Other than Saturn and Jupiter, Mars is one of the more interesting planets in our solar system. Its active volcanoes, polar ice caps and vibrant color are a few of the amazing attributes that has made the red planet so intriguing for astronomy buffs and scientists alike. From July through September Mars shines in all its brilliance especially in the dark skies of Cochise County. In Tombstone circa 1880 it sparkled like a diamond but it's not the fourth planet I'm speaking about. Tombstone's Mars spelled Marrs, was a frontiersman, proprietor, entrepreneur and one of the town's very first settlers.
Born James H. Marrs on August 15, 1856 in Beckwith, Fayette County, West Virginia "Jim" as he preferred to be called was the son of shoemaker James J. and his wife Mildred (Rhodes) Marrs. Jim left West Virginia as a young boy to farm in Missouri until 1878 when he headed to the gold country of Leadville, Colorado. But his stay was short; after eight months he went to Arizona Territory and in 1879 settled in Tombstone's silver camp. At that time the infant town was little more than a tent city where families lived and merchants conducted business. Each morning the smell of frying bacon and strong hot coffee awoke the sleepy residents; the sound of saws and the pounding of hammers a reminder that Tombstone would soon become one of many mining towns that speckled the Arizona landscape.
With the exception of a wife named Carmalita and a son born in 1885 named Johnny; Jim kept his life relatively private in the early years but after the death of his wife in November of 1896 his life became more public. He purchased the Pony Saloon on Allen Street between 4th and 5th and advertising the finest liquors, wines and cigars in all of Arizona Territory, Jim's establishment soon became, "one of Tombstone's most popular resorts." On June 22, 1898 among a host of friends and well wishers Jim was married to a widow named Mrs. Georgia Noriega Bachelder at the Robertson cottage by Probate Judge W. F. Bradley. With his son Johnny and Georgia's children Vernette, Lillie, Charles and adopted daughter Mary the Marrs and Bachelders became one, big, happy family.
On a summer afternoon in July of 1899 black storm clouds rolled in. The wind picked up as bolts of yellow lightning zigzagged across the sky. In the distance thunder crashed as rain poured down. Everyone ran for shelter as the intense pounding from above turned backyards into thick pools of mud and dusty roads into flooding rivers. Jim had not seen such a storm in quite sometime as he watched in awe from the parlor window of his home. Suddenly a large flash of lightning made the hair on his head, arms and neck stand straight up. It had hit very close to home. After the storm had moved off to the west he discovered that the lightning had struck Ms. William King's house scorching some of the wall paper inside. It was lucky that no great damage was done to her or anyone in town by the strong, "heavenly artillery" that thundered down from above.
By February of 1900 the Marr's extended their family by the birth of a daughter named Violet Mildred. The baby brought added happiness especially after Jim's son Johnny left home to enter the university in Tucson that September. Georgia loved Johnny like her own son but the sadness of his departure was replaced by baby Violet which kept her very busy, however; four months later in January of 1901 Violet became ill. With a high fever her condition was grave for a time as Jim and Georgia held their breaths nervously but with Providence little Violet fully recovered. Happy and vivacious, she would be blessed with a baby sister born in January of 1903. With Violet and baby Virginia Mercedes to add to his full nest, Jim was a proud and happy man.
The charming Marrs home was located at the southeast corner of 1st and Safford Street was one story with lots of windows to let the warm sunshine in on cold days and lush trees that sheltered them from the harsh summer rays and strong desert winds. Nestled snugly around a tidy picket fence it was the epitome of one of the nicer houses in the neighborhood. Others looked longingly at the cozy home too including a, "rusty old stranger and prospector," who one afternoon looking, "wistfully over the fence at Jim Marrs' place . . . pensively remarked: "Holy smoke, how I'd like to get over there and spread my blankets tonight. Rain be darned, I got my old 20-ounce tarp yet. And he walked away with a sigh."
