Tombstone, Arizona

“The town too tough to die.”

Tombstone, Arizona has a fascinating and violent past and is truly a historical American landmark. Founded in 1879 in what was then the Arizona Territory, today Tombstone is a city in Cochise County and a very popular attraction for those who are intrigued with the Old West. Consequently, tourism is the main industry in the town with over 400,000 visitors per year.

TombstoneLocated in Cochise County, Tombstone is probably the most famous and most glamorized mining town in America. According to legend, prospectors Ed Schieffelin and his brother Al were warned not to venture into the Apache-inhabited Mule Mountains because they would only find their tombstones. Thus they named their first silver strike claim Tombstone, and it became the name of the town. The town is situated on a mesa between the Dragoon and Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona at an elevation of 4,540 feet.

While the area later become notorious for saloons, gambling houses and the Earp-Clanton shoot-out at the OK Corral, Tombstone was actually larger than Tucson in the 1880s and had become the most cultivated city in the Old West. Massive underground water in the mines and falling silver prices ended the boom in 1904. Having survived the Great Depression, Tombstone in the 1930s became known as the “Town Too Tough To Die.”

How to get here

From Interstate 10, take Exit 303 in Benson, then follow it through Benson to Highway 80. Stay on Highway 80 for about 24 miles and there you are!

How the town got its name

Prospector Ed Schieffelin was working in the hills near the San Pedro River which was located in the southeast section of the Arizona Territory during the summer of 1877. He had told a soldier that he was going out to collect rocks and was told that the only rock he would find was likely to be his “tombstone”. The reason for this response was because Schieffelin was prospecting in hills where there were warring Apaches but no water. Consequently, when he struck a vein of unusually rich silver ore, he named his mining claim “Tombstone”.

The discovery of this mine resulted in Tombstone becoming a boomtown with settlers pouring in from all over the rest of the country. It was founded in 1879 and was a city of 1,000 by 1881. Just one year later, Tombstone had a population of over 5,000 residents.

A period of time marked by lawlessness and violence followed which almost resulted in then-President Chester A. Arthur declaring martial law in Tombstone and sending in troops from the military to restore order. The climax of this chaotic period was the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral which occurred on October 26, 1881, with the protagonists being Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday against Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, Billy Claiborne, and Wes Fuller.

This historic battle which has taken on almost romantic proportions by those individuals intrigued by the Old West resulted in the deaths of both the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton. Billy Claiborne, Wes Fuller, and Ike Clanton (father of Billy) ran away and were unharmed while Doc Holliday and Virgil, and Morgan Earp were wounded.

Tombstone is home to what is considered to be the most famous Boot Hill graveyard in the Old West. In this cemetery are buried the participants in the O.K. Corral battle as well as a number of victims of violence and disease in the early years of the town. Those who were either lynched or legally hanged are also buried in this historical spot. Admission to the cemetery is $2 per person – Children under 6 admitted free. Hours 9am to 5 pm.

Things to see and do in Tombstone

Tombstone’s pride in its Old West heritage is shown by its numerous original historic buildings. The Tombstone Courthouse, built in 1882, is now a state park. Other attractions include the Rose Tree Inn (with the world’s largest rose tree), Boot Hill Graveyards, the Bird Cage Theater, the Crystal Palace Saloon and the OK Corral. The town’s early lusty days are re-enacted annually for three days in October during the Helldorado Celebration. Each month, a major event takes place which depicts the western heritage from Wyatt Earp to Vigilante Days. Every day, shoot-outs are staged in the OK Corral or on Allen Street.

Visit the Old West’s most famous newspaper – “The Tombstone Epitaph”. This is a free 1880’s newspaper museum where you can view vintage newspapers and printing equipment. You can also obtain a free copy of the original report of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Free admission to the museum from 9:30 am to 5 pm.

Daily re-enactment held at the OK Corral at 2 pm.

Many shops are available to purchase authentic Western memorabilia.

A number of events are held in the town each year including Ed Schieffelin Days, March 10 and 11, honoring the founder of the town, and Wyatt Earp Days on May 26, 27, and 28 – honoring one of the most famous lawmen in the Old West – among many others.

For those Western buffs who wish to spend a few days soaking up the atmosphere, there are a number of motels, bed and breakfasts, and RV lots for your pleasure.

Ghosts and More – Tombstone, Arizona

If you are looking to visit places that are supposedly haunted then you probably will really enjoy a trip to the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone.  Although there are other buildings in the community which is said to be haunted the Birdcage seems to be the one that gets the most attention.

The Bird Cage Theater has a history of being something less than calm.. It is said that 26 people were killed in the Bird Cage during its reputed eight years as one of the meanest and wildest places in Tombstone.  If you want to count you will find over 120 bullet holes still remaining in the building.

While the “ladies of the evening” plied their trade from cribs suspended from the ceiling the patrons went ahead with their nefarious actions before taking a break to “have some fun.”  There are 14 cribs that line the sides of the gambling hall, 7 on each side of the room.  It was in these cribs that the “ladies” would entertain their clients.

You not only can see the gambling hall but now you can visit six more rooms below the Bird Cage that were closed and sealed off since 1889.  What kind of ghosts do you suppose are there?  Do you think you will hear or see them?

The owner of the Bird Cage Theatre has said that numerous people see the same ghost while touring through the theatre.  It appears to be a male stagehand that walks across the stage from the left to the right then disappears into the walls.  He is always seen wearing striped pants, a little visor hat, and carrying a clipboard.

There is an admission fee to see the theater part of the Bird Cage.  The front is open to view, you can see some of the bullet holes and other things but to see the stage you must pay an admission fee.  There is a narrator that will tell stories of the building while you are there.

There are lots of ghost stories about Tombstone.  From the ghost of Virgil Earp crossing the street, and never making it to the other side, to Marshal Fred White who was shot by Curly Bill Crocius in 1880.  Then there is the woman in a long white dress who is thought to be a fretful mother of a child that dies from yellow fever and took her own life, or she was a madam that was hung and is out looking for her executioners.

Whatever the ghost stories you hear, you may want to visit Tombstone and see if you can find out if there is a ghost waiting there for you.  Maybe you can get a picture as some say they have, maybe you will actually witness the crossing of the street by Virgil Earp.  Who knows, you might see someone new!


Wyatt Earp Days – Tombstone, Arizona

Amerind Foundation


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