Tombstone AZ History

In Tombstone AZ history, Frederick Brunckow was the first man mining the Tombstone hills. His silver mine was Southwest of town. But Brunckow and most of his workers were murdered.6 Brunckow Mine History. 

Drawing of Ed SchieffelinEd Schieffelin

The next mining man was Ed Schieffelin. When prospecting, soldiers warned him of area dangers. They said to be careful, or: 

You'll Find Your Tombstone!

Schieffelin discovered silver, and named his mine Tombstone - and the town took its name from that, too!1


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To read about the town's history during the 1800s, see Tombstone Arizona History - and find more details about:




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Tombstone AZ History in the 1900s

Tombstone Is Struggling

After the lucrative mining start, mine troubles put Tombstone in financial trouble. Residents fled to more prosperous towns. City representatives attempted to improve Tombstone's situation.6 Suggestions/results were:

  • Hold a special election to fill vacant seats
  1. Instead a mayor and councilman were appointed, avoiding election expense
  • City charter change to lower fees to attract business
  1. This required reincorporation


Thumbs-Up HandWe're A-OK That The Name Didn't Change!
  • Under the Blinn Act, disincorporate and reincorporate to rename the town a less mournful, ominous name. The suggestion was Richmond, the first camp name.
  1. Popular idea for a while. 
  2. But it lost steam - mostly because of Blinn Act requirements
  • Form a Chamber of Commerce
  1. First committees: 1) Get Santa Fe Railroad into town - 2) Publicize the town's gold production potential



Tombstone Consolidated

E.B. Gage and W.F. Staunton thought mining revival would help. In May 1900 they formed the Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company. Their plan: solve mine flooding, and involve Frank Murphy to get a railroad line to Tombstone.

Entrance to Tombstone Consolidated MiningTake a Historic Mine Tour Thru These Gates!

These ideas were popular.3 Phelps-Dodge sponsored the railroad line. Functional to South 4th Street at Toughnut on March 25, 1903. Two box cars at the line's termination became a temporary station. An extension out to 10th Street completed on April 5, 1903. Train Line Celebration on April 12th.2

It was fully usable by April 25, 1903. Train service in town ran twice daily. But further work was needed on sections. Construction converted it to standard gauge, finishing finally in January 1906.


Modernization in Tombstone AZ History

Ad for Ford Model TAdvertisement for the 1908 Ford Model T

Another religious group built their own worship building at 2nd and Allen Street. The Congregational community church was finished in 1903.

Also that same year that new invention: the automobile began driving into town! 

Electric lighting and telephone service were installed by 1907. New homes built, and some new hotel establishments went up. Population that year increased to 2,500! The area near Boothill was crowding with new homes. Tombstone annexed it in March 1907.

On April 21, 1907 part of the roof of the Good Enough mine caved in! Located on the Southeast corner of 5th and Toughnut Streets, apparently it thinned out, causing this. Possibly from the train rumbling through, weakening the crust. They fenced off the area. Everyone came over to see this sight! 


Tombstone Suffers Again

Oriental Saloon vintage photo taken between 1907 & 1921.Oriental Saloon Corner - Taken Sometime Between 1907 & 1921

Things rolled along very well now in 1907, Tombstone AZ history. Happy and confident citizens. But then came September of that year...

Seems good times can't go on and on! Tombstone's people had to endure again! Wall Street panicked as the market crashed. Payrolls weren't met, and many companies collapsed. Unemployment multiplied.

Over the next year silver's value tumbled. Tombstone Consolidated cut three mining operations and sacked 50 miners.

Still problems weren't over. Fires! And the continuous fight to keep water out of mines. Pump maintenance! Replacement parts for timely repairs was sometimes difficult. Tombstone Consolidated backers weren't managing finances well. Discovered when liens were filed for three months of employee back pay!

They filed for bankruptcy. Murphy ensured employees got their back pay. Tombstone Consolidated was up for sale. Phelps-Dodge bought it in July 1914. They slowly brought it back to a steady life over the next year.



World War I in Tombstone AZ History

Tombstone had a period of stabilized lull. The remaining miners earned enough to get by. Tombstone was the County Seat. Court held there, legal documents filed there. Many lawyers had offices and homes in town. Others did business in town.13 The Tombstone Epitaph still published. And took over the Prospector.

