Ghosts of Tombstone, Arizona

Nellie Cashman’s Restaurant

Nellie Cashman's house in Tombstone, Arizona

Nellie Cashman’s house in Tombstone, Arizona., the 1930s.

Nellie Cashman’s Restaurant is another haunted location with spirits allegedly visiting this old building since frontier days. Located in Nellie Cashman’s old restaurant and boarding house, once called the Russ House, today’s quaint little restaurant is said to continue to host a spirit or two.

Its original owner, Nellie Cashman, was one of the Old West’s original female entrepreneurs, as well as a prospector and an “angel of mercy,” known throughout the west for her charity, courage, and determination.

After traveling to mining camps in Nevada and Canada, Cashman made her way to Tombstone in 1880, where she opened the Russ House. Soon, she moved on to other mining camps, but not until she had made her mark on Tombstone.

Though most do not believe that it is the building’s original owner who continues to lurk within its walls, they do believe there is “someone.” Both staff and customers have made several reports of playful spirits who continue to make their presence known.

Often, staff will arrive in the morning to find that objects have been moved during the night. Strange noises, crashing sounds, and even muted voices have been heard in the building. Lights mysteriously turn on and off of their own accord, and sudden temperature changes are felt in various areas. Though these spirits are seemingly harmless, they seem to be sensitive to criticism, making themselves known when people express their non-belief. In fact, on one occasion, when a customer was making fun of the ghosts, a mustard bottle suddenly jumped from the table, leaving her clothing spattered with the yellow gook.

Yet others have actually professed to having seen an apparition of a woman, most presuming it is Nellie herself. However, ghost investigators doubt this, as Nellie actually died in Canada many years after leaving Tombstone. Later, after Nellie had moved on, the building was used as a boarding house, and allegedly a woman who lived there was murdered by a man who was also living there. The investigators believe that it is this woman who continues to lurk within the building.

The restaurant is located at 117 South 5th Street.

Buford House

Tombstone Buford House

At the historic Buford House, an 1880s adobe home, which now serves as a Bed & Breakfast, the ghost of a man named George Buford apparently refuses to leave.  In the late nineteenth century, George, a gold prospector, lived in the house with his father when he fell in love with the girl across the street, Cleopatra, more familiarly called Petra.

After returning from a long prospecting trip, George accompanied Petra and some other friends on an outing. For some reason, the girl decided to accompany another man on the walk home. George, sure that he had lost his promised girl, became angry, despondent and reclusive. Soon, when Petra visited him, he shot her twice, then turned the gun on himself. Despite her wounds, Petra recovered, but George died of his self-inflicted gunshot.

Like others who died tragic deaths, George continues to walk the earth, apparently lost in space and time. Both the owners and guests have seen him walking inside the home and along the street in front of the old adobe structure. Often, the doorbell rings in the middle of the night, seemingly, of its own accord.  Others have reported hearing knocking on walls, faucets turning themselves on and off, and strange lights appearing. Once in a while, women report that they have felt someone touch their hair or stroke the back of their necks when no one is around.

The Buford House is at 113 E. Stafford Street.

Schieffelin Hall

Vintage Schieffelin Hall

Vintage Schieffelin Hall

At Schieffelin Hall, a building constructed in 1881 to bring “culture” to Tombstone, more ghosts are thought to remain here. Built by Al Schieffelin, brother to Tombstone’s founder, Ed Schieffelin, the hall was envisioned as a first-class opera house, offering culture to Tombstone’s citizens for the first time.  And that it did for the next several decades, offering a theatre alternative to the decadent Bird Cage Theatre, where the “proper” people of Tombstone wouldn’t be seen.

The hall opened in June 1881 to grand applause as the largest and most imposing building in Tombstone and the largest adobe building anywhere in the Southwest.

Attracting theatre troupes from as far away as New York, Tombstone’s finest enjoyed the productions, as well as balls, boxing matches, lectures, and more. According to news accounts of the time, it soon gained the reputation as the most noted theatre between San Antonio and San Francisco.

Schieffelin Hall, by Dave Alexander.

However, when Tombstone suffered, so did Schieffelin Hall. By the early 1900s, the hall was showing the new “moving” pictures and a few scattered productions. But Tombstone’s heydays were over, and for the next half-century, the hall would be used only by the Masonic Lodge as it gradually fell into disrepair with the rest of the once-booming town.

Fully restored today, it is said to continue to host several spirits; in fact, some say it is one of the most haunted but overlooked buildings in Tombstone. On several occasions, people have heard what sounds like chains or spurs rattling inside the building. In fact, during one ghost tour, an entire group heard the sounds. Several other strange sounds have also been heard in the building, especially during Tombstone City Council meetings that regularly occur in the building. One does wonder if perhaps they protest because seemingly, those meetings are so heated that one might wonder if they have reverted to the 19th century.

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon

Big Kate’s Saloon by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

This popular saloon of today first got its start as the Grand Hotel in September 1880. Declared as one of the finest hotels in the state, the hotel was luxuriously furnished, provided thick carpeting, and its walls were adorned with costly oil paintings. Providing 16 bedrooms, each with a “view,” they were fitted with solid walnut furnishings, toilet stands, fine fixtures, and wallpaper. The lobby was equipped with three elegant chandeliers and more luxurious furnishings. At the same time, the kitchen boasted hot and cold running water and facilities to serve some 500 people in the span of a couple of hours. The hotel opened with an invitation-only ball on September 9, 1880.

