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Story Behind Tombstone Arizona's World Famous Rose Bush

Updated on May 19, 2019
Chuck profile image

Chuck enjoys traveling and over the years has had the opportunity to visit many places in the U.S. and the world.

Roses in Bloom on Tombstone Arizona's Giant Rose Bush

Close up of the small (about the size of a quarter) flowers on the world famous Lady Bakasia Rose bush in Tombstone, AZ
Close up of the small (about the size of a quarter) flowers on the world famous Lady Bakasia Rose bush in Tombstone, AZ | Source

There is More to Tombstone Arizona than the 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral

When someone mentions “Tombstone, Arizona” the first thing that usually comes to mind for most people is the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a story which has been retold countless times in articles, books and movies.

Reenactments of the famous gunfight still take place daily at 11:00, Noon, 2:00 and 3:30 at the site where the fight took place.

Tombstone today is a small town with a population of 1,296 that survives mainly on tourism. Billing itself as the town too tough to die, Tombstone is one of Arizona’s top tourist attractions hosting over 400,000 people to the city from all over the world each year.

Actors Portraying Earp Brothers & Doc Holliday Posing Before Shootout at OK Corral

Reenactment of Shootout at OK Corral takes place at 11:00, Noon, 2:00 and 3:30 at the site in Tombstone where the fight took place
Reenactment of Shootout at OK Corral takes place at 11:00, Noon, 2:00 and 3:30 at the site in Tombstone where the fight took place | Source

Among Other Attractions is The World's Largest Rose Bush

While the gunfight at the OK Corral is what draws many tourists there is more to Tombstone than this one attraction and this is what not only causes many people to visit the city again but also results in their telling friends and families about all the other things Tombstone offers causing these people to decide to visit and see Tombstone for themselves.

Unlike many of the neighboring ghost towns (three of which lay within 10 miles of Tombstone) which are simply relics of the past, Tombstone is both a city with all the comforts of the modern world while also displaying its rich and varied history for tourists every day.

Surprisingly, one of the things Tombstone is known for around the world besides the OK Corral is a famous rose bush with a fascinating history of its own.

Museum Whose Courtyard Contains World's Largest Rose Bush

1878 Building where World's Largest Rose Bush grows in its Courtyard.
1878 Building where World's Largest Rose Bush grows in its Courtyard. | Source

Tale of a Young Bride Planting a Rosebush From Her Homeland in Scotland

According to most accounts Tombstone’s world famous rosebush was either brought by or sent to a young bride from Scotland who had arrived in Tombstone with her husband in 1884 or 1885.

According to the plaque on the outside of the hose the woman from Scotland was living in the newly built Cochise House Hotel. The Cochise House Hotel had supposedly been built for Mrs Amelia Adamson in 1885 on one of the sites destroyed by the great fire of May 26, 1882 which destroyed much of central Tombstone.

Mary Gee was boarding in the hotel where she and Amelia Adamson, the owner, had formed a friendship. The two of them decided to plant the rosebush, which had probably been sent by a relative to Mary Gee, in the courtyard of the hotel.

World's Largest Rose Bush

Large trunk and massive canopy of rose bush that Mary Gee planted a century and a half ago
Large trunk and massive canopy of rose bush that Mary Gee planted a century and a half ago | Source

Who Was Mary Gee?

Mary Gee is remembered by the public today because of the rosebush she either brought with her to the U.S. from Scotland or was sent to her from her relatives in Scotland. Somehow, Mary’s name and role in the planting of the rosebush was remembered and passed down. However, information about her beyond planting the rosebush is limited.

Her gravestone in the Old Tombstone Cemetery on Ernest Rd. (not to be confused with Tombstone’s famous Boot Hill Cemetery on Highway 80 (see my Hub A Visit to Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone Arizona) states that she was born on May 2, 1855, died on November 15, 1905 and was the wife of Henry M. Gee. However, her husband is not buried with her and where he is buried is unknown.

Having been born in 1855 and not arriving in Tombstone until 1884 would have made her 29 years old and not exactly a young bride.

One of the many online accounts about the rose bush states ... just one day after being married, a young miner named Henry Gee and his bride Mary left Scotland bound for Tombstone, Arizona. This account goes on to say that the place where Mary and Henry stayed was a boarding house owned by the Vizinia Mining Company and was run by Amelia Adamson for the company.

