes before going into town, but we were cold, tired, still a little damp from the rain, and really didn't care what anyone else thought.

As we were having a few beers and just unwinding some, the same two fellows I had mentioned earlier who were telling the tourists what it was like to live the cowboy life style, but knew nothing about it, were at it again. They were going on and on, telling some folks from England their wild stories of cowboy adventures which almost sounded as though they had just come from a John Wayne movie.

Jeff looked over at me and said that he had just about all he could stand, and knowing Jeff the way I did, I knew what was coming next.

He stood up, walked over to their table, and told the tourists that these were two of the phoniest no good son's a bitches in Tombstone and neither one of them would make a pimple on a cowboy's ass.

Speaking to the two directly, he told them that we had just come in from an all day miserable ride and he was sick to death of their lies and bullshit, and if they didn't shut their mouths he was going to shut it for them.
With that the tourists immediately departed for a safer location and one of drugstore cowboys stood up and took a swing at Jeff.

Jeff blocked the punch and hit that old boy so hard that the blood erupted from his nose like someone had turned on a faucet and he melted down the wall like hot syrup running off of pancakes.

The other one started to get up, so I shoved him back in his seat telling him that the best thing he could do was to stay right there or he was fixing to get the same treatment.

Jeff then told the two that if he heard any more bullshit from either of them about being real cowboys, the next time they would get more than just a bloody nose and stated that they should probably leave before he changed his mind and decided to finish the job right then and there.

The bartender, a friend of ours, came around the bar and handed the one with a bloody nose a towel and told them that they should leave the bar and not come back that night. The second fellow then stated that they did not start the trouble and that we, meaning Jeff and me, should be the one’s who were being kicked out. The bartender told them that he was also sick and tired of their bullshit just like everyone else in town and he was surprised that something like this hadn't happened long ago and for them to leave or be bodily thrown out. The two gave up and walked out the door while vowing to never return, to which several people applauded.

Jeff and I both apologized to the tourists for what had happened and explained that those two fellows had been bilking drinks from tourists for quite some time with their wild stories. The tourists actually thanked us, feeling as though they had been taken advantage of, and added that they would have a real story to tell when they returned home to England.

We bought them a drink, finished our beers, and called it a night.

The following morning as I was having my first cup of coffee the phone rang. It was Jack who told me that John and a friend of his were loading up his belongings in preparation for his move to Oatman, Arizona, and wanted to know if I would be willing to help.

We spent about two hours helping John and said our goodbye's as he and his friend drove away. John said that he would be back to visit us sometime, but we never saw him again.

The house that John lived in was turned into a storage unit by the owners of the property and from that point forward Jack and I were the only two living on the Old Guthrie Place.

Later that afternoon Jack and I were sitting on my front porch and enjoying the peace and quite that solitude brings, and talking about Tombstone’s arrogant political system.

Once again, I ask Jack if he would be interested in joining the upcoming fight, and once again Jack told me that he wasn't interested but if he could think of anything which might help the cause he would pass along the information. Again, I thanked him and dropped the subject.

Friday, the day of the council meeting, I decided to run uptown and visit with Ed to see if he had made up his mind about joining the fight. As I was getting ready to leave Jack came hustling over and asked if he could ride up town with me.

As we were bouncing up the dirt road in my pickup, I told Jack of my intentions to speak with Ed, to which he replied, "Well, I wouldn't mind hearing what Ed has to say myself"

This struck me kind of funny since Jack had made it clear that he didn't want to be involved, but it was no skin off my nose.

We pulled up in front of the Bird Cage Theater just in time to catch Ed while he taking a short break.

Speaking to him through the open window of my truck, I asked if he would be interested in joining this fight beginning that evening at the city council meeting at Sheffelin Hall? I also told him that several of the Big Nose Kate’s bunch as well as others who hung out at the Legends Saloon would meet us there.

Ed told me that he would be there, but he still hadn't decided if he would actually join the fight. I thanked him and told him that we would all meet on the corner of Fourth and Allen Street at six thirty and reminded him to bring along his cap gun permit. Jack and I went to the Post Office, had lunch at the Longhorn restaurant then headed for home.

Please understand! The saloons in Tombstone is the only place in town for any type of social life and most of the folks who lived there were not alcoholics. Although some were, most of them were decent ordinary people who just wanted to come into town to visit with their friends and have a good time.

Later, I walked over to Jack’s house and found him working on a new sign. The door was open so I just walked in and poured myself a cup of coffee.

I hadn't more than just sat down when a six foot rattle snake slithered up onto the concrete entry to the shop. Realizing that Jack and I was within six to seven feet of his position the snake coiled up and began to rattle. Jack reached behind his chair and pulled out a coach gun and blasted the snake into eternity. A coach gun is a twelve gauge double barrel shot gun with short barrels, this weapon was the favorite among the shotgun riders on stagecoaches back in the 1800s and this is where the name come from.

Being that we were inside and Jack had used black powder to load his shells, the noise was deafening and with my ears ringing and smoke hovering like a thick fog, I said, "Jack, we could have just shut the door".

