The McLaury Brother's
Tombstone Story pt. I
Tombstone McLaury Homepage
McLaury History
Miscelaneous Facts
McLaury Media Gallery
McClaughry Genealogy Website
Table of Contents
The Trail to Texas
West To Arizona
Boomtown & the Babocomari Ranch
Marked Mules Makes McLaury Mad
Curly Bill Shoots at the Moon
A New County in Arizona
A New Ranch for the McLaurys


The Trail to Texas
Nothing was ever recorded about how and when Frank and Tom reached Fort Worth. The general explanation goes that they traveled directly to Fort Worth from Hazleton about 1878 and met their older brother Will there. But the timing of events at the time lead me to hypothesize they may have traveled to Dakota Territory first, then rode to Texas with Will and his family.
In early 1876, Will was preparing to pull stakes in his home in S.E. Dakota Territory and move to Fort Worth, Texas. Having a brand new daughter (Elona, born 4 Oct. 1875 in Sioux Falls), the family probably would have not left for Texas until at least spring 1876. The Fort Worth Democrat notes his arrival in Fort Worth in June, 1876. And with Robert Houston's new family uprooting the old in 1876, Frank and Tom must have felt very uncomfortable living under the same roof a couple more months, let alone 2 years. It's noted that Frank and Tom first shows up in Arizona in early 187811, which would have put the brother's going to Fort Worth at least early 1877. With both William's party and his brothers planning to be on the trail to Fort Worth close to the same time, it's possible Frank and Tom might have gone the 300 miles across Iowa to Will at Sioux Falls in early 1876, and help their brother, Will, get his family the nearly 1000 miles to Fort Worth.
Return to Top

West to Arizona
Regardless of how Frank and Tom actually traveled to Texas, They stayed with their brother, Will in Fort Worth for sometime after 1876. Their suspected intention was to further their education in law. Considering Frank was 28 years old and Tom, 23, it stands to reason their schooling days were past them. Why they chose to go to the Arizona Territory has never been revealed. One story has it they rode on one of the Chisum or Slaughter cattle drives from Texas to Arizona in. But by early 1878, Frank and Tom were looking for work around Camp Thomas near the Gila River in the Arizona Territory.11
Chronologically, the Melvin Jones manuscript is the earliest account (known to me) of the Mclaury brothers in the Arizona Territory. In 1877, a man named Jones bought a ranch along the Gila River owned by none other than Newman Haynes Clanton. Jones' son, Melvin recounted in his latter years of having known many of the San Pedro "Cowboys", including the McLaury's, the Clantons, Curly Bill, John Ringo and Joe Hill.
It was on the old Clanton ranch that Frank McLaury first met Billy Clanton. Billy, about 16 or 17 at the time, seemed to miss his old home and stayed there quite a bit. During one of Billy's stays in early 1878, Frank rode up to the Jones ranch asking to stay overnight and looking for work. Frank worked for the Jones with Melvin and Billy to build some corral fences. He "batched" (befriended and stayed) with Melvin and Billy until he found work with local butcher, George Haller, as a cattle buyer for his shop. During this time, Frank even had occasion to assist the local law in chasing thieves.
Melvin Jones recounted this episode about a time when he was acting as a constable at Camp Thomas in 1879. Three discharged soldiers took government property (harnesses) when they left and Jones was dispatched by the local Justice of the Peace to bring the men back. "He (the Judge) said that last night the discharged soldiers was in the fort, there was several sets of harness stolen from the Government Corral. That those three discharged soldiers must be brought back, and told me to take one good man with me, and Frank McLowery was the good man I took with me.11
The two rode out on the trail of the soldiers that led them north past Camp Apache. After a hard ride and no sleep, they caught up to the soldiers about noon the next day. Jones read the warrant, which brought loud protests from the soldiers. They said the warrant was made in Pima County and when they crossed the Gila River, they were in Yapavai County. They threatened that they would use their guns on Melvin and Frank if any attempt were made to take them into custody. "I told them if they refused to go with us peaceably, that we would go on in to Fort Apache which was only about 20 miles and I would tell the whole story to the Commanding Officer and ask for a detachment of soldiers to help take them back to Camp Thomas. That made them nervous. The one that had been a Sargent and doing most of the talking said he would like to have a private talk with his two pals. That they would go off a short distance and talk the matter over among themselves."11 When the soldiers returned, a bribe of Twenty five dollars from each of the soldiers was offered if Jones and McLaury would leave and say they never found them.
"Frank McLowery had been quiet and talked very little, up to then. He immediately swore that he was not out to accept bribes from anybody. The ex-Sargent soldier lost his temper worse than ever, swearing by every thing that he would rather turn it into a shooting match than go back to Camp Thomas." At this impasse, Melvin and Frank went to where they had hobbled their horses. Jones decided that if they were to set out for Camp Apache, that the soldiers would reconsider and agree to return to Camp Thomas. The bluff worked and the soldiers worked out a bargain where they would return to Camp Thomas with the posse. But they would skirt the fort and instead allowed to be taken into custody by the Judge of the civilian encampment next to Camp Thomas. Jones and McLaury delivered their prisoners to the Judge that night without any trouble. They next day they discovered the judge had been a former comrade of the Sargent and had been able to settle the stolen harness issue out of court.
Although Melvin Jones said he knew both of the McLaury's, he mentions Tom only in passing when speaking of both brothers.11
Return to Top