While this account acknowledges that Mary and Amelia became good friends, it makes no reference to the boarding house having been destroyed in the great fire of 1882 (which was centered mostly along Allen Street which is at the north end of the block) stating only that the boarding house was built in 1878 and is one of the oldest buildings in Tombstone.

Tombstone Arizona's World Famous Lady Bakasia Rose Bush in Full Bloom

Lady Bakasia Rose Bush in Tombstone, AZ is covered with blooms in spring.
Lady Bakasia Rose Bush in Tombstone, AZ is covered with blooms in spring. | Source

Mary Gee was About 29 Years Old When She and Her Husband Arrved in Tombstone

Having been born in 1855 and not arriving in Tombstone until 1884 would have made her 29 years old and not exactly a young bride.

One of the many online accounts about the rose bush states ... just one day after being married, a young miner named Henry Gee and his bride Mary left Scotland bound for Tombstone, Arizona. This account goes on to say that the place where Mary and Henry stayed was a boarding house owned by the Vizinia Mining Company and was run by Amelia Adamson for the company.

While this account acknowledges that Mary and Amelia became good friends, it makes no reference to the boarding house having been destroyed in the great fire of 1882 (which was centered mostly along Allen Street which is at the north end of the block) stating only that the boarding house was built in 1878 and is one of the oldest buildings in Tombstone.

Lady Bakasia Rose Bushes at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tombstone, AZ

Rose Bush Arbor providing shade to those visiting Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Buses are from cuttings taken form Mary Gee's Giant Rose Bush (possibly from some of the original cuttings sent to Mary from Scotland)
Rose Bush Arbor providing shade to those visiting Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Buses are from cuttings taken form Mary Gee's Giant Rose Bush (possibly from some of the original cuttings sent to Mary from Scotland) | Source

Mary Gee's Children

Mary had at least one child named Cathy as evidenced by an August 17, 1889 notice in the Tombstone Prospector newspaper which stated Mrs. H.M. Gee and daughter Cathy returned from their trip to the mountains yesterday.

Another article in the February 2, 1902 edition of the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph newspaper reporting about the previous night’s Philharmonic Concert in Schieffelin Hall to benefit the local Episcopal Church mentioned both Mrs. H.M. Gee and Miss Kathleen Barr more than once along with others for their various piano playing and singing. Kathleen Barr’s name was prefixed with Miss in some spots and in others as Kathleen Barr or Cathleen Barr.

Four years later a December 2, 1906 notice in the Tombstone Epitaph reported that a settlement had been reached in the suit involving Mary Gee’s estate. Henry Gee had been appointed as Administrator Mary Gee’s estate following her death in 1905. On Jul 26, 1906 Kathleen X. Barr and Norman Barr filed papers with the probate court requesting that Henry Gee be replaced as Administrator of the estate.

The newspaper account doesn't say anything about the relationship between Mary and the two Barr's contesting the division of the estate. However, given the article stating that Mary and her daughter Cathy (which is short for Kathleen) and that the two Barr's were the only ones filing a claim for part of Mary's estate this sounds like a dispute over an inheritance between a husband and his stepchildren.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tombstone - First Protestant Church in Arizona Territory

Church built in 1882 - 4 years after Ed Schieffelin filed his mining claim that started the city and 2 years before Henry & Mary Gee arrived in Tombstone.  In 1902 Mary Gee organized & performed in a concert to raise funds for the church
Church built in 1882 - 4 years after Ed Schieffelin filed his mining claim that started the city and 2 years before Henry & Mary Gee arrived in Tombstone. In 1902 Mary Gee organized & performed in a concert to raise funds for the church | Source

Kathleen and Norman Barr were Probably Mary’s Children from a Previous Marriage

Some other short accounts appearing in newspapers between Henry Gee’s appointment as Administrator of Mary's estate and the Court’s final ruling indicate that the dispute involved Henry moving funds from the estate account to his personal account.

Based upon newspaper articles and the information on Mary’s gravestone, it appears that Kathleen and Norman Barr were Mary’s children from a previous marriage.

My Wife Taking PIctures of Tombstone's Giant Rose Bush

The evergreen Lady Bakasia Rose Bush in Tombstone, AZ provides year round shade from the desert sun.
The evergreen Lady Bakasia Rose Bush in Tombstone, AZ provides year round shade from the desert sun. | Source

Mary Gee Probably Born into an Upper Middle Class Family with Money

The online account mentioned above described the rose bush as having been sent to Mary by her family in a large box containing cuttings and bulbs for a number of plants from the family’s garden in the home where she grew up. It also stated that the rose bush cutting was from a rose bush that Mary herself had planted as a child.