During its first few years, the hotel often housed some of Tombstone’s most famous residents, including Wyatt and Virgil EarpDoc Holliday, and the Clanton Gang when they came into town. In fact, Ike Clanton and the two McLaury brothers were registered guests the night before the famous OK Corral gunfight.

Another interesting character living at the hotel during its heydays was a man they called the “Swamper.”  A janitor and odd job man of the hotel, the Swamper was regarded as an honest employee and was given accommodations as part of his pay. His bedroom, located in a dark corner of the basement, not only served as a retreat from the hotel’s many customers but also his own private mine shaft. The basement, located deep below Tombstone’s streets, was not too far from the many mine shafts that ran beneath the town. Swamper painstaking spent his off-hours tunneling an entrance from his bedroom to the nearby mine shafts for some time. When his tunnel was complete, he could access a thick vein of silver, where he began to “moonlight” as a miner, taking from the vein silver nugget after silver nugget. What he did after hoarding his silver is unknown, but many believe it may still be hidden somewhere beneath Big Kate’s Saloon.

Alas, the Grand Hotel’s luxurious life would be a short one as she did not survive the devastating fire of May 25, 1882. Above ground, the only things that remained standing were her seven graceful arches and her floor joists on the main level. The rest of the building collapsed into the basement.

Today, the building is home to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Several changes have been made to the original structure since it burned down and has been rebuilt. The bar area, which was originally housed in the old hotel’s basement, is now located on the main level. In the basement is a gift shop, but the tunnel leading to the mine shafts still exists. The saloon holds the Grand Hotel’s original long bar, the only one of which survived the fire of 1882 and is still available for thirsty patrons. The only other long bar that survived the two infernos is in the Bird Cage Theatre, now a museum. Imagine setting your elbows down on the very place that once did the Earps, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons.

Today, not only does this historic saloon continue to be popular among its new patrons, but it is also said to remain home to a couple of spectral ones as well. Naturally, the most evident is that of the “Swamper,” who allegedly has never left the building. Staff, locals, and tourists have had experiences with this old miner, ranging from photos where he has appeared to several fleeting appearances as he roams the halls, stairways, and especially the basement.  Part of the legend claims that the “Swamper” hid his silver somewhere in the building and returns to protect it.

Other appearances have been made by fleeting cowboy spirits seen at the bar, standing in doorways, and by one account, knocking over beer cases in the basement. Perhaps, this is one of our old friends – the Earps or Holliday?

Other witnesses have claimed to have heard phantom people singing and talking in deserted rooms, reported that things fall to the floor of their own accord, doors open and close with unseen hands, lights turn on and off by themselves, and silverware has been known to go flying off tables.

The mannequins on the false balcony have seemingly been moved and sometimes even tossed from the balcony. The sounds of footsteps and muted voices are often heard coming from the basement when no one is down there. Areas in the saloon also experience extreme cold spots and gusts of cold air.

Photographers have made numerous reports of strange hazy forms appearing in images, as well as having numerous camera malfunctions.

One story tells of the building’s owner and several employees exploring an old “Swamper’s” tunnel. They soon discovered that it still led all the way to the old shafts of the Toughnut Mine. Safely, they made their way back to the basement, but as they approached Swamper’s tunnel, they heard a loud moaning sound and heavy footsteps coming down the stairs leading to the tunnel.

Sure that someone had come into the building, they came out of the tunnel, immediately searching the premises, only to find the building empty and the doors still locked. Perhaps Swamper was afraid they were going to find his silver?

Other strange events have occurred on the staircases leading to the basement, including female employees who have felt pushed off the last stair. Another female employee felt cold, clammy hands encircling her throat.

Whatever you do, don’t let the ghosts scare you because the atmosphere and food at Big Kate’s Saloon are wonderful and the place is a “must stop” in Tombstone. The restaurant/saloon is located at 417 E Allen Street.

More Ghosts

Crystal Palace Saloon, Tombstone, Arizona

Crystal Palace Saloon, Tombstone, Arizona by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

There are yet more hauntings in Tombstone, such as a ghost who allegedly haunts Room 119 at the old Tombstone Hotel. Sometime in the past, a man evidently hanged himself in the room, and now, guests report hearing voices and witnesses objects moving in the room.

A ghostly man in a frock coat has been seen wandering near the old Wells Fargo Bank Building, while others have reported seeing the apparitions of stage drivers and cowboys. In front of the recreated C.S. Fly Studio, people have reported smelling perfume when there is none present.

At the renovated Crystal Palace Saloon, people say the ghost of Big Nose Kate continues to lurk. Evidently, when she lived in Tombstone, the establishment was one of her favorites. Today staff and customers have reported the unexplainable movement of objects to different locations, lights that turn on and off by themselves, and gambling wheels that spin of their own accord.  According to the tales, Kate is not alone in the building, as yet others have spied phantom cowboys at the bar and walking around in the saloon.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

Also See:

Big Nose Kate-Holliday’s Sidekick

John Henry “Doc” Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the Frontier

Tombstone – The Town Too Tough To Die

Tombstone Historical Text

Tombstone Historic Buildings – Gallery & Descriptions

Tombstone Riches

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West