Old West History

10 Things You Don’t Know About Tombstone

Tombstone, Arizona is one of the most famous Western towns in America. Just the name brings to mind dusty trails through the desert, saguaro and tumbleweed. You might imagine Tombstone back in the 1880s as being empty, a wide street with one saloon. Bat wing doors swing open and you find yourself in a room with a crude wooden bar where all the bartender serves is whiskey. Everyone has a gun on their hip. Everyone turns to look at you as you walk through the doors and the piano player stops and turns too. Least that’s the way frontier towns are depicted in westerns, but how was it really? Let’s see how much you know about Tombstone, “The Town Too Tough To Die”…

Prospector, Ed Schieffelin
  1. Tombstone was a mining town and was founded by the prospector Ed Schefflein in 1877. He stayed at Fort Huachuca at night and prospected for silver during the day. On returning empty handed, the soldiers would say that all Ed would find out there was his tombstone. When Ed eventually did find silver, he called the first claim, “Tombstone” and the second, “The Graveyard”. As word spread of the silver vein and a mining camp grew around the new mines, the name Tombstone stuck. By 1881, the town had grown to a population of over four thousand people. Tombstone’s first county courthouse was built and in an effort to sound more respectable, some people suggested that the name be changed to something better, but by then it was too late.
  2. Tombstone’s first school opened in February 1880. There were 40 students in attendance by the end of the first term.
  3. Sirens were used in Tombstone to mark the beginning of a new shift for the miners. After the gunfight occurred on Oct 26, 1881, sirens went off from the Vizna mine and miners poured up onto the street, armed and ready.
  4. The Gunfight at the OK Corral was not actually held at the OK Corral but in a vacant lot close to the corner of Fremont Street and 3rd Street.
  5. Saloons were open 24 hours a day in Tombstone. These included The Oriental, The Crystal Palace Saloon, The Eagle Saloon and The Alhambra. Saloons could be quite decadent and served more than just the watered down whiskey, famous in western movies. The Billiard Parlour at Kelly’s boasted in an 1880 advert in The Tombstone Nugget, that they served Pony Whiskey and Brandy, six-year-old Kentucky Apple Brandy, Gin Rum, Sherry, Port, English Ale, Scotch, Millers Extra and 26 different imported wines. The Oriental bragged at having piano and violin concerts every night and was lit with chandeliers.
  6. Restaurants in Tombstone such as The Can Can, The Russ House, The Elite House and The Maison Doree, catered to all tastes, including fine dining. Fresh shrimp and oysters were brought in from California to Tucson in refrigerated train cars, then transported down to Tombstone. The Can Can restaurant served Chinese as well as American food. The Can Can advertised in The Epitaph that they had:

    Game as wild as a tornado, chicken as tender as a maiden’s heart, ice-cream as delicious as a day in June, dessert that would charm the soul of a South Sea Islander and smiles as bright as the morning sun will be found at the Can Can today.

  7. By 1881, Tombstone had electricity, and hot and cold running water in some of its hotels:

    …the bedrooms, 16 in number, each of them fitted with walnut furniture and carpeted to match; spring mattresses that would tempt even a sybarite, toilet stands and fixtures of the most approved pattern, the walls papered, and to crown all, each room having windows.

    The Grand Hotel as described in The Tombstone Epitaph

    There was even a telephone line running from the mining depot to some of the mines. By 1882, hotels in Tucson had telephones in their hotels and it’s quite possible that by this time Tombstone did too.

  8. There were two newspapers in Tombstone, The Tombstone Epitaph edited by John Clum and The Tombstone Daily Nugget founded by H.M. Woods in 1880. The Epitaph took a Republican view on events in town while Nugget was supported by the Democrats.
  9. There was an ice-cream parlour in Tombstone and it was very popular with the locals, including Wyatt Earp who was quite fond of ice-cream. On July 16, 1881, the Ladies Committee held an ice-cream festival at The Masonic Hall.
  10. Tombstone had its own baseball team and played games on public holidays, against the soldiers at Fort Huachuca. Naturally, bets were placed on the home team to win. Reverent Endicott Peabody was Vice President of the Tombstone Baseball Association and responsible for putting the team together. He even claimed that he was willing to umpire games on a Sunday, providing that all the players went to church before the game.

By Elena Sandidge

Elena Sandidge is a Scottish novelist with a passion for the history of the Old West and the life of the legendary gunfighting dentist, Doc Holliday. "A Gentleman in Hell" chronicles the adventures of Doc Holliday as he travels from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona and on to his final home in the mountains of Colorado