Mary probably came from an upper middle class family that had some money and her first marriage was probably to a man from a family with similar wealth.

Henry, on the other hand, appears to have been smart and ambitious but probably from a poorer family. It was not uncommon in those days for an ambitious man with limited financial resources to marry an older woman with money.

Henry and Mary left Scotland for Tombstone the day after their marriage. He had a job as a mining engineer lined up with the Vizinia Mining Company in Tombstone. Once established in Tombstone, Henry became active in investing in and organizing new mining ventures.

Blooming Roses Enjoying Sun's Rays From Top of Trellis Built by James Macia

Tombstone's Lady Bakasia Rose Bush is in full bloom in Spring time
Tombstone's Lady Bakasia Rose Bush is in full bloom in Spring time | Source

Did Henry Gee Commingle His Business Profits with Mary’s Family Money?

How much of the money in Mary’s accounts at the bank was inherited from her family how much was profits from Henry’s mining ventures cannot be determined from the newspaper accounts.

Even if most of the money Henry was moving from Mary’s estate accounts had been earned by him in his mining ventures he could have had a good reason for keeping the bank accounts in Mary’s name only while she was alive and that reason was that when a venture failed (as many do) and there was not enough money in the failed business to pay creditors they can often go after the personal accounts of the people behind the venture.

Since Henry probably kept his share of a venture in his name alone while putting his profits in in Mary’s accounts, creditors would not be able to get at the money since Mary was not legally involved with the venture.

Henry Gee Leaves Tombstone After Court Settlement - Did he Remarry & Retire to Scotland?

Based upon what little information is available Henry Gee, like thousands of other people at the time, was obviously motivated by dreams of making a fortune in the booming silver mining economy of Tombstone.

In the six short years between Ed Schieffelin’s filing of a claim for a silver mine in what is now Tombstone on September 1877 to Henry and Mary Gee’s arrival sometime in 1884 Tombstone had grown from a single mining claim in the middle of territory being fiercely fought over between Apache tribes and the U.S. Army to one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the American West riviling San Francisco and New Orleans in terms of size, wealth and cultural amenities.

Henry Gee wanted a piece of this action and, given the family’s position in the community and his standing in the business community he appears to have enjoyed success in Tombstone’s silver mining boom.

Whatever the original source, or sources, of the approximately $10,000 in bank accounts in Mary Gee’s name, these don’t appear to be the family’s only assets as the news reports about the legal dispute involved requests by Kathleen and Norman Barr to have the Court order the bank to stop honoring Henry’s requests to move money from Mary’s accounts to his.

Henry obviously had other assets and was probably financially well off. Further, since he was probably younger than Mary and seems to have left the area after Mary’s death he may have been planning to find and marry a younger woman and retire and have a family with her. In this scenario the lawsuit by the two Barr children may have been motivated more by spite than financial gain as their share of the award, $5,000, was worth a little over $14,000 in today’s dollars or about $7,000 each - hardly a fortune).

View of Mary Gee's Giant Rose Bush Resting on Trellis Built by James Macia

In 1930s James Macia, who was tired of tripping over the branches covering the ground told his wife he was going to either dig up the bush, cut it down  build a trellis.  His wife told him to build the trellis that the branches now rest on
In 1930s James Macia, who was tired of tripping over the branches covering the ground told his wife he was going to either dig up the bush, cut it down build a trellis. His wife told him to build the trellis that the branches now rest on | Source

Rosebush Continued to Live On after Mary’s Death

While Mary Gee continued to live in Tombstone and was active in the city’s life she doesn’t seem to have played a role in the life of the rosebush following the planting a cutting in her garden and sharing the other cuttings with Amelia Adamson and possibly some others.

If one looks carefully while walking around Tombstone they will see more White Lady Banksia rose bushes in yards, along the streets as well as a large arbor with 2 or 3 large rose bushes on the grounds of Sacred Heart Catholic Church a few blocks from the museum.

Origins of Lady Banksia Rose Bush

The Lady Banksia Rose Bush originated China where it appears to have graced gardens there for several hundred years.

It was first brought to Europe by William Kerr a Scottish plant enthusiast who traveled the world seeking new plants. In 1807 he returned to Britain from a voyage to Asia, which had been organized and probably funded by the English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, with, among other plants, a rose bush.

