Vogan’s Saloon

Vintage front page 1880 Tucson newspaper ad for a painting raffle

Vogan’s Saloon was a Tombstone establishment in the 1880s. It was a liquor sampling room, and even had a bowling alley for a time.

In later years it reopened and was a Tombstone eating and drinking “greasy spoon” type restaurant. But then it closed down again. It was up for sale for quite a while. Finally, after look-sees, and deals made and deals falling through, someone bought it. Vogan’s Saloon is now reopened, and has been updated with a related name.

Early History of Vogan’s Saloon

James Vogan arrived to Tombstone from Tucson Arizona. He’d managed a Tucson saloon called Congress Hall, in what now is the center of town. It’s a place that Doc Holliday frequented for its gaming, on occasion, when he was in the area.

It was a deluxe establishment, often referred to as a resort. It offered many entertainment opportunities. They also provided rooms and other areas for public events.

vintage Tucson news article
Arizona Citizen – Sat., Jan. 3, 1880 – Pg 3
Tucson 1880 news article about Jim Vogan opening a Tombstone saloon
From Arizona Star, Sat., Jan. 17, 1880 – Pg 4

Jim Vogan left Congress Hall to partner with co-proprietor, James Flynn. They both came to Tombstone in 1879. There on Allen Street they opened a saloon called Vogan & Flynn’s at the beginning of 1880.4

It was at near the Southeast corner of Allen and 5th Streets.

Vogan & Flynn vintage ad from 1880s Tombstone Arizona
Arizona Daily Star – Wed., Feb. 11, 1880

Vogan’s Saloon Operation

Of course the two Jameses needed to hire help for their concern. James Earp, next oldest brother after Virgil Earp, was the man they hired as bartender in 1879. He also dealt Faro there. Allie Earp is said to have described James as a person “always liked as a square gambler that never got into fusses like Wyatt…”8

Funny how they hired someone with their same name of James!

The saloon that was Vogan’s operated a bowling alley within. Tombstone’s established laws regulated licensing fees for that type of activity. Requiring $4 per month for the license tax for ten-pin bowling alleys. They also had a license fee of $3 to $7 paid on a sliding scale depending on sales totals for the month. The license fee for their gambling operation was $10 monthly. They also paid an additional $7 because mixed with the gambling was sales of hard liquor.7

In November 1880, Jim Vogan began renting out a section of his building to host shooting events. This required license tax of $3, which he obtained immediately.7

As soon as Vogan’s Saloon secured its shooting gallery city license, J. G. Stocks set up “Stocks Shooting Gallery” in Jim’s Saloon. When the newspaper reported on contest results, locals learned there were ten entries. Five scored equally, and divided the $50 prize. It was so popular, the prize was raised to $70, and more meets were scheduled.7

These tax license fees were used to support payment of the city marshal’s paycheck, similar city services, and some support for local people in need.7

Vogan’s Saloon Venue

It wasn’t considered one of the swanky drinking establishments of Tombstone, such as the Oriental Saloon, or the Alhambra. But it was well enough attended.

The Jims operated on two levels. They had a wholesale operation, with five gallon quantities of alchohol. Much of their regular clientele inside for the entertainment factor, took advantage of the “Sample Room.” That’s where they could buy their drink of choice by the glass.1

With all the foot traffic in and out, October 10, 1880s Daily Nugget  commented on the worn floor-boards. They noted an improvement when they topped that area with “an elegantly patterned oil cloth… [with] strips of matting over it…”6

One example of an incident occurred, wouldn’t occur in the ritzy Tombstone drinking clubs. Stray dogs had become somewhat of a problem in town, roaming the streets.

Someone in town (perhaps errant kids!) tied empty food tins to the tail of a feral dog. The poor dog was forced in through the front door of Vogan’s Saloon, which was pretty much jammed with patrons. The dog panicked and began running throughout haphazardly. Running into chairs and card tables.1

Owner’s Day Off

James Vogan owned a horse he named Prince. He entered him in the big Christmas Day trotting race in 1880. Sponsored by John Doling at his locally loved Tombstone Driving Park. It was located near where the Tombstone Monument Ranch is today. The winner’s purse was $100. Other contestants were both Wyatt and Virgil Earp.It was a big event to close out the racing season at Doling’s Park.7

Vogan’s Saloon Becomes a Holding Tank

Vogan’s Saloon played its part in Old West notorious history and mythology. A prisoner was held inside – Johnny Behind the Deuce. What happened?

Michael O’Rourke had that nickname because he was a gambler. An incident occurred in Charleston on January 14, 1881. Johnny/Michael killed a popular mining employee, he claimed in self-defense. A Charleston mob gathered to get immediate vigilante results. Constable McKelvey put Johnny into a wagon heading for Tombstone’s law enforcement. Some vigilantes gave chase.5

Johnny was escorted into town, and placed under guard in Vogan’s Saloon and Bowling Alley. There he stayed until he was transferred safely to Tucson later that evening,5 where he was to face justice.

