Cochise county

Tombstone, AZ

The “town too tough to die” in southern Arizona is one of the nations well-known mining towns


“All you’ll find is your own tombstone” said a soldier at Camp Huachuca. Ed Schieffelin was doing the unthinkable, heading out into Apache Territory to look for gold. He noticed the nice color of the mountains in the distance and in February of 1878, he set out on his own in search of gold. Luckily, Ed Schieffelin found promising silver ore just east of the San Pedro River. It was at this time when Schieffelin staked two claims, the Tombstone and the Graveyard. When he headed into Tucson to show off his samples, he was considered crazy. With no people interested in what he had to say, Schieffelin headed to Globe, where his brother Al was working. But, he discovered that his brother had moved across the state to McCracken, Arizona. With the last little bit of money he had, Schieffelin bought chewing tobacco and set out on foot to find his brother. However, his brother thought he was crazy too. But again, Schieffelin’s luck helped him out. It just so happened that a well-known assayer by the name of Richard Gird lived in McCracken, Arizona too. When Gird looked at the rock samples, he assayed them at over $2,000 a ton.

The O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona

The three men formed an alliance and they set out to Tombstone. Near the San Pedro River, they found an abandoned cabin and used it as an assay office. But, true to its name, the Graveyard turned out to be unsuccessful. It was at this time when Schieffelin was chipping around on a ledge and hit some silver. When assaying it, it came out to $15,000 per ton of silver and $1,500 per ton of gold. “Ed, you are a lucky cuss – you have hit it!” cried Gird, thus, the birth of the Lucky Cuss Mine. The very next day, Schieffelin discovered the Toughnut Mine, which would be a “toughnut to crack.” From 1880 to 1886, over $40 million, or $1.7 billion today, was pulled from the mines in Tombstone. A short while later, Ed Schieffelin sold all of his claims in the mines and moved on. No longer was he considered crazy, but a genius. He died in Oregon in May of 1897.

With a population of more than San Francisco (at the time) and much less violence, the town of Tombstone boomed during the late 1800’s. People worked together to build churches, schools, and many other businesses. Miners, gamblers, and merchant’s came from far and wide to live in the ‘town to tough to die’.  Bars lined the streets and were filled with ‘boomtown belles’ including Dutch Annie and Crazy Horse Lil’. However, on June 22, 1881, a large fire ravaged through Tombstone, taking more than 60 businesses with it. But, the ‘town to tough to die’ prevailed and within two weeks was back to normal! But, again, in 1882, another fire ripped through Tombstone taking numerous businesses with it. A lack of water in Tombstone meant that when re-building yet again, bricks should be used. In addition to this, the Huachuca Water Company ran a water pipe from a small town 21 miles away to Tombstone.

Tombstone was booming and attracted people from far and wide. In addition to the numerous merchant’s, saloons, and law firms, theaters began to pop up in the early 1880’s. One important and heroic person that came to Tombstone was Doctor George Good fellow; ‘the gunshot physician’. He had a huge reputation and did everything he could to save someone’s life. Contrary to popular belief though, only one lynching took place in Tombstone. After the Bisbee Massacre of 1883 (which killed 6 people), John Heith was the only sentenced to prison, the rest were hung. Disgusted, Tombstone citizens dragged him from the jail and ‘strung him up’. Dr. Goodfellow, determined the cause of death as emphysema in order to take pardon on the vigilantes that killed him. Another notorious citizen was Nellie Cashman. She lived in Tombstone for a while and later went on to search for gold all over the world. Before the hangings for the Bisbee Massacre, a grandstand was set up to watch the hanging. However, Nellie and her friends destroyed the grandstands the night before the largest mass hanging in Arizona history.

Perhaps the first thing that pop’s into someone’s head when you say Tombstone is the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Due to some issues over who loved who, a few confrontations, and a previous criminal record, the Clanton’s were on the Earp’s ‘hit list’. On the morning of October 26, 1881, a Clanton was arrested for carrying a gun. However, a gunfight prevailed. Later that day, more cowboys’ (Clanton’s men) came into town. It was about 3 p.m. when tempers had flared and bullets began flying. In less than 30 seconds, arguably the most famous gunfight in the Wild West was over. An on-looker would have seen a bunch of Clanton’s gang running out of town, three Clanton’s lying dead in the street and two Earp’s (Virgil and Morgan) as well as Doc Holliday wounded. The Earp’s and Holliday were not charged for anything because they were ‘deputized’ by Virgil Earp, who was the town marshall. But, the Clanton’s weren’t done yet. On December 14, 1881, shots were fired at the Mayor and two weeks later, more were shot at Virgil, who remained forever crippled. The last revenge came on March 18, 1882 when Morgan Earp was shot to death in a pool hall. Within a week, Wyatt had killed the possible suspects. At this point, President Chester Arthur threatened to declare Martial Law on Tombstone.

When Wyatt Earp left Tombstone, much of the turmoil ended. But, in 1901, the governor arranged the Arizona Rangers, whose job was to catch men crossing county and international lines if necessary. However, in 1909, this group was decommissioned.

Tombstone then began to decline. When water was discovered deep in the mines, pumps were installed to get the water out, but those were destroyed by a fire in 1886. This fire completely destroyed the pumps, causing the mine to be flooded and creating the Panic of 1893. More pumps were followed by more failure and the Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company became bankrupt in 1911.  The final blow to Tombstone came in 1929 when Bisbee snatched the county seat.

There are three other towns that are worth mentioning in this history page. The first is Millville. Millville was located along the San Pedro River, about nine miles south of Tombstone. Millville was Tombstone’s source for water. The next town is Charleston. Charleston helped process milling operations. It once had about 400 citizens. Finally, the last town was Fairbank. Fairbank was just a short jaunt from Tombstone and was a major stop for many railways. Nathaniel Fairbank, the town’s namesake was the founder of the Grand Central Mining Company in Tombstone. A train robbery occurred in February, 1900 involving Jeff Milton, a well-known and admired lawman.

Tombstone has had a rich history as you can see, and is still a big tourist place. Tombstone offers numerous tourist attractions from a tour of the Tombstone State Historic Courthouse, to an authentic tour of the Good Enough Mine, to Boothill Grave Yard, to name a few. Tombstone can be accessed by taking the I-10 to the Arizona 80.

A stagecoach in Tombstone

John Heath, Tombstone's lone lynching in Boothill Cemetery



  1. Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. 10th printing. Phoenix, AZ: Department of Transportation, State of Arizona, 1994. 123-125. Print. 

  2. Trimble, Marshall. Roadside History of Arizona. 2nd edition. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2004. 87-95. Print.