The rose bush was named the Lady Banksia, in honor of Sir Joseph’s wife, Dorothea Lady Banks, and soon began appearing in gardens throughout the British Isles.

Massive Gnarled Trunk of the Rose Bush Planted a Century and a Half Ago in Tombstone

The massive trunk that supports the Lady Bakasia's sprawling branches covering the trellis
The massive trunk that supports the Lady Bakasia's sprawling branches covering the trellis | Source

The Lady Bakasia is a Climbing Variety of Rose Bush

Lady Banksia rose bushes are a climbing rose variety which will grow up along walls, trellises and other objects it can cling to. If planted in an area where there is nothing to climb on it will spread out over the surface.

Unlike other rose bushes, Lady Banksias have few, if any, thorns and their leaves are evergreen.

Ground Water and Raw Sewage Seeping into Abandoned Mine Below are Key to Rose Bush's Long Life

Despite having been planted over a century ago in the Arizona desert the rose bush planted by Mary Gee and Amelia Adamson in the courtyard of the boarding house thrived to become the largest rose bush in the world.

A major factor in bush’s long life and excellent health is the fact that among its other amenities, many homes and other buildings in Tombstone during its early boom years had indoor plumbing (crude systems were becoming common in cities starting in the early years of the 19th century).

A fair amount of the sewage from this plumbing flowed into the tunnels of some of the many mines that lay underneath the city. This has kept the tree well fertilized along with sufficient water which has seeped into the tunnels from the water table below.

My Wife Sitting on Patio in Rose Museum Courtyard Enjoying Shade from Giant Rose Bush

The trellis built in the 1930s by James Macia to support the bush's sprawling branches now provides shade for those visiting the courtyard of the museum
The trellis built in the 1930s by James Macia to support the bush's sprawling branches now provides shade for those visiting the courtyard of the museum | Source

Macia Family Turns Old Boarding House with Rose Bush into Their Home

In 1904 Ethel Robertson married James Herbert Macia who appears to have been employed by the Vizina Mining Company in some type of supervisory or management position with the company. The couple started their marriage living in the building and eventually brought it as their home.

According to a Jul 2, 2017 CBS News story, one of Ethel and James’ grandsons tells the interviewer that “"The plant laid on the ground for a number of years. My grandfather said he got tired of tripping on it, so he said to my grandmother one time, 'I'm either going to kill it, dig it up and get rid of it, or I'm going to put it up in the air.' And she said, 'Oh, don't kill it, it's too hard to grow anything in this country anyhow'!"

James proceeded to build the pipe and timber trellis that saved the rose bush and still supports it today.

Bedroom in House when Macia Family Lived There

Part of the bedroom as it looked in the early 20th century when the building was the Macia family home.
Part of the bedroom as it looked in the early 20th century when the building was the Macia family home. | Source

Descendants of Ethel and James Herbert Macia Still Own the Property

Today the building whose rear courtyard contains the world’s largest rose bush is museum having previously served as a mining office, boarding house, one or more times as a hotel (the last time being the Rose Tree Inn) and private residence.

The descendants of Ethel and James Herbert Macia appear to still own the property with the rose bush in the courtyard behind it.

While the rose bush in the back courtyard is the main attraction the building itself contains pictures and dioramas depicting Tombstone’s history as well as rooms containing the furnishings from the first couple of generations of the family.

Copy of 1960 Photo of Ethel Macia with Robert Geronimo Son of Famous Apache Leader Geronimo

The Macia family was active in the community and interested in its history including that of the Apaches who controlled the area before Ed Schieffelin's 1877 discovery of silver and the founding of the city of Tombstone
The Macia family was active in the community and interested in its history including that of the Apaches who controlled the area before Ed Schieffelin's 1877 discovery of silver and the founding of the city of Tombstone | Source

Son of Ethel and James Macia Participated in Heroic 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo

Part of one room is dedicated to 1st Lieutenant J.H. Macia Jr., an Army Air Corps Navigator/Bombardier who in early 1942 along with 79 other air crew members volunteered to join a secret attack on an undisclosed enemy location.

All volunteered despite only being told that it was to be a high risk bombing mission with a high possibility that they would not return or even survive.

