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History of Tombstone, Arizona

Attracting hundreds of visitors a year stands the town of Tombstone, Arizona, located only 90 miles from Tucson. The small town was founded nearly 150 years ago by prospect minor Ed Schieffelin. During one of Schieffelin’s scouting expeditions, natives warned Schieffelin that the only “rock” for mining he would find, would be his own Tombstone (1). It was because of Schieffelin that Tombstone is considered one of the last boomtowns in America. Thanks to Schieffelin, the population, and economy of Tombstone increased drastically by the 1800s, thus why the town is considered a boomtown. By 1881, the town’s population had grown to 4,000-5,000 people, with an income of $40 to $85 million produced from the Silver Mines. Due to the laws and the vast amount of pioneers and immigrants, an old town Legend claims that the 4,000-5,000 people registered, were only white males over the age of 21; if this legend does hold some truth, it means the town of Tombstone was much larger in population since “women, children, Chinese, and Mexicans” (1) were not eligible to be registered. The town was famous for its prosperous businesses, being labeled “the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco” (1). The towns businesses included saloons, restaurants, and a popular red-light district. Between the Saloons and the popular demand of prostitutes during this time, Tombstone attracted folk from all across the country, specifically “cowboys”. Still standing today in Tombstone is Schieffelin Hall and the Bird Cage Theatre, which were built during the peak of the town. Today, Schieffelin Hall is still the largest standing adobe structure in the southwest (1). In the present day, Schieffelin Hall in town used by the city government. The Bird Cage Theatre, however, was reported to be, "the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast” by a New York Times post in 1882. The “wild” and “wicked” aspects of The Bird Cage are presumably from the entertainment being primarily from prostitutes, and the fact the theatre was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The town was able to survive two separate fires that occurred within a year of each other. The first, in 1881, destroyed an estimated amount of 60 businesses; the fire from 1882 also reportedly destroyed a large portion of downtown Tombstone. Both times, the town was able to rebuild itself and continue to prosper economically. 

Decoration Day in Tombstone Arizona After the 1882 fire in Tombstone Arizona

 Silver Boom

The legacy of  Ed Schieffelin comes from his exploration of Tombstone’s geographic area that had been under attack from Apache communities for decades, making it impossible for Arizona’s prosperous silver mining to develop south; because of the establishment of an Army base near Cochise, was Schieffelin able to explore with soldiers and scouts, and “find” the town of Tombstone. Just three years after the development of the town, there were already 3000 mining claims in the Tombstone district (2). Although the majority of Tombstone’s mines produced silver, mines such as the Alkey Mine were a leading gold producer in U.S (2). The vast production of silver and gold being mined in the community lead to families becoming extremely wealthy. The business’s increased as immigrants heard of the promises this town had, Europeans filling the mines, and Chinese laborers performing the jobs being demanded by the wealthy (3). Due to the increased wealth of the town, the community was able to be provided with new technologies, such as running water, the telegraph, and an ice rink providing a form of recreational fun for the community (3). Like any prosperous town though, came crime. “Cowboys”, otherwise known as outlaws, took advantage of the empty desert’s booming town; it was these outlaws that led to the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Gunfight at the OK Corral

Increased crime throughout the town lead to tensions rising among businessmen worried about how these outlaws may negatively impact Tombstone’s fruitful economy. Former Kansas police officer, Wyatt Earp, earned the title of Tombstone’s city police chief, alongside his two brothers. On October 26th 1881, the Earp brothers, and local dentist John Holliday, faced off against the Clanton-McLaury gang. The Clanton’s and Mclaury’s lived outside of Tombstone on a ranch as cattlemen, but also professed in robbery and thievery (4). On the afternoon of the 26th, the shootout occurred over the span of 30 seconds, with a total of 30 shots fired between the nine men. Although the exact information on who shot at who first is unknown, the Sheriff was an apparent witness and arrested the Earp brothers and John Holliday with murder, reporting they had initiated the gunshots, killing Billy Clanton and two of the McLaury brothers. Less than a month later, though, the three brothers and Holliday were not convicted, and instead let free, ruling the shootout was “fully justified” (4). Multiple old western movies were created, reenacting the shootout; the popularity of Old Western movies is one of the main reasons why Tombstone is still a desirable tourist attraction in the Southwest.

