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Crime and Punishment Diversions Staying Power Wild West

Diversions: Tombstone, Arizona

Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.
Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.

Welcome to Tombstone, Arizona. Dust off your chaps, leave your side-irons with the sheriff, and step back in time to the Old West. Just mind the horsepucky…

Good old Butch Cassidy got me thinking on the Old West. He got me thinking that would make a mighty fine subject for Diversions. Tombstone would be a right perfect choice, I reckoned. So I decided to giddy up and rope me a story!

I told you to mind the horsepucky…

Anyways, when most people think of the Old West, the Wild West, or variations thereof, Tombstone is usually what their minds are drawn to. This small town was host to some of the most notable (and surprisingly rare) gunfights in Wild West history, and home to the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The town’s Boot Hill cemetery is one of the most famous of its kind, and even reportedly haunted.

Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.
Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.

The town started as a silver mining claim made by Ed Schieffelin in 1877. Native Americans had been known to kill miners nearby where Schieffelin had been searching for silver and had been warned “The only rock you will find out there will be your tombstone.” I’m sure you can guess what he called his claim.

The town, named for Schieffelin’s claim, was formally established in March of 1879. It consisted mostly of tents and a handful of wooden shacks. Tombstone’s initial population was a whopping 100 souls.

Business was booming by 1880. The Grand Hotel opened, introducing fine amenities such as toilet stands and hot and cold running water(aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?) At the height of the silver boom, Tombstone was host to 10,000 residents. But with riches and beer comes bitches and tears.

Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache
Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache

Smuggling of items across the US/Mexico border thirty miles away led to Tombstone being somewhat of a haven to outlaws. These unfavorables, laden with ill-gotten gains, made it a habit of getting smashed and then smashing each other. Shootings and stabbings became common occurrences.

In March of 1881, three cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach carrying a large quantity of silver bullion. Both men manning the stagecoach were killed. US Marshall Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp began searching for the men responsible.

The culmination of that manhunt is the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Coral. The thirty-second altercation saw the McLaury and Clanton brothers along with Billy Claiborne square off against the brothers Earp and temporary Marshal Doc Holliday. Virgil and Morgan Earp ended the fight wounded. Billy Clanton and both McLaurys wound up in the ground. Claiborne and Ike Clanton straight up ran away.

A fire in 1886 damaged an important mining operation enough to practically bring mining to a halt. The population dwindled to less than 700 by 1900. Nowadays tourism has become the life blood of Tombstone. Nearly a half-million tourists filter through the small, dusty town each year. Tombstone would likely have become a ghost town by now if not for this and other lucky breaks throughout it’s long and troubled history.

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