History of Tombstone AZ
When prospector Ed Schieffelin first set out to find his fortune in 1877 Arizona, the local soldiers dealing with the Apaches and warring outlaws told him he would find his own tombstone before he found any silver. When he struck it rich later that year, Schieffelin's find turned out to be a deep vein of rich silver ore, setting off a silver rush that rivaled the Gold Rush of 1849. He later named his mining claim Tombstone, a tongue in cheek homage to his doubting friends in the U.S. Cavalry.
Tombstone Became A Boom Town
The town of Tombstone quickly followed the boom of silver claims in 1879, bringing prospectors and business owners looking to strike it rich along with Schieffelin. And rich they became. Wealth flowed out of the hills like water from a mountain stream, surging the town's population to over 1,000 in just a few short years as more and more people flocked to the area in search of fortune. The town flourished, with housing, hotels, stores, a theater, numerous saloons and gambling halls quickly constructed to serve the growing population.
With the people came the need for modern conveniences and Tombstone, despite its isolated location, became a bustling metropolis with running water, telegraph service and major investments from U.S. businessmen. There was even an ice skating rink as refrigeration was brought to the town, providing refined recreation for the many easterners streaming into Tombstone. Immigrants from Europe came to work the mines and Chinese laborers filled the service needs demanded by the many miners and newly rich. They worked the laundries and in the hotels, as well as quickly learning construction trades to keep up with the demand for new buildings.
Rowdy Cowboys and Outlaws
While mining brought Tombstone its wealth, the area remained mostly a wild desert wasteland where cattle rustlers, cowboys and outlaws flourished. These outlaws took advantage of Tombstone's new saloons, hotels and services, often causing raucous bar fights and creating havoc that worried the eastern businessmen that had invested heavily in Tombstone's economy. In an attempt to protect their investments, these businessmen hired Wyatt Earp to serve as City Police Chief, who brought with him his brothers Morgan and Virgil, already a deputized U.S. Marshal. Their friend, dentist turned gambler John "Doc" Holliday also worked against the rowdy cowboys and the ongoing battles between the hired lawmen and western outlaws ended in the west's most legendary shootout, the Gunfight at the OK Corral on October 26, 1881 in downtown Tombstone. This historic gunfight cemented the town's reputation as the center of the Wild, Wild West and has continued to define the western heritage of the town ever since. Be sure to visit Boot Hill, the origianl cemetery where outlaws, miners and old west residents are buried.
Tombstone's Fall From Grace
Like so many cities before and since, rapid growth contributed to Tombstone's later fall from grace. Despite development of irrigation and water systems, the area remained primarily arid desert. The wood construction and lack of abundant water made the town susceptible to fire and in 1882, the town suffered the second of two fateful fires, destroying much of the original downtown. This was the beginning of the end for boomtown Tombstone. When the mines tapped out a few years later, the town quickly went from being the center of the Southwest to a near ghost town, despite producing millions of dollars in silver ore in less than ten years.
Today Tombstone Thrives As A Tourist Attraction
Through the years mining returned to Tombstone, however and during World War I, the town produced manganese for the United States war effort and twenty-five years later took up the cause again by mining lead on behalf of the government. After World War II the town resurrected its western heritage and focused it economic efforts on tourism. As a result, Tombstone has once again become the center of western culture and today welcomes nearly 500,000 visitors and vacationers a year.
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