April 1

This Day in History

Old West

Apr 1, 1877:

Discoverer of Tombstone begins prospecting

Ignoring the taunts of fellow miners who say he will only find his own tombstone, prospector Edward Schieffelin begins his search for silver in the area of present-day southern Arizona. Later that year, Schieffelin was not only alive and well, but he had found one of the richest silver veins in the West. He named it the Tombstone Lode.

Located about 70 miles southeast of Tucson in the San Pedro Valley, the Tombstone Mining District and the town of Tombstone quickly became major economic and social centers of the Southwest. Schieffelin and his partners were able to attract vast amounts of eastern investment capital to develop their claims. Quickly making their fortunes, the original partners sold out in 1880-81 and left Arizona for more civilized locales.

Tombstone, however, continued to boom. By 1881, more than 10,000 people lived in the region and Tombstone had become the seat of the newly created Cochise County. The Wild West spirit of the town and large amounts of money attracted gamblers, criminals, and would-be lawmen. Of these, Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers are the most famous today, because of their brief shoot-out with the Clantons and McLaurys at the O.K. Corral in 1881. Tombstone was home to scores of other gamblers and gunslingers, though, including John Ringo, William C. Brocius, and Frank Leslie.

So much violence and lawlessness marked the early years of Tombstone's history that President Chester Arthur briefly considered imposing martial law in May 1882. Upstanding civic leaders like the rancher John Slaughter worked to promote law, order, and civic growth. The wild boom days in Tombstone, however, soon waned of their own accord when miners struck groundwater, which made it too expensive to dig any deeper. By the early 1890s, most of the mines had closed and the town went into decline.

Mining resumed sporadically at Tombstone during subsequent decades, but the town never regained its former glory. By 1929, Tombstone seemed to be headed for ghost town status, and the county seat moved to Bisbee. Ironically, the very gambling and violence that growth-minded town fathers once tried to suppress became its economic savior. In the post-World War II years, the people of Tombstone began to cater to the American fascination with the Wild West. Museums and the restoration of the O.K. Corral made Tombstone into a tourist destination, leading some to call it the town that is "too tough to die."

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