Reverend Endicott Peabody: Tombstone’s Quiet Hero.
Tombstone, Arizona cemented its place in western history with a gunfight that lasted less than a minute and a handful of characters who didn’t know which side of the law they were on. However, the people who are the authentic treasures of a legendary town are often found on the sidelines; their demeanor and purpose doesn’t require or result in sensationalism.
Reverend Endicott Peabody was known to his friends as “Cotty.” Born in SalemMassachusetts in May of 1857, he moved to England in 1870. In 1880 Endicott graduated from TrinityCollege in Cambridge. He returned to the states and joined a banking house, but soon tired of the work. In February, 1881, he applied to the EpiscopalianTheologicalSchool and was admitted in the fall of 1881.
Grafton St. L. Abbot, a supervisor of the Empire Mine in Tombstone, and former Bostonian wrote to the Peabody family and requested Endicott to come west and fill the former preacher’s position. After a short stint as a student, Cotty accepted an assignment to Tombstone, a town of 5,300 people in the ArizonaTerritory—a place known in Boston as, “the rottenest place you ever saw.”
Tombstone came to be like a bolt of lightening. Ed Scheffelin was on a scouting patrol with the Army, when his prospector’s eye caught the glint of silver in a mineral veined rock. When he ditched the Army to follow up on his find, the soldiers told him, “All you’ll find out there is your tombstone.” After all, the area known as Goose Flats was crawling with Apaches.
Regardless of the warnings, Ed pressed on and his ore—the largest silver strike in history—assayed out to $15,000 a ton. Word spread throughout the land. Men and women by the thousands, their eyes glazed over with silver, flocked to the new El Dorado to claim their riches.
Tombstone’s creation came at a time when Cochise's Chiricahua Apaches were still in a warring frame of mind. Also, the ArizonaTerritory was not yet a state of the union, so law enforcement was where you found it—seldom where it was needed. Tombstone was truly a child borne unto the ghetto.
Endicott Peabody’s trip from Boston took a full seven days. The last leg from the railroad in Benson, Arizona was on the Sandy Bob stage, driven by Bob Crouch himself. Cotty would later say that the closer he came to Tombstone, the wilder the stories became. Although he heard about frequent hold-ups, his trip was without incident, but very dusty.
The tall, strapping 25 year-old stepped off the stage early in the morning of Sunday, January 29. Even though it was in the middle of winter (Tombstone’s winter nights will get down in the twenties) Cotty was given a room at the Grand Hotel—where all the windows had been broken out. He was soon greeted by his welcoming committee, who first apologized for being late, but they’d been engrossed in a card game. Milton Clapp, a member of the committee made up for their tardiness by offering Peabody a room at his house. The reverend accepted and slept well his first night in Tombstone.
Cotty’s first day in town was spent walking the streets and looking over the town, about which he’d heard so many terrible reports. The young preacher must have been surprised, because although there was still an occasional, liquor induced shooting, he wrote a friend that he saw a number of refined and educated people. He also wrote that he felt an immediate need to do something for the miners because they were “a pretty poor lot that had been overlooked.”
Within a few days of his arrival, Reverend Peabody was filled in on the politics in this mining town that had quickly become the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. The report was, the “Cowboys” were a troublesome lot who were, for some reason, tolerated by the sheriff. He was also told the Marshall’s crowd was not above suspicion. Because of the meshing of the two groups, tensions were at a fever pitch.
The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral, where the Earp crowd pulled down on the Clantons and McLaurys, or visa versa, (to this day it’s not known who started the fracas) had taken place three months before Peabody arrived in Tombstone. More recently, Virgil Earp had been ambushed, spilling his blood on a pool table. Many people felt that the last person they wanted to see was a preacher—sermons weren't going to solve their problems— the only peacemaker in Tombstone was lead.
Reverend Peabody, however, wasn’t one to let the violence stand in the way of his mission. The last church had gone up in smoke six months ago and the town hadn’t rushed into building another one. He held his first services in the Miner’s ExchangeBuilding on February 5, 1882. And, befitting of the town, these services did not take place without some shenanigans.
