Tombstone Arizona history is a fascinating time-line. It involves adventure seekers, soldiers, pioneers, cowboys, mining and the Wild West. It includes Native Americans struggling for their land and survival. It also contains the stories of immigrants with their own struggles.
Frederick Brunckow was the first mining man in the Tombstone area. He dug a silver mining shaft Southwest of today's Tombstone town. But it met a bad end. Brunckow and most of his team were killed.1 Read the Brunckow Mine History.
In 1800s Arizona history, the area surrounding Tombstone was well-known for Apache worries. Brunckow's silver strike was a wide-spread story in mining circles. But few risked going into the area. Apache bands raided soldier troops, travelers, some other tribes and settlements.
Very few did mining exploration. They'd find mineral evidence, but then back off because of Apache fears. Some met their death.
This anxiety continued on settlers' minds for quite a while. Even so, they eventually came to Tombstone. The settlement itself seemed to provide some protection.
Tombstone Arizona took a more well-known historic turn with the arrival of this man to nearby Camp Huachuca. Ed Schieffelin shadowed a military crew seeking raiding Apaches.
Ed had previous mining experience. He aimed to eyeball rock conditions for minerals. He liked the military protection, yet felt they hemmed in his freedom to search the area.1
So about July 1877, Schieffelin started his own treks through these Chihuahuan Desert hills. That's when one of the soldiers supposedly said, when you're out here searching the desert for mining spots - you won't find any silver or gold, but I think instead...
"...you'll find your Tombstone!"
He did remember that warning advice! But actually, he found silver-promoting geology about 12 miles East of the former Brunckow mine. It was August 1, 1877 when he filed his first claim for his "Tombstone" mine. Then two more mines called Graveyard No. 1 and Graveyard No. 2.1
Didn't Schieffelin have a good sense of humor? It comes through in naming his claims reminiscent of that soldier's advice. You can research the Tombstone Arizona history for mining in the area back then. Find the Claims on the Mining Map!
Ed needed help to work his mines. His enlisted his brother Albert, who came to town. Together they recruited Richard Gird.1 All three were instrumental in getting Tombstone off to its start.
The Girard Gold and Silver Mining Company had its own water supply. It was the talk of the town! Started on February 11, 1882 - it became a source for the Tombstone Water Company.
Miners tramping into the area for work tended to settle on the West side. Gird Camp, it was often locally called Upper Town. (Today locals still refer to the area as "Uptown.") New folks often used a tent or lean-to at first. But some built adobe houses right off.
The first merchant, John B. Allen, opened a store and boarding-house. It was in a wood-framed/tent-like structure. Other businesses sprung up - restaurants were necessities; a butcher shop also opened.
Mining brothers Samuel and Charles Calhoun bought 320 acres called "Goose Flats." This land made it easy to pull wagons up to their Mountain Maid claim. Thomas J. Bidwell, a friend of Richard Gird, talked them into giving up 80% of the rights to Goose Flats in March 1879. The Calhouns made Bidwell agree he'd organize it into a town-site, have it surveyed, and promote it into a livable community.
James S. Clark and partner, Charles Cook, were together in San Francisco real estate. They became interested in mining and investment. That brought them to Tombstone Arizona in March 1879, historical timing!
The Tombstone Townsite Company and Clark, Palmer and Company had a goal: Tombstone as a town, and a financial project. A surveyor was hired, and a grid pattern established for streets. The main business road was named Allen Street, after Tombstone Territory's first merchant.
They filed the Townsite claim in Florence AZ, at the U.S. Land Office on April 19, 1879. The recording was accomplished April 22nd at the Pima County Recorder's Office. Referred to as New Tombstone. Nearby Richmond vied for the local Post Office, but instead "New Tombstone" was awarded it that spring. Autumn brought Justice of the Peace co-appointments: Michael Gray & Thomas J. Bidwell.
Town leaders petitioned for town incorporation. They considered changing the name at that time. They decided to keep it Tombstone, since many business references were already associated with that name.
Pima County granted the petition. Then interim elections were held November 24, 1879:
Results of the first official municipal election on January 6, 1880 were:
With a government now in place, local laws, taxes and business licenses could be achieved. Some notable firsts:2
The new decade of the 1880s saw booming activity in Tombstone. Now a real city, with more residents every day - all types of enterprises fulfilled needs. Within town you'd find:6
Many other businesses were around town. Some supplied mining needs. Others catered to desires of employees in their off-hours. Still others met requirements of ranchers in surrounding Tombstone Territory, when in town.
Lodging was always needed. Ranchers, Cow-boys and distant miners came to buy supplies, arrange cattle deals, do banking and other errands. They often ended the day with a meal, some Gambling, Saloon Visits, and perhaps a visit to the Red Light District.
Other travelers passed through, or visited, and needed a place to stay:1
Read More on Tombstone's Historic Hotels>
In Tombstone's history, saloons were a popular addition to town. Miners especially needed release after their grueling day's work. Ranging from grubby little counters to deluxe establishments. Some even provided rooms for general meetings, get-togethers, and even church services (before chapel construction).
