The 1880s were a time of great change. The Industrial Revolution was speeding along with all its technological wonders!

Can you imagine? Before this time, people were used to only living their evening hours by candle-light or oil lamps. That encouraged early bedtimes for sure!

But now - the electric light was on its way! Thomas Edison was establishing his electric power plants. Cities could soon provide lighting to streets and homes. What other amazing things were happening?

  • A few simple home appliances - the electric fan (home comfort!) and electric iron (personal grooming)
  • The Statue of Liberty was built and presented
  • Arc welding machine's invention improved products
  • Dry cell batteries were invented
  • A new practical use metal was invented called aluminum
  • In medicine, the first method for recording the heart's electrical rhythm was invented:  electrocardiography
  • Sky-scrapers, the steel-framed large buildings were going up in cities
  • The first motorized cars came on the scene
  • Thomas Edison produced the first moving picture
  1. So Western Movies were soon available for entertainment!
  • The railroad enabled cross-continental travel in the US, which gave rise to establishment of five U.S. and Canadian time zones
  • A precursor to the World Series - the first post-season baseball games were played
  • Labor activists were influential in starting a General Strike throughout the US to obtain the 8-hour work-day

In Tombstone Arizona, some of these events affected life more than others. When we walk around town and look at the historic buildings, we think about that! What were the specifics of the 19th century in the Wild West, in Tombstone and in Arizona?

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Statue of LibertyStatue of Liberty

Native Americans

In the 1880s Native Americans inhabited areas surrounding Tombstone AZ.

Original Native Peoples resided in what's currently Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties and up into Pima County. They were the Sobaipuri, residents before the invading Europeans arrived. Sometimes they're referred to with the Papago name Rsársavinâ which essentially means "spotted." Mostly found living in the San Pedro River Valley up to the river's source in the Huachuca Mountains. They ranged as far West as the Santa Cruz River, and in Southeastern Arizona possibly to the New Mexico border.

The Apaches were nomadic, and had intermittent bases in the area. There were several bands which populated Southeastern Arizona. As a raiding peoples, they likely forced the Sobaipuri further Westward. This aggregated them along the Santa Cruz River, intermingling with other Papago bands.

1880s West Migration

In the 1800s people were motivated to move West to begin new lives. After the Louisiana Purchase in the early part of the century, the government's plan for Western migration encouraged them. The principle of Manifest Destiny, influenced by religious beliefs also promoted this Westward movement.

Economic interests for land use motivated others. Homestead Acts offered land to be worked and improved. Many families came West to take advantage of that. People tended to settle in areas where land was offered, where other family members or known cultural groups settled, and where frontier towns provided opportunity. Their major mode of transportation was by horseback, Conestoga Wagon (Prairie Schooner) and in Stagecoaches.

But the railroad was changing the ability for people to travel the country. To be able to move around a little easier. The first Transcontinental Railway was completed in May 1869.1

These early towns were usually built around mining, railroads, protective army forts or water access. Initially they lacked typical organizational amenities such as a government with law enforcement or banking. Inns were available, but typically established in large canvas tent buildings. Quickly lawless elements entered.

Gamblers, Old West Gunfighters, Western Outlaws, and Bordellos all became a part of these frontier towns. As more families moved into an area, concerned citizens wanted to improve life. Lawmen were appointed. City governments and town banks were established. Laws were enacted regulating firearms and guns in town.

Tombstone, Arizona, where we became modern-day residents, is a good example of such a town!

1880s Tombstone

When visiting town, your Tombstone exploration will find historic buildings still here from the 19th century. We love roaming through the historic parts of town. If you're interested in early American history, we really recommend a trip to Tombstone Arizona.

Here are local city guide suggestions, reflecting 1880s Tombstone, of places you can see today:

Tombstone Arizona Historical State Park CourthouseTombstone Courthouse - 1882
Schieffelin Hall, Tombstone Arizona, Historical building from the 1880sSchieffelin Hall - From 1881


1 Bowman, J.N. (1957, Sept.) Driving the last spike at Promontory, 1869. California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XXXVI, 3. Retrieved from http://cprr.org/Museum/Bowman_Last_Spike_CHS.html

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