I walked out and picked up the dead snake by the tail end with the evacuation hole pointed away from me, I carried it out to the wash with it still squirming some and discarded it knowing that either the coyotes or something else would have diner that night. One thing about nature, it cleans itself up.

Jack had turned on the ceiling fan and opened the windows so the smoke could clear out. And once our ears quit ringing, he once again asked me if I was ready for what Tombstone would throw at me should I go through with fighting the old ordinance?

I told him I was, and that I would not allow myself to be bullied.

He said, "O.K., I hope you know what you’re getting into".

That evening, a little before six thirty, Jack and I headed into town. We arrived on Allen Street about five minutes early and Ed was already waiting with several others who would accompany us to the council meeting.

As we walked down Fourth Street toward Fremont Street, we could see that several of the town’s folks were already waiting for the doors of Shieffelin Hall to open.

Like I said before, news spreads like wildfire in Tombstone, and we could tell that those folks were going to be against changing the old ordinance and they were there for the primary reason of speaking out against me.

As I looked over the numbers of these folks, I realized that this was going to be about a fifty-fifty argument, for and against.

As we approached the already assembled crowd you could feel the tension in the air which was so thick that you could have cut it with a knife.

One woman in particular had tried to start an argument with me over the old ordinance before we had even stepped off of Fremont Street onto the sidewalk, but we paid no attention to her what so ever. She was one of those people who felt as though she was better than others, and she even wore a tiara in her hair which had promptly earned her the nick name 'The Queen of Tombstone'.

This woman was so arrogant that if someone was sitting at what she considered to be her table in the Longhorn restaurant, she would throw a fit until the waitress would ask whoever was sitting there if they wouldn't mind moving to another table. The folks at the Longhorn knew what a pain she was, but they would try their best to please her just so she wouldn't cause a scene.

As the doors were opened and everyone began spilling into the building, I noticed right away that the folks who were against me had sat on the left hand side of the isle and everyone who was for me began sitting on the right hand side. The division lines had already been drawn and the meeting hadn't even begun.

The Mayor called the meeting to order, and it went on as usual with discussions of paying the cities bills, making decisions on work to be done and other items listed on the agenda. Once the official city business had come to a close, the Mayor opened the floor to the citizenry for any questions, comments or other concerns.

I raised my hand along with several others, but the Mayor knew why I was in attendance and chose to ignore me for as long as possible. He recognized each and every person with their hand in the air until finally he had no choice but to recognize me because I was the only one left with his hand up.

I stood up and introduced myself and explained that it was my intention to challenge the old ordinance due to its illegal status. I then quoted the Arizona State law pertaining to the carrying of firearms and explained that Tombstone was breaking the law of the land in Arizona.

Before I could say another word, the Queen of Tombstone stood up without being recognized and began her tirade. With a loud and high pitched voice, she stated that she was a long time Tombstone resident, Wild Bunch member and property owner. She then looked at me and stated that since I didn't live within the city limits of Tombstone or own property in town, that I had no right to even speak during the council meeting and that I had no say whatsoever about policies within the city limits.

I then told her in an angry voice that this was still America, and I had every right just as any citizen to attend the meeting to voice my opinion, and besides, I told her, you do not live within the city limits of Tombstone either, so what is your problem?

At that point Jack jumped up from his chair, and turning red in the face, hollered, "Tombstone is not an island unto itself which can draft its own Constitution. In America, no one need to own property to have their voice heard."

At that moment another fellow near the back of the room jumped up. He declared, in a very dramatic nature, "I will defend the Tombstone gun ordinance to the death!" while clinching and raising his right fist into the air as though he were auditioning for some part in a movie.

Next Ed stood up, looking around the room and holding his cap gun permit high in the air he declared, "Any twelve year old kid could carry a cap gun in Tombstone, but an honest taxpaying adult citizen was not allowed to do so!"

He then appealed to the people by asking, "Don’t you all see the injustice here? Don’t you all realize that you have allowed the powers that be to take away your rights as Arizona citizens which goes against everything this country was founded on?"

After that, most everyone in the building was standing and trying to holler over each other, and the Mayor completely lost control of the meeting.

I again stood up and asked that the ordinance issue be placed on the official agenda for the next months meeting, but I was totally ignored. The Mayor slammed his gavel down at least six or seven times and declared the meeting officially closed.

With everyone filtering out of Shieffelin Hall, and still trying to argue their point of view, I came to realize that both Jack and Ed had laid their cards on the table, and like it or not, they were now part of this fight. From that evening forward the two of them joined me in the fight and would stick with me throughout the full length of this battle, which would last for over two years.

Once again, the city of Tombstone had become openly divided over the old Earp ordinance just as it had back in 1881 when it had became one of the reasons for the deaths of Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.


-- end Chapter Four.

For Chapter 5 of one man's fight against the City of Tombstone and the historic Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 -- America's most famous gun-control law, please click on the link below:

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