Tombstone Arizona History

View of Tombstone in January 2019 from a hill in the South of TownTombstone Arizona History - How Did We Get Here From There?

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. Also stories of immigrants with their struggles.

And so Much More!
Let's Begin Tombstone Arizona Wild West History In 1857... 

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Tombstone Arizona's Silver Rush

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.

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Apache Raids in Arizona

The news report that Tombstone citizens are responding in like kind to Indian attacks.From the Weekly Arizona Miner - Friday, May 5, 1882 - Pg. 3

In 1800s Arizona history, the area surrounding Tombstone was well-known for Apache worries. Brunckow's silver strike was widely known in mining circles. So few risked going into the area. Apache bands raided soldier troops, travelers, some other tribes and settlements.

Few did mining exploration. They'd find mineral evidence, then back off because of Apache fears. Some met their death.

This anxiety continued on settlers' minds for quite some time. Even so, they eventually came to Tombstone. The settlement itself provided some protection. 

The Tombstone Epitaph article quotes The Arizona Miner about Indian contact. Tombstone Arizona history from 1882.From the Weekly Arizona Miner - Friday, May 5, 1882 - Pg. 3


These Historic Events and Figures Calendars are perfect for the History Buff in your life!

Who Founded Tombstone Arizona?
Ed Schieffelin

Tombstone Arizona took a more well-known historic turn when this man arrived at nearby Camp Huachuca. Ed Schieffelin shadowed a military crew tracking raiding Apaches.

Ed had previous mining experience. He aimed to eyeball rock conditions for minerals. He enjoyed the military protection, yet felt they corralled his freedom to search the area.1

How Tombstone Arizona Got Its Name

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...

"'ll find your Tombstone!"

He remembered that advice! But still went on his own, finding silver-promoting geology about 12 miles East of the Brunckow mine. On August 1, 1877 he filed his first claim for his "Tombstone" mine. Then two more called Graveyard No. 1 and Graveyard No. 2.1

Didn't Schieffelin have a good sense of humor? Coming through in naming his claims reminiscent of that soldier's advice. You can research the Tombstone Arizona history of mining claims. Find Claims on the Mining Map!

Ed needed help working his mines. He enlisted his brother Albert. Together they recruited Richard Gird.1 All three were instrumental in getting Tombstone off to its start.

Tombstone Arizona Mining History

The Schieffelins and Gird set up assay offices at the old Brunckow Mine. In February 1878 they began, finding success. Their first mines were the Ground Hog, the Owl Nest, Lucky Cuss, and the Tough Nut! A "contentious" deal brought them the Contention mine.

They were among those who wrote the Tombstone Mining District's bylaws. They recorded the District in April 1878.

Word spread about the Tombstone Mining District and all the silver strikes. From 1879 to 1882, Tombstone attracted experienced mining men. The suppliers and caterers of miner's needs followed. The town's expansion began quickly!

Click For Tombstone's Mining Story>

Tombstone Arizona History
A Town Arises

Tombstone AZ Water Supply

Tombstone Arizona is a high desert location, the Chihuahuan Desert. Water tends to be scarce. As an 1879 new miner in town, your immediate need is access to water!

A few natural springs were around. Trouble is, some men had taken "ownership" of them. They began charging inflated prices for drinking water. Miners nicknamed the place "Gouge-Eye" - but its official name was Watervale.1

Mr. D.S. Chamberlain had two wells near town. He offered cart water to miners for cost. It was a better deal. His problem was unreliable wells, especially in the dry times of year.1

Alpheus Lewis was a character in Tombstone Arizona history. He filed the Richmond townsite claim in early 1879. Just Southwest of today's town. Lewis purchased a nearby spring, planning to pump water from it, but it never happened.1

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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.

The Real Story of the Tombstone Town-site

Miners looking for work tended to settle on the West side: Gird Camp. Often locally called Upper Town. (Today locals still refer to town 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.

When Was Tombstone AZ Founded?

Mining brothers Samuel and Charles Calhoun bought 320 acres called "Goose Flats." This land was easy-going for pulling wagons up to their Mountain Maid claim. A friend of Richard Gird, Thomas J. Bidwell arranged 80% of the rights to Goose Flats in March 1879. The Calhouns agreed contingent that it be surveyed for a town-site, and promoted into a livable community.

James S. Clark and Charles Cook, were partners in San Francisco real estate. 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's town as a financial project. They hired a surveyor, establishing a grid street pattern. They named the main business road Allen Street, after Tombstone Territory's first merchant.

They filed the Townsite claim in Florence AZ, at the U.S. Land Office. Official on April 22, 1879, at the Pima County Recorder's Office, as New Tombstone. Nearby Richmond vied for the local Post Office, but instead "New Tombstone" was awarded it. Autumn brought Justice of the Peace co-appointments: Michael Gray & Thomas J. Bidwell. 

