Tombstone’s first Episcopal Church says “Yes!”
On January 21, 1882, a 24-year-old divinity student wrote in his diary, “So begins my journey West. God grant that I may do some good.…”
The good Endicott Peabody did in the forlorn place he was sent—a rough and rowdy mining town that had just witnessed a devastating gun battle near its O.K. Corral—was to build St. Paul’s Church, giving Tombstone and Arizona Territory its first Episcopal Church.
That church is still serving its congregation to this day—the oldest, continuously operating Protestant church in Arizona.
These days, its vicar is a former insurance claims adjuster from South Dakota who moved to Tombstone in 2016 with her husband. She was then drafted by the Bishop and ordained in July of 2020—exactly 148 years after the doors opened.
The Reverend Heather Rose shares a lot with the man who raised money here and there to build this small, cozy church. He needed $5,000 to construct the 25-by-70-foot Gothic Revival Building on 3rd Street. He had a handful of parishioners when he got to Tombstone; but six months later when he left, he had not only a new church but a healthy roster of regular members.
Reverend Rose has some of the same issues. There were only five parishioners when she got to town, but today, she can count about 40. And she’s busy raising money, too. She’s raised almost half the $60,000 she needs to restore the bell tower added to the church in 1866. “People heard about it and just started donating,” she says with pride.
Perhaps that’s because The Reverend Rose is a special kind of vicar. She’s quickly endeared herself to the community. She was in Tombstone’s annual Desert Donkey Dash with 80 contestants. Reverend Rose practiced for seven days with a donkey named Levi—borrowed from the Good Enough Mine—and posted her practices on St. Paul’s Facebook page. It got quite a following. She and Levi came in 53rd. And then she used Levi to deliver palms to the church on Palm Sunday. “We went down the middle of Allen Street with the palms,” she reports, the “we” being 20 to 30 parishioners.
The church’s founder is remembered as being engaged in the community too. Peabody started a baseball league, and his revealing diary shows he dined often with would-be parishioners. Tombstone never forgot this man, who went on to be White House Chaplain under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
St. Paul’s wasn’t Tombstone’s first church. That honor goes to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1881 largely with the help of the “angel of the mining camps,” Nellie Cashman. Peabody’s diary shows he ate at her restaurant one night in 1882. He pronounced it a “fair dinner.”
Jana Bommersbach has earned recognition as Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She cowrote the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written three true crime books,
a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate. Her most recent book, cowritten with Bob Boze Bell, is Hellraisers and Trailblazers: The Real Women of the Wild West.