Friday, December 13, 2019

Milt Joyce -- Western Pioneer

As with any mining boomtown, all sorts of people poured into Tombstone, Arizona, during its hay day. Most were miners and prospectors looking to cash in on the strike there. Many were business opportunist wanting to cash in on the needs of others. Some of course arrived with the indention of making money off of the vices of those there.

Few knew or cared whether it would be a short-lived strike or not. As with other mining boomtowns, everything is dependent on the mines keeping the money flowing. Unlike most cattle towns that survived simply because ranchers and farmers kept their towns alive after the cattle boom went bust, must mining towns didn't survive. Because of that fact, the West is dotted with once roaring boomtowns that are merely ghost towns today.

Of course, with that said, when visiting almost any such ghost town, one can only imagine what took place there. While Tombstone survived because of tourism, in its hay day people poured in hoping to find riches. And with them came those who got rich providing for miners, gamblers, soiled doves, merchants, and the many others who followed the rush to get rich from one boomtown to the next. 

In Tomstone, a couple of men who saw the future, Jim Vizina and Benjamin Cook, bought a lot at what was the northeast corner of Fifth and Allen Streets. There they built a commercial one story building. They partitioned it off and put it up for rent. The one side that fronted Fifth Street was the Safford, Hudson & Co. Bank. Part of the building was leased by Charles Clover & Company which was a San Francisco based men's furnishing group. Another part of the building was a dry goods store established by L. Meyer & Company.  

Milton Edward Joyce left New York at a young age and worked his way West seeking his fortune. After many jobs he arrived in Tombstone in 1879 at the age of 32. Along with others, he initially had interests in mining. But like so many others who see opportunities in places that others don't, he believed a saloon was the way to go. So by June of 1880, the corner of the Vizina and Cook building was leased by Milton Edward Joyce & Company. He called it, The Oriental. 

Milt Joyce turned his portion of the building into one of the finest saloons in the West. While he concentrated on operating the saloon and restaurant, the gaming concession was run by a group of San Francisco "sporting men" headed three men. They were Lou Rickabaugh, William C. Parker, and Bill Harris. Harris was called in from Dodge City.

The San Diego Daily Union rand the following article on August 10, 1880:  

"Saloon openings are all the rage. The Oriental is simply gorgeous and is pronounced the finest place of the kind this side of San Francisco. The bar is a marvel of beauty; the sideboards were made for the Baldwin Hotel; the gaming room connected is carpeted with Brussels, brilliantly lighted, and furnished with reading matter and writing materials for its patrons. Every evening music from a piano and a violin attracts a crowd; and the scene is really a gay one but all for the men. To be sure, there are frequent dances, which I have heard called “respectable”, but as long as so many members of the demi-monder, who are very numerous and very showy here, patronize them, many honest women will hesitate to attend."

As for an article on The Oriental Saloon, that will come later. For right now, I want to talk about how Milt Joyce forced gambler-tough Johnny Tyler out of The Oriental Saloon. No, contrary to to Hollywood, it wasn't Wyatt Earp as shown in the film Tombstone. Though get entertainment, that just didn't happen the way Hollywood has depicted it. 

In reality, Milt Joyce escorted Tyler by the arm to the door after Tyler and Doc Holliday got into an argument. After escorting Tyler, Joyce tried to reason with the very drunk Doc Holliday -- but ended up escorting him to the door as well. That wasn't a good night for Holliday. Fact is, the now famous Doc Holliday shouldn't have messed with Milt Joyce.

After leaving, Holliday came back in through a side door demanding that Joyce give him the revolver that he checked in with the bartender. Unlike the movies, even before the no guns in town ordinance took effect, Doc Holliday and others did not sit around places like The Oriental Saloon with a pistol, never the less a brace of pistols as some have falsely depicted. He, like others, checked his gun in at the bar when entering. If they didn't like it, there were a lot of lower class places that didn't care.   

On that night, Milt Joyce refused to give Holliday back his gun. He instead told Holliday to pick it up in the morning. Holliday became angry and soon enough, Joyce tossed Holliday out of The Oriental door. But then Holliday returned with a self-cocker (a double action revolver) and opened fire on Joyce. 

One of the rounds Holliday fired struck Joyce in the hand while he stood behind the bar. Another of Doc's rounds hit the big toe of Joyce’s 19-year-old bartender/partner William Parker. Though Holliday was less than four feet away and moving in on Joyce when he opened fire, thankfully for Joyce and Parker that Doc Holliday was a horrible shot. 

To show you how tough Joyce was, during Holliday's attempt at murdering him -- Joyce is said to have jumped over the bar and onto Holliday. Then it took people there to pull Joyce off of Holliday who was in the process of beating the tar out of the gunman. Some say Joyce was in the process of killing Holliday. 