The mission was the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Bombing of Tokyo and the Japanese home islands in retaliation for the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Painting of Doolittle Raiders B-25 Bombers Launching form the Aircraft Carrier Hornet

Picture of Painting by Robert Taylor titled "Compass Heading 270°" depicting Aircraft Carrier Hornet with Lt Col Doolittle (first off) overflying ship while other prepare to launch.  Painting from 2001 Raiders Reunion signed by all in attendance
Picture of Painting by Robert Taylor titled "Compass Heading 270°" depicting Aircraft Carrier Hornet with Lt Col Doolittle (first off) overflying ship while other prepare to launch. Painting from 2001 Raiders Reunion signed by all in attendance | Source

Sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the western Pacific. Launching the medium size bombers from the aircraft carrier was doable but risky. However, landing them on the carrier was impossible, forcing them to continue on to China after dropping their bombs.

Most of the crews bailed out over or near China when their plans ran out of fuel. When fuel ran out on his plane, Lieutenant Macia ended up jumping out of his plane in the dark of night. He had not only never jumped out of a plane before, he also had never received parachute training.

First Lieutenant Macia was, however, among the majority who met up with Chinese partisans fighting against the occupying Japanese before being rescued and returned to the U.S. by American forces a short time later.

Butterfly Enjoying Nectar from Bud on Pear Tree Behind Rose Bush in Courtyard of Rose Bush Museum

The courtyard where the Lady Bankisa grows also has a pear tre and china berry tree.  This butterfly is enjoying nector from one of the blossoms on the pear tree
The courtyard where the Lady Bankisa grows also has a pear tre and china berry tree. This butterfly is enjoying nector from one of the blossoms on the pear tree | Source

Rose Tree Museum Location, Parking and Fees

The Rose Tree Museum is located at 118 S 4th St, Tombstone, AZ 85638. It is a block south of Allen Street most of which is blocked off to traffic during the day which allows a local community group known as the Tombstone Vigilantes who reenact famous gunfights from Tombstone’s past for the onlooking tourists.

Admission is worth the $5 per person fee.

Some street parking is available and there are two large free parking lots two blocks east on the east side of South 6th street.

Diorama in Rose Bush Museum Depicting Shoot Out at OK Corral

The museum contains a number of diaramas depecting events in Tomstone's history.  This one depicts the famous shoot out at the OK Corral
The museum contains a number of diaramas depecting events in Tomstone's history. This one depicts the famous shoot out at the OK Corral | Source

Traveling to Rose Tree Museum in Tombstone AZ From Tucson International Airport

A
Tucson International Airport:
Tucson International Airport (TUS), 7250 S Tucson Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85756, USA

get directions

B
Rose Tree Museum 118 S 4th St, Tombstone, AZ 85638:
118 S 4th St, Tombstone, AZ 85638, USA

get directions

Relaxing in the Shade of the World's Largest Rose Bush

Tombstone is a busy place with all the tourists, shops and almost hourly renactments of gunfights on Allen Street.  The courtyoard of the Rose Tree Museum provides a quiet oasis for visitors.
Tombstone is a busy place with all the tourists, shops and almost hourly renactments of gunfights on Allen Street. The courtyoard of the Rose Tree Museum provides a quiet oasis for visitors. | Source

© 2019 Chuck Nugent

Comments

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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      4 months ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Liz Westwood - Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you were able to find the Hub in spite of the link problem.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 months ago from UK

      I wondered what this article was going to be about when the link in the email omitted the'h' on the end. But all became clear when I read your title. This is a fascinating trek through history with great illustrations.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      4 months ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Judith Hayes - Thank you for your comment and I am glad you enjoyed this Hub.

      I, too, am a history buff and I enjoy digging into bits and pieces of history where I often find some fascinating stories or facts that can be combined into a good story.

    • Judith Hayes profile image

      Judith Hayes 

      4 months ago from Maine and Florida

      I'm a history buff and enjoyed all the information in your story. Nice to know about the rose's origins and how it was named.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      4 months ago from Tucson, Arizona

      R Tallioni - I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. Like us today, people in the past faced somewhat different circumstances and situations and had to decide how to proceed. Sometimes their decisions yielded good results and other times not so good ones. Circumstances and situations are different today but the need to make choices is no different.

      Thanks again for your comment

    • profile image

      RTalloni 

      4 months ago

      Very interesting to read about Tombstone's famous rose bush. Lots of food for thought in the story of these people's lives. How people worked legal issues out back in the day laid the groundwork for what we have today. But human nature remains the same!

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