Tombstone, Arizona: Step Back Into Gunslinger History

Must-See Attractions in Tombstone

Relive the glory days of the Old West with a side trip to Tombstone, Arizona, the “Town Too Tough to Die”. Here you’ll see historic, original 1880’s buildings, gunfights, saloons, museums, and a town with a colorful mining past. You’ll walk the same dusty streets that Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and other legends walked and fought on. The days of rough and tumble lawlessness are gone but the spirit of Tombstone is alive and well.

The OK Corral

Tombstone Arizona is perhaps most famous for its Gunfight at OK Corral when the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, along with friend Doc Holliday shot it out with the Clanton and McLaury Gang. The fierce gunfight was quick and when the bullets stopped flying, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury lay dead. Billy’s brother Ike Clanton kept his life that day but was eventually murdered near Springerville Arizona. Virgil and Morgan Earp needed weeks to recover from serious wounds, but Doc Holliday was barely grazed by a bullet. Surprisingly, Wyatt Earp was unscathed.

Gunfight at OK Corral
Gunfight at OK Corral reenactment

The famous gunfight at the OK Corral happened over 125 years ago here in Tombstone. Be sure to stop by the OK corral and see where the action occurred. Each day at 2:00 PM you can see the Boothill Gunslingers perform here.

The Bird Cage Theatre

Stop at the Bird Cage Theatre, the rowdiest, wildest example of the Old West in its heyday. This famous old building is one of the few original buildings left from the 1880’s complete with bullet holes from the numerous gunfights that erupted here.

The Bird Cage Theatre
The Bird Cage Theatre, Tombstone, AZ

Boothill Graveyard

Tombstone’s Boot Hill Graveyard is a wild west burial ground with over 250 graves that include the bodies of town pioneers, murderers, horse thieves, bank robbers, and at least one poor soul that was hanged even though he was innocent.

Unknown grave at Boot HillThe present site of Boot Hill was not the original site. It was relocated to its present location in 1884 on a side hill north of the town. The gravesites are very shallow because the ground was very hard and therefore difficult to dig very deep or more likely people were too lazy and anxious to get to the Bird Cage Theatre.

Although fairly well restored from its rough and tough “shoot-’em-up days, many of the graves contain “unknown” folks. That’s because many of the grave markers were made of wood and over-time rotted away.

Known Grave Sites at Boothill Graveyard

Perhaps the most famous of those buried at Boot Hill are Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom. Their grave markers say “murdered on the streets of Tombstone, 1881”. As legend has it, they were shot and killed by the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, and John “Doc” Holiday at the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Five gang members, Dan Dowd, Bill Delaney, Dan Kelly, and Red Sample were convicted of robbery in the nearby town of Bisbee and were hanged on the gallows in the Tombstone Courthouse yard, The original scaffold is still in the same spot in Tombstone today. The leader of that gang, John Heath was hung by a lynch mob from Bisbee from a telegraph pole near the Tombstone Courthouse.

Some of the graves include George Johnson who innocently bought a stolen horse from horse thief and was hung before it was discovered he was innocent. A man by the name of Kansas Kid was killed by a stampede. And there is the gravesite of “Dutch Annie” who was called the “Queen of the Red Light District. When you visit Boot Hill at Tombstone, you will receive a free guide that lists the grave occupants and the cause of their deaths.

The Crystal Palace Saloon

Step back into time and enjoy a drink at the only authentic saloon still standing in Tombstone. This building sports the original copper ceiling, adobe walls, and a replica of the impressive bar. If walls could only talk you’d hear of bar brawls, shootouts, lynchings, and all things naughty and bawdy.

Tombstone Arizona Courthouse

As you step into the courtyard of the Tombstone Arizona Courthouse the gallows say it all. This is where justice was served for better or for worse in Tombstone. The 1882 building is now a state historic park with a museum filled with Tombstone’s tough history. Open daily (except Christmas Day) from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

The Old Tombstone Epitaph

The museum located at the West’s Most Famous Newspaper is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Here you’ll see the 1880’s technology of newspaper making as well as the original 1881 reports of the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Admission is free.

Things to do in Tombstone

Other things to do during your visit to Tombstone include taking a stagecoach ride through the dusty streets, enjoying a Chuck Wagon dinner show, visiting the Pioneer Home Museum and the Rose Tree Museum, and touring the “Good Enough Silver Mine” which lies underneath the streets of Tombstone.

Tombstone is about an hour southeast of Tucson off State Highway 80. From Tucson, take Interstate 10 south 48 miles to Benson then take State Highway 80 another 23 miles to Tombstone.

Spend the day reliving the Wild West in Tombstone and then head on back to civilization with a new appreciation of the days gone by.

History of Tombstone

There is much controversy surrounding this historical Tombstone Arizona event over why it happened, who was at fault, and even what date it actually occurred. Most agree the gunfight took place on October 26, 1881. Each side seemed to have a great deal of Tombstone area community support. In fact, two different newspapers, one with allegiance to the Clantons and the other to the Earps gave differing accounts that led to the killings.

Town of Tombstone in 1882The storied feud that grew between the Earps and Doc Holliday and the Clantons that were protected by territorial sheriff John Behan was so full of bizarre twists that it could become a long-running miniseries. For in-depth detail, we suggest reading several chapters of interesting insight into Tombstone Arizona History and the famous Tombstone Gunfight.

Although the Gunfight at OK Corral is the most famous historical attraction of Tombstone Arizona, it was the tenacity and bravery of Edward Lawrence Schieffelin that spawned the town of Tombstone and the unusual way it got its name.

Edward L. SchieffelinSchieffelin was a weathered prospector whose rugged appearance was well beyond his young age. Having prospected throughout the west for many years, he accompanied members of the U.S. Calvary from Southern California dispatched to Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona to protect settlers from the marauding Apaches.

Every day for many years, Ed Schieffelin would venture out into the hills and mountains prospecting for the riches of silver or gold ore deposits. Each day he would brave the elements and the Apaches where many before him would never return. His soldier friends told him many times that if “he kept fooling around out there amongst the Apaches, the only rock he would come home with would be his tombstone”.

Then one day in 1877 he discovered a silver ore outcropping that would be the beginning of his dream bonanza. He would name the mining district “Tombstone” which would also become the name of the “Town Too Tough To Die”.

The Tombstone Arizonarush to riches led to the booming of Tombstone Arizona and its rich historical attractions. His partners including brother Al and an assayer named Richard Gird eventually sold their various claims. In spite of riches beyond his dreams, Ed continued prospecting in other parts of the west, became married, and eventually died at age 49 in 1887. His wife fulfilled his wish and moved his body back to Tombstone where he was buried a few miles away near his original claim.

By differing accounts, Tombstone grew to a peak population of 12,000 – 20,000. The riches derived from the mining of silver and gold soon waned when underground water flow filled the mines making it impossible to extract the metal treasures. Cattle ranching supported the businesses in Tombstone but eventually, the town of Tombstone became insignificant to the growth of the west and more peaceful times returned.

Today, Tombstone is a tourist destination where about 1500 residents welcome vacationers and visitors into western history. Original buildings still exist with old bullet holes still visible from its rough and tough times. The aura and environment are still reminiscent of days past where visitors can walk the same paths of the bad boys from the 1880s.

Share on:

Leave a Comment