Once off of him, it's said Joyce drug him down the street to turn him over to City Marshal Virgil Earp. Holliday was fined the next day. And I agree with those who say that he would have been sent to jail or a work farm for attempting to kill an unarmed man -- that is if Holliday weren't a friend of the Earps.   

On October 12, 1880, the attempted killing of Milt Joyce on October 10th was played down by The Tombstone Epitaph when it reported the following:

"About 12:30 on Sunday night [October 10] a shooting affray took place at the Oriental saloon…between M.E. Joyce, one of the proprietors and a man named Doc Holliday….’ What brought this about, the article further describes: ‘During the early evening, Holliday had an altercation with Johnny Tyler which boded a shooting scrape. Shortly before the shooting referred to occurred, Holliday and Joyce [Tyler?] came into the Oriental. Joyce went to Tyler and told him to leave the saloon, as he didn’t want trouble. Tyler complied and Joyce made the same request to Holliday. Holliday demurred and Joyce and he got into an altercation."

By the way, when a newspaper says, "a shooting affray took place ... between M.E. Joyce ... and Doc Holliday," that infers both parties were armed. Joyce did not have a gun while Holliday was trying to kill him. 

As for Holliday being a bad shot. From everything that I've researched about Doc Holliday, it's no wonder Virgil Earp gave Doc Holliday the use of a shotgun when they walked down to meet the Clantons and McLaurys near the O.K. Corral. Virgil must have known that Holliday couldn't hit the side of a barn while standing inside a barn. Of course, Holliday used that shotgun to kill Tom McLaury. Tom McLaury being the only verifiable person ever killed by Doc Holliday. And yes, there's another thing Hollywood gets wrong. Holliday is only known to have killed one man, not 20.

As for Milt Joyce and the Earps, some have said that the Earps were extorting money from Joyce in a protection racket -- but I haven't been able to prove that he was paying the Earps the same way one would pay off big city lawmen back then, As for the gaming concession, it was run by Lou Rickabaugh, William C. Parker, and Bill Harris. Some have written to say they they were forced to take on Wyatt Earp as a faro dealer. While they did hire Wyatt Earp at one point, I don't know if they were forced to do so by Virgil Earp. Although, bringing on Wyatt Earp must have kept the local law off of their backs when it came to running crooked games. And let's not kid ourselves, almost all gaming in the Old West was crooked. 

It's said the relationship between Joyce and the Earps was cordial and business-like at best. While he worked with the Earps, it's said that Joyce didn't like Doc Holliday. And let's not kid ourselves there either, would you like him if he tried to kill you?  

As for an incident on December 15th, 1881, where Joyce and Virgil Earp got into an argument over a comment made by Joyce. That took place one evening in The Oriental Saloon. Things became pretty heated when Joyce supposedly "joked" about how stage robberies being down when Doc Holliday was in jail. 

Frankly, why should that have been unexpected or unacceptable to Virgil Earp since he knew how Joyce justifiably felt about Holliday. Well, it's said to have went over horribly and an argument started from there. Joyce didn't back down, even to the point of saying that he thought Virgil Earp may be behind some of the attacks on Mayor John Clum. It's said that Virgil became so angry that he slapped Milt Joyce. And then, supposedly attempted to goat Joyce into putting on a gun. 

According to reports of people there, Joyce refused and backed out of the saloon. Yes, backed out. Before leaving, Joyce is said to have made clear what he thought was taking place. He looked at the crowd there and saw that it was a partisan Earp crowd. Feeling outnumbered and surrounded by four or five of the Earps' most loyal friends, all heavily armed, he saw discretion as being the better part of valor.

Taking in the situation, Joyce remarked that only a fool would make a fight against them all while being single-handed. He said this while moving slowly backing up to the door. He also told them, "Your favorite method is to shoot a man in the back. But if you murder me, you will be compelled to shoot me in the front." 

The Earp friendly crowd was said to be heavily armed in spite of the city ordinance against carrying guns in the town. But really, that was nothing new since everyone there knew the ordinance was not enforced to people who were friends of the Earps. 

As for Milton Joyce being pro-Clanton and anti-Earp faction in Tombstone, I don't know if he was aligned with the Clanton faction or not. It really sounds like he was his own man and was concerned about making his business a success. But also, I don't see him as being close friends with the Earps after the bad incidents that he had with that faction. I did read that he would later be involved with the local vigilance committee that wanted to arrest Wyatt's whole posse for the murder of Frank Stilwell. I haven't been able to verify that. 

