Shakespeare has had several names through the years and only acquired its present one in 1879 at the beginning of its second mining boom. It is located along a small but reliable spring located in the arroyo west of the town. This reliable water source attracted many people. Indians who ground mesquite beans left their metates scattered about, probably a few Spaniards stopped by, and then some of the Forty-niners who were taking the southern route to the gold fields of California, watered their stock at this little spring. About 1856 the Army built a building here, evidently to serve as a relay station on the Army Mail line between Fort Thorn on the Rio Grande and Fort Buchanan, south of Tucson. This spring served as an alternate stopping place for the San Antonio and San Diego mail line but was bypassed by the first Butterfield coaches. However before the Butterfield quit running in 1861, they had moved the road back up in the hills and had built a square adobe stage station here. During this time the spring was sometimes called Mexican Spring according to old timers.
The outbreak of the Civil War completely disrupted the stage line, what with fighting around the eastern terminals and Union soldiers being moved back East, leaving the Southwest to the mercy of the Apaches. But the Civil War brought more people to Mexican Spring-- soldiers of both sides. First a small detachment of hard-riding Texans led by Captain Sherod Hunter traveled through this area on their way to Tucson, and from there, they hoped, to the gold fields of California. Their hopes were futile because California was overwhelmingly Union in its sentiments. Carelton and the California Volunteers rode east across Arizona and met the tattered Texans at Picacho Pass, west of Tucson. The Texans were defeated and trailed back to Texas, their dreams of California gold crushed under overwhelming numbers. During this time the soldiers built one or two more buildings were built at Mexican Spring. The largest one was later referred to as the "old stone fort."
With the close of the Civil War Kerens and Mitchell started a new stage line . They hired men in San Diego to reopen some of the Butterfield's stations. A man named John Eversen was hired to reopen this station. Evensen came here in 1865 and lived on here until his death in 1887. He said that when he came here the little settlement was called Grant.
In 1870, some of the prospectors hanging around this little station discovered samples of very rich silver ore in the surrounding hills and they went hunting for financing to develop their new mines. Some of them must have had San Francisco connections because they interested the group of financiers connected with William Ralston, President of the Bank of California. A company was formed and the town was named in Ralston's honor. The town grew rapidly and newspapers as far away as San Diego carried stories about the promising new camp. The population boomed to 3000 people with independent miners flocking in to try to get a piece of the action. The company had some hired fighting men on their payroll to keep these independent miners off. The rich silver mined out very rapidly but then the rumor began to circulate that diamonds had been discovered on Lee's Peak west of town. The Hired Fighting men stayed on the payroll, the stages kept running, and the town boomed until sometime in 1872 when the diamond swindle was revealed as a hoax all over the country. Most people left town for fear of being implicated in the crooked work and the town almost emptied of people.
In 1879 Colonel William G. Boyle got hold of most of the good claims and renamed the town Shakespeare to eliminate memories of the earlier swindles. With financing coming from St. Louis this time he started the Shakespeare Gold and Silver Mining and Milling Company and the town enjoyed a second boom. More men brought their families and the place settled down to some extent but it never got a church, a school, a newspaper, or any real law. Occasionally there would be a serious fight and some of the losers might be hanged to the timbers of the Grant House dining room.
The railroad missed Shakespeare by about 3 miles and the beginning of the new railroad town of Lordsburg was the death knell for Shakespeare. Businesses gradually moved down to the new town to be closer to the source of supplies. The depression of 1893 caused the mines to close and most people moved away to find jobs elsewhere. People often took the roofs and other salvageable material off of their houses and left the walls to crumble in the weather. In 1907 a new copper mine about a mile south of Shakespeare started to work and some of those miners rented remaining buildings in the old town. Many ghost stories date from this era when the older residents seemed to come back to haunt the newer ones. In 1935 Frank and Rita Hill purchased the town and buildings for a ranch. They maintained the buildings as well as they could with limited resources.
Shakespeare was declared a National Historic Site in 1970. Frank Hill passed away in 1970, Rita in 1985, and Janaloo in 2005. They are buried at the top of the hill overlooking the town. Janaloo's husband, Manny Hough, continues to work toward preserving the town as a monument to the Real Old West.
Many of Shakespeare's more "colorful" residents, prospectors, and regular citizens of Shakespeare have their final resting place at Shakespeare Cemetery, You'll see the cemetery on the left side of the road on your way to Shakespeare.
The annals of Shakespeare's history have no tales of fearless lawmen stalking the streets in search of wrongdoers. According to old timers, there was no law here at all-just the agreed upon rule that "if you killed someone you had to dig the grave." This kept down indiscriminate shootings. During the days of the Silver Strike and the Diamond Swindle, the silver mining company from San Francisco had on their payroll some Texas boys whose job it was to keep order and to guard the company interests mainly by preventing independent miners from staking claims. Though the Company sometimes called these fellows "Vigilantes," others just called them "Hired Fighting Men."