Boomtown and the Babocomari Ranch
In September 1878, word of a big silver strike at a place called Goose Flats not 100 miles south of Camp Thomas, where the McLaury brothers were living. Soon hundreds were braving harsh desert elements and angry Apaches to come to the newly founded town of Tombstone. At first, tents were all that made up the town, but within a year, Tombstone was shiny metropolis in the Arizona desert, complete with elegant music halls, saloons and restaurants. Along with the prospectors and mining entrepreneurs flocking to Goose Flats came every sort of Americans, following the scent of money. People of all races and religions, filthy rich and poor mingled in the streets. And all shared the same dreams of making their fortune.
Among the throngs of people entering Tombstone in late 1879, came the Earp Brothers. Jim Virgil and Wyatt Earp, hungry for new opportunities, looked to the saloons for quick money and various mining interests for the chance for big money. Jim took to tending bar, Wyatt looked into the gambling prospects and Virgil, already a US Deputy Marshal, was interested in a City Marshal position.
A hundred miles or so to the north, The McLaury's saw the opportunity in starting a cattle ranch near Tombstone. In 1879, they bought some stock and claimed land some 20 miles east of Tombstone, along the Babocomari River.
Like almost every tract of prime land around Tombstone, The legality of the land grants along the Babocomari River was in question. In some cases the lands still had legal registered grants owned by the original Mexican settlers, protected by terms in the Gadsen Treaty with Mexico. For most of the 1870's much of the land was devoid white or Mexican settlers, when Cochise and the Ciricahua Apache ruled supreme. When silver was found in the area, there was a mad rush to claim apiece as quick as possible. And the McLaurys were quick. The ranch was in an excellent location, with rivers on two side (the Babocomari and the San Pedro) providing lush grazing so close to the Tombstone markets.
The McLaurys are listed in the 1880 US Census, Pima Co., living in the Babocomari Valley, dated June 24, 1880, with a correct spelling of their last name, for a change. Frank, age 31, is listed as the head of the house with occupation of "Stock Raiser". Tom, age 27, also has his occupation listed as "Stock Raiser". They also had a boarder staying with them at the time, by the name of Wesley Pearce, age 27, from Texas.
Return to Top

Marked Mules Makes McLaury Mad
Just a month after the Pima County census taker had come by the McLaury Ranch, Frank and Tom had more visitors in the form of a posse. On July 25, Stolen army mules were allegedly reported hidden on the McLaury ranch, on the Babocomari creek. Frank McLaury said that Lt. (J.H.) Hurst, "came to my ranch with an escort of soldiers accompanied by several citizens" (the "citizens" were Virgil, Wyatt & Morgan Earp, Wells Fargo Agent Marshal Williams & four soldiers) and informed him of the theft (supposedly by a tip from a cowboy to Virgil). Wyatt would complain that he and his brothers were dismissed by Hurst after the latter "made some kind of compromise" with McLaury's neighbor and fellow rancher Frank Patterson in order to retrieve the animals. Patterson reportedly was overseeing the changing of the brand on the mules from "U.S." to "D.8.". In order to avoid bloodshed, Captain Hurst and Patterson came to agreement that the mules would be returned the next day if no arrests were made, to which Hurst agreed. Despite the parlay, Lt. Hurst returned empty-handed. The mules were never returned.
On July 27 Frank, Tom, Billy Clanton and Patterson rode into town and reportedly laughed at Hurst saying they made the deal only to clear out the Earps.
On July 30 Hurst published a notice in the Epitaph. He noted that the animals were sighted near the McLaury ranch and where and what the brand was. He named Pony Diehl, A.T. Hansbrough & Mac Demasters as the thieves and charged Frank McLaury and Patterson as the ones hiding the stolen mules.
August 5, an angry Frank McLaury placed a paid advertisement in the Tombstone Nugget defending his name and honor. In it, he said Hurst was trying to cover up his own misdealing in the mule theft. He called Hurst "a coward, a vagabond, a rascal and a malicious liar".
According to Virgil Earp, Frank approached him and asked if he had any part of Hurst's claims, to which he said, no. Frank reportedly then said that was good because if it hadn't been, Frank would have called Virgil out then. Wyatt Earp noted these events during the trial, as the first troubles between the Earps & McLaury's.

