Discovery of Tombstone’s Riches
There was nothing prosaic about the richness of Tombstone’s mines. They were founded on romance and excitement, both of which, dominated the days of their operation. The romance there was in their location.
Ed Schieffelin, in the winter of 1877-78, after a short civilian service with a company of soldiers, was employed to do assessment work on the Brunckow Mine, about a mile north of the site of Charleston. This was the only mine then known in that locality. It had been located in 1858 by a Polish scientist, who had given the claim his own name. But, the mine was valueless. Schieffelin’s idle time was spent in the hills prospecting. He was probably the only man in the camp who cared to prospect, for the hill slopes were uninviting, and it was known that they contained Apache Indians. As he started on one particular expedition, a companion queried, “Where are you going, Ed?” “Just out in the hills to look for stones,” was the reply, and the parting observation as he tramped away was: “The stone you will find will be your tombstone.”
Possibly that very day, at a point a short distance below the present town, he traced some rich silver “float” to a ledge on which he set his foot and cried, “At last I have found my tombstone!” This claim, which he named the Tombstone, he recorded at Tucson on September 3, 1877. It was several miles from the later camp of Tombstone and about four miles from the San Pedro
His work on the Brunckow Mine finished, Schieffelin went to Silver King, where he learned that his brother, Al, had gone to Signal in Mohave County. He journeyed there and showed his “float” to Dick Gird, assayer at the time in the Signal Mill. Much interested, Gird and Al Schieffelin accompanied him back to Southern Arizona, and soon letters arrived in Signal telling they had struck it rich, causing an exodus of much of the male population of that camp bound for the new strike. The original location, the Tombstone, did not prove of much value, but much better success attended the development of a number of claims staked out on the very site of the town shortly after it was established. These claims included the Tough Nut, Goodenough, Lucky Cuss, East Side and West Side.
Soon after the arrival of the Schieffelin Party, the upper mineral section of the district was accidentally stumbled upon by Ed Williams and Jack Friday. In the night, their mules had broken loose from a dry camp that they had made and struck out for water along an Indian trail. In the morning, the men tracked the mules who had made their trail clear by dragging a chain attached to one of the animals.
Following the chain trail, Williams noticed the bright gleam of metal where the iron had been dragged and discovered what would become the Contention Lode, the richest location ever made in the district. The mules were followed over into the Schieffelin camp, where the new mine received its logical name in the contention that arose over its ownership, for Schieffelin was none too well pleased that a stranger had discovered mineral almost under his very nose.
The quarrel was settled; however, by the division of the ground, the Schieffelin interests taking the lower end — the Contention, and Williams and his partner the other, which was called the Grand Central. Gus Barren, a skilled miner, and friend of Schieffelin, then was called up from Mexico to supervise the development.
Soon after the discovery, the Contention Mine was purchased by J.H. White and S. Denson, who represented W.D. Dean of San Francisco. The price was $10,000, considered exorbitant by the sellers themselves, who could not foresee the future production of millions of dollars.
The principal mining companies during the palmy days of the camp were the Contention Consolidated, Grand Central, Tombstone Milling and Mining Company, Vizina, Empire, and Stonewall. Water was struck in the Sulphuret shaft at 500 feet. The Grand Central and Contention put in pumps but found that they were draining the district, while the other companies refused to pay a proportion of the expense. The Grand Central, which had surface works materially higher than any other in the district, kept pumping to some extent until May 1886, when the surface works burned.
The Grand Central pump was modeled after those that had proved successful in the Virginia City section and is said to have cost $300,000. It was of the Cornish type, with an immense wooden pump rod, operated by a massive walking beam that reared about thirty feet above its foundation.
This beam and the equally enormous flywheel still are on the hillside, a monument to departed greatness. About a year after the fire, the Contention hoist and pumping works also were burned, this practically marking the closing down of the entire district.
In the spring of 1880, the Tombstone District had four towns. Tombstone then had a population of about 1,000, established on or near the Tough Nut group of mines. Richmond was a settlement a mile and a quarter to the southeast. At Charleston, on the San Pedro River, were the Corbin and Tombstone Mills. The Contention Mill was at Contention City, also on the San Pedro River. In this same area was also the “Old Bronco Mine,” which had a dark history, in which was mixed the murders of sixteen men. Dick Gird claimed that the old Brunckow house had been the headquarters for a band of smugglers, who did a little mining as a blind.
Early in 1880, Gird was superintendent of the Tombstone Gold and Silver Milling and Mining Company, of which ex-Governor Safford was president, and which owned the Tough Nut and five other claims. On March 13, 1879, the Corbin brothers, Hamilton Distin of Philadelphia and Simmons Squire of Boston had purchased the interest of the Schieffelin brothers in the Tough Nut group for $1,000,000. Gird later received the same sum for his third.
The Corbin Company, comprising about the same interests, purchased the others of the original mining claims located by the Schieffelins and Gird, including the Lucky Cuss. The Grand Central, in the same period, was mentioned only as a prospect that had been developed to a depth of 280 feet.
Fortunes of Ed Schieffelin
Ed Schieffelin was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1848, and when only a lad was taken by his parents to Oregon. Disliking his father’s occupation of farming, he ran away from home to prospect for the mineral in Southern Oregon. Thereafter he knew no life save that of the prospector, in Nevada, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico. He worked at anything else only in order to secure funds for another trip to the mountains. Almost continually his life was in danger from Indians of various sorts.
A description of him, written about 1876, tells that he was “about the queerest specimen of human flesh ever seen, about 6 feet 2 inches in height, with black curly hair that hung several inches below his shoulders. His long, untrimmed beard was a mass of unkempt knots and mats. His clothing was worn out and covered with patches of deerskins, corduroy and flannel and his old slouch hat, too, was so pieced with rabbit skin that very little of the original felt remained. Although only 27 years of age, he looked at least forty.” It was about that time that Schieffelin had temporary service with the army as a scout, but in 1877 he was again punching a burro in the hills of Southern Arizona.
It is probable that riches brought little pleasure to Schieffelin and that never again was he as happy as in his Arizona days. His brother died while still in possession of his share of the return from the mines and left his money to relatives.
Ed gave away large sums to old friends and to his family connections and lost much in speculations that proved him a very bad businessman indeed. Dissatisfied with civilization, he moved from the home he had established in New Jersey, left his wife in California and again started out as a prospector, though on a rather elaborate scale. He bought a small stern-wheel steamer and for a summer prospected the bars of the Yukon River in Alaska
In May 1897, his body was found in a cabin near Canonville, Oregon, death having come suddenly of heart disease. When his will was opened it was found that his thoughts had ever lingered with Arizona, for there was a direction that he was to be buried in the garb of a prospector together with his old pick and canteen, near the mines he had discovered. The wish was carried out and burial was on a lonely granite point, several miles west of Tombstone, where he had made his camp at the time of his discovery.
The monument, of cemented rock, is sixteen feet high and rests upon a foundation twenty feet square and, though out of the path of travel, can be seen from the car windows of the Fairbank-Tombstone train. Upon it is a simple inscription: “Ed Schieffelin; died May 12, 1897, aged 49 years 8 months; a dutiful son; a faithful husband; a kind brother; a true friend.”