Why Call It Tombstone Arizona?

Town leaders petitioned for town incorporation. They considered changing the name. 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:

  • William A. Harwood, lumber sales, was mayor
  • Fred White, timberman & carpenter, was town marshal
  • Plus four city councilmen chosen
The news article that told of Tombstone's first baptism, in 1880From the Weekly Arizona Miner - Friday, April 9, 1880 Pg. 4

Results of the first official municipal election on January 6, 1880 were:

  • Mayor - Alder Randell
  • Councilmen:
  1. S. B. Comstock
  2. Harry B. Jones
  3. Andrew Cadwell
  4. P.W. Smith
  5. Michael Gray
  • Town Marshal - Fred White

With a government now in place, local laws, taxes and business licenses could be achieved. Some notable firsts:2

  • Ordinance Number 9 - Unlawful for any person not an officer of the law to have or carry in the Village of Tombstone any fire-arms, knife or other dangerous weapons...
  • Ordinance Number 10 - Shall be unlawful to open, maintain or become an inmate of, or a visitor to... any house of ill fame in the following described district of the City of Tombstone, viz.: Commencing at the point of intersection...and thence running in a southerly direction to and parallel with the center line of Sixth Street to the center line of Tough Nut... 
    1. It actually outlined where the "red light" district was allowed: East of 6th St. & South of Fremont St!
Tombstone 1880s Red Light District advertising posterTombstone Had a Specified Red Light District

Tombstone Businesses Back Then

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

  • Multiple General Mercantile Shops
  • Two furniture stores and two tin/stove suppliers
  • Three foot-wear shops and a ready-to-wear clothing concern
  • Seven grocery stores with local farm produce
  • Five butcher shops
  • Four establishments turned out treats: Two bakeries, an ice cream shop and a candy producer
  • Nine restaurants, including some ethnic varieties
  • Ten tobacconists
  • Two barber shops, one with bath facilities
  • Two pharmacies
  • Two banks: The Pima County Bank in the Pioneer Store. Safford, Hudson & Company in the Vizina & Cook Building on the NE corner of 5th & Allen.
  • Five corrals, including the infamous O.K. Corral run by Montgomery and Benson
  1. More on Tombstone Arizona History at the OK Corral>
O.K. Corral advertisement in Tombstone Arizona's history appeared in the newspaperFrom The Daily Tombstone

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

The San Jose House is a place to stay that goes back to Tombstone Arizona's HistoryThe Historic San Jose House
  • The San Jose House was the first hostelry opened in town. Still there today, on the NW corner of Fremont & 5th Streets.
  • The Mohave Hotel followed closely after. Owner, Charles R. Brown later changed the name to Brown's Hotel.
  • The Rural House was built near the end of 1879, with an excellent restaurant. On Allen Street, near 5th.
  • The Russ House opened about a year later than the others. The historic walls still stand on the NW corner of Fifth & Toughnut.
  • The Grand Hotel's Allen St. frontage still exists - by Big Nose Kate's. Called "the most elegant" hotel in the state. It's not the same Grand in Tombstone today. 
  • The Cosmopolitan Hotel was on the North side of Allen Street, East of 4th. First a tent, later a quality hotel.

Read More on Tombstone's Historic Hotels>

Saloons in Tombstone's History

In Tombstone's history, Saloons Were Popular. 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:

  • Mt. Hood Saloon opened between 4th & 5th streets in early 1879.
  • Later the same year the Bank Exchange Saloon and Doling's Saloon were in business.
  • Another historic corner was the NW side of 5th & Allen, where the Golden Eagle Brewery opened July 1880. Bernhardt Wehrfritz partnered with three Tribolet brothers to begin this undertaking. 
  1. Read Golden Eagle-Crystal History>
  • Kelly's Wine House opened on Fremont St., near 4th, in May 1880. He opened another called Kelly's Wine Rooms two months later. It was larger, with a nice reading room.
Oriental Saloon news clipping report in Tombstone Arizona historyArizona Daily Star - Thursday, March 2, 1882 - Pg. 3
  • The Oriental Saloon was a deluxe setup in its day. The historic building still there. A historic bar stands inside, today! Have a drink where Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp played Faro! Located on the Northeast corner of 5th & Allen.

By the end of 1880 there were about 33 saloons operating in town, give or take a few!

Entertainment & Civic Organizing

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.

  • For instance, reading local & hometown newspapers1
  1. The Nugget - 1st paper in town. Founded by Artemus E. Fay. His news experience from Pennsylvania's Daily Courier, and then Tucson's Arizona Star. A weekly, promoting Democrat's viewpoint.
  2. The Epitaph - 2nd primary Tombstone journal. John P. Clum started it, first issue on May 1, 1880. His prior newspaper experience came with Tucson's Citizen. With a varied career already, he had much worldly experience. Opposing the Nugget, with the Republican's stance.