During his Easter sermon he heard something near a door behind him. He found a guy named Dibble crawling into the room on all fours; either trying to sneak in, or too inebriated to walk. The Reverend picked him up and sat him in a chair, then resumed his sermon. He’d later say, “I don’t believe I converted him.”
Of his sermons, the Tombstone Epitaph printed, “the preacher delivered two very instructive discourses, in a manner clear and earnest, while the manly bearing of the gentleman lends a decisive force to his remarks.”
The Reverend also formed a Sunday School and Bible classes, where the attendance far exceeded his expectations. His only disappointment was that the classes were attended by mostly professional men or mine superintendents; the working class miners didn’t show up. This led Peabody to remark that his only contact with the hard-rock miners came when he conducted their funeral services.
Although the violence, drunkenness and general hell-raising in Tombstone is well recorded throughout history, there were other problems that affected the citizens. If you peel back the veneer of sensationalism and the glitter of Hollywood’s images, you’ll find the 1880’s Tombstone to be a foul and filthy town, which wasn’t unusual for villages that grew out of mining camps. There was no sewage system, of course, and garbage was often disposed of in the streets. The hides and carcasses of dead animals were stacked near the slaughter houses, and the stench of “slop pots” permeated the air. The city leaders, worried about outbreaks of diphtheria, scarlet fever or typhus, eventually put in a sewer system along Allen Street, but there was another problem they had to deal with.
Tombstone sat right smack in the middle of an Apache thoroughfare from the San Carlos Indian Reservation to the SierraMadreMountains in Mexico. As George Whitwell Parsons reported to the Chicago Tribune, “between the agency Indians and those in old Mexico, there is constant communication and they are inciting each other to commit depredations. Those living south of the border cross over into United States territory and the San Carlos Indians go over into Mexico, committing all sorts of atrocities while on the warpath.” Maybe the stench of sewage wasn’t that bad after all.
Probably because he was a stark contrast to the hard-rock miners and rowdy gunslingers, Cotty continued to endear himself to the citizens of Tombstone. Another article in the Epitaph stated, “We’ve got a parson who doesn’t flirt with the girls, who doesn’t drink behind the door, and when it comes to baseball, he’s a daisy.”
Cotty loved baseball and would play catch with anyone who had a ball handy. When organized teams were formed in Tombstone and the surrounding communities, betting on the games became hot and heavy. At first there was a problem finding someone, who could officiate the games, and was well enough respected that their decisions would be accepted. Up stepped the preacher. But, there was an angle to his services. Reverend Peabody agreed to officiate the ball games—only after the players and spectators attended church. So it was, the businessmen, housewives, mine owners, soiled doves and hard scrabble miners crowded into wherever the services were being held.
The reverend was known to put on the boxing gloves on occasion, and he was never beat. The Methodist minister, Joseph P. “Mac” McIntyre, was considered a pretty fair boxer, so George Whitwell Parsons arranged a boxing match between the two preachers. When Cotty beat the larger and more powerful opponent, he became an instant hero to the miners.
Ever since he stepped off the stage into the muddy street, Peabody’s one goal had been to build a church in Tombstone. Over a thousand dollars had been raised toward the church, until the fire of June 22, 1881. The fire destroyed the bank and the church’s seed money went up in smoke with it.
This only fueled the fire of determination in the preacher and his fund raising was not always by traditional methods. One afternoon several prominent businessmen were playing poker, in a game where the pot often exceeded a thousand dollars. The preacher walked in and introduced himself. He then asked for donations and explained that it was for a very important cause. E.B. Gage, the general manager of two large mines, counted out one hundred and fifty dollars and to Cotty’s surprise, the other players followed suit. Shocked at the response, Peabody thanked the players and told them that they’d never regret their generosity.
The same Mr. Gage was hosting a poker game at his house one night, but his wife, a staunch church member insisted on some prior arrangements. She told the players that during the game, they’d have to donate to a kitty and the money would go toward a church project.
The next morning Mrs. Gage took the money to Reverend Peabody and told him it could be used for a new altar rail, but only if he was comfortable using money from a poker game. Peabody smiled and said, “The Lord’s pot must be kept boiling, even if it takes the devil’s kindling wood.”
Reverend Peabody and his congregation eventually raised $4,653, enough to build St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on the corner of 3rd and Safford streets, where it still serves its parishioners today. It is the oldest Protestant church in Arizona and a National historic site.
