Tombstone, Arizona: A Trip in Time

Updated on July 10, 2018
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

Gerry Glenn Jones is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, as well as scripts for theatre and film. This is a factual account.

The intersection of Allen Street and 5th Street in the Tombstone Historic District.  By Ken Thomas - website of photographer), Public Domain,
The intersection of Allen Street and 5th Street in the Tombstone Historic District. By Ken Thomas - website of photographer), Public Domain, | Source

Let's Visit Tombstone, Arizona in the 1800s

In our quest to visit the old western towns, we can't forget one of the most famous, Tombstone, Arizona. Tombstone has been the backdrop for many western books and movies, with some just named "Tombstone." With a moniker like that, you can't help but want to know more about it. In this article, you may find some things you didn't know, so join me in a brief history trip to Tombstone, Arizona.

The Founding of Tombstone

Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin. Mr. Schieffelin was an Indian scout and a part-time prospector, or should I say, "a prospector and a part-time Indian scout, who had his mind set on finding gold or silver in the Territory of Arizona."

He was living in Camp Huachuca and was part of a scouting expedition against the Chiricahua Apaches. While he was not scouting, he was vigorously combing the desert and hills, searching for his precious rocks, even though he had been warned by the soldiers that he was going to lose his scalp.

Tombstone, Arizona 1881
Tombstone, Arizona 1881 | Source

How Tombstone Got Its Name

Tombstone got its name from the fact that soldiers continuously told Ed Schieffelin, "The only stone you will find out there will be your tombstone," but Ed prevailed and found silver near a place called Goose Flats. Remembering what the soldiers told him about finding his own tombstone, he decided to bring their warning to life, so he named his first mine "Tombstone," not expecting that the area would grow into a town of the same name.

Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp | Source
John Henry "Doc" Holliday
John Henry "Doc" Holliday | Source

The Famous Gunfight

Almost every schoolboy and girl in the 20th and 21st centuries have read and watched movies about "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," and many boys, and surely some girls, have played out that famous gunfight. However, the real facts will surprise many.

The gunfight involved a group known as the Cowboys, which was made up of Billy Claiborne, Ike, Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, and Tombstone lawmen Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

After a long feud between the opposing groups, the Cowboys arrived in Tombstone in intervals, and after several confrontations between some of the Cowboys, the Earps, and Doc Holliday, the feud came to a head, not at the O.K. Corral, but in an alley located on the side of C. S. Fly's Photographic Studio on Fremont Street. It was actually several doors west of the O.K. Corral.

There are different versions regarding what happened next, including who drew first and who fired first, but when the shooting started, Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne broke camp and ran. In a matter of about 30 seconds, around 30 shots were fired and Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Doc Holliday, Virgil, and Morgan Earp were wounded in the gunfire, but Wyatt came out of it with only a bullet hole in his coat.

C.S. Fly, who owned the photography studio next to the alley, came out with a rifle and disarmed Billy Clanton, who was lying in the alley dying, and supposedly Sheriff John Behan went inside Fly's Studio and waited until the shooting stopped before he came out. He later tried to arrest Wyatt, but when Wyatt refused to be arrested Behan didn't press the matter.

There are many unanswered questions about this gunfight, including the fact that Wyatt and Doc Holliday may have not actually been sworn law enforcement officers when it occurred. Later, the Earps and Doc Holliday were tried for murder but were found not guilty. That verdict is still being debated by many today.

Designation as National Historic Landmark District

In 1961, Tombstone received the designation as a National Historic Landmark District, but as years went by, discrepancies in the age of some of the buildings that were supposed to be from the early years of Tombstone caused the National Park Service to question its designation of the town as a National Historic Landmark. They removed the designation from some parts of the town, but some still remain. These are:

  • Boot Bill Graveyard
  • Tombstone City Hall
  • Tombstone Courthouse
  • Sacred Heart Church
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
  • The Bella Union Saloon and Opera House
  • The Oriental Saloon

Front of City Hall in Tombstone - Located at 315 E. Fremont Street. City Hall is brick building with wooden balcony, with an adobe building on right.
Front of City Hall in Tombstone - Located at 315 E. Fremont Street. City Hall is brick building with wooden balcony, with an adobe building on right. | Source
Tombstone in 2014
Tombstone in 2014 | Source

Tombstone's Demise and Resurrection

All good things, or maybe I should say in the case of Tombstone, wild things come to an end. In the early 1900s, the town's population plummeted because of flooding in the silver mines, and most of them closed.

This caused the population of Tombstone to fall to around 850 in 1930, but the town saw a resurrection in later years as tourists began to pour in after reading about the town or seeing it on TV. Tombstone's population began to rise, and in 2016 the population was about 1,300.


City of Tombstone, Arizona

Shootout at the OK Corral

Wyatt Earp - Law Enforcement - Biography

Prospecting Pays off for Schieffelin in Tombstone

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Gerry Glenn Jones


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      • Gerry Glenn Jones profile imageAUTHOR

        Gerry Glenn Jones 

        18 months ago from Somerville, Tennessee

        Thank you, Linda, if it hadn't been for the tourism it might possibly a ghost town now.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an interesting look at United States history. Thank you for the education. It's nice to hear that people still live in Tombstone.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        18 months ago from Houston, Texas

        This was interesting reading about the history of Tombstone, Arizona. I like how you put quiz questions ahead of the answers. I got only one correct at 100%. Thanks for the history lesson!


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