Who Was China Mary, aka the Butterfly? 

Who Was China Mary, aka the Butterfly? 

Come See the Comedy Gunfight at Old Tombstone Western Theme Park!
In the exciting days of the Old West, the frontier symbolized opportunity for everyone. More than 140 years later, stories are still coming to light of heroes and villains who hailed from different backgrounds, but came together in the boomtown days of Tombstone, Arizona – the unique town that was “too tough to die.”

Many people still think of Tombstone as that place where the Earp brothers feuded with the outlaw gang known as the Cowboys. But during its peak years, much of Tombstone was actually under the control of a female immigrant. Her name was China Mary and she ran Tombstone, otherwise known as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” She was born in China in 1839 and arrived in Tombstone in late 1879. At that time, the Chinese population in Tombstone was eleven people. Within 18 months, that had grown to over 250. Mary was drawn to Tombstone because she was an astute businesswoman. She recognized the unprecedented profits to be had in the most cultivated city west of the Mississippi River. The city boasted two daily newspapers, an opera house, several churches, and a number of schools. In addition, Tombstone was home to many wealthy business people and landowners – in addition to the hordes of prospectors, miners, gamblers, and outlaws.

Hoptown, where all the Chinese lived, took up a square block on one end of town, and was honeycombed with alleys and tunnels. It was so named because it appeared to the townspeople that the Chinese “hopped” in and “hopped” out. China Mary owned and operated a general store located in the heart of Hoptown. Her store sold both American and Chinese merchandise. She quickly gained a reputation as a universal accommodator. Everyone knew that nothing was done without China Mary’s go ahead. She was held in high esteem by the townspeople, both white and Chinese.

She also controlled several industries that were commonplace, if not essential, to a town on the frontier. For example, Mary was a busy moneylender who had her own methods of both approving customers and collecting delinquent debts. She also controlled the laundry business. She brokered the employment for nearly every Chinese worker in Tombstone, and personally guaranteed their honesty and quality of work to her Western clientele. Nearly all of the Chinamen in Tombstone were in some way indebted to Mary, so she had the financial leverage to ensure their loyalty. Consequently, she not only controlled these workers but also profited handsomely from their labors.

China Mary’s journey was a genuine immigrant success story. She became known as a tough and resourceful woman, able to handle anything that came her way. She even wielded real power, despite being a woman in the Old West. In December 1906, she died of heart failure at the age of 67 – a ripe old age for a pioneer in that hard frontier life.

While you’re visiting Tombstone and the places that China Mary ruled, be sure to visit Old Tombstone Western Theme Park. We’ve kept it close to the real town of Old Tombstone, so you get to stomp your boots on the original dusty streets of the Old West in the 1800s. You’ll see original buildings and savor Cowboy meals like they used to. You’ll also get a taste of daily life back then with our rambunctious, hilarious Comedy Gunfight shows, which have shot to world fame through the years.

Legend is alive here as we take you on a trolley tour to visit the most famous haunted places in Old Tombstone. It’s a great trip for kids of all ages, and it’s not just a goofy getaway. Our theme park gives you serious history lessons in a fun and entertaining way. Oh, and we did add a touch of Hollywood with stunt actors doing renditions of stunts from the most popular Western movies.

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