The earliest documented seems to be in 1879:
By the end of 1880 there were about 33 saloons operating in town - give or take a few!
Because of the mining draw, most of the town's population were men. Many were fairly young, usually single, and full of anxious energy in their off-hours. There were also the "perpetual bachelors" needing to express their manhood. All looking for ways to vent these energies.
For the women and children who lived in town, it was more difficult for them to find diversions. With effort, they found some.
Clara Spalding Brown moved from San Diego to Tombstone with her husband. He had an interest in the silver mines. She regularly corresponded to the San Diego Daily Union. Her letters give us a look into a woman's life in town. Her July 7, 1880 letter explained:4
There were venues for leisure and civic promotion. Some available to women. Some catered to married couples. Others provided for meeting suitable people for possible courtships.
CATHOLICS - Families in town wanted to express their religious preferences. People felt this brought civilization to their community. They wanted to attend services with their families, as they'd done before coming to this "Wild West" town.
Practicing their Catholic faith was important to many Irish people who came to town. The Mexican population felt the same. The Bishop in Tucson sent a traveling priest to Tombstone by 1879. When in town, he arranged to say Mass in various homes or vacant rooms in saloons or halls.1
Nellie Cashman helped get a building fund going for a church. Sacred Heart Catholic Church has undergone some renovations through Tombstone's history. It's still a historic building that can be visited today.
METHODISTS1,3 - J.P. McIntyre came to Tombstone in early 1880 and gathered a congregation. He began a Sunday school, incorporated the Tombstone Methodist Church, and formed the board of trustees.
On July 3, 1881 Pastor McIntyre was officially appointed as Tombstone's Methodist minister. He'd worked hard to start the congregation, including raising funds to build a chapel.
PRESBYTERIANS1,3 - In mid 1880 James Woods came to town by request of the Board of Home Missions. He was a minister, with mining experience in California. So a logical choice to start a congregation in Tombstone. Upon arrival he invited people to a service.
A month later he spread the word he'd be forming an official congregation. Then started building a church. This historical building still stands today, on 4th Street, north of Fremont. Completed by the end of 1880, at which time he moved on.
With families, come children. Schools are needed. Tombstone parents were concerned for their children's education.
The first school opened in February 1880. It was tiny, with a dirt floor. The kids were crammed in. Only a tiny blackboard on the wall. The teacher, irritated at the circumstances, quit after just two months.
In June 1880 another school opened in a room at 6th and Fremont Streets. 25 kids started. More and more came, until 91 were crammed into a room barely fitting them.
Finally the Territorial Superintendent of Public Schools approved forming a school district. Funds came to build a proper school on a donated 4th Street lot. Finished at the beginning of 1881. But money ran out, so none for desks or other needs.
It had 2 school rooms. Wood planks sufficed as seats and desks. Only 80 pupils were generally in attendance.
The Territorial Superintendent's brother noticed. He donated his own money, purchasing desks and school books. It primed the school board to give more support. Attendance increased, until the school abounded with over 130 students. Two local halls were rented as school rooms.
By autumn 1882, five teachers taught kids from six to eighteen. Another schoolhouse was built in 1883. A two story wooden structure on 7th Street - between Fremont and Allen. In looking over Tombstone's history, that area is still school property today (but the main old school is for sale!).
In the 1800s European Immigrants went Westward in America. Many to Tombstone Arizona. The Irish were a good percentage of Tombstone's population. Some recent immigrants, others second generation. Most others in Tombstone were from Germany, Scandinavia, and Great Britain.
Jews immigrated to escape religious persecution in Eastern Europe. Some went West for opportunity. Some Jewish immigrants settled in Tombstone.
The Mexican population was already in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. It had been part of Mexico, in the State of Sonora. It was ceded to Arizona with the Gadsden Purchase.
The Chinese population lived in part of town locals named "Hop Town." Initially recruited to the U.S. for railroad work. Many came of their own accord for varied work opportunities.
Entering 1881, Tombstone had over 4,000 people living in town. (Under half that today!) The mines produced well, people had cash, merchants did a good business, homes were being built! It was a mining boom-town, and word of that spread throughout the country.
Local leaders asked the Arizona Territory governing body to create a new county in the area. They did so on February 21, 1881 - a charter created Cochise County from the Eastern part of Pima County. They named Tombstone the County Seat.1
With this, officials and financing were needed. Governor John C. Fremont began the process:1
It seemed all was going well. People continued flowing into town.
The history of Tombstone Arizona tells of a number of fires.
Building materials for early Tombstone were those easily accessed. Many people threw together structures with wood frames and canvas walls. Plus water was hauled from springs by wagon, there was no good fire-fighting system, and people crowded together casually using dangerous flammable materials like candles and oil lamps.
Consider the weather and climate. The dry heat, with low humidity. The Spring-time lack of rain, and wind-promoting weather fronts. Tombstone Arizona suffered through two horrifying fires in their history. There were many more substantial fires that affected the town and its people.
Throughout the old West, people flowed into other towns like Tombstone. Similar conditions promoted the chance for dreadful fires. And they did occur.
