Fragments of the Old West – or Checking in at Tombstone

Another fragment of the Old West – a Pima County Bank Check/Draft from Tombstone, Arizona dated September 6, 1881, payable to a member of the Fesenfeld family of Anaheim Township which was then part of Los Angeles County. It is endorsed on the reverse by S. J. Fesenfeld and countersigned by banker B. F. Seibert (Benjamin F. Seibert) also of Anaheim.  The check was drawn at Tombstone a little less two months before what would become the most infamous gunfight in the Old West – the Gunfight at the OK Corral. It is signed by P.W. Smith, Manager.

Tombstone Check 2

Above: A $50.00 Bank Check Pima County Bank Tombstone, Arizona Territory, United States. September 6, 1881. 8 inches by 3 3/8 inches (20.3cm x 8.7cm). Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.soldiersofthequeen.com.

Tombstone Check Reverse 2

Above: The reverse side of the check endorsed by S. J. Fesenfeld to “Yourselves” and countersigned by banker Benjamin F. Seibert of the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Los Angeles.

P. W. Smith (Phillip William Smith, 1828-1901) was a key and colorful figure in early Tombstone history. He was a Republican, and considered a member of Wyatt Earp’s political “faction.” It is a little-known fact that the friction between Wyatt Earp and his brothers Virgil and Morgan along with John “Doc” Holliday and the Clantons was as much political as it was legal. The Earps and many of their adherents were members of the Republican Party while Clanton’s and their allies such as Cochise County Sheriff John Behan were all Democrats. Wyatt Earp would run against – and lose to – John Behan for the office of Cochise County Sheriff.

Smith owned and operated “P. W. Smith’s,” a popular general merchandise store in Tombstone. He also owned “P. W. Smith’s Corral,” on the corner of Third Street where Wyatt and Doc Holliday sometimes stabled their horses. Smith and partners B. Solomon and J. B. Fried supplied Tombstone with gas for street lights and homes. Smith was also one of the partners in the newspaper Tombstone Epitaph along with mayor John Clum, Charles Reppy, E. B. Gage (also members or sympathizers of the Earp Faction), and several others. He sold his interest in the paper when Milt Joyce and other Democratic investors took control and brought in Sam Purdy as the new editor.

Earps

Above: Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and John “Doc’ Holliday. All four men would shoot their way into Western legend during the so-called Gunfight at the O.K. Corral at Tombstone, Arizona on October 24, 1881. Virgil Earp served as Tombstone City Marshal and Wyatt and Vigil his deputies. Wyatt and Doc would be appointed Deputy U.S. Marshals in the bloody aftermath of the notorious gunfight.

In 1879, brothers Barron and Lionel Jacobs partnered with Smith to open the Pima County Bank, the first formal financial institution in Tucson. The two brothers were established merchants and suppliers in the Tucson and Tombstone areas, having expanded the family’s business from San Bernardino, California eastward into southeastern Arizona.

The following year, in 1880, the trio opened the “Agency Pima County Bank” in Tombstone, where it operated out of Smith’s mercantile building. In 1882 it became the Cochise County Bank, with Smith as President, but it would shut down in 1890 because of Tombstone’s depressed economy following the closure of many of the silver mines in the area.

Tombstone_(probably_in_1881)

Above: A view of Tombstone, Arizona c.1881 by noted local photographer C. S. Fly.

Many of Tombstone’s legendary lawmen and outlaws regularly did business with Smith; the day before the shootout at the OK Corral on Oct. 26, 1881, “Cow-Boys” Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury made deposits with Smith at the Pima County Bank, located in Smith’s mercantile building.

Cowboys

Above: Members of the “Cow-Boy” faction that was at odds with the Earps. Ike Clanton, Johnny Ringo, Cochise County Sheriff John Behan and a purported photo of William “Curley Bill” Brocius.

Allegedly, a day or so before the gunfight occurred, Wyatt Earp took delivery of a special frock coat from P. W. Smith’s mercantile store: supposedly a mackinaw with lined pockets and made in dark blue heavy jean or canvas. The pockets were supposed to be lined with stiff leather, doubling as holsters to hide Earp’s pistols. It was reported that Earp was wearing this coat during the famous gunfight.

Above: One of the seemingly endless number of classic scenes from the 1993 production of Tombstone. Source: Youtube/Hollywood Pictures.

On the day of the shooting, one of Smith’s employees, J. H. Batcher, was coming back to the mercantile store, following a few feet behind Wyatt Earp, who was walking in the same direction. He witnessed the famous confrontation between Tom McLaury and Wyatt, which ended when Earp slapped McLaury and then smacked him on the head with the butt of his pistol. This incident, along with Doc Holliday’s earlier confrontation with Ike Clanton, would touch off the gunfight a few hours later. Batcher would later be called to testify in court as to what he had seen that day.

Philip William Smith, merchant, banker, publisher and entrepreneur knew and associated with pretty much every major figure involved in Tombstone’s early days, and the gunfight at the OK Corral.

 

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