Tombstone was a mining boom town starting in 1880s but the bonanza did not last long, oddly enough, because of too much water in Arizona of all places. The mines at a depth of 500 feet flooded with water and powerful pumps caught fire or failed. By 1909, much of the mining activity ceased, according to historian Marshall Trimble.
But Tombstone, dubbed the Town Too Tough to Die, still had its frontier-era infrastructure and lots of colorful stories to share with a world increasingly fascinated by the old West.
Ed Schieffelin, the prospector who set off the town's mining boom in 1877, had been warned against his search for silver and gold in the southeastern Arizona Territory. Skeptics said he would only find his tombstone at the hands of marauding Indians. Instead, he hit it rich and the town was named Tombstone.
Tombstone is most famous for its Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881 near Fremont and Third streets. The shootout involved Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday vs. Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Claiborne.
When the shootout ended, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead while Ike Clanton and Claiborne escaped. Doc Holliday and Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. Wyatt was uninjured.
Morgan was gunned down in March 1882. That prompted Wyatt, Doc Holliday and others to seek retribution by killing Frank Stillwell, suspected of murdering Morgan. That was followed by the so-called Earp Vendetta Ride to track and kill other enemies.
All the gunplay did not sit well with at least one newspaper editor. The Weekly Eptiaph of Tombstone on June 17, 1882 wrote:
“If each one of the Earps had been tied to a cow boy (sic) and thrown over a telegraph pole, it would have been much better for the peace of the country. All this press twaddle over a lot of murderous scoundrels, is enough to make an American sick of his birthplace.”
Today, 140 years later, we're still making movies and writing about the notorious but brief gun battle. And Tombstone is still re-enacting shootouts.
In fact, one of those staged events turned out horribly wrong. In October 2015, it seems a a mock gunfighter seriously wounded a fellow re-enactor by mistakenly using real bullets instead of blanks.
Tombstone is well worth a day trip, an overnight visit or combined with a trip to Bisbee, Douglas and other Cochise County destinations.
Tombstone has its century-old buildings and town codes attempt to protect the historical integrity of the structures. Tombstone tries to balance its historic character with the commercial aspects of shops catering to tourists in 21st century Arizona.
The Tombstone Courthouse is a good example of an historic structure with its architectural integrity intact. Built in 1882, the two-story building served as the Cochise County Courthouse until 1929 when Bisbee became the county seat. The courthouse, with its replica gallows and a corkscrew fire escape, became Arizona's first state park in 1959.
Other well preserved historic buildings include the Marshall's Office in an old firehouse and the 1880 Crystal Palace, which features a beautiful back bar and roulette and faro wheels.
Tombstone's mining boom lasted for less than three decades but that vibrant era was enough to fuel a tourism trade that's been going strong for more than 70 years.
Visit Bisbee: http://www.ontheroadarizona.com/bisbee.html