Hello History Fans! As we pass through the corridors of time, we visit the fate Curly Bill Brocius.
Fred Dodge was a well-remembered Wells Fargo employee and associate of Wyatt Earp. Early in his days in Tombstone, Dodge appeared to be doing a bit of law enforcement, though it was during this time frame that he later claimed he was an undercover agent, employed by J.J. Valentine, General Superintendent for Wells Fargo in the West. “Caught in the Act. Fred. Dodge caught a fellow taking a cot from the rear of the Rural House last evening, and made him throw up his hands, when he placed him under arrest. He will have a taial [trial] this morning.”
Dodge spent a number of years in the Tombstone/Charleston area (he appears in the 1888 annual relief report as a member of the Tombstone chapter of the International Order of Oddfellows-collection of author). Dodge would have a good idea about trouble in the area. When J.B. Hume, well respected Wells Fargo detective, was robbed on his way to Tombstone, he described the voices of the robbers to Dodge and Wyatt Earp, and Dodge knew just where to find them--Charleston.
“You will recollect that J.B. Ayers kept the saloon in Charleston that was the headquarters for all the outlaw and rustler element,” Fred Dodge wrote Wyatt Earp in 1928. These two men who had ridden on posse together knew the same outlaws and shared some of the same friends. Now over forty years after many of their adventures in and around the Tombstone area, both were late in life and helping each other with names and dates. Dodge and Earp had both traveled to Charleston together, in search of the robbers who had taken two fancy pistols from Wells Fargo detective J.B. Hume, himself a near legend on the frontier. Upon learning that Hume had been held up while traveling between Contention City and Tombstone, “I sent for Wyatt at once, and Jim Hume called me into the back Room where Wyatt soon joined us, and Hume gave such an accurate description of the Robbers — which were 4 in number — such as Height, build, and Voice and other details, that I could name the men that were in the Robbery for I knew them all. And they always held out at Charleston, 10 miles from Tombstone — at J.B. Ayers’ saloon, the Headquarters of all Outlaws and Rustlers.”
After searching the western side of the Huachucas for those who robbed Hume “…We then determined to go to Charleston — which was back towards Tombstone. We reached Charleston about 2 P.M and rode speedily straight to J.B. Ayers’ Saloon. As we dismounted, we saw Hume in the Saloon Standing leaning with his back against the Bar, and as we entered, I saw 2 of the men who were in the Robbery, one on Each side of Hume…This was not the Safest place in the world for us to be in, and we took our places at the Bar that were the most advantageous to us in Case anything Started. I took a Schooner of Beer and when Ayers was waiting on me, he was joking [with] me about drinking slop etc. — and in the meantime managed to indicate to me with his Eyes the two men that were in the Robbery.”
Dodge didn’t tell the Earps and Hume of the tip that Ayers had given him, because Ayers was also working undercover for Dodge on behalf of Wells Fargo. Hume would again go back to Ayers’ Saloon seeking out the robbers, but to no avail. “Hume had armed himself again and that morning had got a team and driven down to Charleston alone, and was at Ayers’ Saloon when the 2 Robbers rode up. He was satisfied about them being 2 of the men-but it was not of Sufficient Evidence to warrant an arrest, for all 4 of the Robbers were masked. Hume advised, and rightly so, that no arrest should be Attempted. We all returned to the Saloon and another round of Drinks were had in which Everybody was invited that was in the Saloon and we Shortly left for Tombstone.”
Having Ayers working undercover for Dodge in the very saloon which some in the cowboy gang frequented was invaluable. It gave an insight that otherwise would not have been possible. Case in point, the cowboys and their supporters publicly disputed that Wyatt Earp had really killed Curly Bill Brocius on March 24th, 1882 at the Iron Springs location.
And yet, in the comparative familiarity of Ayers’ Saloon, they told a different story, as Dodge later related to Stuart Lake, who was then working on a book of Earp’s life (Frontier Marshal). “…You ask for information about the death of Curley Bill. By reason of my connection with Wells Fargo and Co., and also because of my association with Wyatt Earp and others of his party, I had full information concerning the fight at Iron Springs in which Wyatt Earp and party were ambushed by Curley Bill and party. “Immediately after this fight I interested myself in ascertaining the true facts about the death of Curley Bill. J.B. Ayers, a saloon keeper of Charleston, where the outlaws and rustlers headquartered, told me that the men who were in the fight told him that Wyatt Earp killed Curley Bill and that they took the body away that night and that they buried him on Patterson’s Ranch, on the Babocomari. Johnny Barnes, who was in the fight and was badly wounded, and was one of the Curley Bill party, told me that they opened up on the Earp party just as Wyatt Earp swung off his horse to the ground and they thought they had hit Wyatt but it was the horn of his saddle that was struck. That Wyatt Earp throwed down on Curley Bill right across his horse and killed him. That the Earp party made it so fast and hot that all of the Curley Bill party that could, got away…Sometime after this Ike Clanton himself told me that Wyatt Earp killed Curley Bill.”