I arrived on the outskirts of Tombstone on January 31, 2016, at Tombstone RV Park. What a nice RV park and nice people who are so friendly and so willing to help make your stay with them and in Tombstone an experience to remember.
Now when I got here I was in for a big surprise when the weather suddenly turned pretty darn cold. By late afternoon, the wind started picking up and getting pretty nasty, then cold and rain. The next day, Monday was not much better as there continued to be some winds and the temperature never got above 42 so I just hunkered down in my motorhome for the day. By Tuesday things were a bit better so I ventured into the town of Tombstone for a couple hours and visited a couple of sights. I did not stay long because it was still cold and when the wind blew it was even colder. By Wednesday, the weather was warming up…… I was planning to go into town but other events that happened here at the RV park prevented me from doing that so I just stayed here. Thursday and Friday (February 4th and 5th) I spent in town attending gunfights, visiting museums, taking tours, visiting Boothill Cemetery and just taking in the whole experience and feel of Tombstone and its history.
Now one of the things I learned over the period of several days is that Tombstone is just not about the famous O.K. Corral shootout. Yes, it was one of the biggest things that happened here and what has made Tombstone pretty famous, but Tombstone is so much more. There were a number of characters who made this town what it was and there is so much history and things that happened here in just a span of 8 short years. I don’t quite know the word I am looking for, to sum up, the experience but it was just really neat to know that I was walking the streets, the sidewalks, entering buildings that had so much history. This town left me with that small town, community feel and spirit of the old west. It is just a unique town that I just really enjoyed and was glad I was able to come here and experience it all.
Tombstone was a mining town! It’s beginnings started with a man named Ed Schieffelin who was prospecting the nearby hills in 1877. A soldier told him once that the only thing he was going to find in those hills was his own tombstone, but Ed found Silver and lots of it. Miners soon began to come from near and far to find their riches. Soon a town began to be built, first, it was a lot of tents, then gradually wood and adobe structures began to go up and replace the tents. Ed recalling what the soldier told him about only finding his own Tombstone, the town name became Tombstone. By 1881 the population reached 10,000, a fire burned out much of the new town but it was immediately rebuilt, and the famous Earp and Clanton gunfight near the OK Corral occurred. Eventually, water began to seep into the mine shafts, pumps were installed, but the mines were soon flooded and could not be worked. By 1886, Tombstone’s heyday was over and $37,000,000 worth of silver had been taken from the mines.
BIRDCAGE THEATER MUSEUM
My first stop in Tombstone was “The Bird Cage Theatre” since it was the first building at the start of Allen Street.
The Bird Cage was named for the 14 Bird Cage crib compartments that are hanging from the ceiling over the gambling and dance hall. It was these compartments where the “ladies of the night” worked their trade. The Bird Cage was said to be the wildest and wickedest night spot and made a reputation for itself that would never be forgotten. In the 8 years it was open the Bird Cage never closed it’s doors 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year. It was the sight of 16 gunfights and 140 bullet holes in the walls, ceilings, and the bar.
These “birdcage” boxes were rented for $25.00 a night
A bullet hole in the bar, the bullet is still in there our tour leader said.
The bar is a custom-made Cherrywood Bar and Backbar. Next to the bar is a dumbwaiter that sent drinks upstairs to the ladies of the night and their men friends. Today the bar is Tombstone’s only remaining bar of the 1880s in its original building.
Below the gambling and dancehall is the wine cellar, the dressing rooms, and the poker room. The longest poker game in western history was played here at the Bird Cage. It was a house game and the players had to buy in at $1,000 minimum in chips for a seat in the game. The game ran continually for 8 years, 5 months and 3 days. The poker table still stands as it was left with its chairs on the dirt floor.
Both mirrors you see here have hung in the same place since 1881.
The Bird Cage Theatre survived two fires of 1881 and 1882, but when the mines flooded the Bird Cage it was sealed and boarded up with all its fixtures and furnishings intact. For nearly 50 years it stood closed. In 1934, The Bird Cage Theatre became a Historical Landmark of the American West and was opened for the public to visit. It is Tombstones only historic landmark in its original state in 1881, with its lighting fixtures, chandeliers, drapes and gambling tables, the grand piano, and coin-operated jute box.
This piano is the original grand piano that has sat in this spot since 1881. It furnished the music for the shows and dances. It is built out of solid Rosewood and is hand carved. This piano was the first in Tombstone. It was shipped around the horn of South America to San Francisco by boat and brought to Tombstone by mule train. It was part of a five-piece band that played at the Bird Cage Theatre from 1881 through 1889.
This was the first organ used in the first Protestant Episcopal Church in Arizona.
Tombstone original Boothill Hearse-Black Moriah horse-drawn hearse and first vehicle with curved glass.
This is the original Faro table where Doc Holliday played and dealt Faro (Faro was the most popular card game in saloons). Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo had their famous duel between the Faro table and the grand piano.
These serving baskets were used by the girls in the birdcage to get refreshments to the customers.
The Bird Cage did have entertainment each evening that began with a variety show. One of the shows was “The Human Fly,” in which women dressed in theatrical tights and costumes and walked across the stage ceiling upside down. This act lasted until one of the clamps supporting the performers failed and she fell to her death.
Gun Fight Re-enactments
Ike and Billy Clanton along with their cowboy partners Tom & Frank McLaury were responsible for a lot of the saloon fights and stagecoach robberies. It was a direct confrontation with the Clantons and McLaury’s that led to that fateful gunfight on October 26, 1881. To try and keep the town under order there was a law that no guns were allowed in town. For several days before the Clanton’s were in and out of jail and court for violating the gun law. The last straw came at about noon on the 26th when Ike Clanton was spotted by several townspeople being fully armed and going from saloon to saloon, getting drunker by the minute. The Earps arrested Ike Clanton and after a visit to the judge and paying a $25.00 fine he set out to find his brother and the McLaurys. Death threats between the two sides grew louder and more credible. Finally about 3 PM the Earps caught up with the Clantons and McLaurys at the OK Corral, and the shooting started. Thirty seconds later thirty shots had been fired and three men lay dead….Billy Clanton and both Tom and Frank McLaury (Ike Clanton was a coward and took off when the shooting started). Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded. Witnesses were confused as to who started shooting first.
Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury
Doc Holliday, Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp
Tombstone Court House State Historic Park
As Tombstones population grew so did the need for law and stability. In 1881, the Arizona Legislature established Cochise County. The courthouse was built in 1882 for about $50,000. It housed the offices for the sheriff, recorder, treasurer, and board of supervisors. The jail was at the rear under the courtroom. Tombstone remained the county seat until 1929 when it was moved to the growing city of Bisbee. At one point there was an attempt to convert the courthouse into a hotel during the 1940s but that fell through and the building stood vacant until 1955 when the Tombstone Restoration Commission acquired it and they began the courthouse rehabilitation and developed it as a historical museum that has continued to operate as a state park since 1959.
A replica of the gallows where 7 men were hanged.
Boothill Graveyard-Original cemetery where outlaw’s, miners and old west residents are buried.
This the gravesite of Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury who were killed at the O.K. Corral shootout
Tombstone Epitaph and Museum that is still in operation today
In 1882, Tombstone had a second fire that again destroyed much of the town, but they rebuilt. A few years later when the mine flooded and silver ore prices dropped so low Tombstone became nearly a ghost town. Over the years, mining returned to Tombstone….During WWI, the town produced manganese for the war effort and 25 years later lead was mined on behalf of the government. After WWII the town focused on tourism to bring the town back to life. Today Tombstone has once again become the center of the Southwest and welcomes nearly 500,000 visitors and vacationers a year.