Milt Joyce closed The Oriental Saloon on March 1st of 1881 as the result of a shooting that took place there. Later that year, he finally gave up his lease on The Oriental Saloon. That was in July of 1881 after a disastrous fire swept the town. Building owners Vizina and Cook rebuilt the building after a fire swept downtown Tombstone. Then from July 1881 to January 1882, Lou Rickabaugh and his partners were in complete control of The Oriental. During that time, Wyatt Earp continued to collect his quarter interest in the games, free of outside interference because his brother Virgil was the law.

At the end of 1882, Milt Joyce sold whatever shares he had left in The Oriental Saloon. He also had other business interests, served as the first chairman for the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, and owned a ranch outside of Tombstone. It's true. Milt Joyce and "Buckskin Frank" Leslie partnered to build a ranch near Arizona's Swisshelm Mountains. Today that ranch is known as the "Old Leslie Ranch." But in its day, it was originally known as the Magnolia Ranch owned by Milt Joyce.

In reality, the majority owned was Milt Joyce. Believe it or not, "Buckskin Frank" Leslie who had a reputation as a gunman actually managed most of the ranch business. Frank Leslie earned his nickname "Buckskin Frank" because he always wore a buckskin fringed jacket. Leslie had a quarter stake in the ranch. Because Leslie is said to have spent more time there than Joyce, the Magnolia Ranch was often referred to as simply the Leslie Ranch. 

It's interesting to note that the ranch is where Leslie shot Mollie Williams and James Neal on July 10th, 1889. It's true, Leslie shot Mollie in the head at the Joyce ranch. 

Leslie met Mollie at the Bird Cage Theater in 1887 when she was a singer and prostitute there. Her pimp at the time was a guy by the name of E.L. Bradshaw. He was killed soon after Leslie met Mollie. It's believed that Bradshaw was killed by Leslie.

While that was never proven, Leslie was connected to another killing that resulted in his marrying the dead man's wife. That all too place within of a two and a half month period in 1880 when he became attracted to Mary Jane "May" Killeen. She was working as a maid at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and was married to Mike Killeen on April 13, 1880, in Tombstone. Believe it or not, Frank Leslie attended their wedding and is said to have signed as having witnessed the marriage for county records. 

During the evening of June 22nd, Mike Killeen became jealous when he saw Leslie with his arm around May. Killeen pulled a pistol and fired twice. Then Killeen attacked Leslie, and began using his his revolver to club Leslie in the head. Soon, Killeen was shot dead. Some say it was by a bystander who was a suspiciously close friend of Leslie, while some say Leslie shot Killeen. Either way, both were charged. Both pleaded self-defense. Leslie for fighting back. His friend said he used deadly force to save Leslie's life. The result was that the court dismissed the charges against both men on the grounds of self-defense.

Eight days after her husband's killing, Mary "May" Killeen married Leslie. Mary Jane "May" Leslie filed a divorce complaint. She alleged that Leslie was unfaithful and had that Leslie had choked and beaten her on different occasions. The divorce was granted on June 3, 1887. Interestingly enough, Joyce ended up owning all of the ranch later when by way of the divorce, May was awarded half of Leslie's property. She sold then sold it to Joyce. Later, Leslie sold his interest back to Joyce as well even though he kept managing the ranch.

I also find it interesting that after his divorce from May, Mollie Williams joined Leslie at his ranch as his "wife." Actually, right after Bradshaw was killed, Mollie and Frank Leslie start living together. It was said to be a romance based on love of booze and violent tempers. Leslie was known for having a quick temper that got worse when he was drinking. She supposedly was no different than he was. She didn't put up with his woman beater ways, and it's said she actually tried to knife him once while attempting to beat her.

On July 10th, 1889, when Leslie returned to his ranch drunk, he shot and killed Mollie Williams. The murder was witnessed by a ranch hand who also worked for Milt Joyce. That man was James Neal. After Leslie shot and killed Mollie, Leslie is said to have immediately turned and shot Neal. 

While Mollie died instantly, the bullet that struck Neal penetrated his arm and passed through into his chest cavity. As remarkable as it sounds, Neal was able to flee Leslie who thought that he killed him. Neal ran about a mile and half before reaching the Reynolds ranch where he received first aid before Reynolds hands took Neal to Tombstone for a doctor. 

Leslie's plan went wrong because he failed to kill James Neal. Right after Leslie shot them both, he immediately fled to Tombstone to report a murder. He must have thought about this all the way into town. Who knows, he may have planned that murder for days or weeks. 

Once in town, he found County Under-sheriff Enoch A. Shattuck and spun a tale about how James Neal shot and killed Mollie Williams. Leslie is reported to have said, "Neal killed Mollie and then turned the pistol on me. I fired back in self defense, and killed him." 

