Saloon Owner Roderick Hafford Was the Bird Man of Tombstone | HistoryNet MENU

Saloon Owner Roderick Hafford Was the Bird Man of Tombstone

By Jane Eppinga
8/15/2017 • Wild West Magazine

When not serving patrons, he was out collecting ‘specimens’.

The Tombstone silver bonanza drew all manner of men to southern Arizona Territory, and Colonel Roderick (also seen as “Broderick”) Ferdinand Hafford was among the more remarkable if not famous. He certainly rubbed elbows with the most famous of all Tombstone citizens. The slight, balding, bespectacled Hafford was photographed standing at the far end of hisTombstone saloon near the door where Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp stepped out onto Allen Street on October 26, 1881, to begin their march with Doc Holliday to the famous gunfight near the O.K. Corral. Established in 1880, Hafford’s Corner Saloon (inside Brown’s Hotel) became one of the most popular watering holes in the boomtown. Patrons included not only the Earps and Holliday but also such Cowboyaffiliated opposition as Johnny Ringo and Billy Claiborne.

Hafford prospered with his mining claims and liquor business, but what he really loved to do was collect and study birds and other wildlife. At the time, before the advent of high-tech cameras and binoculars, ornithologists needed to collect specimens to properly identify birds and gain further knowledge of them. Hafford collected about 2,000 bird specimens from the nearby Dragoon, Whetstone and Huachuca mountains, and much of his collection ended up at the Smithsonian Institution. He hung paintings of birds instead of the usual barroom nudes on the walls and often kept live birds inside the saloon. Hafford also posed stuffed animals on the bar and atop kegs of beer.

Hafford was born in Massachusetts in 1835. Little is known of his early life, but he did serve in the military (his rank of colonel was not just honorary). After an honorable discharge he came west to Arizona Territory. Hafford settled for a while near Maricopa and ended up in Tombstone in late 1879, just in time for the big silver strike. In the spring of 1880 he opened a saloon and wholesale liquor outlet on Allen Street at Fourth. His establishment also served wine, brandy and other liquors supplied by Hooper & Co. in San Francisco. Two years later in Tucson, Hafford purchased the Congress Hall Saloon, which he ran at the same time. Hafford went back east in 1883 but returned to Tombstone in 1886 and reopened his saloon there.

The Tombstone Epitaph noted in February 1887 that Hafford “now has a collection of 65 stuffed birds that have been killed in and around this section of country,” adding that once he had collected specimens of all Arizona Territory birds, he would donate them to the Smithsonian. Hafford’s collection made news in The New York Times of March 10, 1887, after the amateur ornithologist collected an unusual specimen: “During the past week,” the Times reported, “Colonel Hafford added some 10 birds to his collection of the feathered tribes of Arizona, among which is a very rare specimen of the hawk family called ‘devil hawk’ by the Mexicans….The Mexicans are superstitions about him [the bird] and regard his appearance as an evil omen.”

In 1890 Hafford purchased a blacksmith shop next to his saloon and began renovations to transform the shop into an exhibit space. By November 6 he had completed the work and welcomed visitors to view his bird collection, which had grown to 250 specimens. That same year he helped with the collecting activities of Otto C. Poling, a renowned ornithologist associated with the Smithsonian. Three years later Hafford exhibited his collection of birds and mammals at the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco. Afterward he sold the collection to Adolph Sutro, a mining engineer who served as San Francisco’s mayor on the Populist ticket. Sutro put Hafford’s bird collection on permanent display.

On November 26, 1896, Hafford went to Randsburg, Calif., to check out a silver strike, intending a return to Tombstone “if matters do not look favorable.” But Randsburg boomed, and Hafford built a saloon on the town’s main street. The Rand mining district, named for the famed district in South Africa, lay along the Kern–San Bernardino county line. Rich gold deposits, such as that found in the Yellow Aster mine, led to a rush, and ore production remained substantial well into the 1940s.

Hafford’s Liquor Store (and saloon) in Randsburg soon became one of the most popular drinking spots in that area. But Randsburg had its downside. Because of murders and the general lawlessness of the “Dirty Dozen” and other mining camp gangs in late 1896, townspeople formed a Citizens’ Committee (vigilantes), with Hafford as one of the founders and leaders. It posted fair warning to the gangs:


In addition to his peacekeeping efforts, Hafford also supported such municipal events as Randsburg’s first Fourth of July celebration, in 1897; the saloon owner donated a bottle of excellent whiskey to the winners of a sack race. That August, Hafford and his mining partner, A.G. Bowman, sold the colonel’s claims in the Slate Range to Captain J.A. Black of Salt Lake City for $18,000. They also bonded the Bowman claim to miner George Montgomery of Panamint for one year for a sum of $40,000.

On May 6, 1898, a fire started in a house next to Hafford’s liquor store/saloon on Butte Avenue between Rand and Broadway (Burma Road) and spread to most of the Randsburg buildings. Hafford immediately rebuilt, but deteriorating health forced him to retire. He still ventured into the nearby mountains to check on his claims, if not the birds. However, his health worsened, and he checked into the Bakersfield County Hospital, where he died on December 21, 1900. Hafford’s obituary noted that he was survived by “a wife who lived somewhere in northern California.”


Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.

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