The Town Too Tough To Die: Tombstone, AZ

Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie or television show has heard of Tombstone, Arizona.

Relive the Old Wild West at Tombstone, Arizona; but don't take your guns to town, son, leave your... © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone has been called “The town too tough to die”—an apt characterization of this old West setting.

Visit Tombstone and you’ll step back into the rough and tough days of western history. You’ll see original buildings with the bullet holes from historic times. If you’d like to see a gunfight firsthand, they occur every day in Tombstone, staged by actors.

In the 1880s, Tombstone was a booming mining town that brought a rush of those looking to strike it rich. Gold and silver were the lures that also became magnets to thieves, card-sharks, murderers, rustlers, and an abundance of unsavory bad guys. The streets came alive with hundreds of saloons, gambling halls, and bawdy houses.

Tombstone is perhaps most famous for its Gunfight at OK Corral when the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, along with friend, Doc Holliday, shot it out with the Clanton and McLaury Gang.

The fierce gunfight was quick and when the bullets stopped flying, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury lay dead. Billy’s brother, Ike Clanton, kept his life that day, but was eventually murdered near Springerville, Arizona. Virgil and Morgan Earp needed weeks to recover from serious wounds, but Doc Holliday was barely grazed by a bullet. Surprisingly, Wyatt Earp was unscathed.

Repercussions from the 30-second battle would be felt for months.

Visit Tombstone and you'll step back into the rough and tough days of western history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few weeks later, gunmen hidden in a vacant building shot Virgil, the injury costing the lawman use of his left arm. In January 1882, Morgan Earp was killed by gunmen hidden in a dark alley. Wyatt and Doc Holliday later tracked down and killed the men they believed responsible, then fled Arizona Territory fearing prosecution.

Billy Claiborne was killed in 1882 during a gunfight in Tucson, and Ike Clanton was shot by lawmen when he was caught rustling cattle in 1887.

Holliday died of tuberculosis in Colorado in 1888. Wyatt was 80 when he died in Los Angeles in 1929.

Today the population of Tombstone is only some 1,200 souls, but when Ed Schieffelin came here to prospect in 1877, found precious ore and founded the town, it didn’t take long for his ore strikes to lead to a roaring boomtown—by late 1881 the population reached 7,000, swelling to 15,000 a few years later.

He named his first mining claim Tombstone because his soldier pals at nearby Camp Huachuca told him he was more likely to find his tombstone than silver. Because he was prospecting in Apache country, his chances of survival were not good. Many other prospectors died from Apache attacks. But Ed was careful, and he found a silver vein that made him wealthy.

Tombstone is perhaps most famous for its Gunfight at OK Corral when the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, along with friend, Doc Holliday, shot it out with the Clanton and McLaury Gang. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, you can browse shops full of western-themed merchandise and take your pick of several gunfights held daily in town, as well as other comedic skits and shows.

Stop by the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce for a daily show schedule to help in planning your day.

Meander on foot through the streets of Tombstone, or take a narrated stagecoach tour.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

Fast is fine but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.

—Wyatt Earp

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