William Cornell Greene: A Wisconsin Native at the O.K. Corral

My daughter and her family in front of Tombstone’s historic courthouse.

Okay, I admit it. This post’s connection to the Midwest is on shaky grounds.

But I spent yesterday playing a tourist in Tombstone, Arizona, and it’s too much fun not to share a little bit of the history I learned when we visited the historic Cochise County Courthouse.

Of course, there’s a section devoted to Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers, and the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

But there are other fascinating exhibits, too.

As I browsed the display, I found an infamous person who moved to Tombstone from the Midwest.

Today I’ll tell you about William Cornell Greene (August 26, 1852 – August 5, 1911), who was born in Duck Creek, Wisconsin and discovered rich copper reserves in Cananea, Mexico.

He founded the Greene Consolidated Copper Company in 1889 and, by 1905, was one of the wealthiest businessmen in the world.

Before his discoveries though, in 1887, he was involved in a deadly feud while living along the San Pedro River near Tombstone.

The fight began when Greene built a small dam. A neighbor, James Burnett, blew up Greene’s dam with dynamite and built a dam of his own.

The next day Greene’s two daughters and a friend went to their favorite swimming hole, but the blast had transformed the shallow pool to a deep hole with a strong current.

Tragically, one daughter and her friend drowned.

Greene found Burnett on a street near the O.K. Corral and killed him with a revolver. Immediately afterward, Greene turned himself in to Sheriff Scott White. He claimed self-defense and was acquitted.

In later years, Greene became a successful rancher–so successful that Pancho Villa stole his horses more than once. The ranch was selected as a filming location for the musical Oklahoma! starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. It’s also been designated a National Historic District.

Greene had one other claim to fame: he descended from Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene.

Thanks for indulging my trip out west with rancher, miner, outraged father, and Wisconsin native William C. Greene.

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