Unfortunately in January of 1904 a fire erupted at his home. It was 11 a.m. and a spark from the kitchen stove pipe quickly spread to the roof. With smoke already engulfing the kitchen Jim ran into the bedroom where Georgia who was ill and confined to bed was resting. He grabbed her and taking the children guided them safely outside. As he looked toward the roof, the red-hot orange flames whirled and laughed; the fire appearing almost human. But Jim was not one to give up so easily. With the prospect of his home being destroyed he ran to the side of the house and grabbing the hose fought the flames as best he could until the arrival of the hose cart. After the fire was put out and the billowing white smoke disappeared, there lay an ugly black stain on the roof. Inside, the ceiling in the kitchen was damaged, too. Jim hired several carpenters and for a few days the sounds from hammers and saws echoed from his place of residence until no sign of a fire ever existed. The house had been repaired and Jim and his family were able to draw a deep sigh of relief from their stressful ordeal.
For the next few years Jim's life was whole and life was good. After Johnny arrived back home from the university he began working at Jim's saloon as a bartender but something was terribly wrong. Although his family did not see it at the time, Johnny endured a silent suffering which turned tragic on a quiet April evening in 1906. The heat of the afternoon had cooled as the sun slowly descended behind the Dragoons for its night of slumber; the glorious colors of the lazy evening hours painting the sky in all its brilliance. It was 7:30 p.m. and many had settled down to supper. Some ate at home with their families while others too tired to cook from a hard days work frequented one of the many restaurants in town. Inside the Pony Saloon Jim and Henry Rafferty chatted quietly. With his evening cigar and a glass of beer in his hand Henry joked while Jim carefully polished his beer glasses with a clean white cloth. As he set them carefully on the back counter ready for the next days' customers to fill them with cold frothy beer his son Johnny walked in. Ignoring Jim's greeting he quietly walked past to the drawer where Jim kept his 44-calibre revolver for protection. As Johnny placed the muzzle to his temple the glass in Jim's hand dropped; the sound of glass shattering as he quickly vaulted over the bar. The gun by luck had misfired but as Henry tried to grab it Johnny shouted, "No, you don't!" and firing once more the bullet entered into his skull, "just over the right ear and tearing off part of the head." Twenty-one year old Johnny Marrs was dead before he hit the floor.
Those in town who had heard the yelling and gunfire rushed to the Pony Saloon only to see a grief stricken Jim Marrs being led away by friends. The town was shocked; how could something like this happen? In quiet conversation they spoke amongst themselves until the coroner arrived on the scene. Entering in the saloon he walked over to where Johnny's lifeless body lay in a pool of blood. It was a ghastly site. When Georgia was told what happened, "she went into hysterics, her screams being heard for two blocks." In the newspapers it was reported later that week that Georgia's first husband William Batchelor, "committed suicide in the same saloon twelve years ago. Going to one of the rear rooms, he locked himself in and then sent a bullet crashing through the brain, dying instantly."
The news of Johnny's death spread like a wildfire. In the Douglas Dispatch and the Bisbee Daily Review it was reported that he had recently begun been drinking heavily and gambling away his father's money; the Bisbee Daily Review reporting Johnny's suicide a, "disappointment over the termination of a love affair."
Jim was appalled at all the stories. It was hard enough to succumb to his son's horrific death but having to read all those terrible stories was the last draw. A few days later he retracted the following:
"The accusation that my son squandered money gambling is a base fabrication; he had not been guilty of any act…The cause which actuated the rash act that blighted out his young life was buried with the boy. Another statement, intended to evidently wound my feeling, was that a similar death had occurred in my place of business twelve years ago, is also untrue. In denouncing the author of these communications I find my vocabulary of epithets too mild and the English Language inadequate of expressing my contempt for the slimy serpent…His statements are groundless, but to add to my cup of sorrow that is now full and overflowing, he has succeeded. He is a malicious liar, but I find consolation in the fact that Tombstone harbors no such villainous viper."
This article would not be possible without the generous contributions provided by Mr. Kenneth Vail, 2012.