C. S. Fly

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Camillus "Buck" Sydney Fly
Born (1849-05-02)May 2, 1849
Andrew County, Missouri, United States
Died October 12, 1901(1901-10-12) (aged 52)
Bisbee, Arizona, United States
Occupation Photographer, marshal
Years active 1879 – 1897
Spouse(s) Mary "Mollie" E. Goodrich
Children Kitty (adopted)
CS Fly studio Tombstone

Camillus "Buck" Sydney Fly (May 2, 1849 – October 12, 1901) was an Old West photographer who captured the only known images of Geronimo before he surrendered, along with other pictures of life in mining boom town of Tombstone, Arizona and the surrounding region. He was also a witness in 1881 to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place outside his photography studio. He served as Cochise County Sheriff from 1895 to 1897. Most of his negatives were destroyed by two fires that burned his studio to the ground. His widow Mary donated his remaining images to the Smithsonian Museum before she died in 1912. His photographs are legendary and highly prized.

Early life[edit]

His parents were originally from Andrew County, Missouri. Shortly after Camillus' birth, they migrated to California, eventually settling in Napa County.

Life in Tombstone[edit]

An image of the photography studio of C. S. and Mollie Fly burning in 1912, taken by Mollie Fly.

Fly married Mary “Mollie” E. (née McKie) Goodrich on September 29, 1879 in San Francisco. She had previously been married to Samuel D. Goodrich but divorced him after two years of marriage.[1] Both Mary and Buck were interested in photography and they moved before the end of the year to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, where they opened a photography studio in a tent in December, 1879.[2] In July, 1880, they completed construction on a 12-room boarding house at 312 Fremont Street in Tombstone that housed a photography studio and gallery in the back, called the “Fly Gallery”.[2]

On October 26, 1881, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred in an alley adjacent to his boarding house. During the shootout, Cochise County Sheriff John Behan took cover inside the boarding house,[citation needed] watching the gunplay, only to be joined by Ike Clanton who ran away from the gunfight, telling Wyatt Earp that he was unarmed. Fly, armed with a Henry rifle, disarmed Billy Clanton as he lay dying against the house next door.

Fly and Molly raised a girl named Kitty, though it's not known whether she was adopted or from another relationship. Molly ran the boarding house and studio while her husband traveled around the region taking photographs. Mollie also took pictures, and she was one of the few female photographers of the era, taking pictures of anyone who could pay the studio price of 35 cents.[2]

Pictures of Geronimo[edit]

Geronimo poses with members of his tribe and General George Crook's staff during peace negotiations on March 27, 1886.

In March, 1886, Fly accompanied Department of Arizona General George Crook into the Sierra Madre Mountains and to the Canyon de Los Embudos. Crook held a peace conference with the Apache leader Geronimo and his people. His images are the only existing photographs of Geronimo’s surrender.[2] His photos of Geronimo and the other free Apaches, taken on March 25 and 26th, are only the known photographs taken of an American Indian while still at war with the United States.[2]

John Bourke described how Fly took the historic photographs:[3]:64

Tombstone photographer Fly kept busy with his camera, posing his Apache models with a nerve that would have reflected undying glory on a Chicago drummer. He coolly asked Geronimo and the warriors with him to change positions, and turn their heads or faces, to improve the negative. None of them seemed to mind him in the least except Chihuahua, who kept dodging behind a tree, but at last caught by the dropping of the slide."

The Mayor of Tucson, C. M. Strauss, was present. He later wrote that:[3]:68

Fly is an excellent artist and he was not a respector of persons or circumstances, and even in the midst of the most serious interviews with the Indians, he would step up to an officer and say, ‘just put your hat a little more on this side, General. No Geronimo, your right foot must rest on that stone,’ etc., so wrapped was he in the artistic effect of his views.

