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The Deadly Bird Cage Theatre Tombstone Arizona

Updated on February 23, 2015
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 65 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, collectibles, and travel.

Bird Cage Theatre Tombstone Arizona

The Deadly Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, 26 murders in 8 years
The Deadly Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, 26 murders in 8 years | Source

The Bird Cage Theatre

The town of Tombstone Arizona, established as an official post office town in 1878, is located about seventy miles southeast of Tucson. By the next year, Tombstone became known as a mining town with rich deposits of silver nearby. Like all "boom" mining towns of the West, it soon filled with mining officials, miners, merchants, cowboys and ranchers, and with development of the town, came saloons, gamblers, gun fighters, shady ladies and smugglers. Due to many popular TV Westerns and films about the famous gun fight at the OK Corral in Tombstone between Wyatt Earp and his brothers against the Clantons, Mc Lowerys and the outlaws known as the Cowboys, many tourists visit the OK Corral. However, right down Allen Street is the Bird Cage Theater which I find far more interesting from a historical prospective.

Schieffelin Hall was the place for operas, plays, minstrel shows and variety shows. For those who wanted refined entertainment, Schieffelin Hall was the theatre to frequent, but for a different type of rowdy entertainment, The Bird Cage catered to the miners, cowboys and outlaws. The Bird Cage opened on Christmas Day in 1881, and was a saloon, a vaudeville theatre, a gambling casino, a dance hall, and house of prostitution. It operated 24 hours a day, and quickly gained the reputation of being the most wicked place between New Orleans and San Francisco. The main floor was where gamblers like Doc Holiday set up his Faro "bank", a wheel of fortune spun, small stakes games of poker and roulette were played and a pool table also provided an opportunity to show skill and for those watching to bet on the players. The Bird Cage bartender poured fine liquors and wines

In the basement, a high stakes poker game was played that required a $1,000 buy-in. This was a fantastic amount in the 1880s since most miners only earned about $4 for a ten hour shift. The well known Bird Cage and poker game attracted the rich and famous of the day. Historians estimate that over ten million dollars changed hands at the high stakes poker table during the eight year period that the Bird Cage was open.

Slightly elevated above the main floor was the stage. The entertainers included Josephine Sarah "Sadie" Marcus who is said to have become the third Mrs. Wyatt Earp. Other entertainers were Lilly Langtree, Lillian Russell, Eddie Foy and a nightly revue of can-can dancers also called leg shows.. A long time rumor that Jenny Lind once sang there is just a rumor.

Above the main floor was where the "birds" of the Bird Cage plied their prostitution trade in tiny cribs with red velvet curtains. When viewed today, the cribs look so small, but back then, most people were physically much smaller. The "bird" and her client could open the curtains to view the action on the main floor below or the entertainment on the stage. Some have claimed that the popular song "She Was Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage." was inspired by the ladies of the Bird Cage Theatre, but that remains a romantic supposition rather than a proven fact.

The Bird Cage was a deadly place with gun fights and knife fights taking place on a regular basis. The result was 26 murders. One hundred forty nine bullet holes can be found in the ceiling and walls of the Bird Cage.

By 1889, the mining boom was over as the mine tunnels began filling with water and mining was no longer profitable. The Bird Cage closed with all it's contents locked inside. By 1934, it reopened as a museum and continues to operate as a museum. Many photos of the performers and those who frequented the Bird Cage line the walls, and the original stage backdrop still hangs in place. While Doc Holliday's Faro table is on display, the pool table that Morgan Earp is said to have died on was not on display, because of souvenir hunters trying to carve out tiny pieces of the table.

Ghost hunters and other paranormal seekers love to frequent the Bird Cage because it is said to be haunted. Even if you don't see or experience a ghostly presence, a visit to the Bird Cage isn't a reinactment, it's the real stuff of the West!

Fatima Exotic Dancer "Little Egypt"

Wyatt Earp

Tombstone Arizona


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    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 6 years ago

      Thanks for your interest in The Bird Cage Theatre. It's an unpolished gem, and you can almost squint and see the "ladies" and miners and cowboys.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      WOW WHAT A GREAT HISTORY LESSON... I would love you visit the BIRD CAGE... I love history and traveling.. thanks for a great HUB..

    • WesternHistory profile image

      WesternHistory 6 years ago from California

      Very good story. Thanks