ARIZONA | TOMBSTONE
This week takes us out to the dry & dusty Southwest, on through tumbleweeds to Tombstone, Arizona. Founded in 1877 by prospector Edward Schieffelin, the town’s namesake is an homage to his naysayers who claimed: “the only stone you will find out there will be your tombstone.” When he struck silver in the nearby Goose Flats, Ed’s sly sense of humor led to this attention-grabbing name that has stuck around for more than a century.
For this wall, I chose to emphasize Tombstone’s tagline, “The Town Too Tough to Die,” for a few reasons. At a surface level, the irony of this statement when compared to the town’s rough & tumble past is not lost on me- and conjured some fun imagery that alludes to the infamy of Tombstone in its heyday. Additionally, I think this sentiment speaks to the tenacity with which this small community has survived all these years. After it’s initial mining boom, it has gone through quite the rollercoaster of major losses & subsequent revitalization as a tourist destination. Boasting only around 1,300 residents today, they all must be some tough cookies to keep this small town running to this day.
Local Inspiration: THE EPITAPH
Another example of the tongue-in-cheek naming convention in Tombstone is its local paper, The Epitaph. The publication was established by newsman John Clum on May 1st of 1880- a few short years after Tombstone’s initial silver boom and development. He proclaimed in the first issue that “No Tombstone is complete without its epitaph!” and the name is so catchy, it hasn’t changed once in over 140 years!
As the longest continuously running paper in Arizona, the Epitaph and its museum seemed like a great place for me to draw inspiration from for the lettering in this particular mural. I’ve always been a big fan of Western letter styles, and with their inverted stress & spurs they are instantly recognizable. As it happens, a lot of these type styles originate from woodblock printing- which would have been used in the earliest years of the Epitaph’s publication. When I saw this slab lettering painted on the Epitaph’s storefront, I knew I *had* to find a way to incorporate it in my piece.
THIS TOWN IN HISTORY: THE O.K. CORRAL GUNFIGHT
Tombstone’s primary claim to fame is that it was the location of one of (if not the) most infamous skirmishes between cowboys and The Law in the Old West: the O.K. Corral Gunfight.
Remembered as the “30 shots in 30 seconds” showdown, this standoff was between the legendary Earp brothers representing the Law and the Clanton-McLaury cowboy gang. It was the culmination of a long day of violent run-ins between the two parties, and once the dust settled, the majority of the Clanton-McLaury clan was dead, and Doc Holliday, Virgi Earp,l and Morgan Earp were each injured. Only Wyatt Earp (of prior Dodge City fame) came out completely unscathed.
Surprisingly, the shootout actually occurred not in the O.K. Corral itself but rather in an alley behind it. The saloon still stands in its original location though (just 1 ½ blocks away from the Epitaph museum) and welcomes tourists to a show reenacting the gunfight in its back alley location. If you prefer to get a taste of the action from the comfort of your couch, the infamous encounter was also immortalized in the films Frontier Marshal (1939), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993), and Wyatt Earp (1994).
LOCAL LORE: The BIRD CAGE THEATER
One of the only original buildings still standing in Tombstone is the Bird Cage Theater, once deemed “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Because it was built with concrete instead of wood, it managed to survive fires that tore through the town in the late 1880s. It’s a good thing too, because this building hosts an impressive amount of bullet holes- and, so the locals claim, wayward spirits to boot!
Legend has it that at *least* twenty-six people met their maker here in its heyday, and more than 140 bullet holes remain in the ceiling as evidence of this violent history. Stepping into the Bird Cage is like taking a time machine back to the Old West itself, plus a few added years of dust and decay. In fact, after the theater closed in 1889, it remained completely sealed until it was repurchased in 1934. When the new owners entered and found it largely untouched, they knew they had to preserve as much of the original interior as possible and open it to the public.
Is it because of this preservation that the Bird Cage Theater claims to be the most haunted building in Tombstone? Are all of the belongings and photographs left inside what keeps those spirits tethered to the place? I’m no expert to say either way, but plenty of ghost hunters have visited and had “close encounters” with cowboys & “soiled’ doves” from beyond the grave. If you don’t want to take their word for it- be sure to stop by the theater for your own tour in total-darkness and see if you can meet any of the happy haunts that remain.
TO SEE & DO: GOODENOUGH SILVER MINE
When you’ve had enough of cowboys & criminals for the day, head on over to the last of our great names on this list- the Goodenough Mine! This mine was the primary producer of silver for Tombstone and was claimed and greatly named by Ed Schiefflan (the same sly dog who named the town!) in 1878. It’s said that he named this mine “Good Enough” because the amount of ore found within was enough to satisfy his long search.
Much like the Bird Cage Theater, this mine was closed for an extended period of time, then repurchased and renovated for tourists to visit. There are still some silver deposits left for visitors to check out, but the mine is primarily used for guided tours showcasing the vast 300-mile tunnel network and early manual mining practices. Personally, this is on my list of must-dos when I visit Tombstone because I jump at the chance to get underground in caverns or mine tunnels whenever possible, especially when they are a cool respite from sweltering, dry climates!
Altogether Tombstone has a little bit of everything- from a historic printing press to legendary gunfighter lore, infamous ghosts, and a massive hidden tunnel network! There are plenty of these dust-coated Western towns strewn about the state, but the cheeky original names, rowdy history, and grit of this “Town Too Tough to Die” make it worthy of representing Arizona on this list.
We’ll see you back here next week as we head to the mountains over in the Nature State- and finish out the last of the ‘A’ states on our list!
"The true legislators of our lives, the clouds and their mercies, their voyage Over the mountains, the heat, the dream of rain, this desert life. Let us move forward on purpose with purpose Knowing we come from, and have learned from, today.” - Alberto Ríos, Arizona's first poet laureate.