Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tombstone Series ~ Are You There Moriarty? July 1, 1961

Though I'm a California girl, some of the roots of my family tree are firmly planted in Tombstone history starting in the 1880's. In January, 1984 my Mom sent me a newspaper clipping about my great grandfather, Stanley Chipman Bagg. The column, called The Lighter Side, was written by Kearney Egerton, a former cartoonist and writer for The Arizona Republic. His tales of Tombstone and the state's history made him an Arizona institution.

SC Bagg, editor of the Tombstone Prospector, let fly with both barrels at Judge W.H. Barnes of the federal district court for one of his decisions. Barnes slapped a $500 fine, for contempt, on him. "I have enough money to pay the fine" Bagg said, "but I refuse to pay the fine as a matter of principle!" Barnes had him thrown into the Cochise County Jail. Bagg was there several weeks, editing the Prospector from behind bars and receiving a steady stream of visitors. He became an embarrassment to the authorities and they told him he could go. He refused. The sheriff had to throw him out of the cold and stony and lock the door behind him. Years passed. Judge Barnes, then in retirement from the bench, was ordered to jail for contempt by Judge R.E. Sloan. As he approached the jail doors he fainted, and was carried to his cells by friends. He collapsed on the narrow bed, but arose when a jail attach√© appeared with a telegram. "Aha" he exclaimed, "People far away have heard of this outrageous miscarriage of justice!" He opened the telegram "Are you there, Moriarty? S.C. Bagg"

Mom's letter said the story had been taken out of context from Walter Noble Burns' book Tombstone. In our copy my great grandmother, Charlotte Winchester Bagg, penciled a note in the chapter Red Lights and Altar Candles that S.C was only in jail for one day. Further research turned up several other versions of the story from including one in our archives from James M. Barney published in The Sheriff Magazine in 1952. 

In the Fall of 2012, we headed up to Butte County for a couple of days to visit my Aunt Betty. She sent me home with a treasure trove of historic papers and remembrances from my grandfather, John Sherman Bagg, Stanley's son. Here is his version of the story. 

S.C. Bagg may well be one of these gentlemen 
but we haven't been able to confirm to date.

July 01, 1961

We didn't have County Judges in the 1880's but District Judges and District Attorneys. These came from Tucson to hold Court in Tombstone at regular intervals.

Judge Barnes was a District Judge and he delivered a ruling that had the community boiling over. Dad took issue with it in his newspaper, the Tombstone Prospector, criticizing the ruling editorially and in a humorous vein. Judge Barnes hauled him into court and fined him $300 or 300 days in jail for contempt. Dad said he'd take the jail sentence, thereby putting pressure on Judge Barnes.

Scott White was the sheriff. Dad edited the paper from the front office of the jail, receiving proofs and sending out copy. Then when the jail closed and dad was supposed to be locked up for the night, he and Scott White would slip out the back way to a nice meal with Mrs. White in their home next door and Dad would bed down in the spare room. After three days, the town dignitaries still indignant and siding with dad, collected $300, got a team and surrey and took him out for home.

Judge R.E. Sloan (later to be Governor Sloan) succeeded Judge Barnes and when he made his first visit to Tombstone Dad met him at Benson and rode the "Burro Train" to Fairbanks, where they boarded the old six horse Modoc stage for Tombstone (8 miles). On this trip Dad sold himself to Judge Sloan as his Clerk of Court. This was the beginning of a very fine friendship and I remember the Judge at our dinner table on several occasions.

Years later former Judge Barnes was handling a case before Judge Sloan in Tucson. He didn't like Judge Sloan's attitude and got sassy. The judge admonished him, but he kept at it until finally Judge Barnes overstepped himself and Judge Sloan gave him "$300 or 300 days". He told the sheriff to take him into custody and motioned for District Attorney Francis J. Heney (more on him in another post) to come to the bench and whispered to him to "Go out and wire Bagg". Dad got the wire and immediately wired Judge Barnes in care of the Sheriff at County Jail "Are you there Moriarty?" Walter Noble Burns, in his Tombstone makes quite a story of this but misses some of the more pungent details.

Years later I was in the bar of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles at a table where I was called to met some of the men in the party. I met a Barnes, "Any relation to Judge Barnes of Tucson?" Barnes "I am his son" "Are you by any chance related to Stanley C. Bagg of Tombstone?" Dad "I am his son"

We glared at one another, about to explode into a knock down and drag out, when the humor of it struck us and amid laughter and a couple of big scotch highballs, we buried the Barnes-Bagg feud. "Are you there Moriarty" however still persists in the record books. My most active part in this episode was visits to the jail to feast on the cakes and candy and other donations that were brought in by the "Loyal Legion"

Good Hunting, John Sherman Bagg, Mining Engineer

My research mentors, Nancy Sosa from the Tombstone Archives and Margo Metegrano from CowboyPoetry.com, taught me to not believe everything I read and keep digging for the truth. There is something to be said for the thrill of the chase.