A Church for Helldorado


A Church for Helldorado – $19.99

The following excerpts are copyright SJ Reidhead.

They may not be used without the author’s written permission.

The Tombstone Legend” The Beginning
Peabody’s Version
In 1925 Peabody wrote the following:

I came to Tombstone because some one in the community had heard that I was studying for the ministry and urged me to begin in his bailiwick.  I therefore wrote him that I should be glad to answer the call with a view to beginning a short ministry in Tombstone…

The name of the town struck eastern folks as somewhat grim.  They discovered later that the place was not as menacing as it sounded.  Some of you doubtless know its origin.  Ed Schieffelin, a prospector tarrying in Tucson, expressed his intention of visiting the Dragoon mountains with a view to discovering stone…As it was a region infested with Indians, Ed’s friends assured him that the only stone he would discover  would be his tombstone.  He persisted in his purpose, however, and returning after some time, reported that he had found his tombstone and had located several mining claims there.  The name appealed to people and it was adopted.2

Reaching Tombstone shortly after midnight, I was shown to a room in the hotel3 which was over-ventilated for midwinter4 owing to both windows and the transom being broken.  As I began to unpack my suitcase, there came a loud knock at the door, and in marched three men.  Standing in line, the Chairman5 bade me welcome to Tombstone, apologized for the late arrival of his committee owing to the fact that they had become interested in a game of cards and had failed to notice the clock.  These three gentlemen were as genial as any committee could be, and with them I began a friendship which lasted long beyond my stay in Tombstone.

The life of the place was not without its crude or even cruel features.  Shortly before my arrival, there had been a fierce battle between the Earps, brothers6 who were the guardians of the town, and, I may say, in my opinion were trustworthy officers, and a band of cowboys who were toting pistols in the town, a practice contrary to law.”


Endicott Peabody was born into a moderately wealthy Unitarian family on either May 30 or 31, 1857 in Salem, Mass.  He was a very mischievous boy, going to great lengths to pull practical jokes on his cousin Fanny and two other girls who were her constant companions. According to Peabody’s biographer, Frank D. Ashburn, his first recollection in life was “that on hearing of Lincoln’s assassination, he went about spreading the news gleefully, delighted with the excitement of telling.”607 He attended private schools where he was constantly being reprimanded for mischief.

When Cotty was thirteen everything in his life changed.  A distant relative, George Peabody of Baltimore, went into business with a speculator named Junius S. Morgan, when the J. S. Morgan Company asked Samuel Endicott Peabody to open their London office.  George Peabody became one of the first great American philanthropists, later donating a fortune to Yale, and endowing a chair for his nephew, Othniel Charles Marsh.  Marsh was the first of the two great American nineteenth century dinosaur hunters, Edward Drinker Cope being the other. The Peabody Museum at Yale is today one of the great natural history museums in the world.

Samuel and his family remained in London, where Cotty attended Cheltenham until 1876.  There the young man experienced the typical English boarding school education.  He became an avid outdoorsman, a fearless horseman, and a crack shot.  Athletically inclined, he took to cricket, running, and rowing.  The philosophy of Cheltenham shaped his entire life.

While at school, Peabody came under the influence of two of the three men who would shape his philosophy and point him toward his greatest achievement as founder and headmaster of Groton School.  He would adopt the educational practices of Thomas Arnold of Rugby and Edward Thring. He would not meet the third man until his arrival in Tombstone in January 1882. That man was Wyatt Earp.

Thomas Arnold took his muscular Christian philosophy and turned it into a code of character for young men.  He demanded young men “make themselves vicars of righteousness.  It was not enough for a boy to be a scholar, he had to be a personal force for good in the society of which he was a part.”608  Peabody adapted this into an educational philosophy that would inspire such men as J. P. Morgan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the latter making the elderly Endicott Peabody his White House chaplain. On a side note, Peabody, a life-long Republican, and disappointed with his protégé’s Democratic Party allegiance, never hesitated tell President Roosevelt when he disagreed with his policy.

Thring of Uppingham was another man of great Christian conviction. He “insisted on the importance of the individual boy and responsibility of the school for him.”  He promoted an education where young men studied the classics, art and music.  He introduced physical education and stressed athletics.  He also held a deep belief that the job of a school was to develop character.609

Nineteen-years-old, and ready to matriculate at Trinity College, Cambridge, Peabody returned to spend the summer at Salem.  When he arrived, he was stunned discover his cousin Fanny all grown up and very different from his childhood playmate.  She, in turn, was equally surprised to discover he had turned into a very athletic, well mannered, and handsome young man.

