Tombstone was once a bustling and rapidly growing city, larger than Los Angeles in the early 1880s. This rapidly growing city rose to prominence from ample opportunities from silver mining and the allure of a better life for those traveling westward. Tombstone was thought to be the next great western city – until a series of tragic events, murders, and the decline of the mining industry left Tombstone as the quaint reminder of what life used to be in the infamous wild west.
Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffen on Goose Flats, a mesa above a mine, only 15 years after the conclusion of the US Civil War, and by 1880 was the largest silver mining and production town in Arizona. The city had grown at an exponential rate, from 100 to over 14,000 in less than seven years, and mining operations produced up to $85 million in silver bullion. Businesses sprouted and prospered throughout Tombstone despite it’s isolated desert location. The town boasted 110 saloons, 14 gambling centers, a bowling alley, and many brothels, hotels, and dance halls.
But underneath the town’s growth and success, there was conflict. Tombstone was a melting pot that attracted anti-slavery and pro-union Republicans and Capitalists; who were at odds with confederate sympathizers and Democrats of the time, who left the ravaged south for a new and better life – some, outside the law. The most prominent of these outlaws were the Cowboys, most of whom originated in Texas, and sold cattle they acquired by stealing from nearby Sonora, Mexico; a practice known as “Rustling”. The Cowboy outlaws, including the infamous Ike Clanton and Tom McLary, engaged in other forms of illegal behavior. These outlaws were destined to meet civilization as law and order came to the isolated corners of the west.
Enter the Earp Brothers & Conflict
In late 1879 and early 1880, the Earp brothers, staunch Republicans; Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan; and Doc Holiday arrived in Tombstone. Some in the group became involved with law enforcement, and eventually clashed with the Cowboys in what would become the infamous blood feud between the groups, starting with the gunfight on Freemont Street near the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. The shootout started a violent clash for the soul of Tombstone, culminating in the downfall of the Cowboys and introducing a period of law and order to Tombstone.
End of the Mining Boom: The Tragic Fires
Tombstone was beset by a series of three fires after its founding in 1881, 1882, and 1886. The booming town did not enforce safe building practices or proper fire protection. The first fire destroyed 66 businesses when a cigar in the Arcade Saloon ignited a barrel of whiskey. The second fire destroyed over 100 businesses, including the Grand Hotel. The city did not have enough water to combat the flames, so instead they demolished all buildings in the fire’s path with dynamite. Damages topped $700,000 but the city started rebuilding immediately.
Five years after Tombstone’s infamous shootout between the Earps and Cowboys, the silver mining boom came to an abrupt end when the great fire erupted in 1886, destroying the specialized pumps necessary for mining operations. Significant investment was made to build the pumps, which were needed as the miners penetrated the water table two years earlier. The pumps provided the water needed to support the mining operations, and this complex operation converged into a single pumping plant and Grand Central hoist. The fire overcame the town and destroyed the hoist and pumping station, leaving the mining companies with an insurmountable expense to rebuild them. The mining companies moved on due to this unprofitable situation, taking the miners with them, and turning Tombstone into a ghost town almost overnight. By 1910, the city’s population plummeted to 646.
Hauntingly Historic Desert Past
The Tombstone Terrors Ghost Tour will take you to locations frequented by both the Cowboys and the Earp brothers, places of tragedy and loss, and suspense. Each location you’ll visit on this tour has a story to tell, accompanied by stories of hauntings experienced by real people to this day. Furniture that moves on its own, doors which open and close with no explanation, water faucets that turn on and off at will, the sounds of screams in the night, the feeling of something grabbing your arm as you walk down Freemont street, a breath on the back of your neck, or the apparition of a burn victim or gunshot victim are all but a few of the things people experience here in Tombstone. We’d like to invite you to join us on a ghost tour to hear a new side of Tombstone’s story, and possibly to experience the hauntings for yourself!