Arizona History: Tombstone

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Tombstone in 1881

Tombstone got its name in an interesting way. A man named Ed Schieffelin was prospecting in an area of the San Pedro Valley, where the Mule and Dragoon Mountains meet. Prospectors had been warned away by the army, since it the area was known to be an Apache stronghold. The army warned you that all you would find would be your tombstone. In August of 1877, Schieffelin found rich ore. When recording his claim, he called the mine Tombstone. His second strike he called Graveyard. The following spring he and his brother Al and his friend Dick Gird struck a third claim called the Lucky Cuss. News spread like wildfire and prospectors and outlaws alike arrived came in droves to Tombstone.

The first stamp mill came to San Pedro Valley in 1879. Many other camps sprung up around the mining area–Charleston, Galeyville, Harshaw, Paradise, Contention, Fairbanks, and Bisbee. Eventually there were a hundred and fifty stamp mills, which ground up more than $30,000,000 in bullion.

When the boom started there were only 500 people and a half dozen wooden frame buildings. In six months there were 5,000 people. In a year there were 10,000 people and in 18 months there were 15,000 people. The town was literally built on silver: right in the middle of Toughnut Street there was a 40-ft hole were a lode of silver had been dug out.

Along with the lawful, there were great bands of the lawless that came to town. Among them was the famous Clanton gang. Clanton, his sons, Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo, Frank Stilwell, and many others led a loosely joined gang over 300 lawless men. Into this lawless atmosphere came riding, Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil, Morgan, and James, as well as their friend Doc Holliday. Tensions between the lawful and the lawless brewed for quite some time, until the eruption on October 26, 1881, at the OK Corral. The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday shot and killed the Clantons. Wyatt Earp was known to have said, “You S.O.B.’s, you’ve been looking for a fight and now you can have it.”

Eventually the ores played out and the town returned to its former slow pace. Today it is popular with tourists, with many of the old buildings still intact. Many old adobe buildings are still standing, and reenactments of the historic gunfight are replayed.