Endicott Peabody The Boxing Episcopal Priest of Old Tombstone Arizona
Places to Visit in Southern Arizona
Endicott Peabody the Episcopal Priest in Helldorado
Most lovers of Western history and Arizona history are familiar with life in the small mining town of Tombstone in Southern Arizona, that has been nicknamed "The Town Too Tough to Die" and " Helldorado." The gun battle at the OK Corral between the Earps and the Cowboys continues to attract people to Tombstone from all over the world. While the legends of the gun fighters, gamblers and shady ladies are well known, one young man, Endicott Peabody, known as "The Boxing Priest" left a diary of the period, and his legacy was the building of St. Paul's Episcopal Church which is still in use today. While hundreds of Western writers have written about the wild west aspect of life in Tombstone, Peabody wrote about average citizens of Tombstone trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.
In 1881, a Rev. Talbot had begun holding Protestant Episcopal services in what was then the courthouse. Plans for building a church were made and funds were being collected, but after three months, Rev. Talbot left Tombstone and Endicott Peabody was sent. He was a seminarian but not fully ordained in 1882, when he was sent to Tombstone from Massachusetts to over see the building of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Peabody's diary begins with his statement that his family perceives that any town named Tombstone as a "grim" place to begin his ministry. By the time, Peabody left Tombstone, "grim" would have been one of the kindest terms to describe life there.
The diary is also full of Peabody's correspondence and thoughts about his love for his cousin Fanny, whom he calls Fan in the diary and whom he would eventually marry. His love of God and his devotion to his calling as an Episcopal priest is self evident for leaving everything he holds dear to make the journey, and further evident in the work he did while in Tombstone. One of the reasons that historians cite for his success in Tombstone was that Peabody was a large well conditioned boxer and baseball player and that he was said to be able to "hold his own" in a town full of tough cowboys and miners. Crudely put, while he spoke kindly, he wasn't a gentleman that anyone would mess with. Much has been made of the fact that he wasn't above smoking good cigars and taking a "strong drink" and playing poker on occasion.
One of the many facts that is impressive about Peabody's mission as a young priest was how he systematically visited each house and saloon in Tombstone street by street passing his hat for donations for the church to be sure, but his repeated calls upon the sick and those who had suffered mining accidents shows his compassion. Peabody recorded the tensions between the Earps and Cowboys that were terrifying the town and the assassination of Morgan Earp which led to Wyatt Earp's Vendetta ride from an unbiased view which makes Peabody's diary so valuable. Peabody makes comments about the cheapness of life and harsh living conditions in Tombstone, and writes of his homesickness and discouragement in establishing the church, but he manages to grow his faith in himself as a priest. I'm most amazed that the gun fighting events are written side by side with Peabody's every day events of preparing his sermons, conducting a Bible study and performing marriages and funerals.
Much has been made of Peabody's prowess at boxing and many legends surround him as having funded St. Pauls by winning boxing matches against miners and cowboys and donating his portion of the purse to the church. One amusing ballad written and sung by Arizona's Cowgirl Poet, Buckshot Dot about Peabody, features the hook line, "As the purse got higher, the spire got higher." Other legends have Peabody umpiring a baseball game between two rival baseball teams, and another legend has Peabody winning a spectacular poker hand to fund his church. Neither of these events exist in Peabody's diary. Either they only exist in the folklore of Tombstone, or they happened and for whatever reason, Peabody chose not to include them in his diary. Peabody's diary was published under the title, A Church for Helldorado, by SJ Reidhead.
Peabody returned to Massachusetts when the building of the church was completed. According to the historic records of The Woman's Guild of Tombstone, they presented Peabody with a silver bar for his service to the community. He married Fanny, and was fully ordained. He began his long association with Groton School as headmaster. He married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a former student at Groton, to Eleanor, and remained in touch with FDR throughout his lifetime.
After 59 years, Peabody returned to preach a sermon at St. Paul's on Feb. 16, 1941.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church located on the corner of Safford and 3rd Street, was constructed in the Gothic Revival Style, and was completed in 1882. It is often cited as the oldest protestant church in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. Maintaining St Paul's is ongoing with donations coming in from all over the world! The tiny church is on the National Register of Historic Places and continues to hold services and weddings.
Tombstone Arizona History
St Paul's Episcopal Church
A Church for Helldorado
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