When prospector Ed Schieffelin headed out this way in March of 1877, friends told him the only thing he'd find among the Apache and rattlesnakes would be his own tombstone. But he set out anyway, alone, and staked a silver claim, proclaiming it Tombstone. When Ed struck it rich at an adjacent site, his brother Al said, "You're a lucky cuss." And the Lucky Cuss Mine became one of Arizona's richest. Other claims bore such descriptive names as Contention, Tough Nut, and Goodenough.
The town incorporated in 1879 and contained as many as 10,000 souls just five years later. It was said that saloons and gambling halls made up two of every three buildings in the business district. The famous OK Corral gunfight took place here in 1881—and historians still debate the details. The town's riches attracted many crooks and Apaches, who, along with political corruption, gave the region considerable notoriety. Shootings and hangings in the 1880s kept Boothill Graveyard busy. Fires nearly wiped out Tombstone on two occasions, but flooding of the mines by 1886 came close to driving the final nail in the town's coffin. Still, Tombstone, "the town too tough to die," managed to survive, and now attracts throngs of visitors seeking the Wild West. You'll experience both the authentic history of Tombstone and pistol-packing entertainment! The downtown section of Allen Street—Tombstone's heart—now has a more realistic atmosphere since it has been closed to motor vehicles.
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
Drop by the 1882 red-brick courthouse (Third and Toughnut Sts., 520/457-3311, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $4 adults, $1 ages 7-13) to find out what life was like for the people of early Tombstone. The venerable building, abandoned in 1931 when the county seat moved to Bisbee, has been restored and now houses a museum of artifacts and photos of the old days. The courtroom, lawyer's office, and assay office look ready for business. Exhibits introduce the Native Americans, prospectors, sheriffs, ranchers, and the famous gunfight of October 26th, 1881. Mining exhibits show how miners dug and assayed their ore. An old bar, faro table, and roulette wheel illustrate how many miners lost their underground riches. Women probably did more to tame the town than the marshals and sheriffs; you'll learn about some of them and see exhibits on family life. A gift shop offers books and videos about Tombstone's history. Researchers can make an appointment to delve into the extensive historic archives.
Guns blaze and bodies hit the dust in staged gunfights and barroom brawls. The Visitor Information Center has the day's schedule. The action takes place most days at three sites. The Boothill Gunslingers (Allen St. between Third and Fourth Sts., 520/457-3643) re-enact the OK Corral gunfight and other events. Six Gun City (Fifth and Toughnut Sts., 520/457-3827) presents a lively musical show in a series of acts depicting actual Tombstone events. Tombstone Cowboys (Fourth and Toughnut Sts., 520/457-9153) promise "hysterically correct" entertainment in a series of action-packed gunfights at the Helldorado. Each Sunday afternoon, one of the local groups puts on another show. All events have a small admission fee or request a donation.
The OK Corral and Historama
The Earps and Doc Holliday shot it out with the Clanton cowboys on this site in October 1881. Markers and life-size figures show how it all happened—or at least one version of the story. Other sights to see include the studio (reconstructed) and photos of Camilius S. Fly, old stables, carriages, a hearse, and even a red-light district shack. Visitors can "walk where they fell" 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 520/457-3456, www.ok-corral.com. Package tickets for $7.50 (children under six free) include the OK Corral, the 2 p.m. gunfight show, Historama, and a copy of the Epitaph (see below); without the gunfight it's $5.50. Located on Allen Street between Third and Fourth Streets.
The 25-minute Historama show re-creates the major events of Tombstone with movies and animated figures. Presentations take place 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (last show) daily next door to the OK Corral entrance.
Crystal Palace Saloon
Built in 1879, this watering hole and gambling house offered an elegant setting for patrons in early Tombstone. As many as five bartenders stood on duty to serve thirsty customers round the clock. The clientele has changed over the years, but the saloon still serves up drinks and hosts live music. The interior has been accurately restored. It's in the center of town at Fifth and Allen Streets.
Big Nose Kate's Saloon
This large and colorful cowboy bar began life as the Grand Hotel in 1881. There's lots of stuff to see on the walls in the bar room, but perhaps the most unusual feature is the downstairs "Shaft." Working in the hotel by day, an employee dug in secret at night from his room to prospect in the mineshafts under Tombstone. It's on Allen Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets.
Good Enough Mine
Ed Scheiffelin filed a claim for this mine, his second of 19 mines here, in 1879 and proclaimed that the rich silver ore met with his satisfaction. Now it’s open for tours, and you can descend into the passageways underneath the town and experience how the miners once dug out their ore. The Good Enough Mine Underground Tour runs daily at 5th & Toughnut Street; check 520/255-5553 for hours.
Stagecoach and Wagon Rides
Hop on a stage or wagon for a narrated tour of Tombstone's colorful past. The horse-drawn vehicles depart frequently from near Big Nose Kate's Saloon on Allen Street downtown. Rides last about 15 minutes and cost $5 adult, $4 senior 55+, and $3 children 4-15.
