What can you tell me about China Mary of Tombstone fame?

Bill Wilson

Glade Spring, Virginia

The first Chinese arrived in Arizona in the mid-1870s just prior to the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

During the 1880s, Tombstone had a population of about 500 Chinese, including China Mary. Her real name was Sing, but the Chinese often adopted white names such as Mary or John. An astute businesswoman, she became the “godfather” to the Chinese community. She ran a store, controlled opium dens and gambling, and secured jobs for Chinese laborers in the white community. She guaranteed her workers’ reliability and honesty. Her warranty was “them steal, me pay.” She collected their wages and no doubt took a cut. She also supplied hops to the girls in the red light district.

China Mary was also famous for her generosity. Her kindness to those in need was legend around Tombstone. A cowboy broke his leg once, and she arranged and paid for his care.

China Mary died of heart failure in 1906 and was buried in the city’s Boot Hill Cemetery.

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