Quite a few of these men are now referred to as outlaws by modern writers although the word "outlaw" should designate a man who is "outside the law," or wanted by the law. Many of the prominent so-called "outlaws" had no warrants out for their arrests and so cannot be technically considered outlaws at all though they may have been pretty hard characters.
A prime example of this type was Curly Bill Brocius. No one seems to know where Bill came from but it seems pretty certain that his roots were in Texas. Old timers said that he ran the "hired fighting men" at Ralston. With the end of the silver strike and diamond swindle and no mining company to pay his salary, Bill Brocius drifted south and west. Large herds of wild cattle roamed the Animas and San Simon valley and these Texas boys had a ready market for beef because the Army had to feed the Apaches on the reservations. When the cowboys depleted the wild cattle north of the Mexican border, they gathered herds south of the border. Soon Mexican ranchers made retaliatory raids and there was almost a state of war along the border between Texans and Mexicans. With Curly rode other men and according to old-timers some of these were Sandy King, the Clantons, Jack McKenzie, Milt Hicks, George Turner and later Zwing Hunt, Billy Grounds, John Ringo, Jim Hughes and Joe Hill. These men all considered Ralston-Shakespeare their hometown, the place they came to for their supplies and to get their mail.
The new town of Tombstone started in 1879 and Curly Bill with some of his friends drifted that way to look over the new town, to check out chances of making money, or of having a good time. On October 28, 1880, Curly Bill killed Marshall White of Tombstone, a shooting which was declared an accident. Curly stayed out of Tombstone after that but he freely rode the trails between Charleston, Galleyville, Shakespeare and the Mexican Border, dealing in cattle. Many accusations were thrown his way but no warrants were issued.
In 1881 Curly Billy disappeared from the southwestern scene. Wyatt Earp, claimed that he killed Curly Bill. There were no confirming witnesses except for a few of Wyatt's close friends and no body. Curly Bill's friends stoutly denied this ever happened. Neither side could produce Curly, either dead or alive. Some say that Curly Bill Brocius simply rode out of the country and became a respectable rancher in Mexico or Montana or somewhere else. Old timers here told another story. They said that Curly died from a case of measles combined with the effects of an old gunshot wound and that he was buried in the basement of the General Merchandise to keep his enemies from being able to gloat over his death.
Clanton is another name that is often numbered among the "outlaw" faction. While Newman Hays Clanton or some of his older boys may have been among the "hired fighting men" at Shakespeare and may have engaged in some shady cattle dealing with Curly Bill, they were much more settled citizens. Records show that N.H. Clanton was a farmer, a freighter and latter had a dairy at Charleston. His youngest son, Billy was killed in the famous OK Corral fight in Tombstone in 1881 and N.H. Clanton was killed with a group of respectable cattlemen who were moving a herd of cattle from the Animas to the San Simon Valley. People at Shakespeare were saddened by these killings because the Clantons had been well respected here.
John Ringo was a frequent visitor to Shakespeare because his friends, the Hughes family moved here when they left their ranch on the San Simon. The oldest Hughes Boy, Jim, was another member of the so-called outlaws and he and John often rode together. John Ringo bought his last pair of boots in the General Merchandise, the boots that he tied to his saddle horn before shooting himself in Turkey Creek Canyon in 1881.
Sandy King, one of the long-time members of the San Simon Cowboys and Russian Bill, (1880 Census) a romantic looking foreigner, were hanged to the timbers of the Grant House Dining Room on November 9, 1881. The next morning the Stage Keeper told the stage passengers that Russian Bill had stolen a horse and Sandy King was a damned nuisance.
In the middle 1870's a skinny blond kid with a tendency to buck teeth, drifted into town looking for a job. He was too young and small for heavy work but he got employment washing dishes in the Stratford Hotel. After he left Shakespeare he headed for Arizona. From there he drifted to Lincoln County where he became known as Billy the Kid.
During the 1890's some members of the Wild Bunch or Black Jack Ketchum's gang hung out in the hills south of town, camping in an old mine tunnel and probably buying supplies here.
Shakespeare was almost as lawless during the days of the third mining boom when people working in the Eighty-Five Mine were renting the buildings. There was a Deputy Sheriff at the Mine a mile south and a Deputy in Lordsburg, three miles north, but neither lawman spent much time enforcing law here at Shakespeare. Strange people came and went for this was the time of the revolutions in Mexico and this place is only a day's ride from the border. Some say Pancho Villa was here at least once on a horse-buying trip.
On the web: www.shakespeareghostown.com
Shakespeare offers scheduled guided tours, re-enactment tours, and group tours. Check their website for details.