In the cold Boston winter of 1944-45, Reverend Endicott Peabody was in the final season of his life. At 87 years of age, he had lived perhaps the most productive and influential life of any American clergy. He had much to reflect upon, including 6 months as a young pastor of a little church in a dusty Western mining town that lawman Billy Breakenridge famously referred to as “Helldorado”.
Born into a prominent Massachusetts family, Endicott was primarily educated in England where, in 1880, he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge with a degree in law. However, he felt a strong and sincere call to the ministry, and in February 1881, became a student at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA.
Following his first semester, Peabody (pronounced Pea-biddie in MA) was asked to take charge of a very small Episcopal congregation in an isolated pocket of Southern Arizona. Six months earlier, the church building had burned to the ground and its priest had moved on. Endicott, known as “Cotty” to friends & family, arrived in Benson, AZ dressed in his finely tailored, but rumpled eastern suit after a 7-day train ride from Boston. There he boarded Sandy Bob’s stagecoach for the $2 night ride south, and arrived in Tombstone early on Sunday, January 29, 1882.
Preacher In Helldorado.
At this time, Tombstone, population about 5,000, was the second largest town in Arizona after Tucson, the capitol of the Territory with a population of about 7,000. Like most mining boomtowns, Tombstone was rough. Along with general stores, butcher shops, a Wells Fargo and telegraph office; restaurants and hotels, an ice cream parlor and a school, Tombstone easily supported over 100 saloons and brothels, including the Bird Cage Theater that the New York Times described as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
Only 4 months earlier, Sandy Bob’s stage had been held up and the passengers robbed. Three months earlier, U.S. Deputy Marshall Virgil Earp and his deputies, (Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Dr. John Holliday) had killed Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury on Fremont Street near the OK Corral. A month earlier, Virgil Earp had survived an assassination attempt, but had lost the use of his left arm.
During Cotty’s brief Tombstone tenure, he would find himself, like all Tombstone pioneers, caught up in the feud between the Earps and “The Cowboys”. He was there when U.S. Deputy Marshall Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882. And he followed the local newspaper accounts and rumors when U.S. Deputy Marshall Wyatt Earp and his posse, including the notorious John (Doc) Holliday, went on a killing spree that became known as the “Earp Vendetta Ride”.
Of Morgan Earp’s murder, Peabody remarked, “Murder and revenge have taken place in quick succession and the town is unrestful – feeling that the end will not come until one of the factions is entirely annihilated or leaves the country. Until that occurs we cannot have a town which will attract capitalist or families.”
Building A Church
Cotty was in Tombstone to build a church and expand the Episcopal congregation. This he did by quickly making a lot of friends. He was willing to engage people at every level of Tombstone society wherever they gathered.
The group he most wanted to bring into his congregation was the miners, a rough, mostly illiterate lot to be sure. Once, to get them on his side, Cotty accepted a challenge from a group of miners to take on their champion boxer. The match took place in a smoky saloon that reeked of stale beer, cheap whiskey, and dripping spittoons.
Cotty had been an extraordinary college athlete and was in superb shape. The diarist, George Parsons, described him as “…quite an athlete and of magnificent build, weighing two hundred pounds, muscles hard as iron.”
But the miners’ champion was a huge, powerful man and many in the crowd feared the preacher would be killed. After Cotty knocked the big man to the floor, his swollen face black and blue and bloody, Cotty helped him up and became the miners’ hero, bringing many into his growing congregation.
Cotty loved baseball and would happily play catch with anyone. He organized the Tombstone baseball team that would eagerly challenge Bisbee and Tucson teams. Soon after his arrival in Tombstone, the Epitaph, a Tombstone newspaper, wrote: “Well, we’ve got a parson who doesn’t flirt with the girls, who doesn’t drink behind the door, and when it comes to baseball, he’s a daisy.”
Churches are always short of funds and fundraising is a principle occupation of any preacher. Cotty was no exception. The completion of the church and a parsonage was going to cost an estimated $5,000 (about $125,000 in 2014 dollars). So Cotty was always fundraising. In the meantime, services were held in the courtroom of the Miners’ Exchange, and other venues around town.
Part of Cotty’s success at church services was his sincere enthusiasm, the relevance of his message, and the informality of his presentation, as well as his attention to certain accoutrements, including beautiful flowers and a rousing choir. The Tombstone Nugget, rival to the Tombstone Epitaph, wrote on February 18, 1882, “Talk about muscular Christianity. We overheard a miner yesterday say, upon having the Episcopal minister pointed out to him, “Well, if that lad’s argument was a hammer, and religion a drill, he’d knock a hole in the hanging wall of skepticism…” His choir, an all-male quartet including George Parsons, was reportedly the finest in the Territory. On Sunday, February 12th, there were 110 people in the congregation and the collection totaled $25, more than had ever been collected at one service.
Writing in the same month, the Epitaph noted the high attendance at both the morning and evening services and that the preacher had delivered “two very instructive discourses … in a manner clear and earnest, while the manly bearing of the gentleman lends a decisive force to all his remarks.”
