Tombstone mining is the original reason for the start of this historic old west town. Yes, some do wonder: was Tombstone a mining town? Mining in Tombstone Arizona is actually what first brought a Variety of Immigrants here! So how did it all start? Let's get to the beginning of Tombstone Arizona mining history...
Frederick Brunckow, an 1848 German immigrant with a mining degree, had some mining experience in Europe. Hired by Charles Poston's mining company, he rose in the ranks.2
In 1857 Brunckow explored the area West of what's now Tombstone. By 1859 he'd quit Poston's crew, starting his own business. He hired three mining professionals, and laborers from Sonora Mexico.2
They dug for silver a little Southwest of today's Tombstone city proper. Things were going well, until they weren't! The laborers killed Brunckow and all but two miners. Read the Brunckow Mine History.
Brunckow's silver strike became known. But few risked going into that area with Apache bands' raids on travelers and settlements.
Ed Schieffelin arrived at Camp Huachuca in Southern Arizona Territory. With prior mining experience, he planned investigating rocks for area minerals. Seeking protection, he asked to shadow a military crew scouting out raiding Apaches. They okayed it. Yet he eventually felt boxed in to a specific area.2
So in the summer of 1877, Schieffelin set out alone. A soldier told him: if you're going out solo, there won't be silver or gold, but...
"...you'll find your Tombstone!"
He remembered that warning!
And actually, he found silver-promoting geology about 12 miles East of that Brunckow mine. August 1, 1877 he put in his claim for the "Tombstone" mine. His next two mines were called Graveyard No. 1 and Graveyard No. 2.2
Yes, he had a sense of humor!
See those Tombstone Mining area Claims on the Mining Map!
Ed needed help to work his mines. His brother Albert came to town. They recruited Richard Gird.
All five men, along with Thomas E. Walker, wrote the Tombstone Mining District bylaws. They submitted them in Tucson to the Pima County Recorder on April 7, 1878. Tombstone was on its way to becoming a town.
Reports spread about the Tombstone Mining District and its silver strikes. Anson P.K. Safford was appointed Arizona Territorial Governor in 1869. Tombstone was on his radar for mining ventures.
Safford and his friend John S. Vosburg, a Tucson gunsmith, organized the Tombstone Gold and Silver Mill and Mining Company. They gathered partners, bought up mine claims (including the Lucky Cuss & Tough Nut), obtained water rights, and built a mill along the West side of the San Pedro River.
Richard Gird became the mill's superintendent. He married Nellie McCarty of San Francisco. They lived in the mill bungalow, with a view of Millville. Across the river, another town overtook it: Charleston.
More mines gave rise to more mills. The Contention Mill on the East side of the San Pedro River. Another was the Sunset Mill. Contention City was the supply town for both.
From 1879 to 1882, Tombstone attracted experienced mining men. Suppliers and caterers of mining men's needs followed. The town expanded rapidly!
Tombstone Arizona is high desert: Chihuahuan Desert. Water is scarce. If you were a new miner in town in 1879, you'd think about where to get water! Likely one of your first thoughts!!
A few springs were nearby, at Watervale. But some "strong-men" guarded them, charging high prices for water. Suitably nicknamed "Gouge-Eye."2
D.S. Chamberlain said he'd sell water to miners from his two wells for a better price. But his wells weren't reliable.2
The Sulphuret Mine in Tombstone had a water source within. The owners, the Girard Gold and Silver Mining Company built their mill in town, since it had that water supply. Starting February 11, 1882, it sourced the Tombstone Water Company.
Mining brothers Samuel and Charles Calhoun bought 320 acres called "Goose Flats." To easily pull wagons up to their Mountain Maid claim. Thomas J. Bidwell, friend of Richard Gird, talked them into giving up most of Goose Flats' rights in March 1879. The Calhouns stipulated it be surveyed as a town-site, and community.
