Camillus Sydney Fly was a photographer and eyewitness to one of the most notorious gunfights in western history. Camillus Sidney Fly was born in Andrew County, Mo., in 1849. Later that same year, Boone and Mary Fly crossed the prairie to Napa County, California with their infant son. On September 29th, 1879 he married Mary “Mollie” Goodrich, a photographer in her own right, and just a few months later, arrived in Tombstone Arizona.
Fly arrived to Tombstone Arizona in December 1879 and established, Fly’s Photography Gallery, on Fremont Street. Like many new arrivals, his first shelter was a tent, which the couple lived in while the photography studio and 12 room boarding house are built at 312 Fremont Street. Fly did some prospecting in the nearby Dragoon Mountains, but relied on the Gallery and boardinghouse next to it for income.
While in Tombstone, Mollie would take indoor portraits of the townspeople, while Buck’s photographic subjects tended towards outdoor photographs of mills, soldiers, ranchers and scenic panoramas. Regardless of photographer almost at almost all of their photographs were credited to C.S. Fly.
Destiny arrived for the Fly’s about 3:00 pm on October 26th, 1881. A long running feud between the Earp’s and McLaury/Clantons lead to the most iconic gunfight in western history, the gunfight at the O. K. Corral. For students of history, the gunfight actually occurred near the O. K. Corral in a vacant lot next to Fly’s Gallery. Ike Clanton famously hide in Fly’s gallery during the gunfight and Mr. Camillus Sydney Fly disarmed a dying Billy Clanton with a Henry Rifle in the aftermath of the fight.
We four started through Fourth to Fremont Street. When we turned the comer of Fourth and Fremont we could see them standing near or about the vacant space between Fly’s photograph gallery and the next building west. I first saw Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Clanton and Sheriff Behan standing there. We went down the left-hand side of Fremont Street.Statement of Wyatt S. Earp
in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case,
Heard before Judge Wells Spicer – November 16, 1881
In March, 1886, General George Cook is notified that the Apache Leader Geronimo agreed to meet. The meeting is arranged at Cañon de los Embudos about eighty six miles from Fort Bowie. Fly learned of this meeting and quickly attached himself to the military column. During the negotiations with Geronimo, C. S. Fly took about fifteen exposures on 8 x 10 inch glass plates. After three days of negotiations, Geronimo agreed to terms of surrender and returned to his camp across the Mexican border.
That night, while in his camp, a U. S. solder who supplied the Apache camp with whiskey, bragged that Geronimo and his followers would be attacked and killed as soon as they crossed the U. S. border. Geronimo and his thirty nine follows left camp that night. The U. S. army pursed Geronimo and his band until September 4, 1886 when, exhausted they surrendered.
Later in life…
In 1887 Fly traveled to Mexico to photograph the aftereffects of an earthquake in Bavispe. The same year, he toured the Arizona Territory to exhibit his photographic works of the area. He and his wife moved to Phoenix in 1893, where they opened another studio. The Flys returned to Tombstone after a year in Phoenix, and in 1895 C.S. Fly was elected to a two-year term as a Cochise County Sheriff.
When his term as a sheriff expired, Fly retired to his ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains, where he spent his remaining days. He died in Bisbee on October 12, 1901, at the age of 51. His remains were interred at the Tombstone Cemetery.
In 1912, his photography studio burns in Tombstone, Arizona. Ever the professional, Mollie documents the destruction of a warehouse of lost western photographic history, with a dramatic photograph.