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The Deadly Bird Cage Theatre Tombstone Arizona

Updated on April 11, 2020
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, 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 Town of Tombstone

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, from a historical prospective, Tombstone was considered a cosmopolitan town of the West at the height of its silver boom.

Most social activities took place on Allen Street at night in the various saloons, dance halls, restaurants, clubs and stores with fine goods. There were a variety of churches and civic organizations and fraternal organizations such as Free Masons and Odd Fellows. Tombstone's famous newspaper The Tombstone Epitaph and other newspapers carried news of balls, banquets and gatherings where oysters and ice cream were served. Entertainment included plays, bands, and traveling performers. Prostitution was legal and subject to licenses and rules.

The Town of Tombstone C1941


The Wild and Deadly Birdcage Theatre

Schieffelin Hall was the place for operas plays, minstrel shows, variety shows, clubs, social gatherings, and refined entertainment, but for another kind of rowdy entertainment that appealed to the miners and cowboys The Bird Cage was unique. The Bird Cage opened on Christmas Day in 1881, and was a saloon, a vaudeville theatre, a gambling casino, dance hall and a house of prostitution. It operated 24 hours a day, and quickly gained the reputation of being the most wicked place between San Francisco and New Orleans. The main floor was where gamblers like Doc Holiday set up his Faro Bank, a wheel of fortune spun, and games of Poker and Roulette were played. A pool table was popular as was the standing area around the games where side bets on various players took place. The bartender was busy pouring fine liquors and wines.

In the basement, a high stakes Poker game was played that required a one thousand dollar buy in . This was a fantastic amount, since most miners earned about four dollars for a ten hour shift. Some historians estimate that over ten million dollars changed place during the eight year period that the Bird Cage was open.

Slightly elevated above the main floor was where the "birds" of the Bird Cage plied their prostitution trade in tiny cribs with red velvet curtains. When the cribs are viewed today, they seem so tiny, but back then, people were much shorter and smaller. The bird and her client could open the curtains to view the action on the main floor and the entertainment on the stage. Some have claimed that the popular song "She Was Only a Bird in a Guilded Cage" was inspired the the ladies of the Bird Cage Theatre, but that remains a romantic supposition.

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 and forty-nine bullet holes can be found in the ceiling and walls of the Bird Cage.

Fatima Exotic Dancer "Little Egypt"

The Bird Cage Haunted Museum

By 1889, the mining boom was over as water began filling the mining tunnels and mining was no longer profitable. The Bird Cage closed with all its contents locked inside until it was opened as a museum in 1934. It continues to operate as a museum today. Many photos of those who performed at the Bird Cage and those who frequented the Bird Cage are on display. The original backdrop for the stage remains in place. Doc Holiday's Faro table is on display, but the pool table where Morgan Earp was say to have died on is no longer 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 experience a haunting during a visit, it's amazing to gaze around the building that was the "real stuff of the Wild West."

Tombstone Arizona

© 2011 mactavers


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    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      8 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 

      8 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


      9 years ago from California

      Very good story. Thanks


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