Opening Night

(Reprinted with permission from "Jerome - The Wickedest City" by William Wingfield, Hartcort Press, 1946.)

It had been a beautiful autumn in '79. The early snow melt up on the mountain came down strong through the Gulch Creek, and Al Sieber and Paul Weaver had rigged a series of two-inch pipes from higher up on the creek down into camp. The cold, clear water dumped into a metal holding tank that had been brought over from Prescott on the new mule train. The tank was eight foot across and three foot deep. After it filled up, it spilled over the downhill side and created a new creek running down the mountain. We loved the tank. It was a luxury to have all the water we needed right there in the middle of camp. Things were definitely looking up for the rough and tumble lot of us that made up this small community.
Billy Of course, the most significant sign that civilization, with all its amenities, was upon us was the erection of the camp's first wooden building, and it was a corker. Right next to the holding tank for convenience, it was two stories high, located where the Sullivan Building is today, it actually had its own wooden sidewalk and second story porch above that. It was late in November and we were just finishing up the roof so that the ladies could come over from Prescott and move in. The Madame, Nora "Butter" Brown, was already in residence, overseeing the workmen. She was a no-nonsense business woman when it came to the work at hand, but lord, she could drink most of the men in camp right under the table when she was feeling feisty.

Back in those days she was fond of saying, "I know I'm not much to look at boys, but wait until you see the girls. You're really going to love me then." She would then let out a loud horse laugh. She was right about her not being much to look at. I mean she had a face plainer than a pine board, but the figure under all the clothes they wore in that period surely promised to give a man comfort on a cold night.
In later years, Butter gained renown for being the Madam who first introduced Jennie Bauters to the profession. In history books, it is Jennie who is credited with being Jerome's first Madam, but truth be told - it was that Jennie was just a better self-promoter.

Billy       Billy
Jennie Bauters                      Her establishment

Well, I can say without any fear of contradiction (especially since everyone from that period is either dead, or in jail, or married - all similar conditions to my way of thinking) that the spirits of the men in camp were high. The ore that was being pulled out of the hill was first rate and paid top dollar at the time. Copper prices were up. Many of us were fattening up our pokes with money and dreaming of what we would do when we were rich. Old Rim Rock Hull used sit around the fire outside our tent and go on about how he was going to buy land around the camp, and when people arrived wanting to build a city on this spot, he would get rich. Most of us would just laugh at him and tell him to stop drinking. Who would bother to build a city up on the side of the mountain? They would surely build it in the valley somewhere, down by the river. It is easy to see from a date further into the future just how right he was. Regardless, of all that, we all had our dreams and believed that we were on the path to making them come true.

So as I say, our spirits were high that Friday night on November 27, 1879. Butter had opened her bar and the whole camp was there drinking. Now some say it was a Thursday night, but to tell the truth there may have been a time or two when we didn't have it quite exact, being as we were so far from anywhere with any regular clocks or calendars or anyone that really cared, but it was close to around that date. I know for sure that it was after Thanksgiving. There's no doubt about that. I would like to be able to swear on a stack of bibles about it. But as I was saying, even though we were all drinking pretty heavy, to her dying day she said it was all true. Now, I saw most of what transpired so I know that at least the bulk of it is true. I saw both of them drinking that night in the bar and talking to Butter, but that's as far as it went. I never heard any names exchanged. But like I said, Butter said it was true, and I believed her. When I visited her in her home in San Diego in 1903, I brought along my secretary, Martha Watson, to record her exact words. This is what she told me:

