Saturday, January 3, 2015

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

Written by Terry McGahey

Chapter Two: Harassment

For several months after my arrival in Tombstone my life was very enjoyable and many of the residents didn't even know who I was. They had seen me around town but really knew nothing about me. Jack and I were working the shows with the Vigilantes and I was working cattle.

One afternoon, Dave, one of the cowboy's I worked with from time to time and who also worked at the Crystal Palace as a bartender stopped me on Allen Street. He told me that there was a rumor floating around town about me. He said that some people believed that I was stealing horses out of New Mexico and selling them in old Mexico.

Not knowing that I was retired and that I had a decent income, these folks could see no visible means of support for me and began to speculate who I was and what I did. This was just typical of Tombstone and I enjoyed a good laugh over it. After all, in Tombstone if you hadn't heard a good rumor by early morning then just start one of your own.

Deciding to have a beer, I went to the Legends saloon where most of the locals hung out. As I walked in the door I saw Steve, the owner of one of the ranches I worked for on the eastern side of Gleason.

Gleason itself was basically a ghost town with just a few residents and about eleven miles of dirt road to the southeast of Tombstone. Steve invited me to sit with him and bought me a beer. He then asked if I would be willing to help him gather his cows the following morning so he could vaccinate and do a visual health inspection on them. I said that I would ride out and camp on his place that night so as to be there on the early morning start, bought him a beer in return and headed back to the house.

In order to reach the other side of Tombstone I could either follow a gate system out and around town which would add more distance and time, or I could just ride through the center of town itself. Having ridden through town before, and never having a problem, I chose that route.

As I rode into Tombstone there were the normal tourists who were taking pictures because they didn't see cowboy’s on horseback where they come from.

As I reached the corner of Fourth and Allen Streets I heard the short blasting sound of a police siren, I turned my head to see one of the Tombstone marshal's cars directly behind me with his red light on and the deputy waving me over to one side.

I thought to myself, this is a first. I had never had a ticket for speeding on horseback before.

As I sat mounted on my horse and somewhat embarrassed over the whole situation the deputy stepped out of his car, put his hat on and walked up along side of me stating that I was breaking the law in Tombstone by wearing my firearm within the city limits. I then explained to him my circumstance and that I was not stopping in town but only passing through.

At that time, the deputy quoted the old Earp City Ordinance, stating that it made no difference and that I should take my gun off immediately and put it in my saddlebags. I then reminded him that if I were to do so then I would be breaking the Arizona State law against the carrying of a concealed weapon.

By this time a crowd of people had gathered to watch the show as we began to raise our voices to each other.

The deputy said that he did not care about the state law. His only concern was the Tombstone ordinance. He said that if I did not comply with his wishes he would arrest me or confiscate my weapon.

Now in an angry voice, I told him to do just that, arrest me, confiscate my weapon, or just leave me alone!

I also told him that those were his only choices and should he decide to do either of the first two then I would sue him and the city of Tombstone for everything they were worth. I further explained that while on my horse the situation was no different than if I were in my pickup truck with a rifle hanging in the rear window in a rifle rack.

The deputy, with a look of puzzlement told me to move along and he would talk to the marshal about this situation and stated that he would win this argument before it was over with. I just shook my head in disgust and rode away.

As I rode the eleven miles to Gleason, I had a lot of time to think about what had taken place and how the deputy seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. I also thought about the handbook on Arizona’s gun laws written by Alan Korwin which lay on my nightstand at home.

It was at that moment that I decided to learn and memorize those laws because I knew that this issue would come up again, and I also made up my mind that I would stand my ground. I was not breaking the law, the City of Tombstone was!

When I arrived at Steve’s place, I first took care of my horse and gear before setting up camp. I had just finished making coffee when Steve pulled in with his pickup truck.

I asked if he wanted a cup of coffee to which he was obliged and joined me next to the fire. Steve then began telling me how easy tomorrow mornings gather would be. He said that he went out to spot the cattle and low and behold, the bulk of them were at the wind mill about one mile south of the main ranch.

He also told me that Jeff and Pete, two other friends of mine who were also working as day wage hands, should be showing up soon. No sooner had the words left his mouth when the two pulled in with their horses in Pete’s horse trailer.

While they took care of their horses, Steve walked up to the house to grab a few more coffee cups. 

As Jeff and Pete joined Steve and I near the fire for coffee Jeff asked, "What the hell went on between you and the deputy in Tombstone?"

