The birdcage theatre in Tombstone

If you are interested in the history of the Wild West, surely you have heard about the Bird Cage Theatre. It worked in Tombstone, Arizona, in the heyday of silver mining in the city's vicinity.

In 1882, the New York Times called it "the most violent and vicious nightclub" in the territory from New Orleans to San Francisco.

The theater was open around the clock without interruption on weekends or holidays, offering customers a bar, restaurant, performances, and the company of easily accessible ladies.

But the list of entertainment at the Bird Cage was not limited to whiskey and whores, as in the usual saloon. The club played cards at very high stakes. Often, there were conflicts at the table. In them participated very heated heads, so in move often resisted firearms.

The theater building is still there. There are dozens of bullet holes in its walls. Numerous eyewitnesses claim you can see the ghosts of murdered players and former prostitutes at night.

This is not the only mysterious story associated with the Bird Cage. The most exciting legends will be discussed further.

History of the Bird Cage Theatre

In 1877, prospector Ed Shieffelin discovered a silver field southeast of Arizona. He founded a settlement, which soon grew to become a city. It was Ed who named the place Tombstone. People told him he would find his grave when he traveled to the Wild West.

the tombstone - Bird Cage theatre

At the beginning of 1881, more than seven thousand people lived in Tombstone. Workers tired of hard labor in the mines required entertainment. Demand always generates supply, and in late December, Allen Street opened a club called the Bird Cage Theatre. Married couple Lottie and William Hutchinson founded it.

Singers, magicians, dancers, and artists of other genres performed on the club's stage. Behind the bar, popular alcoholic drinks were being poured. The kitchen offered traditional dishes. In the basement, fans of gambling played card games. And unencumbered by moral principles, the girls provided services on the second floor.

Cultural Life at the Bird Cage Theatre

Billy hoped it would be a respectable place for an esteemed audience. For example, he arranged Ladies Nights, to which he invited the most honorable women of the city and other similar parties. But the realities of the Wild West mining town forced him to abandon this venture and switch to more affordable entertainment that can attract unassuming prospectors.

The Bird Cage Theater

Alma Hayes, known by the pseudonyms Mademoiselle De Granville and the Hercules Woman, performed on the stage of the Birdcage. Her incredible power tricks delighted visitors. Numbers by various comedians, singers, and musicians were also popular.

Periodically, the Bird Cage Theatre hosted masquerade balls and other large-scale events with the participation of numerous artists.

The Decline of the Bird Cage

In March 1882, the largest silver mine, the Grand Central Mine, began to flood with water from an underground river that miners stumbled upon. At first, it was possible to pump it out, but it became clear that soon this method would be ineffective.

The Hutchinson realized silver mining was under threat and hurried to sell the Bird Cage. Its new owners were John Bignon (Joe Bignon) and his wife, Minnie.

The mine worked until May 1886, when the pump and hoist burned. Then, the value of silver fell, after which other mines closed. Residents began to leave the city, and, in 1892, the Bird Cage closed.

It would seem a prosaic story, typical of saloons and other entertainment venues in the Wild West. How did numerous legends about Bird Cage Theatre appear in the future? To this day, they fuel interest in the famous club.

Let's try to understand where the most persistent myths came from and how close they are to the truth.

The Origin of the Bird Cage Name

Why was the theater called a "birdcage"? This question has long haunted fans of the Wild West. They put forward several theories.

According to one of them, the club was initially decorated with an Elite Theatre sign. Girls of easy virtue worked who rendered the vicious services in wooden rooms on the second floor, then reminded poor birds in cages. Supposedly, the name stuck, and Billy Hutchinson made it official.

Bird Cage - scene in the theatre

But that's not true. The owners called their brainchild The Bird Cage Theater from the first day of work. And as mentioned above, initially, it was designed for respectable customers, so there were no prostitutes within its walls.

A variant of the Elite Theatre did not emerge until 1883 when Joe Binyon bought the theatre. But customers kept calling it the old way, and the new owner returned the old version.

The Longest Poker Game

This story has acquired an incredible amount of speculation and fantasies. They are so many that often people refuse to believe in the fact of what happened, although historians confirm it.

From 1881 to 1889, poker was played in the basement of the Birdcage Theater. For eight years, it was continuous gameplay. Only respectable clients could afford to participate in it because it was necessary to deposit one thousand dollars, which was a large sum at the time.

the poker room at the Bird Cage Theatre

The table was visited by many legends of gambling: George Hearst, Doc Holliday, Diamond Jim Brady, Wyatt Earp, and other famous players.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, they were figuring out who played better poker, and the owners of the Bird Cage Theatre were getting richer because they were taking ten percent of the pot. It is said that the turnover amounted to ten million dollars during this time. It turns out that one million went to the owners of the club.

Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo Shootout

As the legend goes, once somewhat drunk, Doc Holliday sat in the "Birdcage" for a game of Pharaoh. There appeared Johnny Ringo, a thug from the "Cowboys" gang.

Drunk Holliday hooked Ringo: "johnny, ready to put everything on the line? It's the sharpest game in town." Hot-tempered John did not hesitate to answer. He tore the bandanna from his neck and said, " Will you take the handkerchief by the other end? It's the deadliest game in town."

So Ringo proposed Doc fight in a duel. The rules were strict. Participants took neck scarves for different ends and shot on a signal. As a rule, opponents killed each other.

