State gaming officials returned to Cochise County last week with a heavy hand, seizing electronic bingo games and other equipment from Wyatt Earp’s Oriental Saloon and Theater in Tombstone.
It reminded us of the history in Cochise County and Tombstone, which has a long association with games of chance.
We’ll start with the Sheriff’s Office.
Around the time that Cochise County was recognized in 1881, Tombstone was one of the largest cities west of the Mississippi with a population somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. The city exploded with growth and became the destination for prospectors who were looking to find riches after Ed Schieffelin’s silver strike.
That’s when two individuals, Wyatt Earp and Johnny Behan, sought the position of Cochise County Sheriff. The Sheriff was an extremely lucrative position at the time due to the responsibilities being not only law enforcement but also the county assessor, tax collector and being responsible for collecting prostitution, gambling, liquor and theater fees.
Democrat Johnny Behan had more political experience than Republican Wyatt Earp, as well as more political friends in the right circles. It is said that Behan made a deal with Earp, promising him a position as his undersheriff if he was appointed over Wyatt.
Due to the deal, Earp withdrew his name from the political contest.
Behan was then appointed the first Cochise County Sheriff and proceeded to renege on his deal with Earp and appoint Democrat Harry Woods instead as undersheriff which led to a
fractured relationship with Earp.
It also led to Earp playing more poker in Tombstone saloons. And of course, one of those saloons was the Oriental.
The Oriental Saloon was a fancy gambling joint, with thick carpet, a long, mirrored, mahogany bar, live music, and a big poker game. Milt Joyce, one of the owners at the time, cut a deal with Earp. He would give him 25 percent of the gambling profits if Earp would provide security.
Earp agreed, and hired his friend “Doc” Holliday as a dealer. Earp also sent to Dodge City for Luke Short and Bat Masterson, hiring them as dealers too.
The fame of the dealers packed the place.
Today, despite a treasured history of gunfighters, poker players and Old West heroes, we can’t help but worry about the future of the “Town too Tough to Die.”
It’s not the bandits and gun fighters who will turn the lights out on Tombstone, it’s the pandemic and executive orders that have closed bars, fitness centers, water parks and limited restaurants to 50 percent of capacity.
At the moment, even Earp’s magic name can’t take tourism off the ropes.
We’re hoping for a speedy economic recovery in Tombstone.