"You remembers how we was drinkin that night. Well, come along some time after dark, the first of 'em walks in, and he's got that long drover's coat on, all dusty 'n all from the road I found later, 'n you know he just kinda joins in with us tippin the bottle. Being young as he was, he could sure hold his liquor. Seemed the drunker he got, the funnier he was. All the boys likened to him right away. Said his name was Henry. Said he had just delivered a passel of cattle from the New Mexico Territory to ole Boss Head down in the valley and had heard that there was a cat house going in up at the camp and just had to check it out for hisself. He wasn't a big fella and actually he was kind of funny looking, but there was something about him. On one hand, like I said, he got along with the boys right away, laughing and joking and such, but on the other there was somethin there that made you not want to get on his bad side. He carried two Colt 41s on him with their holsters hung backward on the side of either hip. Hadn't ever seen anyone carry his guns like that. And they was slung low and tied down to his thigh. You had the feeling that he could make those Colts jump into his hands like pet rattlesnakes. You know, that was before all this dime novel stuff, glamorizing it all with all that hootchie-coo about the handsome romantic outlaws 'n such. Nonsense. Anyways, it was all new to me. What did I know, for Christ's sake? I was just tryin to make my way, you know. You know how it was.

Well, as I was saying, we was all gettin along famously 'n talkin big about how we was goin do all kinda grand things, when the second outsider came in. Now, he was a fella of a whole different stripe. Tall, thin, quiet. Came in wearin one of those flat brimmed hats that's wide in the brim so's to keep the rain offen you. Had these tall leather boots on that came up to his knees. Black they was. I remember being struck by the idea that he was a city fella. Had on a striped vest with that gold watch chain stretched from pocket to pocket. You remember that part. And he was carryin a Colt strapped to his side like ole Henry. Except he only had one, hung in a normal way, and he seemed like he was shy about it. He tended to keep it covered by his long broadcloth coat. So he comes in and sits at a table across the room away from the bar, quiet like. Course, I goes right over and starts talkin to him. Took a bottle of rye and a couple glasses with me. I thought maybe cause of the way he was dressed that he might have some money to spend on a lady. Seemed like it'd be a good way to christen my house, you know. Well, we starts talkin but he ain't offerin up much information. He's more about askin questions about how things are goin in this part of the territory - what kind of businesses are thrivin an that kinda thing. Well, as I was beginnin to think that I wasn't goin to be able to interest him in any romantic activity, I noticed the younger fella lookin over in our direction with a curious look in his eyes. Finally, like its an itch he can't scratch, he comes strollin over with big ole charming smile on his face like he wants to sell us something.

'This a private party or can a friendly stranger join in?', he asks as easy as you please.

I look over to the fella I been talkin with to catch his reaction and watch him size up the younger dude. I can tell he's measurin him - how it'd be, toe to toe. His gaze lingers on the other man's Colts. Colder eyes I'd never seen. He smiled then just a little.

'Have a seat cowboy. I'll buy you a drink,' says my man.

Well the young man pulls up a chair and helps himself to a drink right out of the bottle on the table. Smilin all the while, he fills up ole cold eyes' glass. Then he starts in. You could tell he was on the prod.

'You look like a man who's taken a wrong turn somewhere. Look like you maybe oughta be dealin faro in some fancy saloon in Dodge or Abilene or somewheres like that. Look a little high tone for this poor establishment.'

Well, my man looks at him a second and says, "Just passin through, son. On my way to Tombstone. Join my family.'

'Ever been to Dodge?', asks the kid.

'I've been there,' says the tall one.

'You know, I was in Dodge once. I think maybe I saw you there.' At this point he reaches his hand across the table offerin it for a shake. 'My name's Henry McCarty. My friends call me Billy.'

My man shakes his hand and says, 'Wyatt. Wyatt Earp.'

Well, at this point the smile on the young fella's face just gets bigger.

'Tell you the truth, Mr. Earp, I knew that. Saw you draw down on four drunk drovers one night in Dodge. Never seen anyone draw and shoot as fast as you. It was quite a site. It made me wonder.'

At this point, I began to get a little light headed. We had all heard of Wyatt Earp and the Dodge City Peace Commission with his friend Bat Masterson. He was a legend even then. As I was catchin my breath, I realized that neither man was speaking. They was just lookin at each other.

'What's it make you wonder, Mr. McCarty?' I asked.

Without takin his eyes offen Wyatt, he says, 'It makes me wonder who's faster with his gun. Me or Wyatt Earp.'

Wyatt's all calm and slow. He takes a small drink of whiskey.

'You don't have to do this, son,' he says quiet like.