What Leslie didn't know was that Neal had survived and was actually listening to Leslie lies while sitting in the other room. After he heard everything that Leslie had to say, a wounded and weak James Neal came out of the room and confronted Leslie. With that, all Leslie reported said was, "Oh my head hurts, I can’t remember a thing." 

James Neal fully recovered and testified at "Buckskin" Frank Leslie's trial. Leslie got life for killing Mollie Williams.

Besides ranching, some say he had mining interests, when he decided to leave Tombstone in 1883. Milt Joyce arrived in San Francisco a very wealthy businessman. He would keep investing in a number of businesses, including opening another saloon and a billiards parlor. He would still have to put up with crooked lawmen on the take. That was the norm for the times. 

In San Francisco, it's said that he would learn what big time graft and corruption in government and on police departments were all about. The famous "Tenderloin District" for example got it's name because the police would get the prime cuts of beef as a pay off from butchers. That in itself showed that no one was exempt from paying the police under the table. Bribes to get by was something that every business in San Francisco has had to deal with. 

If Milt Joyce thought that the Earps and Tombstone was a bad town when it came to dealing with dirty lawmen who were also pimps and enforcers for prostitutes and brothels, while also getting a percentage of the house, he was about to really get an education. San Francisco graft wasn't the pony leagues of the mining towns. San Francisco was the big league and corrupt to its core. 

Milton Edward Joyce was born in New York in 1847. He died in San Francisco, California, on November 29th, 1889, at either 41 or 42 years of age. The newspaper clipping attached is his obituary found in a San Francisco newspaper, The Daily Alta California, posted on November 30th, 1889:

Death of M. E. Joyce

"Milton E. Joyce, formerly proprietor of the Baldwin Billiard Parlor, and at the time of his decease, owner of the Cafe Royal, died at his residence on Van Ness Avenue at an early hour yesterday morning. He was but forty-two years of age. When fifteen years of age, he came to California and settled at Half Moon Bay, San Mateo county, where he later on had a blacksmith shop. He went to Arizona, where he accumulated a fortune. In 1883 he formed a partnership with James W. Orndorff and opened the Baldwin Billiard Parlor. They remained there four years, and when Baldwin made up his mind to take charge of the saloon and billiard room himself, Joyce and Orndorff established the Cafe Royal, where they have since remained. Si Lean, at one time a barkeeper in the employ of Joyce & Orndorff, died in Virginia City [NV] on Wednesday. Shortly before leaving this city, Joyce, in a spirit of jest, told Lean that he would die first, although he was a young man apparently in good health. Lean laughed and said he thought not. They will both be buried on the same day."

Below is his obituary notice as it appeared in the Tombstone Daily Prospector on December 3, 1889:

Obituary Notice 

"M. E. Joyce, who died in San Francisco on Thursday last, was a character of much prominence in Tombstone in the early days. He was a member of the first Board of Supervisors in Cochise County, and was the proprietor of the Oriental Saloon, where Nardini's stand now is. During this period he made a bushel of money. The stormy times of '82 found him in the midst of this battle. He went to California in '83 and has remained there since, being the proprietor of the Cafe Royal - the finest saloon and billiard hall on the Coast. Joyce was 42 years old and leaves a wife but no children. He was married about a year ago to a Miss Mocker. He belonged to the Knight Templars, Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythian orders. His funeral took place on Sunday last."

For me, I find it an irony that Wyatt Earp and Milt Joyce ended up being buried in the same town in California. But mostly, I admire the man who left New York at a young age and worked his way West seeking his fortune. And while some have called him a mere "barkeep," that really doesn't fit a man who did so much in such a short period of time. 

After all, that's what American pioneers did. They worked their way West to seek their fortune and endured. In some cases, they returned East with empty pockets. But in most cases, overwhelmingly, they not only endured -- they prevailed. 

Granted that not every pioneer owned a saloon or two, or a ranch, and many did have to work for others. Then again, not every pioneer coming West wanted to be a farmer or homesteader. For Joyce, his particular desire was to be a successful businessman and he worked for it. In his case, as a saloon owner and investor. For others, it may have been dry goods, a laundry, opening a small dairy, having that farm, owning a ranch big or small, operating a mill, starting up a newspaper. Or maybe they simply wanted to teach, to write, or sail the oceans of the world. Some pioneers wanted to simply live out their dreams as cowboys.

The West was theirs to settle and make what they will. If you don't think those were hardy people, remember that they walked the Oregon Trail; they plowed ground that never tasted a plow; they stored water and made green places that were never green; they endured more loss and sorrow and yet still found the time to thank God for their blessings. And today, they sleep knowing their souls are not loss with those who did not toil and strive to make better lives for themselves.

That's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa





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