In 1914 Arizona prohibition ended local saloon businesses. Influential business owner, Mary Costello, owned the Crystal Palace Saloon. She sold that beautiful bar and fixtures to outfits in the border town of Naco, Sonora, Mexico. Then reinvented the Saloon as the Crystal Theater. Renovations changed it to show movies. The grand opening feature on February 26, 1915 was The Tenth Commandment.

In August 1914 war broke out in Europe. The Selective Service Act began May 18, 1917 as the U.S. entered the war. 443 initially ordered to report for induction in Tombstone. 


Cover of the English version of the Treaty of VersaillesPeace Treaty to End WWI

The U.S. mine industry eyed the war's effects carefully. Western silver mines produced needed manganese, as did Tombstone mines. Phelps-Dodge Tombstone hired on 600!

But when peacetime was at hand, Phelps-Dodge began tapering Tombstone production. Fully shutting down on April 1, 1918. Many of their employees left town. With this situation 1918's Tombstone AZ history again saw economic decline. A little bump-up again with a post-war Government silver Act. A temporary fix that ended April 1, 1923, when silver slid downward again. Read More of Tombstone Mining History>

Mining was nearing its end.1 The Chamber of Commerce thought tourism could be a life-saver.


Destruction or Renewal?

Unfortunately many Tombstone structures deteriorated. In October 1922 Mrs. Costello had adobe residences at 3rd & Fremont Streets torn down. Could they have been restored? At that time, not much interest. She wanted new construction. She also took down four of her Allen Street buildings, as they were "eye sores that were a menace..."4

After WWI, the government began a road construction program. More and more automotive traffic entered town since that first car in 1903. For town improvement, Allen Street was paved in December 1922. 





More Loss in Tombstone AZ History

On November 20, 1929 Cochise County voters expressed their opinion on County Seat location. Still remain in Tombstone, as town residents were fighting for? No - twice as many ballots went to moving the County Seat to Bisbee, who offered a new Courthouse. 

The City of Tombstone brought it to the State Supreme Court. On July 7, 1930, Tombstone AZ history reflects loss of the County Seat. 

A secondary effect was Tombstone Epitaph's loss of the County printing contract. Newest owners, Walter and Edith Cole, did what they could to keep it as a historical feature.



Advent of Tourism
in Tombstone AZ History

Broadway of America Comes to Tombstone

Arlington Hamilton Gardner was the first local to believe tourism was a good idea for Tombstone. He'd worked supervising road construction for Cochise County. He became the Secretary of Tombstone's Commercial Club. He understood travel. And he was Regional Vice-President of the Western Division of the Broadway of America Association.

Broadway of America was routes linking the U.S. East Coast with the West Coast. Road-work began for it at the end of WWI. As a government program to rev up the economy, it also built up the country's infrastructure.

The Broadway of America route through the West was U.S. 80, from Dallas TX to San Diego CA. It also went right through Tombstone - along Fremont Street. 

The US 80 AZ Historic Sign Sample from the Uniform Traffic Control Devices ManualHistoric US 80 AZ Sign Sample from the Uniform Traffic Control Devices Manual

In early 1919, Gardner was on the Chamber of Commerce Publicity Committee. Writer Frederick Ritchie Bechdolt visited Tombstone for research. Gardner was his "area tour guide" to meet locals, and visit historic areas. Bechdolt wrote "Stories of the Old West" for the Saturday Evening Post.  Tombstone Arizona received country-wide attention!

Bechdolt got the only interview John Slaughter ever gave. Wrote it up in June 3, 1921's Adventure Magazine. His book was published: How the West was Won. Gardner got that book all publicity possible.

Bechdolt returned for more visits, focusing on Tombstone AZ history. He prompted Tombstone's officials to create respect for history, use it to advantage. For instance, valuing Their Cemetery.

View of Schieffelin Monument in the Chihuahuan DesertGravesite Monument Completed November 1897 - The Memorial says "Died May 12, 1897, Aged 49 years 8 months, A Dutiful Son, A Faithful Husband, A Kind Brother, A True Friend

Those traveling Broadway of America started stopping in town. Slowly Tombstone's citizens began presenting something for tourists:

  • Boothill Cemetery was cleaned up and organized
  • The Bird Cage Theater frontage was spruced up, with signage placed directing tourists to town
  • The caved-in Good Enough Mine named "The Million Dollar Stope"
  • The Tombstone Epitaph office welcomed visitors
  • Schieffelin Monument and Shieffelin Hall were featured
  • The historic Can Can restaurant reopened
  • A new Allen Street, deluxe 20 room hotel: "The Tourist"
The historic marker for the Can Can Restaurant


The First Tombstone Helldorado

William Kelly, new Epitaph owner, joined publicity efforts. Kelly and Gardner planned a 50 year city anniversary. They'd return Tombstone to look like the 1880s. The city council gave support, targeting the third week of October 1929.