Two businesses were involved: Tombstone Townsite Company and Clark, Palmer & Company. April 19, 1879, they filed the Townsite at the Land Office in Florence AZ. It was recorded April 22nd in Pima County as New Tombstone.
Many town businesses were already operating. Some supplied mining operations. Others catered to mining employees in their off-hours. Ranchers, Cow-boys and distant miners came to buy provisions, do cattle negotiations, plus financial needs and various tasks.
Usually needing to have a meal, they might Gamble, meet friends for a drink. Miners often needed relaxation after their intense working day. Tombstone's Saloons ranged from little dive corners to plushy operations. By 1880's end, about 33 saloons had opened up! The Red Light District entertained some. Those coming from outlying areas needed lodging.
So town leaders petitioned for city incorporation. They chewed over changing the name. But decided to keep Tombstone, since many businesses already had that association.
Because of silver mining, people poured into town since early 1880. Early 1881, Tombstone had over 4,000 people living there. (Under half that today!) Mines produced, people had cash, merchants doing well, homes being built! As a mining boom-town, word spread throughout the country.
It seemed all was going well. Many sought mining riches. Yet Tombstone mines were easily worked! Categorized a "soft-rock camp" which meant less labor required to dig veins.1 Only 400 Tombstone men were normally employed as miners.
Many men come to town, ran out of funds, and were jobless. Finally they'd leave for other possibilities. Others came thinking of the easy, ill-gotten gains. Silver nuggets in mine areas, supply wagons, and stage-coaches were targets.
Even though Tombstone is in the desert, it has a strong, yet shallow water table. This circumstance had effects. At a certain point mines started flooding.
Silver and gold veins beneath water undergo chemical changes. That decreases the ore's value. They needed to get water pumps going. Easier said than done!
Only one suitable brand: Cornish pumps. Ordered in November 1882. Operating in the Contention Mine by December 11, 1883. In the Grand Central by July 1885.
Miners were optimistic! Then tragedy struck the Grand Central. In spring 1886, fire devastated the mine. Everything flammable burned, metal melted, foul gases erupted from caved-in gaps.
Mine water levels rose again. One idea was to tunnel into the Contention for that pump's help. But silver's value headed downward. Half the Tombstone mining workforce were let go by 1886 summer's end.
During Tombstone mining's flood problems, mine management planned to cut employees pay. From $4/day to $3/day. Tombstone Miners went on strike.
Then on May 10, 1884, the Hudson Bank in Tucson shut down. Tombstone's branch was in the Vizina & Cook Building on 5th & Allen Streets. Their teller closed up, heading for Tucson to figure it out. Meanwhile, striking miners gathered at the bank door anxiously inquiring about their own funds. Rumors started! That the cashier made off with their money!
The sheriff stepped in, diverting possible vigilante action. The miners lost their money, since the Hudson Bank failed. It wasn't the teller's doing!
The miner's strike continued, hard feelings all around. Some militant events happened near mining areas. A military company from Fort Huachuca was sent to check the situation. On September 1, 1884 the Miner's Union relented, accepting the $3 per day pay. [Just under $79 in 2020 U.S. dollars.] The strike was over.
The Contention and Grand Central Mine owners decided on deeper mining. On May 1, 1887 they formed an Arizona Corporation: the Grand Central Mining Company.
Men hired for Grand Central clean-up. They opened a new shaft and repaired machinery. More hired to work adjacent mines owned by the company. 300 employees total!
New mines opened, older mines did well. Things looked up. But in 1890, silver prices dropped again. Then Tombstone mining got a near-fatal blow. Fiery blazes attacked. Christmas 1891, after midnight, the Contention Mine spouted flames, shooting in the air from the shaft's draft, giving it oxygen energy. Spreading to all mine buildings.
With just one water pipe for firefighters, conditions were impossible. It burned out, and the mine was in ruins. Contention management stopped all mining. Metal scraps were shipped to Mexico.
