Camillus Sidney Fly was born in Andrew County, Mo., in 1849. That same year, Boone and Mary Fly crossed the prairie to California with their infant son. Though as an adult Fly would be "Buck" to his friends, his mother, a devote of ancient history, named him after a courageous fourth century B.C. Roman general. Fly's early life is shadowy; he surfaces again in 1879 in San Francisco, marrying a divorcee, Mary (Molly) Goodrich. The Flys, both photographers, had read about the new silver strike in Tombstone and closed their San Francisco studio to head out for the Arizona Territory. After a brief stop in Charleston, the Flys arrived in Tombstone in December, 1879 at the same time the Earp wagon train pulled in from Prescott.
In late 1879 Tombstone was still a tent city. The Flys temporarily lived under canvas until they erected a small wooden twelve room boarding house at 312 Fremont Street, locating a separate photography studio immediately to the rear. Molly usually concentrated on indoor studio shots while Buck concentrated on outdoor shots of mills, scenic vistas, cavalry troopers, cowboys and Apache scouts and hostiles. Aside from photography, Fly also devoted himself to mining prospecting in the Dragoons but never hitting a strike.
As Fly's work attracted attention, he built display cases to house his photos. Tombstone residents could saunter down Fremont street to look at Fry's latest renditions of local townspeople, miners and school children. In 1881 Fly played a minor role in the O.K. Corral shoot-out. The gunfight took place in the vacant lot next to his boarding house, where Doc Holliday had a room. Fly heard the shots from his studio, maybe twenty yards away. He arrived, "armed" with an unloaded prop Sharps rifle, in time to relieve a dying Billy Clanton of his empty Colt revolver.
Although Fly didn't prosper as much as he hoped, he enjoyed an increasingly positive reputation. In 1884 he presented some of his photos as part of the Arizona exhibition at the New Orleans Fair. 1887 found him touring the Arizona Territory with a show so impressive the Phoenix Gazette described him as "one of the greatest artists in America." That same year he accompanied renowned Tombstone physician George Goodfellow to Bavispe, Sonora, to record the effect of the earthquake there. By 1892 Fly had shown internationally. An English company, impressed by Fly's aesthetic sense, exhibited a number of photos in London, Fly had taken of a possible reservoir in Rucker Canyon.
However, Fly still had trouble making ends meet. With Tombstone's decline as a mining center, the Flys tried their luck with a studio on Washington Street, in Phoenix, in 1893. When business proved slow, Fly heeded the urgings of former Cochise County Sheriff Texas John Slaughter and moved back to Tombstone. At Slaughter's urging, Fly stood for sheriff as a Republican and was elected for a two-year term in 1894. Sadly, Fly's tenure is remembered for two negative reasons. The first was the Grant Wheeler case. Wheeler robbed a Southern Pacific train near Willcox, leaving behind a studio photo Fly had taken of him along with a taunting note in the looted mail car. The second, and more lethal, was the ambush of a Fly-led posse by the High Five Gang in Skeleton Canyon in August 1896. In the resulting gunfight a U.S. customs line rider was killed and the bank robbers escaped into Mexico.
After these twin debacles, Fly handed in his badge. After 1896 he divided his time between his ranch, Fly's Park, in the Chiricahuas, and his studio in Bisbee. By 1900, he had been diagnosed with erysipelas, a noxious skin disease. His heavy drinking, which had already destroyed his marriage, began to bite more deeply into his health. C.S. Fly died penniless in Bisbee on October 12, 1901, his estranged wife Molly by his side. His lodge brothers in the Ancient Order of United Workers paid his medical bills and funeral expenses. C.S. Fly rests today in the Tombstone Cemetery, under a handsome red stone simply inscribed. (When I visited there one recent Sunday I was surprised to find the someone had left fresh flowers.) Molly continued running the Tombstone studio until 1912 when a fire destroyed the building, the business, and thousands of negatives. Thereafter, she moved to California, dying in Los Angeles in 1925.
Jack Ziegler teaches humanities at Cochise College. He lives in the Tombstone area.