I'll tell you, both men seemed like they was spring loaded. All coiled up, ready to explode.

'Oh, I don't know, Mr. Earp. I think I just might have to,' says Henry still smiling to beat hell.

Who knows what might have happened next if we hadn't heard the gunfire and yellin. Suddenly, Burt Moss comes bustin through the door yellin, 'Apache!! Stealin the horses!!' Well, everyone in the place moved all at once, everybody headin for the door. We all spilt out into the camp to see a dozen Indians openin the corral gate and startin to herd about the same amount of horses out of the pen. They run the horses right through Wilcox's cook fire and sparks was flying every which way. The Indians was all painted up and screamin and half naked, shooting their guns in the air. It was a fearsome sight. But Wyatt, he's as cool as a man on a Sunday promenade. His pistol comes out of nowhere, and he's about to start layin in to the redskins when, suddenly, the kid puts a cocked Colt to Wyatt's ear.

'Just move real slow there, Mr. Earp. That's it. Easy does it.' As he's talkin, he's reachin for Wyatt's gun. 'I'll be relieving you of that nice peacemaker you got there.' Then he sticks Wyatt's pistol in the waistband of his breeches.

At this point, four or so Indians came ridin up with rifles at the ready, coverin the rest of the crowd. Now I don't mind tellin you, I was so scared I actually wet myself. We had all heard of the Apache and what they did to white women. I began to envision the most terrible things being perpetrated upon my person. I didn't find out till later that they weren't Apache at all. They were Yavapai. They didn't even like the damn Apache.

'Now, everybody just stay settled and no one hast to get kilt. All we wants is these horses and we'll be on our way!' yells the kid.

He then proceeds to mount up on a horse already saddled that the Indians had brought over. Now, just as easy as you please, he leans over and starts to palaver in some language I never heard with the meanest lookin of those Indians like they was old friends. The Indian was a big beefy buck that looked like he was used to gettin his way. He said something to the kid and they both laughed like school boys on a tear. Meanwhile, the rest of the raiding party is drivin the herd down the mountain in the dark. When the horses are out of sight, the kid turns to us.

'Sorry, I couldn't have stayed any longer,' he says, 'but I gotta get these nags back to New Mexico. Got some hot buyers waitin. Maybe some other day, Mr. Earp. Once I get paid for these horses, maybe I'll look you up in Tombstone. How'd that be?'

'Be my pleasure, Henry,' says Wyatt, never showin one wit of emotion.

'Billy,' says the kid, still smilin like its all one big church social, 'My friends call me Billy.'

With that, him and the Indians wheel their horses around and gallop on down the hill hooting and hollerin after the rest of their friends.

Now, after that, as you remember, we all went back inside and really proceeded to drink. Well, as fate would have it, I did finally get to christen my business that night, although I never did get paid. That whole horse thievin affair seemed to fire Wyatt up - got his blood boiling so to speak. It wasn't too much later that we adjourned to my chambers upstairs. Now, don't you go askin for no rude details. A lady does not speak of such things, but I will say that Wyatt stayed the whole night, and it was truly one of the most satisfying evenings of my life. It's not often that a woman has the opportunity to bed a legend. The funny thing is that when I look back on it now, I realize that I probably owe it all to that rascal Billy. If it hadn't of been for him I might never have had the chance to trade love's sweet favors with the likes of Wyatt Earp."

Billy       Billy
                                                                       Henry McCarty aka Billy the Kid                       Wyatt Earp

(Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone, by way of Las Vegas and Prescott, in December 1879.

On July 14,1881, after having escaped jail and killing two lawmen and being on the run for a year and a half, Billy the Kid was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

In 1996, Nora "Butter" Brown retired to San Diego and sold her business to Jeanie Banters who went on to become Jerome's most successful Madam. Butter was shot to death in 1905 by her opium addicted husband (ironically the same fate suffered by her protege, Jennie).

The author, William Wingfield, went on to become a successful rancher in the Verde Valley and lived to be ninety-two years old. He died in his sleep at home in 1951.)

Opening Night      by Terry Molloy       Copyright 2000      All Rights Reserved

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