Each time, after a fire devastation, Tombstone rebuilt. The people were determined to keep this little town alive!
Tombstone was appointed County Seat of the newly formed Cochise County. The Board of Supervisors wanted a proper county courthouse. They decided to build one at the Southwest corner of Toughnut & 3rd Streets.
They advertised for sealed bids, receiving seven. They chose the second highest! Tombstone Undertaker, Andrew J. Ritter, received the contract, bidding $27,456. Well, he was a friend of County Supervisor Milton Joyce (Oriental Saloon owner). Joyce strongly pushed building the Courthouse.
Architect Frank Walker drew the Courthouse plans. Walker was also assistant superintendent at Sycamore Water Company. The cornerstone was ceremoniously placed on August 11, 1882. It was completed January 1883 - over budget at $43,000!
No longer used as a courthouse. [For one thing - Tombstone is no longer the County Seat.] Tour this historic Tombstone building today! Now it's Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.
In October 1882 bids opened to build a City Hall and jail, on the site of the burnt out Recorder's Office. Also designed by Frank Walker, its budget was $10,000.
Today see it when entering town. An unmistakable, imposing brick building. It serves as the local Marshal's Office. Look for it on the South side of Fremont Street.
With the 1800s silver mining population draw, stockmen came to Tombstone establishing ranches. Others came to take advantage where they could, thinking of easily ill-gotten gains.
Ranchers wanted wranglers with cattle experience. Not all who came to the area were out for good, honest work. Some were more interested in rustling cattle, rather than the investment of raising them. Newspapers applied the term cow-boys to them.
That included those who regularly came to Tombstone, for supplies and entertainment.
Tombstone has a shallow, but fairly strong water table. This was realized when mine shafts were dug, and began to flood. This problem's solution was to get water pumps. By mid 1885, they were operating in town. This fix struck a note of optimism in town!
But in the Spring of 1886, a vast fire shut down the Grand Central - affecting the shaft and pump. Then the markets interfered with the city's economics. Silver's value plummeted. Half the camp miners were let go by summer's end, 1886.
Mine management began worker pay decreases from $4/day to $3/day. The Miners' Union went on strike.1
Then on May 10, 1884, the Hudson Bank in Tucson shut down. Tombstone had a branch in the Vizina & Cook Building on 5th & Allen Streets. The local cashier closed up, and headed for Tucson to investigate. Meanwhile, striking miners gathered at the door anxious to know about their own funds. Rumors started: The cashier ran off, taking their money!
The sheriff stepped in, preventing violence. But miners lost their funds because the Hudson Bank failed. Not from teller embezzlement! The miners' strike persisted. Finally on September 1, 1884 the miners accepted the $3 daily pay, ending the strike.
In May 1887, the Grand Central Mining Company formed. Their goal was repairing and reopening the Grand Central Mine.
A Mother Nature set-back happened on May 3, 1887. Centered in Sonora, Mexico, an earthquake majorly affected Tombstone and surrounding areas. The shaking lasted about 30 seconds. And Tombstone repaired quickly. Things looked up for the town. Business vacancies were few, and housing was full. But in 1890, silver pricing plummeted again.
Then a near-fatal blow hit at the end of Christmas day 1891. Shortly after midnight, the night sky lit up around the Contention Mine. The mine hoist was on fire, and spreading. Fire companies responded, and local citizens tried to help. The one available water pipe was frozen. The fire burned itself out. The entire mine was demolished.
Contention management stopped all mining efforts. Of the two major Tombstone mines, local employers: one was teetering along, the other now totally gone. Individual miners, with their own claims, could get by.
Silver's price rendered the town just enough for support. But most businesses had gone. With this economic situation, only two newspapers now survived: The Epitaph and the Prospector.
In 1890, Tombstone's population dwindled to 1,800 - close to today's! With few businesses and limited customers - city tax support declined.
In December 1893 The Bank of Tombstone closed, unable to sustain business. They transferred assets to the other local bank - The Tombstone Bank. The town's commercial prospects looked more dire each year. Only 649 people remained in Tombstone by 1900!
Responsible city representatives were determined to do something to keep the town alive. We're still here, after all! So something worked.
Move on to see what happened in Tombstone Arizona History in the 1900s: getting our reputation as the "Town Too Tough to Die"
1 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Tombstone, Arizona: "Too tough to die" The rise, fall, and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press. A prime general resource for all unmarked data.
2 Daily Nugget (1880, Dec. 2) Tombstone, Arizona.
3 Parsons, G.W. (1996). A tenderfoot in Tombstone. The private journal of George Whitwell Parsons: The turbulent years, 1880-82. Ed. L.R. Bailey. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press.
4 Bailey, L.R. editor (1998). Tombstone from a woman's point of view: The correspondence of Clara Spalding Brown July 7, 1880 to November 14, 1882. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.
8 Ragsdale Jr., J.W. (2010). Values in transition: The Chiricahua Apache from 1886-1914. University of Oklahoma College of Law Digital Commons: American Indian Law Review. Retrieved from digitalcommons.law.ou.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1095&context=ailr
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