Of the two local Tombstone mining employers, one was just getting by, the other now gone.
Some individual miners staked their own claims. They got by. They sold their ore to the Tucson Sampling Works, whose agent came to town intermittently.
The Tombstone Mill and Mining Company still employed some miners. Those miners went on strike on May 16, 1896 for a 50 cent pay increase. After nine days the company complied, and the men returned to work. The town squeaked by with the price of silver.
But most businesses had left town. Mining employees left for other mines, like that in Bisbee, and the Black Diamond. In 1890, Tombstone's population dwindled to 1800, close to what it is today! By 1900, only 649 people were left in Tombstone!
E.B. Gage and W.F. Staunton wanted to revive mining in town. In May 1900 they formed the Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company. They bought 96 good claims. Their plan:
Frank Murphy was its major player. An experienced railroader, his goal: get the railroad from Charleston over to Tombstone. For efficient delivery of supplies and equipment. For years Tombstone hoped for this line.
Murphy got Phelps-Dodge to sponsor the line. Work began July 29, 1902. Using second-hand rail, it reached town, was ready to go on March 25, 1903. Two box cars were a temporary station, at the end of 4th Street. The line was usable by April 1903, finished by January 1906.
Advanced water pumping equipment was installed. A crew hired to run the pumps and make steam.
Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company's success inspired others to return to mining. Soon thereafter, November 1906, a bump up in silver price also benefited Tombstone. Happy miners received a pay raise!
It's April 21, 1907, 1 p.m. Charles Gage hitched his horse near the Southeast corner of 5th and Toughnut Streets. The horse started stumbling, Gage tried to figure out what's wrong. The horse, and the wagon all disappeared into a caved in hole! Gage was right on the edge!!
Eventually becoming A Mine Tour, this was a roof area of the Good Enough Mine. Only about 12 inches thick when it caved in! The horse, amazingly, wasn't injured and was brought out. The area was fenced in, and became a sight to see! Thought possibly the new train coming through weakened the soil's crust.
Can good times never last? The people of Tombstone must have wondered! The stock market crashed. Large companies couldn't meet their payrolls. Unemployment surged.
Next year's silver value dropped over 3 cents an ounce. Tombstone Consolidated cut three mine operations, unemploying 50 miners. Fire erupted again, at the Lucky Cuss. But the company recovered by 1908's end, with superintendent James Macia's help.
Still problems weren't over:
To solve it, they reorganized, filing bankruptcy. F.M. Murphy put $40,000 into an account. He wanted to ensure his employees got their back pay and Tombstone businesses got paid. It took two years to finalize bankruptcy proceedings. Tombstone Consolidated was offered for sale. Phelps-Dodge purchased it for $500,000 on July 8, 1914.
The new owners began work soon. Brought in their own management, hired 300 men for mining positions. U.S. economy at that time wasn't booming. So Phelps-Dodge took a slow, steady pace developing their new purchase. By the middle of 1915 they employed 60 more workers.
August 1914: war started in Europe. By May 1917 the U.S. was involved. The American mining industry was nervous about the war's effects. American copper mines let workers go. Including Bisbee copper mines, until a resurgent need in mid-1915.
Manganese was important during World War I. Western silver mines often have manganiferous silver ore. Tombstone was the prime U.S. producer. By early 1917, Phelps-Dodge Tombstone hired 600 employees!
The company followed the war's circumstances. Recognizing imminent peacetime, they shut down most big mine production. Then ceased on April 1, 1918. Many employees left, looking for mining jobs elsewhere.
Phelps-Dodge leased smaller gold and silver ore mines on their property. Mining men from surrounding areas rushed to get these leases. But 1918 was economically slumping.
Then the U.S. government got involved in silver, with passage of the Pittman Act that April. For four years after passage, the government purchased silver from all U.S. silver mines. Silver prices skyrocketed!
