The Town of Tombstone is located in Cochise County Arizona. The county is named after Chief Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache Indian. Chief Cochise was inspired to change his life when in 1861 an Apache raiding party on a local ranch provoked an uprising. He was sought after by the Mexican Army whose forces captured him in 1848 and promptly exchanged him for Mexican prisoners. He and his men were driven into the Dragoon Mountains where they were able to use the unique rock formations and caves as cover to continue raids against the settlements and soldiers of the area. Cochise was taken into custody in September of 1872. He quietly retired to an Arizona reservation and died of natural causes in 1874.
In February of 1877, a commander of the Dept. of Arizona ordered a camp be established in the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The soldiers provided protection to settlers in the area and travelers through the San Pedro and Santa Cruz valleys. Ed Schieffelin was a miner looking to strike it rich. He learned from the soldiers he lived with that summer there was silver in the hills beyond Camp Huachuca. He also learned raiding Apaches were encamped there too. His friends warned him “the only thing he would find there was his own tombstone”. He went anyway and set up a mine he named Tombstone and became very rich. The silver mines lasted just nine short years, but the town’s infamy cuts deep into western folklore.
Tombstone’s long history began in 1879 when it became a town. Over the years it has been the county seat of government and just a hair’s breath away from dying when the mines flooded ending the mining boom. Tourists rediscovered it in the 1900’s and began saving those infamous pieces of history known as Boothill Cemetery, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the Crystal Palace and much more. The town gets 400,000 visitors each year and is currently the number two attraction in the State of Arizona behind the Grand Canyon.
Needless to say tourism is Tombstone’s number one industry, but it is still a town. A town too tough to die – not that it hasn’t taken a few blows over the years. Most of the town’s population is transplanted from somewhere else. Their sense of place in history is often seen in their contentious bickering. From the new Mayor authenticating Allen Street by installing a layer of dirt causing 400,000 visitors to drag that dirt through every restaurant, bar, museum and store along their designated historic main drag. Even the location of the new high school became a bare-knuckled fistfight when it was built thirty miles away from the population whose kids attend. Sounds like any other small town in American and it is. The town does support the kids and the school. Lots of folks donate to the school’s programs, even the Harley riders who once were allowed to rev their engines during halftime in a show of appreciatio for the support of the high school football team.
Tombstone holds annual reunions for people of any graduating high school class. The townspeople both complain and rave about Border Patrol, the Tombstone Marshals, the County Board of Supervisors; just like any other small town in America. But Tombstone also is a place of many people from many countries. There are thousands of stories in the naked city about the crazy tourists who visit. My favorite is a German man who sat in a Mexican restaurant and was quickly served salsa and table tortillas. Being a busy day, the waitress plucked down the goodies and didn’t’ return for some time. When she did, she found the man’s face flushed and pinched. He picked up the tortilla, which he had lain across his lap blurting “the soup is too hot and this napkin is kaput.”
So before you visit Tombstone, do a little research. Learn a little history. You’ll find Tombstone’s history is rich and varied and presented from many different viewpoints. Lawmen to outlaws; Indians to soldiers; miners to settlers, Tombstone has it all. Come armed with knowledge and a sense of fun and adventure to experience Tombstone in all its glory; both past and present.
Visits these sites to get started:
The City of Tombstone: http://www.cityoftombstone.com/tourism.html
Tombstone Chamber of Commerce: http://www.tombstonechamber.com/
Sierra Vista Visitors Bureau (largest nearby city): http://www.visitsierravista.com
Benson Chamber of Commerce (Interstate 10 Exits): http://www.bensonchamberaz.com