The council named it "Helldorado"! Historians and citizens were on an advisory committee. The town got a good refurbishment! The Bird Cage was cleaned up and repaired. The Crystal Palace had another face-lift.

About 6,400 attendees made it successful! The very first Helldorado brought in tons of national publicity. John Clum returned as honorary mayor. (His comment: he didn't see the resemblance to the town he remembered!) Most were happy and optimistic about the day's success...

Until the news later on...

It was Thursday, October 24, 1929 - Black Thursday

The Day the American Stock Market Crashed



The Worst of Times: Hunger!

Poor mother and children in 1936In 1936, a Poor Mother With Her Children

The stock market crash gravely affected Arizona. Mined metals' value slid. No more credit available to companies, never mind the average Joe! Millions were unemployed by the end of 1930. Tombstone didn't escape!

Phelps-Dodge shut down all Tombstone's mines at the end of 1931. Miners couldn't pay rent or provide for their families. Single men left the area. Married, family men got together on downtown street corners, commiserating with each other about what to do.

The Red Cross, relief agencies, and the Cochise County Unemployment Committee all assisted. Phelps-Dodge contributed funds, and specifically helped some long-time employees' families.

But many Tombstone citizens went to bed hungry every night. Lots of people were malnourished. Children's health was impacted. Sometimes people even stole food. 



Tombstone Coming Into Its Own


Two Steps Forward

In the 1930s, A.H. Gardner and Epitaph owners, the Coles, got together. They fired up residents to promote Tombstone, as a historical, living town. At 1933's end, Prohibition was repealed, opening up town opportunities. 

Broadway of America continued bringing tourists. Roadwork improved Hwy. 80. After renovation, Boothill was a prime attraction.

In 1935 more Tombstone AZ buildings were demolished. Some had history: too bad they couldn't be saved. Assorted town-folk felt bad about that. They wanted to do something to preserve Tombstone's history. Two local widows owned much town property: Margaret Cummings and Mary Costello. They met with Gardner, the Coles and city pioneer Ethel Macia. They started promoting Tombstone's historic features.2

The Coles wearied of the battle, selling the Epitaph in October 1938. New owner, Clayton Smith, used it to embellish Tombstone Arizona's historical accounts. He focused on tourists.

Other businesses in town were doing well. Through 1940, Tombstone opportunity was looking up.


One Step Back

As 1940 ended, war began in Europe. Then in December 1941, the attack at Pearl Harbor happened. The war had some detrimental effects on Tombstone's economy. This time lead and zinc were desirable metals. Mined in areas near Tombstone.

After the war, a Federal program offered help for mining exploration. But mine fires still caused set-backs.

The town's population nosedived to 822 in the 40s. Many businesses closed, others got by. A few historically significant buildings burned down. 


Get Up Again...

In September 1945 Father Roger Aull opened a unique medical clinic called the Tombstone Medical Center. It specialized in a breathing technique. He developed it from an invention by Ray Morrison of Barstow California. 

Aull used Morrison's device to treat people with respiratory and joint problems. Called the Halox Therapeutic Generator. Not authorized by medical science. But patients championed it! They came to town from every U.S. state, and multiple countries.

The Center gave new life to Tombstone. Some eager locals formed Greater Tombstone Inc., buying shares in Tombstone Medical Center. Their idea: market Tombstone as a health capital. For its mild, dry climate.

Beginning in 1946, many new businesses opened. More people moved to town, bought homes. Everything buzzed along for a few years. Then one event halted Tombstone's health capital. Father Aull died from a heart attack on August 11, 1948. At 64 years old. His clinic closed soon afterwards.



Tourism It Is for Tombstone!

The Cummings stored antiques, town mementos and Native American baskets in the Bird Cage Theatre. In 1934 they cleaned it up, made it a museum, put in a coffee shop, and publicly opened it. New owners, Mr. & Mrs. H.F. Ohm, buffed it up in 1947. But the only change was adding restrooms.

