Search Database

Translate this page

  Camillus S. "C.S." Fly

Camillus Sidney Fly, professionally known as "C.S. Fly," was the seventh child born to Captain Boon and Mary (Percival) Fly in Andrew County, Missouri on May 2, 1849. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Napa County, California, where the inquisitive boy developed a deep appreciation for the American West. His interest in photography led him to San Francisco, where he met photographer Mary "Mollie" Goodrich. The couple fell in love and married on September 29, 1879. A few months later, they moved to Tombstone, Arizona, where they set up a makeshift studio in a tent. In July of 1880, they opened the Fly Gallery in a 12-room boarding house they purchased at 312 Fremont Street. While Mrs. Fly ran the studio, Mr. Fly attempted to supplement their income by finding work as a miner. During these travels he visited various military units, where he photographed uniformed officers performing various duties.

On one of the rare occasions when he was back home, Mr. Fly had the good fortune of witnessing an iconic event in American history. Tensions had long been smoldering between Tombstone renegade cowboy outlaws Billy Claiborne and a pair of brothers, Joseph Isaac "Ike" and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury on one side; and lawmen Wyatt Earp and John Henry "Doc" Holliday on the other. The conflict, later dubbed as the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," finally erupted near the Fly studio on October 26, 1881. With rifle in hand, Mr. Fly participated in the shootout, and eventually disarmed the mortally wounded Billy Clanton. The reasons Mr. Fly neglected to photograph the legendary gunfight is open to conjecture, but some historians believe he was threatened by Wyatt Earp. It is much easier to rewrite history when there is no documentation or photographic record to challenge its conclusions.

After the couple adopted a baby girl they nicknamed Kitty, Mr. Fly hit the road again, exchanging his rifle for his Rochester Optical camera. While she took pictures of local residents for 35 cents a piece, her husband traveled with General George Cook to the Canyon de Los Embudos, just south of the Mexican border, where negotiations were being conducted with Apache chief Geronimo. On March 25 and March 26, 1886, Mr. Fly had unprecedented access to both parties, and took what are believed to be the only existing candid photographs of Geronimo and his men. General Crook's subordinate officer John Gregory Bourke later recalled, "Mr. Fly… saw his opportunity and improved it fully: he took 'shots' at 'Geronimo' and the rest of the group, and with a 'nerve' that would have reflected undying glory on a Chicago drummer, coolly asked 'Geronimo' and the warriors with him to change positions, and turn their heads or faces, to improve the negative."

Unfortunately, Mr. Fly's increasing alcoholism took a toll on his personal and professional life. His family left him, and after taking a photographic tour of the Arizona frontier, Mr. Fly opened a studio in Phoenix while his estranged wife continued to maintain the Tombstone facility. After serving two years as Cochise County Sheriff and a brief stint as a rancher, C.S. Fly died in Bisbee, Arizona on October 12, 1901. He was buried in Tombstone, and after his death, Mollie Fly published her husband's Apache photographs in a volume entitled, Scenes in Geronimo's Camp: The Apache Outlaw and Murderer. She retired to Los Angeles, and before her death in 1925 Mrs. Fly donated her husband's negatives to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Fly's Photography Gallery was later rebuilt and has become a popular Tombstone tourist attraction.

1980 Boys' Life, Vol. LXIX, No. XIII (Irving, TX: Boy Scouts of America), p. 23.

1977 A Clash of Cultures: Fort Bowie and the Chiricahua Apaches by Robert M. Utley (Washington, DC: National Park Service), p. 52.

2013 Imagining Geronimo: An Apache Icon in Popular Culture by William M. Clements (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press), p. 166.

2012 Legends of America (URL:

2014 Tom Horn in Life and Legend by Larry D. Ball (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), p. 104.

2008 Heritage Western Photography & Early Artifacts Auction (Dallas, TX: Heritage Auctions), p. 32.

# 3455
2018-01-03 19:34:06

Return to Previous Page
Return to the History Librarium

Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera