Tombstone, Arizona: the most authentic western town left in the United States and the best preservation of the history and heritage of the Wild West. Its rip-roaring past has earned it the slogan “the town that never dies” and it was home to many of today’s most famous cowboys and heroes including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
It was founded in 1877 when a prospector named Ed Schieffelin ventured out into the dry wilderness of the desert in search of rocks, against all warnings he had been told that the only rock he would find would be his tombstone. He happened to stumble across some silver in a dry wash on a plateau called Goose Flats and once he located the main source of the silver he set up a mine and called it Tombstone. Prospectors soon heard about the vast amounts of silver in the desert and flocked out west, followed by homesteaders, lawyers, cowboys, business men, and gunmen alike, and in 1879 a town was built; they called it Tombstone. By the mid 1880’s the town had gone from a population of 100 to approximately 15,000-20,000, making it the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco. It was home to over 100 saloons, restaurants, gambling halls, schools, churches, and brothels, but in 1881 a fire broke out and burned down over 60 Tombstone businesses. The town rebuilt and even expanded until a second fire swept through, this time taking out a large portion of the business district. But the town survived and rebuilt once more. Through all of this, mineshafts were continuing to turn out millions of dollars in silver.
As the mining continued through the late 1880’s and into the turn of the century, the mineshafts were dug deeper and deeper in search of more silver, but once they hit a depth of about 520 ft, the mineshafts began to flood from underground water tables. When the cost of pumping out the mines became too high, prospectors looked elsewhere for new places to mine. Coincidently, copper mines were sprouting up in a nearby town called Bisbee, about 25 miles south of Tombstone. Many of the Tombstone residents dispersed and headed down south where they could capitalize on the new copper mines, but not before extricating over $37,000,000 in silver. By the early 1930’s Tombstone had shifted from a bustling miner’s settlement to a deserted ghost town with a population of about 150 people. It had died out almost as quickly as it had begun and finally lived up to its name of Tombstone.
Today Tombstone is home to around 1500 year round residents and some of the Wild West’s most historic locations. The Cochise County Courthouse was built in Tombstone in 1882. It housed the offices of the sheriff, treasurer, and recorder and also included a jail. It remained the county seat until it was outvoted in 1929 and lost to Bisbee. For nearly 50 years, the courthouse symbolized law and order in a small town working hard to get by in such turbulent times.
Boothill Graveyard is the resting place of many famous Tombstone folk, including some of the victims from the famous 1881 Shootout on Freemont Street between the Earps and the Cowboys, a band of outlaws who teamed up to commit various crimes. Boothill, aptly named for all the victims who died with their boots on, was used between 1879 and 1884 until the TombstoneCityCemetery was opened. For years the graveyard was neglected until 1929 when citizens took efforts to preserve it as a tourist attraction.
The famous Gunfight at the OK Corral also took place in Tombstone, though its location was actually in a vacant lot on Freemont Street rather than at the OK Corral. The gunfight was a culmination of personal, political, and family feuds between Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp along with Doc Holliday, the unofficial lawmen at the time, and the band of Cowboys. Twenty-four seconds and thirty shots later, three members of the Cowboys lay dead, while the lawmen came out with only minor injuries. This event became one of the most famed events in American Old West history.
The Bird Cage Theatre was the epitome of sin in Tombstone. A saloon, gambling hall, theatre and brothel, the Bird Cage Theatre opened its doors on December 25, 1881 and ran 24 hours a day, 365 days a year until closing its doors in 1889. About 140 supposed bullet holes have been found in the walls and ceiling of the old, raucous theatre, proof that the wild times and stories are true.
Today, Tombstone is a hot spot for tourists coming through Arizona. The working town gives guests the opportunity to escape the modern world and experience the Wild West just as it was in the old days. Filled with restaurants, shops, and attractions, Tombstone is a great place to visit no matter what your age, and DETOURS can get you there! Come join us on a tour to Tombstone, Arizona and check out the Historical Courthouse, Boothill Graveyard, The Bird Cage Theatre, and so much more! Plus, enjoy a truly unique stop to the “White Dove of the Desert,” the mission of San Xavier del Bac, a working mission that was built in 1692 and remains one of the region’s best preserved Spanish settlements.
For more information and to book your tour, call DETOURS at (866) 438-6877 and check out our website at www.detoursaz.com.