As things settled down to a simmer between the McLaurys and the Earps, the final piece on the Tombstone chessboard arrived in town. In September, John "Doc" Holliday showed up in Tombstone. Wracked with tuberculosis, a heavy drinker, a consummate gambler and quick to pull his shooter when angered, Doc had made a deadly reputation for himself in most of the towns he drifted through. Nevertheless he shared a peculiar friendship with law and order Wyatt Earp and was able to use this to his advantage on many occasions.
Holliday didn't waste much time in getting into trouble. On October 10, 1880 Doc got into an argument with another tinhorn named John Tyler at the Oriental Saloon. The saloonkeeper, Milton Joyce stepped in and after some word, threw Holliday out. Holliday soon returned and shot at Joyce from only about 10 feet away. Joyce jumped Holliday and cracked him up-side his head with a pistol. Holliday was hauled off to the Judge and received a fine for $21.30 while Joyce had to nurse a bullet-wound to the hand.
Milt Joyce eventually became a staunch opponent toward the Earp gang. The other initial combatant, John Tyler, would play another small part, perhaps not surprisingly, when Wyatt would bully Tyler out of his Faro game at the Oriental and take it over for himself... and Doc Holliday.
Return to Top

Curly Bill Shoots at the Moon
On October 28, 1880 in Tombstone, some cowboys were whooping it up a little too much, some were taking pot shots at the moon. Among them was Curly Bill Brocius, a cowboy and small-time crook, but soon to become one of the most notorious outlaws at the time. As Tombstone city Marshal Fred White attempted to take the guns away from the drunken cowboy, one went off and White was shot in the testicles. Alerted by the shooting, Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp came up to Curly Bill, "buffaloed" him (hit him in the head with his pistol) and took him off to jail. In some accounts, it was a buffalo party as Wyatt went around cracking the head of every cowboy involved, including Frank and Tom. Most accounts though, do not place the McLaury's at the scene.
Just before he died, Marshal White made a statement that the shooting had been an accident, that the revolver went off as he pulled them from Curly Bill's grasp. Based on the evidence, Curly Bill was exonerated from the murder charge and released in January.
Allegedly, Curly Bill went on one hell of a tear once released. Among other things, he was said to have held up a Mexican Ball and forced everyone to strip naked and dance for him. Another story had Curly Bill busting into a Sunday sermon and forcing the minister preach a special sermon for him and his friends, then made him dance a jig. The legend goes on to say that, upon their departure, Curly and his band filled the collection plate.
Return to Top

A New County in Arizona
The death of Fred White became a major point in Tombstone politics. Two weeks after his death marked the elections for officials of Pima County. This election was also important in the positioning of a new county carved out of the southeast corner of Pima, with Tombstone to be the county seat. The new county, named after Cochise, the great leader of the Chiricahua Apache, would become a reality in February 1881. Fred White had been the leading candidate for town Marshal supported by the Republicans. His death left a vacuum for his position in which Virgil Earp stepped. In a strange twist, John Clum, staunch Republican and editor of the Epitaph, supported Virgil's opponent, Ben Sippy in the race for city Marshal. Something he would regret in the coming months. Sippy won, but proved to be largely ineffectual and suspected of being in the pocket of the Democrats
Just before the elections, Wyatt Earp resigned his Deputy Sheriff position, supposedly, a gesture to throw his vote to Bob Paul in the County Sheriff race. County Sheriff Charlie Shibell, the Democrat incumbent selected John Behan to replace Earp.
Shibell won by a slim margin over Republican Bob Paul. But a recount was demanded when a case of ballot box stuffing was discovered in the San Simon Cienga district. The voting officials in that district happened to be Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo. It was mentioned that even the cows and chickens were registered to vote! The district votes were disqualified and Paul took the County Sheriff's office in the Spring.

The lawman jobs were just a drop in the political spittoon of Tombstone. A group of Democrat businessmen led by the Clark, Gray and Co., (AKA the "Tombstone Townlot Company" or the "County Ring"} coerced Mayor Alder Randall to turn over the town patent. This would give the Tombstone Company the power to remove anyone from their town lot who had not previously bought it from the Tombstone Company. It was later alleged that the County Ring controlled the County Sheriffs office (after Behan won the election) and freely used "cowboys" to take care of their illegal activities. Outraged townsfolk, led by John Clum filed an injunction and won against the Tombstone Townlot Company. The hero of the moment, Clum ran for mayor on the Republican "Law and Order" ticket and won in January. Also about this time talk began spreading of a secret vigilante group, called the Tombstone Vigilance Committee (AKA the "Stranglers"), formed to counteract the County Ring and that Clum was one of the leaders.

