Not Mining His Own Business

Wild Bill Mahoney owns Wyatt Earp's patented mining claim in Tombstone. All that prevents him from turning it into a tourist attraction are the dozens of people living on it.

"Look there," he says. "See that?" That's where a guy in a bar slashed him for poking his nose into a lovers' quarrel. But he figured the whole thing was his own fault, because he should have been home instead of out getting drunk. He's been sober now for 13 years.

"Every scar I've got on me, I was drinking," he says. "I brought it on myself. There's a scripture I like from First Corinthians: 'Do not be misled: Bad association spoils useful habits.'"

On his right hand is a turquoise ring; on the other, his wedding band. "If there's any regret I have about this whole thing, it's what it's done to Martha," he says. "I've gotten so engrossed."

There've been countless trips to Tombstone and Bisbee, which literally stole the Cochise County seat from Tombstone in 1929. In two years, Mahoney's created his own little title library at home, poring through records into the night. He has a habit of scratching notes, comments, corrections and counterpositions all over anything he files. He is a man of impish humor and bulldog persistence who maybe should have backed down long ago but wouldn't know how.

He met Martha about 20 years ago at Jim's Cocktail Lounge in Glendale.
"I thought she was the prettiest woman I'd ever seen," he says. Martha, a thoughtful, flaxen-haired model of stability to her husband's impulsive nature, helped him get his life back on track. "I'd be dead today if it weren't for her."

"It's his dream," Martha Mahoney says of the mine tour. "You really have to work hard on your dream. It's a dream I want to share with him, but it's been very difficult for me. My health is not the best. We're having tremendous financial difficulties."

What keeps Mahoney going are the items he found in the suitcase Irene Parrisella had kept all those years.

In 1959, an Arizona Republic column by Don Dedera first detailed the conflict of ownership posed by the claim. Gus Fotopulos was the owner at the time and, according to Dedera, was "something like a kid with a grip on the rug where the preacher is standing. He hasn't decided to yank or run."

Fotopulos went on paying the taxes anyway.
According to a Tombstone Epitaph story dated August 22, 1963, Pioneer Title and Trust Company president Loris Woolery told the Tombstone mayor and council that deeds to the lots atop patented mining claims in the Bowman Addition apparently were worthless.

When the federal government gave the land to Tombstone for its town site, Woolery said, it couldn't include sections already inside patented mining claims. In a Bowman Addition plat map filed by a city engineer, portions atop mining claims were shown in dotted lines. Among them were lots overlaying the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid.

Woolery told the council that people with deeds to residential lots on patented mining claims in the Bowman Addition held deeds to zero, unless they were granted by the owner of the claim. The city attorney, meanwhile, told the council the only financially feasible escape for property holders would be for each to get a deed from Fotopulos for title.

The next year, a Bisbee law firm wrote Fotopulos, asking him to quit-claim his interest in a piece of property that apparently sat on the surface of the claim and was being sold. He refused.

In 1966, in a letter to Fotopulos, Tombstone mayor Thomas Pitcher began: "As you know the City of Tombstone does not have surface rights to the streets in the portion of the Bowman Addition that falls within the 1st North Extension of the Mountain Maid mining claim. The legality of expending tax funds on street and other utility improvement in this area is questioned."

Pitcher asked Fotopulos to deed the Bowman Addition property to the city. Fotopulos again refused.

Cornelio, attorney for the title companies and homeowners, pooh-poohs Mahoney's documentation as "intermittent and unconnected." Pitcher's letter to Fotopulos, he says, didn't treat the claim as valid; it was just a possible title question the city hoped to clear up. "If it was a valid claim, they wouldn't have built streets and sewers. They just went ahead and did it. Did [Fotopulos] sue the city? No."

Mahoney won't be deterred. He recalls the Dedera column about Fotopulos, "the one that said he was like a little kid with his hand on the rug, not sure whether to jerk it or not.

"My problem is," he says, "I jerked it."

"All legal questions aside, a mine tour would be a very good attraction here in town," says Nina Parker, director of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. "The town . . . was established because of mining. We should have a mine tour."

But as far as Mahoney's case goes, she says, "I don't want to touch that with a ten-foot pole."

Today, Tombstone is "100 percent" based on tourism, Parker says, but the city itself is only along for the ride. The real power brokers are the folks who own all the curio shops and, yes, the tourist attractions like the OK Corral's "Walk Where They Fell" exhibit.

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