was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin. Ed
was staying at what was then called Camp Huachuca (wa-chu-ka) as
part of a scouting expedition against the Chiricahua (chir-i-cow-uh)
Apaches. During his time there he would venture out
into the wilderness "looking for rocks", all the while
ignoring the warnings he received from the soldiers at the camp.
They would tell him, "Ed, the only stone you will
find out there will be your tombstone". Well, Ed
did find his stone. And it was Silver. So,
remembering the words of warning from the soldiers, he named his
first mine The Tombstone.
Click here to learn more about Ed Schieffelin
wasn't long before word spread about Ed's silver strike. Soon prospectors,
cowboys, homesteaders, lawyers, speculators, gunmen and business
people flocked to the area in droves. In 1879 a town site was laid
out on the nearest level spot to the mines, known at that time as
Goose Flats, and was appropriately named "Tombstone" after
Ed Schieffelin's first mining claim.
By the mid 1880's Tombstone's population had increased to around
7,500. This figure counted only the white male registered voters
that were over 21 years of age. If you take into account the women, children,
Chinese, Mexicans and the many "ladies of the evening" the estimates
are that the population was between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
At its peak, it is said to have been the fastest growing city between St. Louis
and San Francisco. There were over one hundred saloons, numerous
restaurants, a large red-light district, an even larger Chinese
population, schools, churches, newspapers, and one of the first
public swimming pools in Arizona (which is still used today).
were a few theaters in town, the most famous of them being Schieffelin
Hall and the Bird Cage Theatre. Schieffelin Hall was where the "respectable"
people in town went for entertainment. It opened in June of 1881
and was built for the people of Tombstone by Ed Schieffelin's Brother
Al. It is the largest standing adobe structure in the southwest
United States and was built to be used as a theater, recital hall
and a meeting place for Tombstone Citizens. Wyatt and Morgan Earp
attended a performance there the evening that Morgan was killed
by an assassin's bullet. It is still in use today by city government
and civic groups.
CLICK HERE to buy a vintage image of
historic Schieffelin Hall.
Bird Cage Theatre is another story. It was a saloon, theater, gambling
hall and brothel. Legend has it that no self-respecting woman in
town would even walk on the same side of the street as the Bird
Cage Theatre. It opened its doors on Christmas Day 1881 and ran
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year until closing its
doors in 1889. In 1882, The New York Times reported, "the Bird
Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin
Street and the Barbary Coast." Evidence of this can still be
seen in the 140 supposed bullet holes that have been found in the
walls and ceiling. The Bird Cage was named for the cage style crib
compartments suspended from the ceiling. It was in these "Bird
Cages" that the "ladies of the evening" entertained
their customers. The story goes that they were the inspiration for
the song, "She's only a bird in a gilded cage", which
was quite popular during the early 1900's.
Two major fires swept through Tombstone during the 1880's. Legend has it that in June of 1881 a cigar ignited a barrel of whiskey at the Arcade Saloon. The subsequent fire destroyed over 60 businesses in the downtown area. But the town rebuilt itself and kept on growing. In May of 1882 another fire ripped through downtown Tombstone destroying a large portion of the business district. Again, the town rebuilt.
Tombstone is also the home of Boothill Graveyard. Boothill began in 1879 and was used until 1884 when the New Tombstone City Cemetery was opened on west Allen Street. After the opening of the new cemetery, Boothill became known as "The Old Cemetery". The City cemetery is still in use today. Legend has it that Boothill was named for the fact that many residents there died violent or unexpected deaths and were buried with their boots on. However, it was actually named Boothill after Dodge City's pioneer cemetery in the hopes of attracting tourists in the late 1920's. Many famous Tombstone folks lie there including the victims of the 1881 Shootout on Fremont Street between the Earps and the Cowboys. For many years, it was neglected. The desert overtook parts of it and vandals removed grave markers. Then, in the 1920's concerned citizens began the process of cleaning up the Old Cemetery and researching the placement of the graves to preserve it for future generations (and to make a little money on tourism).
Click here to learn more about Tombstone's Cemeteries.
The most famous event in Tombstone's history was the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral, which didn't actually happen at the corral, but in a vacant lot on Fremont Street. On October 26, 1881, members of the "Cowboys" had a run-in with Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp with help from Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday. 24 seconds and 30 shots later, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury were mortally wounded. In many peoples opinion, it was this one event that has kept Tombstone alive for all these years.
In 1882 the Cochise County Courthouse was built at a cost of around $45,000. It provided offices for the county sheriff, recorder, treasurer, board of supervisors, and included a well-built jail. The courthouse was a comfortable symbol of law and stability in these turbulent times. The county seat remained in Tombstone until voters in 1929 chose to move it to Bisbee, a bustling copper mining town 29 miles away. The last county office left the courthouse in 1931. Budget cuts in 2010 by Gov. Jan Brewer almost forced the Museums closure. Luckily the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce stepped in and met the demands from the state to take over operation of the museum.
Click here to learn more about the old Cochise County Courthouse
the silver mining continued the mineshafts were dug deeper and deeper
to get the precious ore. Once they hit the 520 foot level, the water
table was reached which flooded the mines. Attempts to pump out
the water marginally worked for a few years but soon became too
costly to continue. As the mining slowed down, the people of Tombstone
started leaving, but not before $37,000,000 worth of ore had been
taken from the many mines in the area. It is estimated that by the
early 1930's Tombstone's population dwindled to around 150 people.
Today, Tombstone is home to around 1500 year round residents who enjoy the wonderful climate that Cochise County's high desert has to offer and believe in preserving the history and heritage of the Wildest Town in the West!
Click here to learn more about The Town Too Tough to Die