Other historic Tombstone buildings and areas were reviewed for renovation and reinvention. When the County Seat moved to Bisbee, the town purchased the Courthouse for a bargain. Discussions centered on ideas for the building. It was a mess. Youths had used it to hide out and play inside.

Even with historical town sites, Boothill was the draw. Most Broadway of America travelers came through, stopping there. Not very many came into town, along Allen Street.

From 1950 until 1990, scattered mining attempts occurred. By the late 1970s, some mining professionals felt the Tombstone area was spent.

Tombstone's Mining History Detail Here>


Restoration Commission

Hollywood film Production Manager, D'Estelle Iszard often visited Tombstone. He realized most travelers didn't know Tombstone's historical significance. He saw the dollars that could be spent here, weren't. He proposed forming a restoration committee.

He suggested restoring Tombstone to reflect its Old West history. To be an Old West Town, similar to Williamsburg in the East. Make it look like the 1880s:2

  • Put up old-time building fronts
  • Build boardwalks
  • Restore and open historic points
  1. Example: O.K. Corral

His ideas were taken to heart. Iszard raised funds for introductory promotion. The Restoration Commission became official in December 1949. Arizona's governor took note. He proclaimed January 29 to February 4, 1950 as Tombstone Restoration Week.2 He asked state citizens to help, showing pride in their "monument to the old west."5 

Unfortunately, the hub-bub didn't last. But one good thing happened. Magazine Antiques noted Tombstone's historic restoration plans in the July 1950 issue. The Commission joined the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings. Gaining this wisdom and advice:

  • Restoration takes financial investment. But beginning efforts don't have to cost much.
  • Go slowly with cost-effective, creative moves proving historical connections.
  • Create a Western atmosphere by encouraging citizens to dress Western.
  • Put names of Old West businesses on current establishments.
  • Place a visitor's overview of every building's Old West History.
  • Employees should learn the highlights of the building's history.
  • Advertising should reflect the Old West era.
  • Organize an Information Center.
  • Form a group called "Vigilantes" to patrol Allen and Fremont Streets on weekends, holidays, special occasions.
  • Display Tombstone's historic city artifacts throughout town.
  • Organize an event/show unique to Tombstone.

Not everyone wanted this change.7 So Tombstone Epitaph owner Clayton Smith campaigned to convince them. The aim was a historic district from 3rd to 6th, and Fremont to Toughnut Streets. A Restoration Zoning Commission would authorize building codes and changes within that area.

The Epitaph's work helped. Ordinance 146 passed on April 10, 1954. It authorized the Restoration Zoning and Commission. The Courthouse was the Ordinance's first project. Other buildings followed.

One sad event: railroad service ended in 1960. For three years Tombstone fought to keep the line, but didn't succeed. Tombstone repurposed the station into its public library. 

The Caboose Shows Where the Tombstone Railway line ended
Historical train station building in Tombstone AZ


Media Boost

Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp in 1959Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt in 1959 - in The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp

The 1950s had a popular new invention: television. This turned out to be free advertising for Tombstone. Many people (especially Baby Boomers, That's  Us, for sure!) grew up on TV programs that featured Tombstone AZ history in its script:

  • The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: Debuted 9/6/19559
  1. On for 6+ years, Wyatt Earp became a well-known name
  • Tombstone Territory: Debuted 10/16/195710
  1. On for One year. Put the town of Tombstone, the "Town too Tough to Die" in Americans' awareness. When canceled after the first year, many wrote complaining. It was back for another year.
  • Gunsmoke: Debuted 9/10/195511
  1. On for 20 seasons, still in reruns today! Even with a Dodge City setting, the Wild West theme encouraged visits to Tombstone.
  • Broken Arrow: Debuted 9/25/195612
  1. Had two seasons, then on Saturday morning reruns for two more years.  Takes place in and around the Chiricahua Mountains and Sulfur Springs Valley. Featured issues relating to the U.S. Cavalry, Native Americans, Wild West, Settlers, Ranchers and Cowboys.

These shows, and similar Westerns of that era, helped tourism jump off the books. Films about the Wild West, especially based on Tombstone itself, also helped. Tombstone Arizona history started to capture the public's interest!



