The town of Tombstone is undoubtedly one of the more famous of the Wild West era in US history. There are movies and books named for the town and just about everyone has heard of the Gunfight in the OK Corral, the story responsible for what keeps the town famous in our times.
Tombstone was founded in 1879 in the Arizona Territory and was so named following the story of the man who made the first mining claim in the area. Ed Schieffelin, previously an Army Ranger and fond of looking for ore samples in the wild, was told as he left for the area that he would find nothing but his tombstone as three mine superintendents had been murdered by Native Americans not far from where he was headed. When Ed found his vein of silver, he promptly named it Tombstone and the town has since appeared on numerous lists of strangely named places.
Schieffelin filed his mining claim in late September of 1877 and in March of 1879 the town was officially founded atop a mesa situated above the Goodenough Mine. By that fall, there were officially 40 cabins in town and thousands of residents, most living in what was called a ‘canvas and matchstick camp’, mining millions of dollars worth of silver from the mine below.
Early in February of 1881, Tombstone became the new county seat of Pima County, Arizona and telegraph service was also established that month. The population grew from about a hundred to more than 14,000 in just seven years and with the growth of the small settlement, there was soon a school, an ice house, two banks, four churches, more than hundred saloons, and various brothels and dancehalls to keep the miners of the day entertained.
Of course, with people came social tensions as well. While most of the ranchers and rustlers were of the Democratic persuasion and supporters of the Confederate, the mining entrepreneurs and most of the lay population were Republicans, hailing from the northern territories. These underlying tensions sometimes turned violent, even deadly, and this is where the story of the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday and their notorious gunfight with the Clanton clan and a loosely organized group of outlaws known as The Cowboys, comes in.
After almost 30 years and recovering between $40 and $85 million dollars worth of silver from the surrounding mines, there was a fire in 1896 that destroyed the town’s pumps which had been installed to keep the mining operations running. It was decided that it would be too costly to repair the pumps and the town died quickly, boasting a population of only some 600 folks by 1910.
In 2017, just shy of 1300 people called the town of Tombstone home and today the town brings in most of its revenue from tourists interested in the history of the area. The town’s motto is The Town Too Tough To Die, and after almost becoming a ghost town, it seems only fitting that the town is still alive today.