Again, those good times ended. The government's Pittman Act purchasing ended on May 31, 1923. Silver's value immediately dipped. Tombstone mining leasers did hang in there!
Tombstone had a period of stabilized lull. Remaining miners earned enough to get by.
In 1914 Arizona Prohibition ended local saloon businesses.
After WWI, the government began road construction programs. More auto traffic entered Tombstone. Allen Street was paved in December 1922.
A cross-continental route linking the U.S. East Coast with the West Coast was promoted: "Broadway of America." The Western road was U.S. 80, going through Tombstone: Fremont Street.
Those traveling Broadway of America stopped to see what was in Tombstone. Slowly the town had Tombstone mining sites for tourists:
Thursday, October 24, 1929 - Black Thursday
The Day the American Stock Market Crashed
The stock market crash critically affected Arizona. Mined metal values, especially those from Southeastern Arizona:
Their prices dropped further and further. Credit was a non-starter! Millions lost their jobs by the end of 1930, Tombstone was no different.
Phelps-Dodge cut production, decreasing mine working days. At 1931's end they totally shut down Tombstone mining, including leased mines.
Miners couldn't pay rent or support families. If single, they left town. Married men, family men - got together on downtown street corners. Passing time, wondering what to do.
The Red Cross helped, especially families and children. Relief agencies formed. Phelps-Dodge contributed to fundraising efforts. They helped some long-time employees' families.
But still many were hungry and malnourished. Children suffered ill-health consequences. Some stole food where they could.
In early 1932, a new mining corporation started operating. The San Diego, Last Chance, Grand Central and Empire claims restarted. By summer, 150 miners were working.
In 1939 the government reentered the silver game. A bill passed setting the price right under 71 cents/ounce. Good for two years, with possible renewal. This kept things on an even keel.
Fires at two Tombstone mining claims made further set back.
World War II began, having detrimental local economic effects. Tombstone's population took a nosedive to 822.
This time manganese wasn't needed. Lead was desirable. They mined it three places:
Zinc was mined in Bisbee, 23 miles Southeast of Tombstone. Local miners received military deferments to work these mines.
After the war, the Federal Government helped. Manganese was again desired. A program covered portions of mining exploration, and also bought ore for five years. But six More Fires plagued mine claims over the years.
From 1950 until 1990, scattered mining attempts took place. Tombstone's pioneering Escapule family formed the Escapule Mining Association and other companies for some Tombstone mining.
That included Dustin "Dusty" Escapule, as General Manager of Tombstone Exploration Inc. Termed "economical mining," Escapule started an open pit. It consumed a hill South of Tombstone and the old Grand Central Mine.
By the late 1970s, some mining professionals felt the Tombstone area was exhausted. Some ore value remained, the investment to get it wasn't worth it. That's why open pit was then thought a method of the future.
But not so. Costs vs. effort, pollution dangers, and government paperwork made it unreasonable. So by 1990, Tombstone mining essentially came to an end.
Tombstone has the look of a Wild West town. That's often what visitors desire when they come to the mining town of Tombstone. But do they sense the True History of why and how the town got started?
We absolutely appreciate our visitors and tourists. For quite some time, they've been the town's financial replacement for Tombstone mining ventures. Local people acknowledge that, hoping visitors will realize that also. People who live in the area make their living from tourism. They work hard to help visitors have a good experience.
We also like helping visitors, Tombstone's guests, get a good feel for the History of Tombstone, including mining. Some local museums help with that. A superior experience to see its beginnings, and Related History, we recommend you take the highly rated Tombstone Mine Tour.
Click For More Details On the Tombstone Mining Tour>
1 Daily Nugget, December 2, 1880.
2 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Tombstone, Arizona: "Too tough to die" The rise, fall, and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Westernlore Press, Tucson, Arizona. A prime general resource for all historic details not notated.
Newspaper clippings thanks to our subscription at https://www.newspapers.com/