As one story goes, the town's newspaper got its name when its founder, John P. Clum, took the stagecoach home from Tucson and asked passengers for appropriate suggestions. Ed Schieffelin happened to be on board, and he replied, "Well, I christened the district Tombstone; you should have no trouble furnishing the Epitaph." Clum started the Epitaph in 1880 and it's still in business. You can visit the office (9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, free) to see the original press and other printing exhibits and to pick up your own Epitaph. It's on Fifth Street around the corner from the Crystal Palace Saloon.
Bird Cage Theatre
This 1881 dance hall, gambling house, saloon, brothel, and theater provided the finest and most expensive entertainment of the day. During its first eight years, the doors never closed. Prostitutes scouted for customers from the 14 cribs overlooking the hall. A hit song titled "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" may have given the place its name. Or, as reported by the Arizona Star of August 18, 1882, the Bird Cage may have been so named because it had so many doves in it.
A self-guided tour winds through the theater, below the cribs, and past rare circus posters and gambling tables (Allen and Sixth Streets, 520/457-3421, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, $6 adults, $5.50 seniors 60+, $5 youth 8-18, $17 families). See if you can find some of the estimated 140 bullet holes in the walls and ceiling. A back room has the hearse that carried all but six people on their last ride to Boot Hill. Downstairs, you can imagine life at the bar, at gambling tables, and in the bordello rooms. An 1881 City License here signed by Wyatt Earp allows the Bird Cage to operate a "House of Ill Fame." Many old photos and prints—some copies of which are for sale in the gift shop—show notable prostitutes and other characters. The exceptionally well-preserved building closed in late 1889 and remained boarded up for 45 years. When it reopened as a museum, everything inside was still there.
Tombstone Western Heritage Museum
A vast array of personal items, including some owned by Virgil and Wyatt Earp, gives a look into the lives of people in old Tombstone (Fremont and Sixth Streets, 520/457-3800, 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m. Sun., to about 5 p.m. daily, $5 adult, $3 youth 12-18). Exhibits also include historic photos, documents, guns, ghost town relics, bottle collections, and a crap table. The museum's antique shop next door is worth a look too.
Pioneer Home Museum
While most of the early houses of miners and their families have been remodeled over the years, this one has been remarkably preserved (804 E. Fremont Street, 520/457-3853, open on request, donations appreciated). It's little changed since Cornish miner Frank Garland and his wife Julia moved in during the late 1800s. Inside you can see the furnished parlor, bedroom, and kitchen. The former dining room has photos of Tombstone's distinguished citizens along with a band uniform and other belongings of the Garlands. A blacksmith shop and a 1921 Chevy delivery truck lie in the backyard.
Rose Tree Museum
A rose root sent from Scotland to comfort a homesick bride in the spring of 1885 has grown to cover an amazing 8,700 square feet. The rose tree, believed to be the world's largest and listed in the Guinness Book of Records, is a Lady Banksia. Its sweet-scented white blossoms usually appear in early April. Rooms exhibit many historic photos and a collection of antique furnishings belonging to a pioneer who arrived by wagon in 1880 (Fourth and Toughnut Streets, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $3 adults, free for kids under 14). A gift shop sells new and used books.
Major theatrical companies of the day performed in this 1881 adobe building, claimed to be the largest adobe in the United States. John Sullivan and a company of boxers gave exhibitions here. Now restored, the hall once again hosts theater companies; upcoming events will be posted here and at the Visitor Information Center. Otherwise, it's usually closed to the public. It's on the corner of Fremont and Fourth Streets.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Completed in 1882, St. Paul's is the oldest standing Protestant church in Arizona. Inside you can admire the original stained glass, two ship's lamps, and the sturdy adobe walls. It's open daily at the corner of Third and Safford.
Here lie the losers of the OK Corral shootout, hanging/lynching victims, assorted gunslingers, and Dutch Annie, a widely admired prostitute. As the graveyard's name suggests, a lot of of those who ended up here died violent deaths. Many of the estimated 300 graves are marked and have much to say about life in old Tombstone. Boothill (7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, donations welcome) lies just off AZ 80 on the north edge of town. Enter through the Boot Hill Gift Shop, which sells an informative self-guided tour booklet.
The old prospector's last request was to be buried on top of the granite hills three miles west of town. He specified that "a monument such as prospectors build when locating a mining claim be built over my grave…under no circumstances do I want to be buried in a graveyard or cemetery." Head west 2.3 miles on Allen Street to see this lonely spot.
Nearby Ghost Towns
Ghost-town enthusiasts can explore remnants of former mining towns in the area. Gleeson, 18 miles east of Tombstone on a graded gravel road, flourished around a copper mine from 1909 until the 1930s. Operations ended in 1955. You can see ruins of the jail, cemetery, school, adobe hospital, and other buildings. Mine tailings and machinery rest on the hillside.
Courtland, now occupied solely by ghosts, lies one mile east and three miles north of Gleeson on good gravel roads. A jail and numerous foundations remain. Watch out for open mine shafts in the area.
Jimmie Pearce found gold in 1894 at the site of Pearce, nine miles north of Courtland. The Commonwealth Mine here was a success, and the town's population reached 1,500 before the mine closed in the 1930s. Reminders of the past include the old store, cemetery, post office, Pearce Church, abandoned houses, and Commonwealth Mine ruins. You can also reach Pearce from I-10; take Exit 331 and head south 22 miles on US 191.
On to Tombstone Practicalities
On to Bisbee and Vicinity