The year 1881 opened with the town of Tombstone fracturing along political lines. The Republicans held the Mayor's office but town law was in the hands of the Democrats and the Tombstone Company. The Townlot Company held the town patent, but were held at bay by legal appeals and vigilante threats. Virgil had lost his bid for town Marshal to Ben Sippy but still held his U.S. Deputy Marshal position.
Return to Top

A New Ranch for the McLaurys
With the exploding growth rate of Tombstone came the need to feed the masses. The Sulphur Spring Valley had long been a land where the white man feared to tread. Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches had held a decade-long dominion over the Valley during and just after the Civil War. In 1872, Cochise finally signed treaties that set aside about what is presently Cochise County as the Apache reservation and peace between the Apache and the whites prevailed for a time.
About the same time, one of the first white rancher to try to set up a ranch, Henry Clay Hooker, settled near Camp Grant at the northern mouth of the Sulphur Spring Valley. The Sierra Bonita Ranch, built like a fortified military outpost, is a major tourist attraction today. Hooker's success then is attributed to his fair treatment and generosity to Cochise and his people. But, in 1874, Cochise fell ill and died and tensions again began to rise. Two years later a murder of a white man and subsequent Apache raiding parties along the San Pedro broke the peace. The marauding Apaches were subdued and the entire tribe was sent to the San Carlos reservation to the north. The homeland of the Chiricahua's was now open to white settlement and on Oct. 30, 1876, President U.S. Grant signed an executive order transferring the Chiricahua reservation to public domain. Although the Apache were corralled up in San Carlos, they never gave up their desire for freedom from white oppression. From the young warriors of Cochise came some of the last of the great war chiefs of the Apache. Names like Naiche, Victorio and Geronimo struck fear into the new owners of the old lands as outlaw bands of Apache warriors sporadically carved swathes of destruction through Arizona and Mexico.
After the removal of the Indian threat, a small, but steady stream of ranchmen began to claim the lands in the Valley. Among the first was cattle baron John Chisum, fresh from the Lincoln County War in neighboring New Mexico and John Slaughter of Texas, who built his empire along the Mexican border. Both cattle barons were attributed to have brought most of the "cowboy element" into Arizona.12 Some claim that Frank and Tom came to Arizona by way of one of Chisum's or Slaughter's drives between the years of 1876 and 1878.

I have never heard of why Frank and Tom left the ranch on the Babocomari or exactly when they staked out the new ranch on the White River at the southern end of the Sulphur Spring Valley. Most place the move in late 1880. They were noted as being of the first to harvest the local grasses for feed and may have been the first to grow alfalfa in Southwestern Arizona.12 The general reason given was to position the McLaury ranch in order to intercept and filter rustled Mexican cattle driven into various butchers of Tombstone and surrounding towns. With the McLaurys at the southern mouth of the Sulphur Spring Valley and the Clanton ranch at the mouth of the San Pedro Valley the rancher stood to make lots of money.
That's the general reason. And a valid one if the McLaury brothers were, at the very least, fencing stolen livestock for cowboy rustlers. But the big question is, just how deep were the McLaurys in on the "cowboy depredations"? Aside from the multitude of implications by various authors, that the McLaury's were involved in almost every dirty deed pinned on the cowboys, only the stolen mules charge (accusing them in a newspaper letter by Capt. Hurst and not through any legal channels) and circumstantial evidence of dealing in rustled cattle (Wyatt made such a statement during the trial), were crimes that were ever directly blamed on Frank or Tom.
In all the goings on, in and around Tombstone, that the McLaurys had supposedly been involved, it's a wonder they had any spare time to ranch. What did it take to be a ranchman in 1881 Sulphur Spring Valley? I expect the care and maintenance of livestock and land would be a full-time job. The elements would be the ranchers first and foremost enemy. A few days under the Arizona sun could spell disaster to an unattended herd. Apache outbreaks from the reservation to the north was an ever-present danger, and escape to Mexico put the McLaury ranch directly in their path.
Return to Top

The McLaury's Tombstone Story pt. II

Tombstone McLaury Homepage McLaury History Miscelaneous Facts McLaury Media Gallery
Book & Movie Review Links McClaughry Genealogy Website

The Tombstone McLaury Website's
Early McLaury History and The McLaury Brother's Tombstone Story
by Clay Parker

copyright by unless otherwise noted.