In the March 2017 Issue...

Kindness Long Remembered

The Story Behind a Unique Boothill Marker

Tombstone Epitaphn Tombstone, a town defined historically for the tough characters it attracted, it’s often difficult to find stories of people who did not, as famously noted, “eat a man for breakfast every morning.”

Difficult, but not impossible. Among those early residents remembered for his kindness rather than his ability to solve problems with the business end of a revolver was Quong Kee, a Chinese emigrant who arrived in Tombstone in the early 1880s. As a restaurateur, Quong knew many of Tombstone’s most famous figures – men like Wyatt Earp, Billy Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius – and members of Tombstone’s Chinese community, including restaurant owner Ah Lum, and his wife, known as “China Mary.” His memories of these notables were long quoted by reporters and writers who did their best to represent Quong’s broken way of speaking English.

But Quong was remembered, too, in both words and actions, after his death in January 1938. Dying as an indigent in the Cochise County Hospital in Douglas, Quong was quickly buried in a pauper’s grave in a Bisbee cemetery – an act, that when discovered, wrenched Tombstone out of its Depression-era doldrums.

Within the next three months, Quong was memorialized twice. On Jan. 14, more than 500 people from southeastern Arizona, and beyond, attended Quong’s funeral. His remains were reinterred at Tombstone’s Boothill. It was the first burial that had occurred there in more than three decades.

Then, in a sundown service on Easter Sunday, old friends gathered to dedicate a specially crafted grave marker, the donation of Columbus Giragi, a former owner and editor of The Tombstone Epitaph, who long remembered his friendship with Quong. In a letter, Giragi, then publisher of the Holbrook (Ariz.) Tribune News, recalled his first job with The Epitaph: “Quong used to slip me many delicacies when I was a news kid in Tombstone – in the days when those things were few and far between with me.”

Carefully trying to “soft pedal any publicity about this,” Giragi designed, planned, and paid for a one-of-a-kind monument that was unveiled at the Easter ceremony. Giragi wanted to memorialize Quong, of course, but he also wanted to say something to Tombstone.

“I am mighty proud of Tombstone, the ‘town to tough to die,’” he wrote on Jan. 24, “and the splendid manner in which you folks took the bull by the horns and tail and saw to it that good old Quong’s remains were removed from Bisbee and buried where they belong, with proper ceremonies.”


“Hard” and “Nice” Fellows

Tombstone Epitaphn 1929, in a bid to ramp up its moribund economy, Tombstone held its first Helldorado, a three-day showcase of the “rip-roaring days,” including a re-enactment of the Oct. 26, 1881, gunfight near the O. K. Corral. As a result of Helldorado, increasing Hollywood interest in western films, and the non-stop publicity work of Walter H. Cole, The Epitaph’s editor, Tombstone was a source of national news coverage in the 1930s. And that coverage included Quong Kee.

The interest in Quong was understandable. He had carved a niche for himself in a town that in its heyday had denounced the presence of Chinese immigrants. He had been part owner of the Can-Can, a popular restaurant at the corner of Fourth and Allen streets. And, he had rubbed shoulders with the town’s historical heavyweights.

“ ‘Member Wyatt Earp?” Quong was quoted in the Oakland Tribune in 1935. “He was a good guy…Nice guy to Quong. He hard to lotsa people, though. Shoot ‘em up all the time.”

Quong also knew Billy Clanton, one of three cowboys killed by Earp, two of his brothers, and John H. “Doc” Holliday during the O. K. Corral confrontation. “Kust like Billy Clanton,” Quong had told the Tribune. “He nice fellow, too.”

In its romanticized account, the Tribune saw Quong as something of a keeper of the town’s historical memory: “Tombstone…lies half forgotten, basking in the reflected glory of its early days,” it said. “But through the memory of Quong Kee, 90-year-old Chinese, its streets once more are people with colorful characters, its wooden-fronted buildings house folk formed in song and glory, and the streets echo with the clatter of horses’ feet.”

Whether Quong was 90 years old in 1935 was an open question. Perhaps he was born in 1845, or several years later based on a U. S. government document found after his death. According to the Tribune, Quong traveled from Hong Kong to Virginia City, Nev., where he worked as a “cook’s helper.” He moved on to Stockton, Calif., where many Chinese worked as agricultural laborers, and then traveled to Willcox, a southeastern Arizona cattle town. Attracted by the silver excitement in Tombstone, Quong moved again, soon partnering with Ah Lum in the Can-Can. “Cowman and miner, gambler and gunman, officer and rustler, they were all friends of Quong,” the Tribune said.

In a lengthy story on the January funeral service, The Epitaph conceded, “Facts concerning the life of Quong Gee Kee are a scattered few, a series of incidents remembered by those who knew him best.” Quong “could tell stories of Virginia City at its wildest, of the coming of the railroad into the west, particularly of Stockton, California, where he owned a restaurant and fed the ‘yellow boys’ who worked for the railroad. He knew Willcox as a boom cattle town on the southwestern mesa, and, last, and most important of all, he knew Tombstone as it was in the days of its glory.

“Quong left China when a young man, but not before he had established citizenship there and was known among business associates as Gee Quong Bok, according to his statement on the Chinese New Year’s Day several years ago when he was interviewed as he passed warm doughnuts about the streets of this city.

“He returned to his native county just once, and departing, left a wife and unborn son whom he was never to see. The son died about two years ago at the sage of sixty years.” The son’s death was reported in The Epitaph on Nov. 7, 1935. “Although the son was 65 years of age, Quong had never seen him,” the story said. “Quong left China two months before his son’s birth and has never returned to his native land.”



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Our other March features…

John Clum Puts Geronimo in Irons – While in New York in 1890, John P. Clum, former Indian agent at the San Carlos Apache Reservation, recalled his 1877 capture of Geronimo, the Apache renegade, at Ojo Caliente, N. M., in 1877 – nine years before Geronimo’s final surrender to the U. S. Army in 1886. Speaking to a New York Herald reporter, Clum recounted how he was sent to Ojo Caliente to apprehend the Indian leader believed responsible for depredations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora, Mexico. Geronimo was subsequently released after his 1877 capture by the Indian agent who succeeded Clum at San Carlos. In Clum’s view, Geronimo’s release was a mistake, one that ensured Apache depredations would continue until his final surrender nine years later.

In Search of the Great Western Trail – The Great Western Trail, which extends through nearly all of Utah and most of northern Arizona, is a trail in the making. Long discussed, studied, and applauded, much of the proposed route between the Arizona-Mexico border and the top of the Idaho Panhandle remains little more than a line on a map. Still, the segments that have been officially designated pass through some of the most scenic country in the interior West.

1877 Great Plains Hunting Guide The Hunting Grounds of the Great Plains certainly lived up to its name. While ostensibly a study of the Plains Indians, the book by U. S. Army Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge offered practical information for non-Indian hunters. Should one go out with a shotgun or rifle? What were the best types of sights and triggers? Should one hunt alone? Dodge had much to say about these and other matters. His methods seemed to work – during an 1872 Plains hunting trip, Dodge and his party bagged 1,262 animals, including 127 buffalo and 154 turkeys.

And Much More ‒ Our regular features, including Frontier Fare, YesterWest, the Adventures of Randy Jones and Booger Red, Twisted Tails, and the antics of the Buffalo Gals.


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