After completion of the church, the reverend continued to preach in surrounding towns, even though, on one occasion, it meant death threats. Peabody went to Charleston, a rough town that was known to be a hangout for the infamous Cowboys, and preached on the evils of cattle rustling, drinking and carousing with the Cowboys.
Billy Claybourne, a known killer from Charleston, heard about Peabody’s sermon and sent word to the reverend that if he ever came back and preached such a sermon, the young gunslinger would come to the church and make the reverend dance. Peabody sent word back that he planned on returning to Charleston in two weeks; if Claybourne wanted to attend the service and make him dance, that was fine. True to his word, Peabody returned to Charleston and delivered his sermon, without dancing.
Reverend Peabody often walked into Tombstone’s saloons and announced to all that the next Sunday, he’d be preaching on the evils of gambling. Then, he invited everyone to attend his services. After such invitations there was often record attendance to hear his sermons, and even thought he preached against the primary pastime of many citizens, according to deputy Billy Breakenridge, the preacher was never spoken of, in any but the highest terms.
It’s been said that in Tombstone, blood flowed more plentiful than the hard to get water. It is so ironic then that the demise of mining in the world’s most infamous mining town would be caused by too much water—way too much water.
At first it was just seepage that the miners noticed in the Toughnut Mine in 1880. Then, in March of 1881, they struck water at the 520 foot level in the Sulphuret Mine. In March of 1882, water was discovered at 620 feet in a new shaft of the Grand Central Mine. Initially, the flow wasn’t large enough to stop work, but the mining men who’d been through this before, thought it would increase—and it did. It became so strong that constant pumping with a four inch pump wouldn’t lower the water level. Much of the ore they’d been chasing was now underwater.
The mining experts debated how to control the flow of water, but due to several factors, the quickest solution would still require more than ninety days. Finally, several mine managers met in San Francisco with the principals of the Contention Mine to discuss drainage procedures. The only system available for draining mines below four hundred feet was the Cornish Engine that had been used at the Comstock Lode in the 1870s.
The decision was made to install the pumps, powered by the massive Cornish engines, in the Contention and Grand Central mines. By mid-February, 1884 the pumps were removing 576,000 gallons of water every twenty-four hours. Merchants in town, whose future depended on the management of the flooding, were jubilant because Tombstone would be dried up—or at least the water would be removed. Then, another fire.
Reverend Endicott Peabody, who counted the Earp brothers among his friends, left Tombstone on July 17, 1882. Of his departure, Bishop Dunlap reported that Tombstone had made the greatest progress toward self-support of any place in his jurisdiction and that credit for that was “Mainly due to the earnestness, modesty and tact of Endicott Peabody.”
Billy Breakenridge later recalled that everyone was saddened at the preacher’s departure. George Whitwell Parson’s wrote in his diary, “We will not easily fill Peabody’s place.” At farewell reception Milton Clapp presented the parson with a bar of silver bullion valued at $55 dollars as a tribute to his ministrations.
On May 26, 1886, the Grand Central hoist and pumping plant burned. The fire was so fierce that it melted and warped the metal components of the machinery. It also destroyed the main mine shaft. Shortly thereafter, the price of silver slid to 90 cents an ounce. The mines that were still operational had to lay off workers. Many people who’d considered leaving Tombstone when the flooding occurred, now followed up on their instincts. The ones who stayed, however, saw a brief recovery in the price of silver and a few mines started producing again, but it was never the same for “The Town to Tough to Die.”
Endicott Peabody returned to the EpiscopalianTheologicalSchool, where he graduated in the spring of 1884. The next year he was ordained and married Frances Peabody on June 18, 1885. He then founded the Groton school for boys where he served as headmaster for fifty-four years. Among his students were Franklin Delano and Theodore Roosevelt, their sons and the grandsons of Theodore. In 1905 Reverend Peabody officiated at the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Later in life Reverend Peabody made two trips back to Tombstone. During his last visit in the winter of 1940, he preached in the church he had built. Peabody had so impressed the citizens that upon his return, 59 years later, most of the town turned out to greet him.
Regardless of their notoriety, that cannot be said for any of the pistoleros.