Tombstone Silver

Pale Horse

No one can remember the first day the pale horse was seen in Tombstone, but they sure remember its last day.

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No one can remember the first day the pale horse was seen in Tombstone, but they sure remember its last day.

It was in the early spring of 1882 that the Daily Nugget mentioned in an article about the fast growth of the city a pale horse seen wandering around Tombstone. No one seemed to know where the horse came from, he just wandered in from the desert. He was a large horse -- tall, heavy, and without even one spot of color. Even his eyes were pale gray and the local folks got to calling him "Spooky" for obvious reasons. A few of the cowboys attempted to rope Spooky but he was very spirited and those attempts always ended badly, so folks mainly just left him alone.

Spooky never made any noise, he never whinnied or nickered. In fact, he didn't even seem to make any noise as he walked and people were often startled when they turned and saw Spooky standing nearby staring at them. The story spread around town that Spooky was, in fact, a ghost horse that came to town looking for his rider, but since no one knew who th at rider may have been they didn't worry about it much. That would prove to be a mistake.

The spring of 1882 seemed to bring a spate of untimely death, even for a mining boom town like Tombstone. The first was J.D. McDermott. James was an assayer with an office in Tombstone but from time-to-time he liked to take a day and ride around the mining district. He believed that his job was more meaningful if he could see the various claims and working mines and talk to both prospectors and mine owners. He would take the time to chip away a small ore sample from those locations for later analysis. He felt like he could provide a valuable service if he could assay the value of the ore and guide the miner's future efforts. Of course, it didn't hurt that he would be able to invest in those properties that seemed most likely to succeed. In early March, James was in the Charleston area and gently nudged his horse, Banjo, to cross the knee-deep San Pedro river. There must have been a snake or something in that water because Banjo suddenly bolted and James was bucked off. He hit the rocks at the edge of the river and the fall broke his neck and spine in three different places. A prospector was in the area and found James just before he died. The prospector told the coroner that J.D. McDermott reported seeing a pure white horse near the river just before his own horse bolted, but no one else had noticed a second horse.

About a week after J.D. McDermott's death, John Martin met his untimely end. He was an employee of the Huachuca Water Company and was working on a large water line that ran from the mountains to Tombstone. He was about halfway between Tombstone and Charleston when he ran a test on a repair that he had just finished. He pulled a plug from that line and waited until the water started flowing. He didn't have to wait long. After only a few seconds the water gushed from that pipe under an unexpectedly great pressure. It hit a jack that John was about to put away and the pressure from that water drove the jack into John's chest, killing him instantly. Other nearby workers shut the water off as quickly as they could and then took John's body back to Tombs tone. They reported to the company officials seeing a pale, white horse standing on a hillside just above the water pipe while they were cleaning up after the accident.

Spooky began to develop a reputation for being present at disasters and people would superstitiously shoo him away whenever they saw him. That didn't help little Freddy Foos. He was a boy playing in the streets of Tombstone one day when he saw Spooky at the end of Sixth Street near the mines. He ran to pet the horse but when he got close Spooky walked away. Freddy ran after him, calling for him to stop, pleading with the horse to become friends, as children do. Spooky, though, simply kept walking into the desert. Freddy followed, not thinking about where he was, until he realized that he had never been in this part of the territory before. He gave up on Spooky and turned to go back to Tombstone when he noticed a pipe with water trickling out of it near one of the mines and decided to get a drink. The water was clear and cool so Freddy took a long drink. Tragically, the mine water in Tombstone contains a high concentration of arsenic and Freddy had taken a fatal dose of that poison. He died a painful death in his mother's arms only a few hours later.

Spooky was next spotted above a cliff outside Tombstone where two prospectors, Thomas Kearney and Simon Constatine, were blasting a small sample of ore out of the rock face. They were experienced prospectors and handling dynamite was routine work for them. They had carefully drilled a hole, packed it with dynamite, led the fuse away from the blast area, and then packed some pasty mud into the hole to seal in the dynamite. It's not known exactly what happened next, but they must have hit that packing mud too hard and set off the dynamite before they had a chance to get away. The blast left a shallow hole in the side of the cliff, revealing a thin silver lode, and killing both prospectors. Spooky had calmly watched the entire procedure from the cliff above and then turned and walked away.

On May 22 Spooky was seen for the last time in Tombstone. Chen Li was building a fire under a pot of water at the Chinese laundry behind the Tivoli Saloon on Allen Street. She saw Spooky staring at her over the fence from the alley and immediately ran toward him shouting something in Chinese. A small breeze fanned the the flame under the pot and it ignited a wooden lattice used to dry clothes. The wood was desert dry and the fire quickly spread before it could be put out. Within a few hours more than 60 businesses worth more than a half-million dollars were burnt to the ground. Fortunately, the fire took only one life, an unidentified corpse was found in the ashes of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. This, though, seemed to finally satisfy Spooky and he slowly wandered out of town into the desert and was never seen again in Tombstone.

In early 1897, the Jerome, Arizona, newspaper, Mining News, noted a pale, unsaddled horse wandering down the middle of High Street. It was the start of a long spring for the citizens in that town.