Monday, August 22, 2016

Galeyville and Curly Bill

William "Curly Bill" Brocius
By Terry McGahey
Associate Writer / Old West Historian

Galeyville was a short lived mining town founded in 1880 with a post office established on January 6th 1881 and discontinued on May 31st 1882.

The founder, John Galey, who was an oil man from Pennsylvania and the president of the Texas Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, struck silver on the site and had grand ideas of the area becoming the next big mother load silver strike and built a smelter on the site.

Galeyville was located approximately sixty miles Northeast of Tombstone, as the crow flies, and on the Eastern side of the Chiricahua Mountains. The small mining town boasted thirty various establishments plus eleven saloons.

With the silver mine running out of ore in about a year, the town of Galeyville would have completely died out except it had become the hangout for the cow-boy gang ran by Curly Bill Brocius with Johnny Ringo. Brocius became known as the "King of Galeyville" which no one disputed. 

The old mining town was the perfect location for the gang because the area was surrounded by canyons which was the perfect hiding place for stolen cattle to be kept out of site while the gang used running irons to alter the brands. Brands were not so heavily scrutinized then as they are today, and even the army bought stolen cattle from these outlaws through old man Clanton who was the actual leader and brains of the cow-boy organization.

While in Galeyville, one day Curly Bill almost met his fate with eternity at the hands of a new member of the gang by the name of Jim Wallace. Wallace claimed to have ridden with Billy The Kid during the Lincoln County War. 

Curly Bill had a loose relationship with the county sheriff, John Behan. Behan would send Billy Breakenridge to Galeyville to collect taxes and Brocius would help him collect the taxes by collecting from the locals who still lived there. 

When Wallace noticed Breakenridge, or "Breck" as he was known, wearing a badge, and him having a great dislike for lawmen, began to threaten Breck and pulled his gun. Curly Bill stepped in ordering Wallace to holster the gun and apologize to Breck while stating, "Breakenridge is our deputy and that suits us fine."

Afterwards the three men, Brocius, Wallace, and Breck, went to the nearest saloon and began to share a bottle of whiskey. Brocius, who became surly when drinking, pulled his gun and threatened to plug Wallace but other members of the gang intervened, avoiding a fight.

Wallace then stomped out of the saloon, went to the stable and retrieved his horse. He then rode up the street, dismounted, and waited for Curly Bill to exit the saloon. 

As Brocius came through the swinging doors, he spotted Wallace with his gun drawn and resting on the back of his horse. Brocius went for his gun but to no avail, Wallace fired and the bullet struck Brocius in the upper neck and exited through his jaw taking two teeth with it. 

At that moment, several gang members grabbed Wallace intending to string him up but when it was realized that Curly Bill would live they decided to let him go. Curly Bill Brocius spent a few weeks or so wearing a bandage tied around his head to keep the jaw in place and he healed up just fine.

Galeyville was completely shut down in 1888 with the buildings torn down and reassembled in Paradise just a short distance to the South. John Galey's smelter had already been relocated to Benson, Arizona by then, and the Galeyville site today is on private property with nothing left to speak of.

As we all know, Curly Bill was reported killed at Iron Springs which name has been changed to Mescal Springs. Actually at the time of this gun battle it was known as Burleigh Springs. 

There is speculation that Wyatt Earp did not kill Brocius at the springs and several statements made by the gang to this effect. Some say Brocius was not even at the springs but he was with his girl friend in Mexico at the time. 

Another theory, after being shot in Galeyville, he retired from the outlaw life and moved to Texas where he lived out the remainder of his years under the last name of Graham. Last but not least, some said the "cow-boy" gang came back, retrieved Curly Bills body and buried him in an unmarked grave.

The story written in The Tombstone Epitaph under the headline "The Battle of Burleigh Spring"on March 25th 1882 reads as such: 

Yesterday afternoon as the sun was descending low down western horizon, had a person been traveling on the Crystal or Lewis Spring road towards the Burleigh Spring, as our informant was, he would have seen one of the most desperate fights between the six men of the Earp party and nine fierce cowboys led by the daring and notorious Curly Bill, that ever took place between opposing forcers on Arizona soil. 

Burleigh Springs is about eight miles South of Tombstone and some four miles east of Charleston, near the mine of that name, and near the short road from Tombstone and Hereford. As our informant, who was traveling on horseback leisurely along toward the Burleigh, came to a slight elevation in the road about a half mile south thereof, he observed a party of six men ride down to the spring from the east, where they all dismounted. They had not much more than got well upon their feet when there rose up at a short distance away nine armed men who took deadly aim and fired simultaneously at the Earp party, for such the six men proved to be, Horrified at the sight that like a lightning stroke flashed upon his vision, he instinctively stopped and watched for what was to follow. 

Not a man went down under this murderous fire, but like a thunderbolt shot from the hand of Jove the six desperate men charged upon their assailants like the light brigade at Balaklava, and when within easy reach returned the fire under which one man went down never more to rise again. The remaining eight fled to the brush and regained their horses when they rode away towards Charleston as if the King of Terrors was at their heels in hot pursuit. 

The six men fired but one volley and from the close range it is supposed that several of the ambushed cowboys were seriously if not fatally wounded. The six men returned to their horses where one was found to be in the agony of death, he having received one of the leaden messengers intended for his rider. The party remained at the spring for some time refreshing themselves and their animals when they departed going southerly as if they were making for Sonora. 

After the road was clear our informant rode on and came upon the dead man, who, from the description given, was none other than Curly Bill, the man who killed Marshal White in the streets of Tombstone, one year ago last September. Since the above information was obtained it has been learned that friends of Curly Bill went out with a wagon and took the body back to Charleston where the whole affair has been kept a profound secret, so far as the general public is concerned. (March 25th 1882)

In Tombstone, The Nugget Newspaper, which sided with the cow-boy faction, offered a $1000.00 reward for Curly Bills Body as proof that Wyatt Earp had killed him. On the other side, The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper offered the same $1000.00 reward if someone could find Brocius alive. 

Nothing came from either offer and today the answer to this mystery depends on who you talk too. No one actually knows for positive if Wyatt Earp killed him or if he actually got away, but the opinions still run strong on both sides of this issue even to this day. 

Personally, I have to go along with the Epitaph story because it is the closest thing to the time period written about the battle. Does that make me right in this matter? I don't know.

About the Author: 

Terry McGahey is a writer and Old West historian.

This once working cowboy is best known for his fight against the City of Tombstone and their historic City Ordinance Number 9, America's most famous gun-control law.

He was instrumental in finally getting Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 repealed and having Tombstone fall in line with the state of Arizona.

If you care to read how he fought Tombstone's City Hall and won, please click:
The Last Gun Fight -- The Death of Ordinance Number 9 (Chapter One)

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