I looked his way, and before I could say a word Pete said, "Yea, we heard that he had you pulled over in town and that you two were having a pretty heated argument over you wearing your sidearm."

Jeff then spoke up and said that he had heard we had drawn quite a crowd. Then Steve, with a look of puzzlement also asked what had happened.

I then began to explain the whole story to them, and when I finished Jeff replied with a snicker, "What are you trying to do, start another gunfight at the O.K. Corral?"

I laughed and told them that I didn't do anything wrong, and that in fact I was the one obeying the law and not the deputy. We made a few more jokes about the situation and let it go at that.

The following morning we awoke to a glorious sunrise, the entire sky was lit with bright oranges, yellows, pinks and reds. If you have witnessed an Arizona sunrise or sunset then you understand. If not I hope one day you may see it for yourself. I have traveled all over this country, but no where else have I seen sunsets and sunrises which come close to those in Arizona.

After breakfast we saddled up and rode out to the twelve section pasture where the cattle would be located. One section equals 640 acres.

We then rode to the far end of the pasture and swept it clean by picking up any stragglers and pushing them into the main herd, which was still near the wind mill. Then we began moving the whole herd to the working pens back at the main part of the ranch.

As we were crossing the dirt road which led to Gleason, some tourists in a rented car were trying to drive through the herd while honking their horn and spooked about half of the cows into a run.

At that point, Jeff, Pete and I had to ride at a dead run to turn the cattle into a tight circle to stop them. This procedure hasn't changed since the days of the old cattle drives from the 1800s when cowboy’s had to stop a stampede.

In the meantime Steve had chewed out the tourists and forced them to back their vehicle up, and chewed out is a nice way of putting it.

Once we reached the working pens we shoved the cattle in, unsaddled our horses and began the vaccinating procedures. We worked most of that day, finishing up around five o’clock in the afternoon. We opened the gates and pushed the cattle out of the pens and they headed back towards the same pasture we had gathered them from earlier that morning. The day was done.

We then built a fire, made some coffee and laid back into our saddles which were placed upside down with the horn keeping the saddle at a comfortable angle. Later, Steve cooked up some steaks and beans over our open fire and we enjoyed a hearty meal.

As dusk turned to night I was watching the fire in the darkness as Jeff and Pete had fallen to sleep and I remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to live a lifestyle of complete freedom.

It was at this time that I had written my first cowboy poem. I kept a small tablet of paper and a pen in my saddle bags so I pulled them out and wrote this first one which I call "Thinking."

It’s a cool brisk evening, clear and the moon shinning bright.
I’m setting here thinking about city life with its problems
and all the bright lights.

It seems a shame to me for all the folks who live there.
They can’t hear the quiet, can’t see the stars and they
Breath the smog filled air.

They rarely hear a coyote sing or a mountain lion growl,
or take a lonely horseback ride, so quiet you can hear
your spur rowels.

Set up camp, boil up some coffee, then set back awhile and think.
Relax and maybe reflect on your life, watch the sun set till it sinks.

Then face the next day with a new attitude, mind clear and
a smile on your face. If only more people could do these things,
the world would be a much better place.

As the fire began to die down I also drifted off to sleep with such a peaceful feeling within me, I hadn't a problem in the world.

The following morning we decided to skip breakfast, break camp and just head on home.

As Steve thanked us for a job well done, Jeff looked at me and said with a grin, "You better watch out for the Tombstone marshal on your way home."

Pete also replied in a teasing manner. "Yea, riding through town all dirty and smelling like a goat he may mistake you for one of the Clanton’s or McLaury’s and shoot you on sight."

We all had a good laugh and headed for home. As Jeff and Pete passed me on the dirt road while pulling their horse trailer, I began to think would there be another problem with the Tombstone’s marshal’s department? I hoped not.

As I approached the city limits of Tombstone, Allen Street, as usual, was brimming with tourists and once again they all seemed to feel the need to take my picture while I was just trying to get home. Some even asked me to stop but I just kept on riding as though I didn't hear them.

I rode most all the way through town and just as I had approached Second Street I saw the marshal’s car heading my way. Sure enough, he waved me over into an empty lot at the corner of Second and Allen streets behind the old Virgil Earp house.

I bid him good morning as he did me, but with a sour look on his face. At that time he informed me that the local merchants in Tombstone had been complaining about me riding through town while wearing a gun. He went on to tell me that he had been told by the deputy about our earlier confrontation.

