Tombstone, AZ 85638
In the summer of 1877 prospector Ed Schieffelin was working the hills east of the San Pedro River in the southeast portion of the Arizona Territory, when he came across a vein of very rich silver ore in a high plateau called Goose Flats. When Schieffelin filed his mining claim he named it "The Tombstone", after a warning given him by a passing soldier. While telling the soldier about his rock collecting experiences, the soldier told him that the only rock he was likely to collect among the waterless hills and warring Apaches of the area would be his own tombstone.
The town of Tombstone was founded in 1879, taking its name from the mining claim, and soon became a boomtown. Fueled by mineral wealth, Tombstone was a city of 1000 by the beginning of 1881, and within another year Tombstone had become the seat of a new county (Cochise County) with a population between 5,000 and 15,000, and services including refrigeration (with ice cream and later even ice skating), running water, telegraph and limited telephone service, and a newspaper aptly named the Tombstone Epitaph. Capitalists and businessmen moved in from the eastern U.S. Mining was carried out by immigrants from Europe, chiefly Ireland and Germany. An extensive service industry (laundry, construction, restaurants, hotels, etc.) was provided by Chinese and other immigrants.
The 1900 census was a minimum, however, and Tombstone was saved from becoming a ghost town after the decline of silver mining, partly by its status as the Cochise County seat. Even the county seat was later moved by popular vote to nearby Bisbee in 1929. However, the classic Cochise County Courthouse and adjacent gallows yard in Tombstone is preserved as a museum.
Without railroad access the increasingly sophisticated Tombstone was relatively isolated, deep in a Federal territory that was largely unpopulated desert and wilderness. Tombstone and its surrounding countryside also became known as one of the deadliest regions in the West.
Southern gangs from the surrounding countryside, known as "cow-boys", were at odds with the northern capitalists and immigrant miners who ran the city and mines. The foreign capitalists felt they could come to Tombstone and create laws preventing its own citizens from even wearing a pistol, among others things. These types of laws were very unpopular as Apaches held the most of the countryside and guns were needed for protection.
On October 26, 1881 this situation famously exploded in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, leading to a continued family and political feud that resulted in multiple deaths. The Earp Vendetta Ride, resulted from the O.K. Corral gunfight and eventually led to Wyatt Earp’s retreat from the territory to Colorado after getting his brothers shot and after being scared off by the "cow boys".
Tombstone is home to perhaps the most famous graveyard of the Old West, Boot Hill. Buried at the site are various victims of violence and disease in Tombstone's early years, including those from the O.K. Corral. Boot Hill (also known as the old city cemetery) was also the destination for bad-men and those lynched or legally hanged in Tombstone. Admission to this historic site is free and donations are accepted. The lot in which the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred in 1881 is also preserved, but this has been walled off, and admission is charged. However, since much of this street fight occurred in Tombstone's Fremont Street (modern Highway 80), much of this site is also viewable without admission charge. According to Guinness, the world's largest rosebush was planted in Tombstone in 1885 and still flourishes today in the city's sunny climate. This Lady Banksia rose now covers 8,000 sq ft of the roof on an inn, and has a 12 ft circumference trunk. Currently, tourism and western memorabilia are the main commercial enterprises; a July 2005 CNN article notes that Tombstone receives approximately 450,000 tourist visitors each year. This is about 300 tourists a year for each permanent resident. In contrast to its heyday, when it featured saloons open 24 hours and numerous houses of prostitution, Tombstone is now a staid community with few businesses open late. Performance events help preserve the town's wild-west image and expose it to new visitors. Helldorado Days is Tombstone's oldest festival and celebrates the community's wild days of the 1880s. Started in 1929, the festival is held on the third weekend of every October (loosely corresponding to the date of the O.K. Corralgunfight) and consists of gunfight reenactment shows, street entertainment, fashion shows and a family-oriented carnival. Meanwhile, Tombstone's Main Event: A Tragedy At The OK Corral (2007), a stage play by Stephen Keith, presents the cowboys' perspective of the events leading up to the shootout and is presented inside the actual OK Corral.