Joyce family research finds Patrick Robert Joyce born on Oct. 16, 1847, in County Cork, Ireland. Potato Famine caused the family’s immigration . Settling in Richmond, Virginia, the baby’s name became Melvin (called Milton?? don’t know!) Edward. Thus he’s listed VA born on 1880 AZ Census.
Enlisted at age 15 with Confederate army. Moved to Louisville KY when war finished. In his 20s he trekked West, to California. He learned blacksmithing & mining. Then he heard of the silver strikes in Tombstone. So ended up in the American Southwest. On to his Tombstone Legacy: the Oriental Saloon.
On to Tombstone Arizona
M.E. Joyce got to town in 1879, for the silver mining. Got in on a few claims. What he’s most known for in Tombstone? The Oriental Saloon! That’s where he made his $$$ in town.
But he wasn’t the owner. The Vizina & Cook Building on the NE corner of 5th & Allen had multiple units. June 1880, Joyce leased one exactly on that corner. It held a bar & restaurant. He granted a concession to Lou Rickabaugh’s group for the gaming.
Joyce spared no expense in the decor. He provided an evening pianist for entertainment. But it seemed the saloon attracted more than musical diversion.
The Oriental Saloon gave M.E. Joyce a way to meet many important Tombstone people. He quickly became well-known, & was an active citizen in town.
Tombstone Engine Co. No. 1 formed Sept. 1, 1880. He was elected Assistant Foreman. Other notable names: Wyatt Earp – Secretary, James Vogan – Treasurer.
In June 1881 Tombstone had its 1st serious fire! Started a few doors East of the Oriental Saloon. The Oriental’s adobe walls resisted, but the ornate interior lit up quickly. Joyce had cash stashed in a safe inside, but it was lost to flames. Afterwards, he sold his interest in the Oriental to Rickabaugh, who rebuilt it. (He’d be back, tho’.)
Soon after, a 2nd Fire Dept., Engine Co. No. 1, organized. Joyce was there for them, in uniform, volunteering at their New Year’s Ball.
The Oriental was in danger when the May 1882 fire consumed the town. The fire fighter’s front line was right in front of the saloon’s corner. It mostly held, & the Oriental Saloon survived with minimal damage. Grateful Joyce rewarded the team with his potables.
Meanwhile Troublesome Problems
Milton Joyce wasn’t known for holding his tongue or not necessarily acting out on his opinions.
According to Diarist Parsons, it became quite bad by March 1, 1881: “Oriental a regular slaughter house now.” He said Joyce closed down the gambling. But not forever! By the end of June, he gave up awhile. Politics his prime concern?
After the OK Corral Gunfight, Joyce expressed his strong feelings. The Earps ordered drinks at the Oriental Saloon. Milt made a sarcastic comment, an Earp slapped him. Joyce backed away stating “You won’t get to shoot me in the back as you’ve shot everyone else…” This according to Dep. Sheriff Billy Breckenridge.
Leading to a famous altercation between Joyce & Doc Holliday. Gamblers Doc & Johnny Tyler (remember him from Tombstone Movie!?) were arguing. With guns about to play, Joyce said: leave. Doc declined & Joyce ejected him! Doc returned & shot Joyce in the hand & the bartender’s foot.
Purveyor, Involved Citizen, With Some Misfires
Feb. 1881 Cochise County was being formed. M.E. Joyce was nominated as 1 of the Supervisors, official soon. By April he was named as Chairman. Still the businessman, mid Jan. 1882 he bought back the Oriental. Rickabaugh had problems & left AZ.
Joyce volunteered for the Irish Land League’s St. Patrick’s Day Committee. General Sherman visited Tombstone April 10 & 11, 1882. Joyce was Grand Marshal for his reception. Next month was VP of a board purchasing the Tombstone Epitaph. He was instrumental in planning the County’s courthouse – now the historic state park. In mid 1883 he’s also ranching, bought a place by Horseshoe Pass in the Swisshelm Mountains.
Joyce had legal problems after politics. Arrested Feb. 1883 on alleged forgery & fraud charges during his time as Supervisor Chairman. Posting bond, promising his innocence, he was acquitted.
April 1882, AZ Governor incorporated AZ Rangers. Locally – Tombstone Rangers. Missions resulted from Apaches attacking San Carlos Reservation & some Southeast Arizona settlements thereafter. Early May Tombstone Rangers had 60-day task: 1-Reliable border scouting for Indians, 2-Consult/act with troops if any found. Late May, funding ran out.
March 1883, Apache warriors launched many attacks throughout Southeastern AZ. April 3rd Schieffelin Hall meeting called, M.E. Joyce attending. Solutions? = Eliminate San Carlos Reservation & Reactivate Rangers. Joyce elected their Captain. He led 60 out on April 10. Reservation Apache Scouts were cautioned to prevent Tombstone Rangers’ Reservation incursion.
Joyce discovered the Scout blockade plans. He abandoned their Reservation Trek, demoralizing the hyped-up Rangers. So a group of 10 Rangers later took off on their own, planning to attack other Apaches. Their attack ended up on a corn-field scarecrow! It all caused great upset to local settlers who criticized them vehemently in the newspaper. It also reflected badly on Joyce.
M.E. Joyce, Nellie Cashman, & 31 others, in late April 1883 voyaged into Baja California. Goal: terrific Mulege mining opportunity. Circumstances turned very rough. Guide vanished, water gone &/or unpalatable. Minimal gold. Mission=failure! Joyce didn’t return to Tombstone AZ to live. Instead he went to San Francisco, Bay area.
In the Bay Area, Joyce collaborated with Tombstone friends to open the Baldwin Billiard Parlor. Then Lucky Baldwin took it over, so he got another venture. Opening the Cafe Royale with a partner – a saloon & billiard hall.
In Feb. 1889, age 42, he found a spouse. But later that same year, he died of consumption – tuberculosis. He certainly lived a lot of life in those years. Never had any children.
After Joyce – & Today’s Oriental Saloon
Some new entrepreneurs took over when Joyce left town. One prominent name was Mr. Melgren.
Then Arizona’s Prohibition in 1915 thru 1933 put the saloon out of business. With the 21st Amendment ratified, the Oriental was mentioned as “still standing.”
By 1948 it was “now Tombstone Drug Store.” Sometime later, it became Oriental Steak House, + Oriental Saloon, the lounge included for a cold one.
By 1988 it’s again a drug store. Subsequently it became a gift shop & then a dress shop.
There’s often reference to Wyatt Earp as historic “owner” of the Oriental Saloon. Especially in Arizona’s 1920s thru approx. 80s. But not accurate!
It’s documented that Morgan had an interest in their gambling concession. But Wyatt’s concession interest – there’s a bit of evidence, kind of putting together circumstantial & hearsay of Wyatt’s latter days’ tellings. But no contemporary/primary sources yet.
And today, have you visited lately? Probably not very lately. But R.J. has returned it to the 1880’s atmosphere. Not exactly the historic re-creation, but reminiscent of those times. To see their latest, you can visit their Oriental Saloon FB Page>
Historical places & events create curiosity for facts about people who roamed the Tombstone area & the Old West. What’s the true story? Can we discover the authentic history?
And we enjoy sharing what we find with you.
We hope we’ll see you in town sometime, (sigh – eventually in the future!) seeing areas where they spent time – back in the 1800s.
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