Present Day Tombstone

*Updated as of December 2020*

Attractions include:

The Gunfight Palace - A reenactment of the infamous 1881 shootout. Times include 11:00 a.m, 12:30 p.m & 2:30 p.m. Open five days a week, closed Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Gunfighter & Ghost Tours - A tour bringing you through the history of gunfights, abnormal accidents, and deaths that “shaped the destiny” of Tombstone (5). Tickets must be booked online in advance. Adults pay $30.00, and children ages 6-12 pay $20. Tours begin at 6 p.m Monday-Saturday, closed on Sundays.

The Good Enough Mine Underground Tours - This underground mine tour brings you through a historical Silver mining cave from the 1880s. Ticket prices range for age groups: Adults ages 11-59 pay $15, Seniors & Miltary pay $12, Youth ages 8-10 pay $5, and all ages under 5 are admitted for FREE. Tours are open seven days a week, from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. BEFORE YOU GO: This tour includes a 60 step stairway, with a handrail. 

Find more tours and attractions here at 


As of December 2020, Tombstone is still open to the public, with the exception of certain attractions requiring ticket purchases in advance. The official Tombstone website includes a statement describing the safety precautions they are taking, including: sanitizing the City restrooms, benches, and park tables 3 times daily.



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Fun Facts about Tombstone:

-The city still has the original swimming pool that was used in the 1800s.  It is still functional now.

-Schieffelin Hall was where all the “responsible” people went to see a show.  It is the largest standing adobe structure in the Southwest today.

-The Bird Cage Theater was for men’s entertainment.  No reputable woman would be on the same street as that theater. It was the wildest night spot in town. 


-Bootyard Graveyard has an interesting name after Dodge City's pioneer cemetery. However, it is thought to be named after the people who were buried with their  boots on. Most of the people buried here died unexpectedly. This cemetery is still in use today.

-Tombstone is the home of one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the United States.

-The town is still inhabited today by about 1400 residents. 

-In the 19th Century, it had a nickname - "Town Too Tough to Die.”  The historic town perpetuates that reputation by maintaining and restoring its historic buildings in addition to live performances and special events. 

The city of Tombstone is 143 years old and it has been restored twice, after two major fires. Despite this setback, the town continued to grow and develop (hence the given nickname, Too Tough to Die.)


Visiting Tombstone: 

At a Glance

Access to the historical site of Tombstone is open seven days a week from 6:00 am to 12:00 am.  Access is free except that there is a fee to visit certain buildings.  A visitor can view a reenactment of the Showdown at the OK Corral as well get a flavor of what life was like in the height of the boom period in Tombstone.  It is suggested that a visitor stay in Tombstone for at least three hours in order to get the full experience.  The importance of Tombstone to the history of the Old West and the fact that it has been fully restored combine to make visiting Tombstone a once in a life time experience. There are several ice cream and treat shops, museums, tours, saloons, and restaurants to help contribute to a fuller Wild West experience. Visitors can even play mini-golf if they choose! Also, the town has several gift, souvenir, jewelry and clothing shops.


Pioneer Home Museum (Garland mining family home), Rose Tree Inn Museum (Home to Tombstone artifacts and "the world's largest rose bush"), Epitaph Museum (Famous newspaper), Western Heritage Museum (memorabilia)


Gifts and Treats-

"The Outpost" Indian jewelry, gold, silver, and western gift shopTour entrance



Can Can Old Time photos (photo studio), Madame Mustache (Photo and gift shop), Lady L's Creations (souvenir shop), Fallen Angel Sweet Sin Parlor (ice cream, gelato), Lilly's Tombstone Sweet Memories (Coffee shop and frozen yogurt), T. Miller's Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop, and U Scream 4 Ice Cream

Food and Drink-

Longhorn RestaurantCrystal Palace Saloon and Restaurant



Crazy Annie's Bed and Breakfast, Breakfast at Moe's, Old West Chuckwagon, OK Cafe, The Longhorn Restaurant,  Crystal Palace Saloon and Restaurant, Cafe Margarita, Big Nose Kate's Saloon and Restaurant, Johnny Ringo's Saloon and Depot Restaurant, Doc Holliday's Saloon, Four Deuces Saloon, Puny John's BBQ, Silver Strike Winery, and the Tombstone Brewing Company



For more information about visiting Tombstone, visit




*Edited as of 12/12/2020*