I once again explained my situation while repeating the Arizona gun law regarding the open carry of firearms. He then told me that he knew the Arizona State law but as the Tombstone Marshal he cared more about the non-carrying of weapons ordinance in Tombstone which he had sworn to uphold.

I then told him that I was a peaceful citizen, I was breaking no laws, and that I always treat people with decency and respect, but on the other hand I do not allow people to treat me any differently and forcing this illegal ordinance upon me was the same as disrespect.

Then I asked him if I was under arrest or if he wanted to confiscate my weapon, to which he replied, “No, you are very close to the city limits, so this time I will let it slide as long as you ride directly out of town, but if this happens again there will be a price to pay.”

With that he climbed back into his squad car and drove away. For just a second or two I sat mounted, while shaking my head in disbelief. How could any sworn law officer be a part of enforcing such an illegal ordinance?

I turned my horse for home and when I got there I took care of her, put my gear away and headed directly for a nice hot shower. I decided to go up town to the Legends bar and relax with a beer or two.

As I entered the bar I recognized a few people I had become acquainted with. Two of them, fellows by the names Bill, and Hal, worked at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon as bartenders and were also members of the Vigilantes. Both gentlemen were in their mid to late sixties and were very decent human beings. I would later become very good friends with the two of them and with their wives.

As I sat down, the first thing Bill asked about was my experience with the Tombstone marshal’s department. Being a small saloon the rest of the patrons had also moved within earshot and I only knew many of them by sight at that time.

I explained the whole story to them while drinking my beer and right away, people on both sides of this issue began to argue if the ordinance was right or wrong.

As a few more people came in and asked about my experience, I once again told the story. I decided to walk across the street to Big Nose Kate’s thinking that I would get away from all of the questions, relax and enjoy a beer in peace.

I crossed Allen Street and walked through the swinging doors of Kate’s saloon and sat down at a table in the back corner near the bandstand. No sooner had I taken the first sip of my beer when Dave, the bartender at the Crystal Palace, hollered from his stool at the bar. "Hey Terry, heard you had some trouble today!" 

Once again I explained the story and once again the argument ensued as to if the old ordinance was in the right or the wrong.

By now I had had enough. I had only drunk a small portion of my beer but I politely excused myself, walked out to my truck, climbed in and headed for home. I knew if I stayed in town any longer that I would probably have to tell this story ten more times. From that moment on, I began to know more people in Tombstone than I chose too.

A few hours had gone by and I was setting on my front porch enjoying my solitude when I heard Jacks pickup truck bouncing down the dirt road which led into our place. John was also with him and they stopped next to my porch and asked me about my ordeal.

I told Jack that if he would put on a pot of coffee I would walk over and explain the whole thing to them. I waited for about fifteen minutes or so, gathered my thoughts and walked over to Jack’s shop. 

As I walked in the coffee was already brewing and John was setting in one of the chairs while Jack was setting at his drafting table which faced the door. I then poured myself a cup of coffee and took a seat on a small bench while asking what they had been up to. 

John spoke first stating that they had been out in the desert just kicking around most of the day.

Jack asked, "Well, are you going to tell us what happened or not?"

He said that he and John had stopped in for a beer on their way home and the whole town was buzzing over me being pulled over by the marshal because of my handgun.

Once again, I told the whole story and when I finished.

John stated that Tombstone couldn't actually enforce the old Earp ordinance because the state law supersedes any city ordinance pertaining to guns, but as long as they could push people around and get away with it they would do so. He said that Tombstone had been bullying folks for years with their old ordinance but no one would stand up to them.

Jack then spoke, stating that he didn't think it would be a good idea to start anything because we all had to live there, and Tombstone, being Tombstone, it might bring problems with strangers carrying guns and wanting to play Wyatt Earp. Not only that but he was sure the marshal’s department wouldn't be above some type of harassment just to make our lives uncomfortable.

I then told Jack that "No little town, no matter how remote, should be able to enforce an illegal law upon its citizens. I only know one thing, if they push on me too much I will push back because I will not allow myself to be bullied!"

I then excused myself and went home for the evening.

-- end of Chapter Two. 

For Chapter 3 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:

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


  1. This is turning into a good story

  2. Yes, Virginia, Tombstone is an actual town. It's not just a pizza brand. Although I DO like Tombstone pizza. In fact, pizza is my favorite food. Oh wait, I thought we were talking about the town. Oh well. LOL.


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