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Sunday my husband and I headed south of Tucson for a little Wild West adventure. I have to admit that I’ve never been a very good student of anything Western. Though I know that it’s a subject of fascination for many men, little about the West has ever captured my imagination. Westerns, cowboys…I viewed them with the same enthusiasm with which my husband watches baseball, a yawn and a search for any excuse to escape from the room. Only Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns have ever held any appeal, and that, only to see Clint screw up his face and issue his standard tough guy threat. I never understood what was so interesting about living in dusty, desolate places with a lot of lawlessness. Who in his right mind sets off to a land with an uncertain water supply, hostile peoples, an impossible land for agriculture, in short, a place inhospitable to humans in every way possible?

Now that I’m older, and have some perspective, I am fascinated with some aspects of the West, like how anyone managed to settle there? How did they have the fortitude to travel across country in buggies and the psychological strength to stay once they saw the isolated desolate desert? It’s hard to imagine how our ancestors got by in a time before detailed satellite maps showed the location of rivers. How did they go knowing that they were leaving behind everyone and everything they ever knew and loved and would likely never see again? Even in 2008, the comparatively tamed area where fresh water and meals are easily found, the land still seems harsh to the sensibilities of someone from the lush East Coast.

They were hardy people. In order to not hastily return East, one imagines that the settler’s horses must have died and abandoned them, or they must have really believed in the opportunities of the West, and/or must have been leaving behind worse conditions in the East. Clearly there were some who didn’t like the rule of law, those who wanted the freedom to live as they wished without restraints, in the form of laws or taxation, or social mores.

At any rate, I’m grateful to my ancestors that, for whatever reason, they never saw a reason to generate offspring outside of the greater Delmarva area. I can’t make it through the day without at least two liters of water, so I have no doubts that my kind wasn’t meant to live in an arid environment and wouldn’t have survived the journey past the hills of West Virginia. I suspect my ancestors were so busy breeding that the thought of abstaining for several weeks just to take up residence in some remote, waterless region never occurred to them. At least I can thank them for that.

Tombstone was founded by Edward Lawrence Schieffelin. He named the town as a retort to warnings, “the only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.” According to Wikipedia, Schieffelin lived a quiet life until, in 1877, the Gold Rush called him to California. While prospecting in his spare time two years later near the San Pedro Valley in Arizona, he found silver at a plateau called Goose Flats. He founded the town of Tombstone in 1879 and it quickly took off, already recording 100 residents at year’s end. By 1881, there were 10,000 residents, the Crystal Palace Saloon, the Bird Cage Theatre and gambling halls.

The town had short-lived prosperity though. Schiefflin, nicknamed “The Lucky Cuss,” had the area’s richest mine, producing $5 million worth of ore in five years. There is some conflicting information about when exactly Schiefflin sold, whether in 1880 or 1882, but clearly it was early and he walked away wealthy.

For the rest of Tombstone’s short heyday, it suffered from several crippling fires, and ironically, floods. The final blow to the town in 1892 was rising underground water that caused mining operations to end, after which the town was largely abandoned and the county seat moved to Bisbee in 1929. By its decline in 1892, $37 million worth of silver had been taken from Tombstone’s mines.

Tombstone is, of course, best known for the gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 between the Earps (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil) and the Clantons (Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLowery). The town was declared a national historic landmark in 1962.

While we were there (the day before Memorial Day) Tombstone had reenactments of the famous gunfight. I had a brush with fame, sort of. Wyatt Earp, one of, are you ready? Wyatt Earp’s descendants was there and when I took his picture, he handed me his card with his website information. I know nothing about the younger Wyatt, but it was interesting to meet someone who carries the DNA of someone so famous.

My husband and I could have visited the Bird Cage or the OK Corral, but we were feeling too cheap to pay the admission fees. They were probably interesting, but I can’t personally attest to it. We enjoyed the museum in the old courthouse where the dudes were tried, but weren’t interested in all the shops lining the old dusty street. All in all, it was an interesting visit back in history and now I finally know a (very) little something about the Wild West.

Here’s some more information about Tombstone from Wikipedia:

“Tombstone’s mines played out in the late 1880’s but they had already made Ed Schieffelin a rich man. He left town and traveled widely, but wanted to be returned to Tombstone when he died. He died suddenly of natural causes while prospecting in Oregon in 1897, at the age of 49. He was found alone in his miner’s cabin, slumped over valuable samples of ore, origin unknown. His journal said “Struck it rich again, by God!” As requested in his will, Schieffelin is interred about two miles from Tombstone (at a cemetery located at West Allen street). He was buried as his will specified in mining clothes, with pick, shovel, and his old canteen.


“…prospectors and those who serviced them came to the town: equipment suppliers, bankers, saloons and, of course, ladies of ill repute. The famous gunbattle at the OK Corral was an indication of the lawlessness and violence that took place in Tombstone in its heyday. The slogan, “The Town too Tough to Die”, came about after the town survived the depression and the moving of its county seat to nearby Bisbee during the 1930’s.

Historical Events of Tombstone, Arizona (from
1878, Oct: Weekly stagecoach service between Tucson and Tombstone started.
1879, Mar 5: The townsite of Tombstone was plotted.
1879, Dec 1: The Earp Brothers came to town.
1879, December: Tombstone incorporated. William A. Harwood, Esq. first mayor.
1880, Feb 22: U.S. Mail service begins in Tombstone on a daily basis.
1880, July 27: Wyatt Earp appointed Deputy Sheriff, Pima County, age 32. First railroad from Tombstone to Tucson completed.
1880, Sept 9: The Grand Hotel opens.
1880, Oct 28: Virgil Earp appointed temporary City Marshall (he was Deputy U.S. Marshal).
1880, Nov 9: Wyatt Earp resigns office of Pima County Deputy Sheriff
1881, June 22: 66 businesses destroyed in fire started by exploding barrel of whiskey at Arcade Saloon.

1881, Oct 26: The Gunfight at the OK Corral. 2:30pm. Arguing and physical fighting between participants. It lasted only about 30 seconds, but once it was over, Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded, Doc (John Henry Holliday) had a scratch and Wyatt was unhurt.

1881, Dec 29: Wyatt Earp appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal over telegraph.
1882: Tombstone County Court House and City Hall built.
1882: Ed Schieffelin sells holdings to become a millionaire and moves to CA.
1882, May 25: Second fire destroys most of business district (started in Tivoli Saloon).
1884: Boothill cemetery full and officially closed to burials.
1892, July: The original Bird Cage Theater closes permanently.
1929: County Seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee.
1962 Sept 30: Tombstone named a National Historical Landmark.

My pictures of this excursion here.
OK Corral
American West
Desert USA
Arizona Central
Am West Travel
Arizona Leisure
Tombstone Web

May 2008