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.

But, says Martha Mahoney, there's little in Tombstone for the kids. "Except for the shoot-outs. When we'd walk down the street, we'd hear all these languages, like you were in another country. People come from all over the world. But they were actually being cheated, I think, because there's a lot more to that town than they're getting."

She hates even going to Tombstone anymore, watching as her husband bullishly kicks up the dust of his conviction. But the two say the tour they have in mind wouldn't uproot anyone's household.

"Their perception . . . is that we're big-time developers from Phoenix, trying to take away their property," Wild Bill says.

". . . It's not like [Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry] Colangelo going down there and moving an old lady out of her house and getting all this bad publicity."

Residents atop Mahoney's claim aren't so sure about that.
In general, the residents appear to be two groups--those who hold title insurance, those who do not. Most of those who do are parties to the suit. Those who do not--well, for instance, there is a whole family of longtime residents in several properties who have simply signed over ownership amongst themselves through the years. "They didn't send us no lawyers," says one of them, Alfonso Altamirano.

It's more of an irritation than a threat, the parties to the case say, ever since Cornelio gathered them up and told them the score. The title companies, they say, are financing the lawsuit.

"That lawyer just told us not to worry," says Frances Martinez, who with her husband Ernest retired into their red brick house in 1982. "We've paid taxes for a long time."

Would Mahoney try to kick them off the property if he could? "He probably would," Ernest Martinez says.

The name of Bill Mahoney draws a growl from Evelyn Thomas, a part-timer at Territorial Book Trader. She dearly wants to sell her 1910 house and find a place with decent, full-time jobs.

"I'm really fed up with Mr. Mahoney," says Thomas, a personable redhead. "Here in Tombstone you pretty much work in a gift shop or you don't work. But until this is settled, I can't do anything. It does not make me a happy camper."

To get an idea of how jumbled Tombstone's real estate really is, consider that Thomas lives at 11 West Safford while her neighbor, right next door, lives at 7 East Safford.

"It's not the kind of place I'd want to retire to," says Tombstone history buff Carl Chafin, who considered buying property in the city's Bowman Addition until he found too much rested on suspect quit-claim deeds. "You're better off going somewhere like Patagonia."

Thomas grumbles, "I cannot believe we would have gotten clear title to this house if he [Mahoney] owned the land. If we'd known there was even a chance of this happening, we wouldn't have bought a house here."

The most vocal critic of Mahoney's claim has been Peter Kline, who transformed an old Texaco station located on Mahoney's claim into the Tombstone Territorial Trading Company, where tourists typically find Kline behind the counter and Southwestern kitsch on display.

Kline penned a letter "to the people of Tombstone" decrying Mahoney's claim of ownership. "Mr. Mahoney called my wife . . . saying he owned our property and planned to put a chain link fence up all around it and sell it to some Canadians," he wrote. (Mahoney denies this.)

Kline says he listened to Mahoney for as long as he could and then called Fidelity to see what was up. Fidelity told him Mahoney only held the mineral rights. "I immediately formed an opinion as to what type of gentleman Mr. Mahoney is," Kline wrote.

"I have talked with a few influential people in Cochise County and other individuals, and their feelings basically are that Mr. Mahoney is full of baloney!" Kline continued. He went on to say he'd sent a certified letter to Mahoney ordering him to stay off his land.

Also, Mahoney says, Kline believes the real shaft of Wyatt Earp's mine sits on the trading-post parcel. An employee confirms this one day in Kline's absence.

"Yeah," he says. "It's out back. We've got it covered with lumber."
Maybe this is just one of those things that, like bitter divorces, belong in a lawyer's hands. At any rate, says Bob Boze Bell, who has written books about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday: "Both Wyatt and Doc would laugh to know they're still causing problems in Cochise County."

In the case of the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid, years passed before anyone formally challenged the settlers whose homes now cover the claim. About a half-dozen homeowners are claiming ownership by adverse possession--a way of saying, look, I've obviously been here long enough; no one's objected; this should be mine.

"If they did it properly, then so be it," Wild Bill says. "And some did." As for the others, he says, "if you can show a deed from the mine owner, fine; I don't have a problem with that."

Upon discovering late last year the 1949 ruling in which a judge had voided the deed to Doc Tima's claim, Cornelio filed for summary judgment, saying the matter was settled since the claim was no good in the first place. On top of that, because the Mahoneys had made such improper claims, Cornelio asked for damages, $5,000 per plaintiff.

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