With his easy, friendly manner, Cotty continued his work building up his congregation and raising money for the building fund. On some days, he visited as many as 15 homes to check on the family’s well-being, invite them to church and Bible study, or minister to the sick and dying. In Tombstone in the early 1880’s, “Death” visited frequently. For the town’s 4 preachers, including Cotty, conducting funeral services was a routine responsibility.
Sometimes in the evenings he and friends would ride up into the hills west of town just to enjoy the magnificent sunsets. Nor was it unusual for friends to drop in at the rectory to chat and smoke. George Parsons noted in his diary on March 5, 1882, “P. likes his claret and a good cigar and I don’t see why he shouldn’t enjoy them, [even] if he is a minister.”
Once he and friends rode over to Empire Ranch 45 miles northwest just to visit with the Vail family and their ranch hands. On more than one occasion, Cotty rode over to Fort Huachuca to conduct services.
Cotty was not shy about doing the Lord’s work. One afternoon he heard that there was a rich poker game going on in one of the saloons among the town’s most prominent mining men. At any given moment there was as much as $1,000 in the pot (about $25,000 in 2014 dollars). Cotty walked in, introduced himself, and asked for a donation to help build the church. Eliphalet Gage, general manager of two large mines, counted out $150 from his pile of chips (about $3,750 today) and handed it to the preacher. The others did likewise. Cotty told them he had not expected so much, but assured them that they would not regret their generosity.
In addition to such large individual donations, the Ladies Aid Society put on various fundraising benefits, such as operas and bazaars. The minutes of their meetings show clearly that the biggest block of tickets to raise money for the church building was sold by the saloons.
After two and a half months, the community had raised $4,000 to build the church and another $300 for a parsonage. Construction began in April 1882. According to the Epitaph, the building would “measure fifty-four by twenty-seven feet”.
On a hot July day, his mission accomplished, Endicott Peabody left Tombstone and returned to Massachusetts to complete his seminary studies. George Parsons noted in his diary that day, “We will not easily fill Peabody’s place.”
Back in Cambridge, MA, Cotty graduated from the Episcopal Theological School in the spring of 1884. The next year he was ordained an Episcopal priest and, in June 1885, married his childhood sweetheart and cousin, Francis (Fanny) Peabody.
Most famously, in that same year in which he was ordained, Cotty and two colleagues established the Groton School for Boys, a boarding school in Groton, MA near Boston. The Reverend Endicott Peabody served as headmaster for the next 56 years.
In 1889, he founded St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ayer, Massachusetts; and also served as a trustee of Lawrence Academy. In 1926, Peabody founded Brooks School. More than a priest, Endicott Peabody was an educator par excellence.
Groton School for Boys
Groton’s mission was simple: provide “intellectual, moral, and physical development” for the sons of America’s most elite families. Under Cotty’s leadership, Groton challenged its students to embrace their civil and religious responsibilities. Rev. Peabody declared, in 1884, that “if some Groton boys do not enter political life and do something for our land it won’t be because they have not been urged.”
Each grade consisted of only twenty boys. The annual tuition was $500, twice the annual income of the average American family. Groton accommodations were Spartan; the curriculum demanding. And Peabody was a strict master. Even though his students were from wealthy families (among his students were Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons) he refused to allow any them to receive an allowance of more than 25 cents per week.
In 1896, a fourteen year-old boy from the Hyde Park branch of the elite Roosevelt family of New York became a Groton student. His name was Franklin. He was too small to succeed at Groton’s rough & tumble sports. Moreover, Rev. Peabody thought he wasn’t particularly bright.
Nevertheless, Franklin graduated from Groton in 1900 and went on to Harvard, where he graduated with a degree in history in only 3 years. Following Harvard, he studied law at Columbia University, passed the bar in 1907, then practiced law until he went into politics in 1910 when he was elected to the New York State Senate.
In 1905, as he was studying law, Franklin married his cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. Rev. Peabody officiated at their wedding. When Franklin became President of the United States in 1933, Rev. Peabody led the official prayer service; as he did for three of Franklin’s four inaugurations. When they had grown to adulthood, Rev. Peabody officiated at all of Franklin & Eleanor’s children’s weddings too.
Years later, Franklin said of the good Reverend, “As long as I live, his influence will mean more to me than that of any other people next to my father and mother.”
In 1941, Reverend Endicott Peabody returned to Tombstone to celebrate the 59th anniversary of his Southern Arizona ministry to the “mining magnates, government officials, ore-handlers, teamsters, saloonkeepers and gamblers”. One of those “government officials” that Cotty spoke of with particular admiration and respect during his last visit to Tombstone had been a lawman and a gambler during the wild days of 1881-82. His name was Wyatt Earp. He and Cotty had been close back then and their friendship had lasted until Wyatt’s death in Los Angeles in 1929 at the age of 80.
[Sources: The material for this feature came from many sources, but most importantly,Preacher in Helldorado
Learn more about the sights of Tombstone on our “Things to Do in Tombstone” page. More about Tombstone’s colorful history can be found here.