This famous story is played out in the film "Tombstone: Legend of the Wild West," in which Halliday and Ringo play Val Kilmer (Val Kilmer) and Michael Bean (Michael Biehn). Guides tell it to tourists. In the Museum of the Bird Cage Theatre, you can even buy t-shirts with themed pictures.

But, judging by the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses, the real story was not so dramatic, and the conversation between Doc and Johnny was not replete with beautiful statements. There had been a quarrel between them, but it had happened in the middle of Allen Street, and there had been no shooting.

Ghosts of the Bird Cage Theatre

Ghosts, supposedly living in the theater building in the United States, are discussed everywhere. They say that the spirits of the dead, almost on schedule, appear in the club, scaring employees and belated visitors.

Several American television shows were devoted to this mysterious topic. Remember the most popular issues of famous shows:

  • 2006 - Ghost Hunters 
  • 2009 – Ghost Adventures 
  • 2009 - Ghost Lab
  • 2011 - Fact or Fake: Paranormal Files 
  • 2015 - Ghost Adventures 

Of course, none of the programs answered whether ghosts inhabit the Bird Cage. But it is known that these shows attract more tourists to the famous theatre.

Realities of Tombstone and the Bird Cage

People love myths and legends. Of the Wild West, there are a great many. But historians argue that the state of Affairs in Tombstone and the Bird Cage Theatre was much more prosaic.

  • The atmosphere of the club was not like the Institute of noble maidens. Maybe the atmosphere was more or less decent when the owners tried to gather a respectable audience. But in the future, the club gathered miners, cowboys, sharper, and mobs. No, fights and shootings did not happen daily, but such incidents did not surprise anyone.
  • Imagining a successful entertainment joint in the Wild West without girls of easy virtue is impossible. At the Birdcage, they also worked hard on their faces and other parts of their bodies, receiving clients in the second-floor rooms. Not only did they get paid for their services, but they also pocketed a reward for the drinks that customers ordered. It was about the beginnings of a modern escort services and hostesses system, widely practiced in the gambling business.
  • Throughout most of the history of the Birdcage Theatre, customers have played poker and other card games in its basement. The above recounted an eight-year ongoing series in which millions of dollars passed through the table.
  • On the stage of Bird Cage Theatre, many famous artists performed their shows. Those names thundered throughout the Wild West. But even more exciting personalities met in the number of clients. Legendary bandits, skilled sharps, and professional card players visited the club.

It can be argued that Tombstone and the Bird Cage were not the abode of evil and a hotbed of crime. Like most busy places in the Wild West, it was a gathering place for all sorts of people, including criminals, but the authorities kept the city and the theater relatively orderly.

Bird Cage in our time

Some researchers believe that the history of Tombstone and the "Birdcage" began to actively rewrite and Supplement myths in 1929 when several residents founded the festival Helldorado Days. The holiday has been arranged almost annually until now. This fun event gathers dozens of artists and attracts a large audience. Still, its organizers do not hesitate to invent legends about the city to interest and even shock the audience.

Tombstone and The Bird Cage Theatre Now

Currently, Tombstone's budget is replenished mainly by tourism. The city authorities are trying to recreate the atmosphere of the Wild West on its streets, but historians are dissatisfied with the situation. They do not like that most buildings are reproductions, and the entire buildings of that era are deplorable. Some are so worn that they can not receive visitors because of the danger of collapse.

In the general background, the Bird Cage Theatre looks quite well. It has been preserved almost in its original form, which delights tourists.

Bird Cage Theatre nowadays

Of course, it no longer performs its original functions, although it can still drink at the Bird Cage bar. The former theatre houses a Museum and gift shop. There are thematic tours, where visitors are stuffed with "fables" about the shootings of legendary gunfighters and sinister ghosts.
From time to time, the Bird Cage hosts festivals, exhibitions, and other events.

You can get acquainted with all the Bird Cage Theatre services on the establishment's website, Also, the theater has a Facebook page.


Do you believe in the legends of the Bird Cage theatre? Or do you think they were put together to attract tourists? Most likely, the second version is closer to the truth.

If you visit the Bird Cage Theatre, do not be lazy to write a review. Please share your impressions and tell us whether it is worth visiting the Museum.

Frequently asked Questions

🍾 What did The Bird Gage Theatre do to entertain visitors?

At The Bird Gage Theatre, you could eat, drink, watch shows, get private with a prostitute, and gamble. In short, it offered the full range of entertainment typical of the Wild West.

🃏 Who frequented The Bird Gage?

Various cultural enthusiasts and vicious entertainers visited the Bird Gage Theatre. These included famous hustlers, legendary gunslingers, and desperate thugs.

👻 Is there any legend associated with The Bird Cage?

It is said that its walls are haunted by the ghosts of murdered customers and employees of the establishment. All sorts of TV shows on different TV channels were even dedicated to this topic.

🦩 Where did the name "Birdcage" come from?

Within its walls, numerous girls provided intimate services. They received clients in tiny rooms on the second floor. Their rooms looked like birdcages.

What is The Bird Gage Theatre?

The Bird Gage Theatre is a legendary Wild West revelatory establishment that operated in the famous town of Tombstone, Arizona. It was considered the most rowdy saloon from San Francisco to New Orleans. Many iconic personalities frequented the club, and there are many exciting stories associated with it.

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