By Samantha Edwards
For decades after the birth of Holbrook during the 1870s, it was the quintessential Wild Western town. Its most popular community spot was the infamous Bucket of Blood saloon, and several of the local cowboys and miners were well-practiced gamblers, drinkers and gunslingers.
Saloon fights were common, and the legendary tale of the shootout between the colorful Commodore Perry Owens and the Blevins family was a significant part of Holbrook’s history.
Holbrook was so rough that by the time Arizona became a state in 1912, it was the only county seat in the nation that “boasted,” no church in the community. The town was distinctly labeled “man’s country,” and “too tough,” for women, children and churches.
It’s no small wonder that Judge Sidney Sapp, a practiced lawyer, had trouble convincing his wife to move to Holbrook to start a new life. Mrs. Alma Sapp protested that she would not live in a town without a church.
Unsurprisingly, Judge Sapp began to give some serious consideration to organizing a local church. Campaigning for donations was no easy task; a newspaper article was written stating, “The Bucket of Blood Saloon, the most popular meeting place in northeastern Arizona, ruled this section with an iron hand. Holbrook stood for thirty-one years without a church, and the Bucket of Blood ruling the community. Various cowboys were asked for a donation for the new church; practically all of them refused. Judge Sapp said that some thought that the influence behind this was the Bucket of Blood.”
Despite this opposition, Sapp collected enough funds to establish a church in 1913. This house of worship, originally called the Community Church, provided a meeting place for several different religious denominations.
After the church was organized in Holbrook, an interesting shift in attitude occurred among Holbrook citizens, even amidst the miners and cowboys who possessed the aforementioned unsavory habits. For no obvious reason, men in the community stopped seeking recreation in the Bucket of Blood saloon, and it soon went out of business. The town was well on its way to becoming civilized.
Why did Judge Sapp devote so much energy to making Holbrook a more culturally refined community? Besides Mrs. Sapp’s desire to attend church, both the judge and his wife enjoyed being active members of the community.
Mrs. Sapp was involved in many women’s clubs. Judge Sapp started the Holbrook-News in 1909, served as president of the Holbrook School District board and was a director of the First National Bank of Holbrook, as well as a member of several other committees and organizations.
He ran for judge of the Navajo County Superior Court in 1911, and served in that capacity until 1919. Sapp said of himself during his campaign, “I have tried to serve the cause of humanity as well as justice. I have never been neutral between right and wrong.” Concerning his service of 12 years on the school board, the Holbrook Tribune News reported this of his exemplary work in an editorial: “….he had the courage of his convictions, and……undaunted, he continued to serve as he thought best.”
Judge and Mrs. Sapp enjoyed a life together in Holbrook for well over 20 years. In 1938, they sought medical help for a heart ailment that the judge struggled with, but even so he passed away on June 26, 1938, at the age of 69. His funeral took place in the church that he so diligently worked to establish.