It wasn’t easy for women to make a way for themselves in the Old West. Reading through newspapers of the time, when women of note are mentioned, many times it’s difficult to even find out their first names. If married, they’re most often described with their husband’s name. For instance, speaking of Allie they’d say Mrs. Virgil Earp. Sometimes they’re just referred to, without naming them.
This is what we find when doing research. Some of these women fit more than one of these categories. But here are historic Tombstone area women.
When Thinking of Tombstone AZ: Already Well-Known Women
The Earp women are known by Tombstone AZ fans. They helped out by getting together, sewing canvas tents for miners. Our Newsletter 33 featured Wyatt’s Tombstone “wife” Mattie. Our website pages on Virgil & Morgan chronicle their wives, Allie & Louisa.
Another popular name was Nellie Cashman, a strong presence not only in Tombstone, but throughout the “Wild West.” Well-known in mining camps of the time, running restaurants, boarding houses & other businesses. But also doing much charitable work.
Women Making History – Why?
Clara Spalding Brown lived in Tombstone just over 2 years. She wrote letters to the San Diego Union Describing Life as lived there. The narratives she gave are so valuable in portraying daily situations in town. It turned out to be a fabulous historical account, even if she didn’t intend that. She did, however, end up earning her living in journalism.
Edith Cole was co-owner, with her husband Walter, of the Tombstone Epitaph. Taking it over in 1930, when the city was suffering in many ways. The county seat moved to Bisbee the previous year, silver mines were waning. Tourism was now being promoted, so the Coles wanted the Epitaph to help with that. They were responsible for the phrase “The Town Too Tough to Die.” She was involved in many town projects, & well known during 8 years there.
Lozen, a Chiricahua Apache woman, was Victorio’s sister, he spoke highly of her. Likely at his side at Apache Pass. She was very strong & an excellent strategist. Also known for helping women & children to flee from battle situations. She was with Geronimo, when they were sent to a prison in Florida.
Known Because of the Spouse
Lottie Hutchinson’s husband William got together with her to build the Bird Cage Theatre. A success immediately, she was involved in many aspects of its production, although he led its organization. She supervised performers’ actions weren’t quite going fully over the line of “respectability.” She even performed herself. Billed as a “Serio-Comic Queen” & in review described as “charming as ever.”
Mollie Fly was C.S. Fly’s wife. Like him, she was a photographer. But she took a back seat to him, supporting his efforts, running their studio. When fire took that building, she was instrumental in saving many of his historic photos.
George Pridham arrived in Tombstone around Springtime 1880. We know of his wife, Mrs. Pridham. She was his support while he partnered in the Grocery & Produce Shop on Allen & 5th. Supported his treasurer position with Rescue Hook & Ladder, formed after the June 1881 fire. How do we know? Well, we’re inferring from diarist George Parsons’s many references to Mrs. Pridham & his visits to their home. But we never discover her first name.
Business Women in their Own Stead
Addie Borland lived across Fremont St. from Fly’s studio & the rear entry to the O.K. Corral. Her infamy is via testimony from witnessing that Vacant Lot Gunfight. She ran a business from home as a dressmaker. That house is said to have been moved: now reinvented as The Four Deuces Saloon.
Samantha Fallon arrived in town in 1879, probably a divorcee by then. She built the San Jose House, which then had 20 rooms. Still seen today on Fremont & 5th. It’s said she & Ed Schieffelin may have been very close friends. Some say he was the love of her life. But she ended up marrying someone else.
Ethel Macia had a great influence on Tombstone. A Tombstone native, she married an up & coming mining man in 1904. Especially involved in promoting & helping preserve the historical buildings in town. Well known for the famous Rose Tree Inn.
Leonie C. Holly began in partnership with husband John. They specialized in hotel management together. Hired to run Brown’s Hotel. But John’s problem with laudanum overdose caused his death. January 1880 Leonie took over herself. She also took management of The Rural House for H.G. Howe. That Sept. the Grand Hotel opened, & Leonie also took the management there, until owners Brown & Comstock found someone to replace her.
George Parsons’s Friends
Parsons was the notable early Tombstone anecdotalist important to a view of early events in town. Reading his accounts, he was in with the upwardly mobile among townspeople. Regularly accompanying & visiting many women in town, he also made a statement that wasn’t complimentary: “One by one they come and I hope the good, fair and virtuous will soon displace or at least make less prominent, those of a coarse depraved nature who have been so long disporting themselves before the community.” (We wonder if they would say they same of him!)
Miss Bilicke was the daughter of Carl G., owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. When Parsons first met her, he noted he’d glimpsed her numerous times before. It seems evident Parsons knew the family. After the devastating fire of May 1882, the Bilickes moved to California running hotels there.
Sue Santee was a teacher in the first Tombstone school. Parsons first mentions his concern for her, with a sudden life ending illness on Feb. 27, 1882. But all seems fine by April when he notes seeing her again a few times. Even on a date of sorts.
Mrs. Kate Goodfellow was Dr. George Goodfellow’s wife. Parsons knew the couple before Tombstone, had met them in San Francisco. He hung out with Dr. regularly. But also visited his wife on his own, consistently. Mrs. Goodfellow wasn’t in sturdy health living a frontier life.
Were they baddies? Outlaws? Victims of their circumstances? Probably all of the above. Some of those who came through town:
Mollie Williams Bradshaw became a name after associating with Buckskin Frank. When first in Tombstone she performed at the Bird Cage Theatre. Also worked as a prostitute, going by Blonde Mollie. But taking up with Frank was her undoing.
Visiting Tombstone, you may notice the Madame Moustache Gift Shop on Allen St. There was a woman by that name in town for a time. Most of her life she went by Eleanor Dumont. First noticed in Nevada City, CA as a woman card dealer – rare, which attracted attention. She moved around the West, dealing. Including Pioche NV, Deadwood, San Francisco, Bannock Montana & Tombstone. Her nickname was from the growth on her upper lip! Finally ending up in Bodie on a losing note.
Finally, maybe the most notorious of all – Big Nose Kate. Born in Hungary, Mária Izabella Magdolna Horony. Came to the U.S. at age 11, met Doc Holliday at age 28. They had a tumultuous relationship, was with him in Tombstone. She came to him at his deathbed. Once getting to Arizona, that’s where she mostly stayed. Including her burial in Prescott.
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.
Let us know if you’ll be going to an upcoming event! Tell us how you liked any of them, or what you visited here! Just reply to this newsletter for easy input! (Let us know if we can use your comments – & how to credit you.)