“The grimly humorous phrase about our town was that Tombstone had a man for breakfast every morning.” — Josephine Sarah Marcus, actress
The mining camp was born when a prospector named Ed Schieffelin looked out on the mountains from where he stood at Camp Huachuca, Arizona. Thinking that the rich colors of the mountains looked like a promising place to prospect, he commented on this to a nearby soldier. However, the soldier was quick to warn him that the area was controlled by the Apache and responded him “All you’ll find in those hills is your tombstone.”
However, Schieffelin was not deterred, and the next year, in February 1878, he set out to hills alone in search of his fortune. After hiding for two nights from Apache Indians, he spied what looked like it might be a silver vein on a ledge high above his hiding place. Climbing to the ledge, he pried out several pieces of pure silver and was elated when he estimated the vein to be some fifty feet long and twelve inches wide. Remembering the soldier’s warning he called his vein, which would later become a mine, “Tombstone.”
Ed collected a bag of samples and put up two claim markers – the second claim, he called “Graveyard.” He then traveled to Tucson to file his claim, and afterward struck out for Signal, Arizona (now a ghost town,) where his brother lived, hoping for a grub stake.
When Ed’s brother, Al, wanted no part of such a wild venture, the disappointed Ed took a job for a short time in the McCracken Mine. However, he continued to search for help.
Soon, he took his samples to Richard K. Gird, a Signal assayer, who pronounced that Schieffelin’s ore was very rich. Gird immediately offered to finance the development of a mine for a 1/3 interest in the claim. Brother Al, quickly changed his mind, upon finding out this information, and also became involved, the three becoming equal partners.
On the way back to the mountains Ed found two more sites laden with silver ore, registering the claim as “Lucky Cuss” and “the Toughnut.” All of Ed’s claims would soon become mines. In no time at all, word spread that silver had been discovered and other prospectors began to search the area. Before long, more mines began to open including, the Grand Central, the Charleston and the Contention mines, and a mining camp was born named after Ed’s first claim – Tombstone.
Tombstone’s post office was established December 2, 1878 and has never been discontinued. On March 5, 1879 an official town site was laid out and lots were sold on Allen Street for five dollars each. Soon, Tombstone had some 40 cabins and about 100 residents.
As word continued to spread more and more people began to come to the area including the Earp brothers who began to arrive in the fall of 1879. Tombstone quickly became a boom town.
Ed Schieffelin was more interested in prospecting than in becoming a businessman a continued to prospect the area. When he returned after a four month prospecting trip, his brother Al had found a buyer for their claims as the capital required to develop silver mine was more substantial than the partners could afford. The brothers, Al and Ed would soon sell out their interest for $600,000 each, while Richard Gird took his payment in company stock. Gird would eventually make a considerable amount more as a conservative estimate of the mines ended up producing some $40 million dollars in silver, an amount that would equal $1.7 billion today. Ed Schieffelin took his money and left Tombstone traveling for an extended period then pursuing a new mining adventure in the Yukon.
When Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone in December of 1879, he planned to establish a stage line but soon discovered there were already two in the town. Instead, he partnered with the owner of the Oriental Saloon to run a gaming business for a quarter percentages of the proceeds. He also took a side job as a shotgun rider on the stage lines for Wells Fargo shipments.
Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate would arrive in Tombstone in early 1880. Kate quickly realized the opportunity in Tombstone, setting up a large tent with several girls and lots of cheap whisky, becoming the first “sporting house” in town. Doc resumed his habit of gambling as usual.
Before the arrival of the Earps there was a working faction of cowboys in the area that lived off of rustling cattle and robbing stagecoaches. These included the outlaw Clanton Gang, with “Old Man” Clanton and his sons, Ike, Phin and Billy.
Others included the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom; Curly Bill Brocius, and Johnny Ringo. The notorious cowboys and their followers lost no time in expressing their displeasure at the arrival of the Earps.
On May 1, 1880 the Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest continuously published newspaper in Arizona, was begun. By June, 1880 there were some 3,000 people in the new town which had attracted its share of drifters, dancehall girls, outlaws, saloon keepers and gamblers. Before long, Tombstone would be hailed as one of the most violent towns in the Southwest. The Tombstone, Toughnut and Richmond Mines were producing millions in silver and the town continued to grow.
By 1881 there were some 8,000 people in the town which boasted more gambling houses, saloons, and the largest “red light” district in the Southwest. The town also supported four churches, a school, two banks and an opera house.
In February, 1881, former Dodge City, Kansas lawmen Bat Masterson and Luke Short joined Wyatt Earp 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 Storms soon 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.
Meanwhile, the Cowboy faction continued to rustle cattle in the area; however, Deputy Marshal 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 “lawless.”
On June 22, 1881, a fire destroyed most of the eastern half of Tombstone’s 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.