He returned to Trinity College where he remained for the next three and a half years.  Here he rowed, ran, played cricket, and studied law.  He also developed a love for the works of Dickens, Thackery, and Tennyson.

the Unitarian church and developed a love and affection for the Church of England.  This allegiance to the Anglican Church would change the very direction of his life and would, in just a few years, take him to the frontier mining town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, where he would found St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The Peabody family’s time in England came to an end.  Having made a fortune, Samuel retired from Morgan and Company and returned to Salem.  Life in England had been a great challenge to the Unitarianism of others in the family besides Cotty.  His older brother, Jack was determined to become an Anglican priest, but was ultimately swayed by Samuel.610 Little did Samuel know that his younger son was dissatisfied with the law and was seriously considering entering the ministry.  Upon arriving back in the United States, Endicott temporarily put aside those thoughts and decided to become a businessman in order to make enough money to devote himself to worthwhile endeavors.511

A cousin, Clara Endicott Sears described him at that time as “…a wonderful specimen of stalwart youth, tall, broad shouldered, fair-haired, blue eyed, with an irresistible capacity for laughter, based largely upon the fact of his abounding health, his love of life, and an ingenuous belief in everybody…”612
For a time Endicott was determined to become a businessman.  After a try at this, he was dissatisfied, and was still considering a life in the ministry.  He sought out Phillips Brooks at Trinity Church in New York.  Brooks, considered one of the greatest preachers America has ever produced, helped Peabody make up his mind, suggesting the young man attend the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge.  His Unitarian family was shocked, with his mother upset, but his father finally resigned himself to the inevitable and agreed to support his younger son.

While attending school, he was helping out at a Boston mission by teaching Sunday School.  There he met a man named Grafton Abbott, who eventually moved to Tombstone and went into mining.  Endicott had been in theological school for only a few months when Abbott wrote, “the vestry of the local church had quarreled with the rector who left.”  Would Endicott Peabody be interested in traveling to Tombstone and taking charge of the church?

And so the “legend” of Endicott Peabody in Tombstone began.

It was a scene straight out of a classic 1940s black and white Western.   If it weren’t true, Hollywood would have invented it.  A tall, handsome, blond, athletic young minister613 walks down the wooden sidewalks of Tombstone.  A hot wind blows across the dusty streets, creating small, tornado-like dust devils that push a tumbleweed in front of a freight wagon.  The doors of the Oriental Saloon swing open.  Billy “The Kid” Claiborne, one of the more cowardly combatants of the OK Corral gunfight swaggers out, drunkenly.  He spits onto the sidewalk.  “You tell that no good preacher I intend to kill him if he goes to Charleston next week.  If he says anything else about gambling I’m going to make him dance.”  Peabody, in addition to gambling, was also preaching against the evil of cattle rustling, a criminal activity in which Claiborne and his associates excelled

The young minister invites Claiborne to church in the nearby mining town of Charleston.  The would-be gunman, lacking the courage of the Episcopal minister, stays away from the service.   According to Billy Breakenridge, everyone else in Charleston attended.  Not only did they want a front row seat for the impending action but they were also impressed by the eloquent young man’s strength of

The tale is wonderful.  The problem, though, is it never happened.  Like so many of tales told by Billy Breakenridge in his autobiography, Helldorado, it is a figment of the old lawman’s imagination.615 There is no record of Peabody having ‘preached’ in Charleston, let alone have a ‘showdown’ with Billy Claiborne.616  Also, on p. 219 of his widely read and reprinted book, Breakenridge swears that the incident occurred in 1881.  Peabody did not reach Tombstone until 1882.  If such an incident had occurred, prolific diarist George Parsons would have recorded it.

Henry Pickering Walker, in his booklet Preacher in Helldorado, cites Allie Earp, wife of Virgil Earp, as follows, “…Allie Earp recalled that when Peabody noted that a churchyard ought to have a fence, he strode into the Oriental Saloon where there was a big gambling game in progress.  He passed the plate, which was soon filled in overflowing.  The fence was built and there was little left over.”617  Here, another problem surfaces.  Walker is quoting a notoriously unreliable source, Frank Waters’ The Earp Brothers of Tombstone,( p. 115).  Allie Earp had already left Tombstone, with Virgil, on the previous March 20th.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was not ‘completed’ until the week of June 17.618

Breakenridge also wrote, “Peabody was a fine athlete, and was soon named the official referee in all baseball games and other outdoor sports that were carried on by the young men of Tombstone.619  His decisions were never questioned, as he was known as being absolutely square and he had no favorites.  He loved a good horse race, and frequently attended the gymnasium, where he kept himself in fine physical condition by exercise; he never refused an invitation to put on the gloves with anyone,620 and was never  bested.”621

Noted Arizona Historian Frank Lockwood interviewed Peabody when he returned to Tombstone many years later.  “I first met Dr. Endicott Peabody in Tucson in January, 1941.  He was then a very old man  84, I do believe  but still handsome, well-preserved and energetic.  While my associations with him were of short duration they were of such a character as to give me a good idea of his personality….I heard him deliver a discourse from the pulpit of Grace EpiscopalChurch…and dined with him and Mrs. Peabody….In conversation at the dinner table, both he and Mrs. Peabody were charming and congenial  friendly.


A Church for Helldorado is available ONLY from SJ Reidhead or select retail outlets.  It is NOT available on Amazon.  It retails for $19.99


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