Published on Monday, April 30, 2012
Tombstone's Toughest Preacher
By Gary Every
In cowboy slang they were known as "sky pilots" the traveling preachers who went from town to town, saloon to saloon, preaching about heavenly glory and passing the hat. Such preachers made their living on how entertaining their sermons were. Abraham Lincoln once exclaimed, "When I go to hear a sermon I want to see the preacher get excited and wave about as if he was boxing a swarm of bees."
On a January morning in 1882, the stagecoach rolled into Tombstone, Arizona and delivered a passenger named Endicott Peabody into the lawless frontier town. The infamous shoot out at the OK Corral had preceded Endicott's arrival by several months. The preacher put down his bags and surveyed the situation. The situation surveyed him back. The local newspaper had this to say about the Bostonian born minister, "Well, we've got a parson who doesn't flirt with girls, who doesn't drink behind the door, and when it comes to baseball, he's a daisy."
Still, young Endicott Peabody had a certain charisma about him and gradually the audiences congregating to hear the sermons grew. One Sunday, Endicott was giving a sermon about the 11th Commandment; a sermon which he had titled, "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Cattle."
At the end of the sermon an irate cowboy rushed over the top of the pews charging towards the pulpit to confront the preacher. It seems that the cowboy was a suspected cattle rustler and felt that the only purpose of Endicott's sermon had been to embarrass the cowboy in front of the whole town.
Endicott Peabody did his best to try and calm down the furious cowboy. The sermon was not intended for just the cowboy. There were several suspected rustlers in the audience that day and the sermon was meant for all of them. If Endicott's words embarrassed the rustler then perhaps that was just one of the mysterious ways the Lord worked and perhaps the rustler, excuse me, alleged rustler, should consider mending his ways.
The cowboy was so angry that his face began to turn red, the veins in his forehead throbbed, and spittle flew from his mouth as he shouted at the preacher. The cowboy was determined to tar and feather the preacher right there. Wait a minute. Endicott Peabody tried relax the cowboy. If fight they must, ten the proper way to do this was to hold a public boxing match, fight by Marquis of Queensbury rules, and sell tickets with the money going to the local orphanage. The cowboy pondered the offer. Endicott pointed out, that with an audience in attendance at the boxing match - the cowboy could extract his revenge in front of the whole town. The cowboy quickly agreed.
When the day of the boxing match arrived quite a crowd had gathered in eager anticipation. Wagers were made. The opening bell was rung and the cowboy rushed out of his corner and charged across the ring. Endicott Peabody backpedaled and went into a defensive posture. It was the earliest known use of the rope a dope and the infuriated cowboy swung his fists again and again as he attacked the preacher. Still, Endicott Peabody backpedaled, keeping his hands in front of him. Then, in the third round the cowboy lunged forward and unleashed a lethal combination of punches; left, right, left, left, right. All five punches swung wildly in the air and when he was done the cowboy paused for just an instant with his hands on his knees, to gasp for breath.
It was the moment Endicott Peabody had been waiting for and he stepped forward - delivering a right hook to the cowboy's jaw which sent him sprawling across the canvas.
Church attendance went way up after that.
Gary Every is an award winning journalist, including for stories such as The Apache Naichee and Losing Geronimo's Language. He is the author of Shadow of the OhshaD (OhshaD is a Native american word for jaguar) and Battling the Hydra, a collection of encounters with mostly wild animals. His poetry has been nominated for both Pushcart prizes as well as the Rhysling Award for the years best science fiction poem. His work appears in a variety of magazines such as Arizona Highways, Desert Leaf, Weber Studies, Tales of the Talisman, and many more.