Clara Spalding Brown moved from San Diego to Tombstone with her husband. He had an interest in 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

"The ladies of Tombstone are not so liberally provided with entertainment, and find little enjoyment aside from a stroll about town after sunset..."

Read More Clara Spalding Brown -

Click Here>

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.

Tombstone Arizona Churches: Historical Roots

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.

New Article explaining Tombstone Arizona Church historyArizona Daily Star - Saturday, July 3, 1880 - Pg. 2

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.

Schools in Tombstone Arizona History

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!).

Read About Tombstone in 1882

Tombstone's Ethnic Populations

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.

CLICK To Read More Detail On Westward Immigration

Tombstone Arizona 1881

Allen Street's appearance in Tombstone Arizona History - 1881People Parading Down Allen Street in 1881 Tombstone

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 spread throughout the country.

Therefore, local leaders asked the Arizona Territory governing body to create a new county there. They did, on February 21, 1881. A charter created Cochise County from the Eastern part of Pima County.


County Seat Appointment

They named Tombstone the County Seat.Officials and financing were now needed. Governor John C. Fremont began the process:1

  • John Behan appointed County Sheriff
  • Ordinance Number 4: City Business Licenses with (mostly) quarterly fees to support county expenses. Some examples:
  1. Livery Stables: $15
  2. Lumberyards: $25
  3. Restaurants: $30
  • Ordinance Number 4: Business Taxes for alcohol dealers. The license was $250. The tax applied to wholesale distribution, a graded scale depending on gross sales. A similar tax for lodging houses.
  • Ordinance 4 also taxed Houses of Prostitution. Monthly fees applied.

It seemed all was going well. People continued flowing into town.

Tombstone Fire Danger!

Photo of the OK Corral, Devastated after the Tombstone May 1882 fireScene After the Tombstone Fire of 1882

Tombstone Arizona history recounts a number of fires. Consider accelerating circumstances:

  • Building materials for early Tombstone were those easily accessed. 
  1. Many people threw together structures with wood frames and canvas walls. 
  • Water was hauled from springs by wagon. 
  • No good fire-fighting system existed. 
  • People crowded together. 
  • Casual use of dangerous flammable materials like candles and oil lamps.
  • The weather and climate. 
  1. Dry heat with low humidity. 
  2. Spring-time lack of rain and wind-promoting weather fronts. 

Tombstone Arizona suffered through two horrifying fires in their history. With 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 AZ Historic Courthouse

Tombstone Arizona in the historical year of 1883Tombstone AZ in 1883

With Tombstone's appointment as County Seat of the new Cochise County, the Board of Supervisors wanted a proper county courthouse. They decided to build at the Southwest corner of Toughnut & 3rd Streets.

They advertised for sealed bids, receiving seven. They chose the second highest: $27,456! Tombstone Undertaker, Andrew J. Ritter, received the contract. 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. The cornerstone was ceremoniously placed on August 11, 1882. And 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.

Tombstone's Historic Courthouse from 1882Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Old Tombstone City Hall

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.

The Tombstone Historic City Hall as it appears in current times.Historic City Hall

The Cowboys in Tombstone

With the 1800s silver mining population draw, stockmen came to Tombstone establishing ranches.

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. You may have heard of some of the most notorious names: Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill, Ike Clanton, the McLaury Brothers.

Read About

The Cochise County Cowboys

Serious Economic Troubles
in Tombstone Arizona History

Tombstone has a shallow, but fairly strong water table. This was realized when mine shafts began to flood. This problem's solution was 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.

Mining Strike & Bank Failure

Mine management began worker pay decreases from $4/day to $3/day. The Miners' Union went on strike.1

On May 10, 1884, the Hudson Bank in Tucson shut down. Tombstone's branch in the Vizina & Cook Building shut, when the teller went to Tucson to make inquiries. Meanwhile, striking miners gathered at the door anxious to access their accounts. Scuttlebutt began: The clerk ran off with their money!

A new items explains that the Tucson Bank failure affects a Tombstone bank in 1884Mohave County Miner, Sunday, May 18, 1884 - Pg. 2

The sheriff stepped in, preventing violence. But miners did lose funds because 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.


Birdcage Theater of 1886 was popular says this newspaper accountFrom the Daily Tombstone Newspaper - Monday, January 25, 1886

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. 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. Citizens tried to help. The one available water pipe was frozen. The fire eventually burned 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. Independent 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

See Tombstone's Mining Story>

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!

How Does Tombstone Survive?

Responsible city representatives determined 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"


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Tombstone Arizona History References

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.

Daily Nugget (1880, Dec. 2) Tombstone, Arizona.

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

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