Fairbank, Arizona is a small ghost town located just east of the San Pedro River. About 8 miles northwest of Tombstone, Fairbank was an important town for two reasons; a milling town for Tombstone, and a junction for railroads and stagecoaches. Fairbank is just one of the many towns located up and down the San Pedro River, others being Contention, Millville, and Charleston.
A Native American village near Fairbank, on the bank of the San Pedro River was discovered by Spanish Explorers in 1692. The Native Americans had the right idea, being located in a lush river valley; they had a good source of water year round.
Almost 200 years later, in 1882, Fairbank was established. Its namesake, Nathaniel K. Fairbank (also known as just N.K. Fairbank) was a well-known Chicago merchant, stockholder in the railroad, and one of the primary organizers of the Grand Central Milling Company. In 1882, the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad was constructed and linked Fairbank with the Southern Pacific in Benson as well as Nogales.
On May 13th, 1883, a post office was established in Fairbank. Before this, residents had to go three miles north to Contention City in order to get their mail. Fairbank quickly grew to about 100 residents, its peak. Fairbank was not only an important supply point For Tombstone, but also home to the milling for the ore from Tombstone.
Fairbank’s population never went far above 100, but it made up for it with its mess of railroad tracks. Three different railroad lines met in Fairbank. One of them went to Bisbee and Tombstone; others went to Contention City and Benson. In 1885, a stage station was opened in Fairbank. This stage line ran from Tucson to Tombstone and made a stop in Fairbank.
In 1887, the Tombstone mines were flooded and for the most part played out. This forced the milling towns around Fairbank (Millville & Contention) to shut down. Just 3 years later, in September of 1890, the San Pedro River flooded. This caused property damage and had followed a drought, but did not take any lives.
By 1900, Fairbank had a Wells Fargo Office, a meat store, general store, many saloons, a steam powered mill, and a couple of railroad stations and depots. This was the peak time for Fairbank and it reached its maximum population of 100 residents.
In February of that same year (1900), one of the most significant events in Fairbank (which had an otherwise “quiet” history) occurred. Bill Stiles and Burt Alvord were Cochise County Deputies. These “good lawmen gone bad” had a side job of being outlaws. Because they were both the good guys and the bad guys, they always seemed to evade capture. Three-Fingered Jack Dunlop, Bravo Juan Yaos (wanted in both the U.S. & Mexico), as well as the Owen Brothers were also part of the outlaw gang. The goal for this outlaw gang was to rob the Wells Fargo Express Box on the soon arriving train. Stiles discovered that Jeff Milton (ex-Texas Ranger with a deadly aim) would not be guarding the box that day. What Stiles did not know was that a sick employee that day prompted a change in the schedule; Milton would now be guarding the box.
The train pulled in the station and the outlaws socialized with the crowd and acted like drunken cowboys. Milton stood in the door as freight was unloaded and loaded. When the men realized it was Milton, they opened fire. Milton was hit twice in the arm. Afraid to hit innocent bystanders, Milton crawled back into the freight car and grabbed his shotgun. While Milton did this, the outlaws charged the car. However, as they did so, Milton emegerd and with his good arm, fired back. Three Fingered Jack was shot in the chest and Bravo Juan Yaos was shot in the back as he ran away. Milton slammed the door, threw the key into the corner and made a quick tourniquet for his arm before he fell unconscious. The outlaws riddled the car with gunfire and rushed back to the car. They opened the door and saw Milton lying on the floor and thinking he was dead, they searched him for the key. With no luck however, they mounted their horses and rode off.
Three Fingered Jack was ditched by the others and was found in the brush 9 miles away. He lived only long enough to confess and give the names of his accomplices; they were later caught and served very lengthy prison sentences. As for Milton, he was rushed to San Francisco for medical treatment. Doctors thought they’d have to amputate his arm but with the threat that “any man who cut’s off my arm will be a dead man”, they saved it. Milton later went off to work with the U.S. Immigration Service and died in Tucson in 1947.
Fairbank still has a few buildings dating back to the 1880’s, a 1920’s schoolhouse, post office, general store, and other buildings. In 1987, Fairbank became part of the San Pedro River Riparian Area and is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. If you’re every driving on AZ-82, be sure to stop and visit Fairbank!
Hinckley, Jim. Ghost Towns of the Southwest: Your Guide to the Historic Mining Camps & Ghost Towns of Arizona and New Mexico. Minneapolis, MI: Voyageur Press, 2010. 94-99. Print.
Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. 10th printing. Phoenix, AZ: Department of Transportation, State of Arizona, 1994. 124. Print.
"Fairbank ~Cochise County, Arizona~." Ghost Town Trails: Cochise County, Arizona (2009): Web. 18 July 2011. <http://www.arizonaghosttowntrails.com/fairbank.html>.
Fairbank, Arizona in 1890 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
The schoolhouse at Fairbank, which now houses the visitors center and gift shop.
Old Mercantile and Post Office in Fairbank One of the many old buildings in Fairbank