Vogan’s Historic Fire Response

Tombstone’s first devastating fire in June 1881 damaged Vogan’s. As Clara Brown reported to her San Diego Union readers “four blocks of frame and adobe buildings were leveled to the ground.”2 Near to the worst of it, but not in the worst of it, Vogan’s Saloon got to repairs quickly.

Able to reopen four days later, they offered drink specials. Vogan’s Saloon promoted their quality Faro deal. They actually advertised they were hoping to now entice a “better, more affluent class” of the city’s residents!1 But with this near miss, Jim Vogan realized the importance of fire protection, as did the others in town. When the Tombstone Fire Engine Company No. 1 was formed that coming September, he was elected treasurer.3

Vogan’s Saloon Incidents

Vogan’s Saloon attracted its usual post-drinking arguments leading to gunplay. And if you recall from your Tombstone history, there was an ordinance in town, pretty early on, that prohibited the carrying of firearms and other weapons without a specific permit.

One incident had Charles Daily out the front door, just firing off his gun. He was arrested, since gunplay in town wasn’t allowed without permit. But in court he plea was not guilty. The judge wasn’t up for that defense and penalized him with a fine, plus court costs. All told: $37.50.1

Another time noted gambler Johnny Tyler was at the gaming tables, when he suddenly faced off with Tony Kraker. Both drawing their weapons. Surrounding sidekicks stepped in immediately to prevent it going further.1

True Story?!

If you’ve ever visited Boot Hill in Tombstone, you may have noticed the gravestone of the man who was killed over an argument about someone not liking His Shirt. True story! But not quite as simple as that:4

  • The story goes one day T.J. Waters had a good haul from gambling. He treated himself to a new shirt, wearing it around town. 
  • Some guys teased him, and the more that happened, the more he was peeved. Til finally in the Alhambra Saloon, he announced he’d had it! That if anyone else didn’t like his shirt, and said something about it, he’d knock them down. 
  • His friend, Ed Bradshaw, wasn’t there for his announcement. Ed entered the Alhambra, saw Waters in his shirt, and made a little joking quip. Waters punched Ed, knocking him unconscious. Waters went into Vogan’s to make the same announcement.
  • Meanwhile Ed revived, went home to treat his bruising, also retrieved a gun. Returning to town, he entered Vogan’s Saloon. Seeing Waters, he asked why the attack? (I guess he wasn’t satisfied with his answer!) Ed pulled his gun and shot T.J. Waters, from which he died.
  • Bradshaw was arrested, not allowed bail, but eventually found not guilty.

Vogan’s Saloon – More Recent Times

While we know someone has purchased it – NO, it’s not open yet. It’s been very much cleaned up. That you can certainly tell when you look in the window. But it probably won’t open for a while.

~ ~ We do know the plans for it, though. The major twist will be pizza: Wood Fired Pizza – that’s something a little different for town.

Our Vogan’s Saloon “Incident”

One evening when the Crystal Palace was having Karaoke, we’d been there for that. As we exited to started back home, we noticed the door to Vogan’s was wide open! It had been closed and dark in there for ages. So I had to take the opportunity to see what was up.

It was 9:30 p.m., and I yelled in through the opening – “helloooo” – and someone came to the front. So that’s when we met the owner!

Not the anticipated new owner. But the one who’s owned it the past 37 years! His name is James Ellsberry. He’s lived in Tombstone a long time. A very nice gentleman.

We talked awhile. He said the sale was then in escrow, finalizing by the end of May at that point. That buyer lived in Mesa Arizona. He planned on keeping the name the same – reflecting the history.

But talking to him, we discovered a crazy coincidence! He used to live in the house that we lived in at that very time. The Fixer-Upper we purchased when we Retired to Tombstone. He lived there for a few years in the early 1980s. He was describing where it was, and the house’s configuration – and there was no mistaking it was the same house.

Photo below: Bill & Jim Ellsberry on Allen St.


1 Underhill, L.E. (2012). Tombstone Arizona saloons, 1879-1882. Gilbert, AZ: Roan Horse Press.

2 Bailey, L.R. (1998) Tombstone from a woman’s point of view: The correspondence of Clara Spalding Brown July 7, 1880, to November 14, 1882. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.

3 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Too tough to die: The rise, fall and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.

4 Monahan, S.A. (2007). Tombstone’s Treasure: Silver mines and golden saloons. University of New Mexico Press

5 Guinn, J. (2011). The last gunfight. 24 Words LLC. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.

6 Jay, R. (2005, Spring). The gambler’s war in Tombstone: Fact or artifact? In Young, R.B., Roberts, G.L. & Tefertiller, C. (Eds.) A Wyatt Earp anthology: Long may his story be told. (pp. 256-285). Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press.

7 Underhill, L. (2016). “IF YOU GO, YOU MUST DRESS UP”: Social Life in a Frontier Mining Town Tombstone, Arizona, 1879-1882. The Journal of Arizona History, 57(3), 281-312. Retrieved from jstor.org/stable/44985594

8 Monahan, S. (2013). Mrs. Earp: The wives and lovers of the Earp brothers. Guilford, CT & Helena MT: Twodot.

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