Earthquake study[edit]

The Bavispe earthquake struck Sonora, Mexico, on May 3, 1887, destroying most of the adobe houses in Bavispe and killing 42 of the town's 700 residents.[4][5] Tombstone Dr. George E. Goodfellow was fascinated by the earth movement and studied the earthquake's effects. He traveled to the earthquake area, and on his second trip in July 1887 he brought C.S. Fly with him to help study and record the effects. They traveled over 700 miles (1,100 km) through the Sierra Madre mountains recording observations, mostly on foot.[6][7]

Fly became a heavy drinker and Molly left him in Tombstone in 1887.[2] The Tombstone Epitaph noted her departure: “Mr. C.S. Fly, the well known photographer, leaves today for Florence, Phoenix and other points in the Territory … During his absence, Mrs. Fly also an accomplished photographic artist, will conduct the gallery in this city as usual.” She took Kitty with her to Florence. Buck Fly left Tombstone as well on December 17, 1887 and toured Arizona with his photographs, briefly establishing a studio and gallery in Phoenix in 1893. He returned to Tombstone in 1894. Mollie ran the studio in Tombstone during his absence.[2]

Famous photographs[edit]


A modern reconstruction of Fly's photography studio in Tombstone, Arizona.

Though his drinking was becoming more and more heavy, he was elected as the Cochise County Sheriff in 1895 and served for two years. He then ran a ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains. Though Camillus and his wife had been separated for years, she was at his bedside when he died at Bisbee on October 12, 1901.[2] She made arrangements to have his body returned to Tombstone, where it was buried in the new Tombstone Cemetery.

Molly Fly continues business[edit]

Mollie Fly was C.S. Fly's wife and a photographer in her own right.

Mary Fly continued to run the Tombstone gallery on her own and in 1905, she published a collection of her husband's Indian campaign photographs entitled Scenes in Geronimo's Camp: The Apache Outlaw and Murderer.[2] Coral Henry, a young girl who the Flys cared for after her parents died, described Mollie as "about five feet of pure dignity, very plainly dressed, but in manner Queen Victoria had nothing on her.”[2]

In 1912, the boarding house burned to the ground for the second time. A replica has since been rebuilt. The fire prompted Mary to retire and she moved to Los Angeles. Before she died, she donated her husband’s collection of images to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She died in 1925.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

His images are very collectible and command premium prices today. A cabinet card of the image "Geronimo, Son, and Two Braves" was auctioned by the Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas for $10,157.50 in 2010.[9] A 6-5/8" x 9-1/2" albumen print photograph of "Geronimo and his warriors", taken in 1886, sold at auction on April 14, 2014 for $1,375.[10]

C. S. Fly appears in Elmore Leonard´s western novel Gunsights (1979).


  1. ^ a b Blanton, Heather Frey (2014). "Mollie Fly–The Woman at the OK Corral". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Mary "Mollie" E. Fly (1847-1925)". Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Huachuca Illustrated - Fort Huachuca and the Geronimo Campaign" (PDF). Fort Huachuca Museum. 1999. Retrieved 24 October 2014.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^ Suter, Max (March–April 2006). "Contemporary Studies of the May 1887 M 7.5 Sonora, Mexico (Basin and Range Province) Earthquake". Seismological Research Letters (Instituto de Geologia, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico) 77 (2): 134. doi:10.1785/gssrl.77.2.134. 
  5. ^ Kovach, R.L. (2004). Early Earthquakes of the Americas. Cambridge University Press. pp. 160–€“164. ISBN 978-0-521-82489-7. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Goodfellow, G. E. (12 August 1887). "The Sonora Earthquake" (PDF). Science 10 (235): 81 – 82. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Science XI. 1888.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Photograph of McLaury, McLaury and Clanton". Legendsofamerica.com. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "C.S. Fly". November 2, 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Geronimo 1829-1909

Further reading[edit]

  • "Ask the Marshall" in True West Magazine January/February 2009 issue, page 94

External links[edit]