Wild West Faith: Endicott Peabody

EndicottPeabodyFranklin Roosevelt once said of this man, “As long as I live his influence will mean more to me than that of any other people next to my father and mother.”  Endicott Peabody was born into a wealthy Boston Brahmin family on May 30, 1857, the son of Samuel Endicott and Marianne Cabot Lee Peabody.

Samuel, a successful Boston merchant and banking executive, could trace his ancestry back to early American Puritans.  Endicott’s great grandfather, Joseph Peabody, was at the time of his death one of the wealthiest men in America having made his fortune importing spices and opium.  When Endicott was thirteen years old his family moved to England where he later graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1880.

Upon graduation from Cambridge, he returned to America to pursue a banking career but found the family business less than fulfilling.  He decided instead to attend the Episcopal Theology School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1881.  Abruptly, after only one semester of seminary training, Endicott was invited to take over a small Episcopal congregation in Tombstone, Arizona, also referred to as “Helldorado” or “The Town Too Tough to Die”.

When Endicott arrived on January 29, 1882, after a seven-day train ride from Boston to Benson, Arizona followed by a stagecoach ride to Tombstone, only three months had passed since the infamous “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”.  Endicott wrote in his diary that his family thought it a “grim” place to begin his ministry.

Nonetheless, he had a deep devotion to God and took on the task of overseeing the rebuilding of the church which had burned six months before his arrival.  Within days of his arrival, Endicott held his first service at the Miner’s Exchange Building on February 5 and set to work establishing himself as the new minister.

To acquaint himself with the town’s citizenry he regularly visited each home and saloon throughout Tombstone, street by street, ministering to the sick and asking for donations to rebuild the church.  Although filled with compassion for those he ministered to, Endicott was hardly a meek and mild-mannered man.

Some historians believe his athleticism as a boxer and baseball player helped him hold his own against the rough-and-tumble cowboys and miners of Tombstone.  He started a baseball team and legends abound about how he held boxing matches or played poker and donated the proceeds of his winnings to fund the building project.  However, since he never recorded any such events in his personal diary, they are likely just that – legends.

Endicott endeared himself to the citizens of Tombstone who came to his services and Bible studies in unexpected numbers.  The Tombstone Epitaph remarked that “the preacher delivered two very instructive discourses, in a manner clear and earnest, while the manly bearing of the gentleman lends a decisive force to his remarks” and “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.”

Given the town’s reputation, his duties included presiding over the funerals of those gunned down or killed in the mines.  One deadly incident, called “Murder Most Foul” by the Epitaph, took place on the evening of April 1, 1882 when mining engineer M.R. Peel was shot by an unknown assailant at the mining company office in nearby Millville.  Two shots were fired, Peel rose from his chair and immediately fell back, never uttering a sound.

There had been no attempt at robbery and no one was aware of any dispute or quarrel to explain Peel’s murder.  His father, the Honorable B.L. Peel, was a man of “guileless and genial character” and devastated by his son’s loss.  Soon after the murder, his body was brought to Tombstone where services were conducted by the Reverend Endicott Peabody, rector of the Episcopal Church.

Faced with the overwhelming grief of Peel’s father, whose “strong manhood broke down and his soul’s agony found vent in copious tears and sobs”1, Endicott delivered the last rites:

The simple but ever impressive ceremony for the burial of the dead, of the Episcopal church, read by the youthful rector, standing at the head of the dead young man, scarce older than himself, never before sounded more impressively solemn than on this occasion.2

Such was life in Tombstone.  In diary entries Endicott also recorded his observations about continued tensions between the Earps and the cowboys, including the assassination of Morgan Earp and Wyatt’s “vendetta ride” to avenge his brother’s death.  Endicott befriended Wyatt Earp, whose family donated the altar rail for the new church.3  Endicott remained a lifelong admirer of his friend Wyatt.

In a short time the necessary funds to build a church were raised, and on June 18 the first services were held in the new building.  By all accounts, Endicott Peabody had endeared himself to Tombstone and established a successful ministry.  However, diary entries indicate he was homesick, and to be a successful and full-fledged minister he would need to complete his theological studies in Massachusetts.

On July 14, 1882 the Epitaph wrote:

The Rev. Endicott Peabody, who has been pastor of the Episcopal church in this city for several months past will take his departure for the East next Monday, to complete his theological studies at a college in Massachusetts.  Mr. Peabody proposes to spend three more years in study before he branches out as a full fledged soul saver.  During his stay in Tombstone his acts have been characterized with zeal in behalf of the labor he was engaged in; and that his services and energy were successful, the handsome church edifice on Third street can prove.  The many friends and acquaintances of Mr. Peabody will regret his departure, but hope that he will find his new life enjoyable, and his future path strewn with roses.

Quite a sendoff for a preacher who served in a place some called “the rottenest place you ever saw.”  His last service in Tombstone was held on Sunday evening, July 16.  Endicott returned to Massachusetts, completed his strudies and graduated in the spring of 1884.  He married his first cousin, Fannie Peabody, the following year on June 18, 1885.

His dream of founding a school like those he had attended in England was realized when the doors of the Groton School for Boys were opened in 1884.  He served as headmaster until 1940, overseeing the training and discipline of the sons of America’s most wealthy and prominent families, including Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons and their cousin Franklin.

A strict headmaster, Endicott never allowed his charges to have more than twenty-five cents in allowance per week.  Service to others was the most important thing to him.  It’s no wonder Franklin Roosevelt held him in such high esteem.  Endicott later presided over the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor and the two men remained friends for life.

Endicott returned to Tombstone on two later occasions and was warmly received.  He passed away on November 17, 1944 at the age of eighty-seven.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, built on the corner of 3rd and Safford in Tombstone, is today the oldest Protestant church in Arizona and the oldest in continuous operation west of the Mississippi.  The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In case you’re a new reader or missed this article I wrote in 2013, you might find it of interest:  The Legend of My Third Cousin, Thrice Removed.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


  1. Tombstone Epitaph, 03 Apr 1882, p. 3
  2. Ibid.
  3. St. Raphael in the Valley, Propers for the Peabody Feast Day

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