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.

Before the Mahoneys could respond, their attorney was excused from the case. With their finances depleted and their counsel gone, the Mahoneys threw up their arms and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

For Martha and Bill Mahoney, things had gone from good to bad to ugly.
When the Mahoneys filed for bankruptcy, the homeowners' lawsuit was put on hold. Dennis Wortman, attorney for the trustee in their bankruptcy case, is now asking that the Cochise County land dispute be resolved; Judge Redfield Brown will rule on that request June 19.

"Between now and then, if we don't come up with a big war chest, we're in deep doo-doo--and it has nothing to do with right and wrong," Wild Bill says.

Bill Mahoney is heading to Bisbee, because there is a docket he wants to look up, something listed as an exception in Kline's title insurance for the trading-post property. As the day begins, his hair is slicked back with water, but by midday it will be windswept and frazzled.

He has a flair for the dramatic, getting out of a car on a blustery day and struggling with a flailing map, slyly setting up the question of where exactly the real mine shaft is.

"You're standing right on it," he says, smiling.
He does whatever it takes. He'll stand on a hill in 100-degree heat with his hands outstretched if he has to. He'll read books, call historians, talk to lawyers and politicians.

Phoenix attorney John Acer, who specializes in landlord/tenant law, says after reviewing Mahoney's files: "Those people in that area pulled some unbelievable things. I certainly hope Mr. Mahoney gets his day in court and is able to hold on. . . . He has basically mounted a crusade. He has lived and breathed this thing."

Acer looked into Mahoney's case because he represents Arizona Gold, a pawnshop that may have some interest in marketing whatever junk can be mined out of Mahoney's claim should he emerge victorious. Any rocks that could be called Wyatt Earp's could be a mother lode indeed, Acer says.

For months, Wild Bill tried to contact Attorney General Grant Woods, finally breaking through on Woods' radio show in the last couple of minutes of a broadcast.

Woods listened, and Mahoney sent him copies of the 1963 Epitaph story, documents, letters--"everything showing where the title companies were aware of what was going on and were still issuing title," he says. Now, during a lunch break in Tombstone, he calls Martha at home. She says Paul Crane, their new attorney, got a call from Woods' office, saying they'd be looking into it.

"I'm just elated," says Wild Bill. "They're not looking to make a buck. The wheels moved."

As Mahoney gets out of the car in Bisbee, where the county Recorder's Office sits in the shadow of a mine-pocked mountainside, his hair thrashes about in the wind. "You'd think I could spend 30 cents on a comb," he says.

Inside, he checks the record he wants and can't believe his eyes. Kline's title insurance contains all the usual exceptions, what Wild Bill likes to call "weasel clauses"--mineral possibilities, city improvement rights and so on--but one of them in the docket he's staring at seems to tell him that Kline's property is fine except for anything included in the patented mining claim issued to Wyatt and Virgil and Morgan Earp and R.J. Winders, which basically means Kline's title is about as clear as Doc Holliday's lungs.

"Every time I come look at these records," Wild Bill says, "it just flabbergasts me."

Pretty soon he's yanking out the mini-color-coded maps and the minipatent and trying to get a couple of real estate speculators from Guam to invest in his cause. The conversation moves outside and the Guamanians cannot break free.

Longtime county recorder Christine Rhodes, running for office again in the fall, arrives in a family van and starts unloading promotional items on the people gathered here--little five-inch plastic combs reading "Christine Rhodes--Cochise County Recorder."

"Boy," Wild Bill says excitedly, "what timing for the comb."
He mows it futilely through his mangled hair as he heads back to the parking lot. It doesn't bother him that he is attempting to do this in the face of a gusty wind.

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