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Tombstone, Arizona

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Growing up in the days of TV westerns, I was excited at the thought of actually getting to visit a city where I had witnessed so many gun fights. Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and many more had walked the streets of the city I was about to visit. WOW!

Sometimes when we put too much thinking into a project we can actually get reality mixed up with fantasy. And so it was with our visit to Tombstone, Arizona. I enjoyed the visit but obviously I was expecting dirt streets, hitching posts and people being thrown out of bars, I guess. In reality, Tombstone, like most western towns, has tried to keep some of the old town flavor while moving into modern times. You can see a great deal of history as you walk down the streets. We look forward to returning to Tombstone.

Tombstone History

Tombstone is a historic western city in Cochise County, Arizona. Founded in 1879 by Ed Schieffelin in what was then Pima County, Arizona Territory, Tombstone was one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the Old West. The town prospered from about 1877 to 1890, during which the town's mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion, the largest productive silver district in Arizona. Its population grew from 100 to around 14,000 in less than 7 years. It is best known as the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and draws most of its revenue from tourism.

Within two years of its founding, Tombstone boasted a school, a bowling alley, four churches, an ice house, two banks, three newspapers, and an ice cream parlor, alongside 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dancing halls and brothels. All of these were situated among and on top of a large number of dirty, hardscrabble mines. The gentlemen and ladies of Tombstone attended operas presented by visiting acting troupes at the Schieffelin Hall opera house, while the miners and cowboys saw shows at the Bird Cage Theatre, the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.

Under the surface were tensions that grew into deadly conflict. The townspeople and mining capitalists were largely Republicans from the Northern states. Many of the ranchers in the area were Democrats and Confederate sympathizers. The booming city was only 30 miles from the United States/Mexico border and was an open market for beef stolen from ranches in Sonora, Mexico by a loosely organized band of outlaws known as The Cowboys. The Earp brothers-Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan and Warren Earp-arrived in December 1879 and the summer of 1880. They had ongoing conflicts with Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and other Cowboys members. The Cowboys repeatedly threatened the Earps over many months until the conflict escalated into a confrontation that turned into a shootout, the now-famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

In the mid-1880s, the silver mines penetrated the water table and the mining companies made significant investments in specialized pumps. A fire in 1886 destroyed the Grand Central hoist and pumping plant, and it was unprofitable to rebuild the costly pumps. The city nearly became a ghost town only saved from that end because it was the Cochise County seat until 1929. The classic Cochise County Courthouse and adjacent gallows yard in Tombstone are now preserved as a museum. The city's population dwindled to a low of 646 in 1910 but in 2010 the population was 1,380.

Currently, western memorabilia and tourism are the main commercial enterprises; a July 2005 CNN article notes that Tombstone receives approximately 450,000 tourist visitors each year which is about 300 tourists/year for each permanent resident. In contrast to its heyday, when it featured saloons open 24 hours and numerous houses of prostitution, Tombstone is now a staid community with few businesses open late.


A Visit to Tombstone