Tombstone AZ History Officially Noted

The National Park Service noticed the interest in Tombstone Arizona history.8 An agreement with the City on July 10, 1961 made Tombstone a National Historic Landmark. The city agreed to continue zoning for preservation and restoration.

The Park Service named buildings in Tombstone historical since Territorial Days:

  • Bird Cage Theatre
  • City Hall
  • The Courthouse
  • The Tombstone Epitaph office
  • The O.K. Corral Gunfight site
  • Schieffelin Hall
  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church

In 1966 the National Historic Preservation Act was passed. Some local business owners refurbished frontages to reflect the Old West. Including the former Oriental Saloon building and the Longhorn Restaurant corner.

Two of the city's structures went on the National Register of Historic Places  that year:

  1. City Hall: Used for 90+ years, on Fremont Street
  2. St. Paul's Episcopal Church

More followed later:

  • Tombstone Courthouse: Added 1972
  • Sacred Heart Catholic Church: Added 2002


Tombstone History Captured?

The 1960s and 1970s continued bringing visitors. Tombstone AZ history captured their imagination! Especially so after the television and Movie Westerns. Or reading Western Novels. People wanted to see where these events took place, and connect them to what they'd seen on TV or the Big Screen!

A boardwalk on Allen Street to reflect 1800's history was completed in 1975. Tombstone was capturing the look of a Wild West town. The atmosphere for visitors usually gave them what they were looking for. But did they learn the town's true history?

Not exactly. It was more a romanticized good versus evil overview of the Wild West. With the excitement of pioneering days. Tombstone's economic times improved, resulting from vacationing visitors. It was a replacement for now defunct mining ventures. Local people finally realized that!

The boardwalk along Allen Street

Four Eastern business owners became interested in Tombstone's opportunity. They formed Historic Tombstone Adventures Corporation. They built the Lookout Lodge on the Western edge of town. They also bought many Tombstone businesses:6

  • The O.K. Corral and connecting land where Fly's studio stood
  • The Harwood House property
  • Crystal Palace
  • Arcade Motel
  • The Gird block
  • Schieffelin Hall
  • The Tombstone Epitaph

They planned restoration and reconstruction to 1800 appearances, with a historical consultant for accuracy. Eventually the corporation sold out businesses to individuals or other companies. Or donated properties to the City of Tombstone.

Visitors can tour the O.K. Corral, see the attractions. But they may not get a good feel for the History of Tombstone. Some local museums help with that. A good walking tour will also help. Maybe that's all many people want. Just an overview, with some fun and entertainment.

And that's fine! We hope when people visit, they'll appreciate at least some authentic history. It isn't an amusement park, or an artificially built Wild West town. It's a real city, with a history from the 1800s. Those who live here take pride in that. We welcome you to come here to enjoy what Tombstone Arizona has to offer!


Have You Seen These Yet?


Tombstone AZ History References

1 Parker, J.L. (1961, Aug. 20). Mining in Arizona: Tombstone merits more from history. P. 68, Arizona Republic, Phoenix, AZ.

2 Cary, J. (1950, Jan. 30). Tombstone to seek old ways. P. 3, Tucson Daily Citizen, Arizona.

3 Arizona Daily Star (1901, Feb. 21). Was in town. P. 5, Tucson, AZ.

Prospector (1922, October 3). Tombstone, Arizona.

Epitaph (1950, Jan. 5 & 12). Tombstone, Arizona

6 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Tombstone, Arizona: "Too tough to die" The rise, fall, and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990.  Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press.  A prime general resource for all unmarked data.

7 Gerken Jr., F. (1950, Dec. 27). Tombstonians get restoration plea. P. 5, Tucson Daily Citizen, Arizona. 

8 Arizona Republic (1961, July 4). Udall cites Tombstone. Phoenix, AZ.

9 Wikipedia (2019, April 26 - last revision). The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. The Free Encyclopedia, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Legend_of_Wyatt_Earp

10 Wikipedia (2019, April 17 - last revision). Tombstone Territory. The Free Encyclopedia, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tombstone_Territory

11 Luebering, J.E., Ed. (2011, May 5). Gunsmoke: American television series. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from britannica.com/topic/Gunsmoke-American-television-series

12 Wikipedia (2019, Aug. 13 - last revision). Broken Arrow. The Free Encyclopedia, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_Arrow_(TV_series)

13 Cochise Review (1901, Jan. 12). Tombstone sights. P. 6, Bisbee, Arizona.

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