1881 there were some 8,000 people in the town which boasted more gambling
and the largest "red light” district in the Southwest. The town also
supported four churches, a school, two banks and an opera house.
February, 1881, former Dodge City,
lawmen Bat Masterson and
Luke Short joined
in Tombstone. Both worked with Wyatt at
the gaming tables at the Oriental
Saloon. On February 25, 1881,
Short got into a dispute with a man named Charlie Storms which resulted in a
gunfight in the street. Charlie
lay dead in the dust from Short's
quick drawn six-gun. Masterson
stayed in Tombstone just a few short months before he was urgently summoned back
to Dodge City
to help his brother Jim.
Cowboy faction continued to rustle cattle in the area; however, Deputy
Virgil Earp could do nothing about it, as stealing cattle was a county
offence for which the town of Tombstone
had no jurisdiction. The Earp
brothers, as well as
Doc Holliday constantly found themselves at odds with the
Cowboy faction, with multiple disputes between the "law” and the
On June 22, 1881, a fire destroyed most of the eastern half
business district. Having no water to put out the fire, buildings in the
path of the fire were dynamited to slow the engulfing flames. The
citizens of Tombstone blamed Marshall Ben Sippy for
not controlling the looting that followed the fire and Virgil Earp,
the senior deputy, was soon appointed marshal, a move that antagonized the
already hostile Clantons.
On October 26, 1881,
the tension between the two factions finally culminated in the
OK Corral, thirty seconds which would long be remembered in
between Virgil, Wyatt, and
along with Doc Holliday,
against five members of the
Tom and Frank McLaury dead. Virgil Earp took a shot to the leg and Morgan suffered a shoulder wound. As Wyatt stood, still stunned, Sheriff
appeared advising him he was under arrest.
The Earps and Doc Holliday were tried for murder but it was determined that the
Earps acted within the law.
was later terminated as marshal for his role in the homicides.
On March 18, 1882, the cowboy gang killed
in retaliation for the OK Corral gunfight. The
party would leave with Morgan's body headed to
along with Doc Holliday
would jump off the train in Tucson and spend the next year chasing down
the members of the Clanton Gang
and killing them one by one. However, neither the Earps
would ever return to Tombstone.
On May 25, 1882 another fire devastated
destroying most of the western half of Tombstone's
business district, including the
O.K. Corral. But the resilient citizens of the town would once
Cochise County Courthouse was built in 1882. About the same time,
Bird Cage Theatre brought "culture" to the community, though it
also served as a
gambling hall and brothel. The New York Times called it, "the
wildest, roughest, wickedest honky tonk between Basin Street and the
Barbary Coast." That statement was well deserved, since the Bird
Cage was the scene for twenty-six deaths during its eight
years of business.
In 1886, a well was drilled striking
water and the citizens were thrilled. However, what they didn’t
realize was that this new found water would end the mining boom and
almost end the town. Immediately, water began to seep into the many
mines of the area. Though giant pumps were installed, the seepage
could not be stopped. When a fire burned the pumps of the Grand
Central Mine in 1886, the water claimed the mine for good. The
disgruntled miners soon found new employment in the copper mines of
Bisbee and other new mining towns. The nearby towns of Charleston and
Millville completely died and
Tombstone lost its boom-town
status and began to fade.
In 1890, more sophisticated pumps were
brought into the mines and they began to open increasing Tombstone's population once again. However, by the turn of the
century new flooding would begin that would entirely stop the mining
In 1929 a vote moved the county seat to
Bisbee, some 25 miles away and
Tombstone was truly destined to
ghost town. However, the
resilient citizens banded together to save the town. Leaning on its rich
history they began to focus on
opportunity for tourism. Historic buildings were repaired and restored.
Boot Hill became a top attraction and the famed shootout was re-enacted to
thrill visitors. Movies and books began to be written about
Tombstone which further gave life
to the dying town.
The infamous Allen
Street, once full of bars, casinos and bordellos has been restored to
attract visitors. The original 1882 Cochise County Courthouse
and gallows are now a State Historic Park.
This old town, full of life and history,
survives the test of time and is well worth the visit. Tombstone,
Arizona is conveniently located just 70 miles southeast of Tucson
and very close by Benson, Arizona. Hotels and dining are abundant in the
area including in Tombstone.
Weiser/Legends of America,
updated April, 2017.