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 Camillus Sydney (Buck) Fly  (1849 - 1901)

About: Camillus Sydney (Buck) Fly


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Lived/Active: Arizona/Missouri      Known for: early western photography

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Camillus "Buck" Sydney Fly (2 May 1849 – 12 October 1901) was an American photographer most noted for the many photographs he took during Tombstone, Arizona's wild and wooly days. He was also a witness to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place outside his photography studio.

He later served as a lawman and as Cochise County Sheriff from 1895 to 1897. His photographs are legendary and highly prized.

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

He married Mary “Mollie” E. Goodrich on September 29, 1879 in San Francisco. Mary, who was also a photographer, and Camillus soon moved to Arizona Territory, where they settled in Tombstone in December, 1879. Fly and his wife immediately set up a photographic studio in a tent before going to work on more permanent quarters.

In July, 1880, they opened a 12-room boarding house, and a separate studio called the “Fly Gallery” in the back of the boarding house located at 312 Fremont Street in Tombstone.

On October 26, 1881, Fly was in a unique position, as the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral actually took place in an alley between his boarding house and the next house west of it. During the shootout, Cochise County Sheriff John Behan took cover inside the boarding hourse, watching the gunplay, only to be joined by Ike Clanton who fled in terror proclaiming he was unarmed. When the smoke cleared, it was Fly, armed with a Henry rifle, who disarmed Billy Clanton as he lay dying against the house next door. If Fly ever took any photos of the scene of the shootout scene which was next to his own studio, they have been lost.

During this time, Fly and Mary adopted a little girl they called Kitty, but Mary continued to run the boarding house and studio as Camillus traveled around the area taking photographs. While her husband was out, she acted as one of the few female photographers of the times, taking pictures of anyone who could pay the studio price of 35 cents.

In March, 1886, Fly accompanied General George Crook to the Canyon de Los Embudos for the negotiations with Geronimo. He became most famous for the photographs he took of the negotiations. His photos of Geronimo and the other free Apaches, taken on March 25 and 26th, are famous as the only existing photographs of a native American while still at war with the United states.

Fly had become a heavy drinker and the year after these famous photographs were taken, his wife Mary took their child and separated from her husband. He then left Tombstone on December 17, 1887 and toured Arizona with his photographs, briefly establishing a studio in Phoenix in 1893. However, the following year, he returned to the area. In the meantime, Mary continued to run the studio in Tombstone during his absence.

Though his drinking was becoming more and more heavy, he was elected as the Cochise County Sheriff in 1895 and served for two years.

Fly ranched in the Chiricahua Mountains, until his death at Bisbee, on October 12, 1901. Though Camillus and his wife had been separated for years, she was at his bedside when he died, and made arrangements to have his body returned to Tombstone, where it was buried in the Tombstone Cemetery (this is the new Tombstone city cemetery, not the "old city cemetery" which became a legendary Boot Hill).

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." In 1912, the boarding house was the victim of a fire, which burned it completely (it has since been rebuilt). This incident prompted Mary to finally retire. Moving to Los Angeles, she donated her husband’s collection of negatives to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She died in 1925.


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