Year 1 Day 48 Just A “Little” Historical Background

We spent today doing our “slug” imitation.  We decided that what we need to do is to increase our imitation just so we can rest up after these last hectic seven weeks of travel and exploration.  Unfortunately, this is not going to happen very often as we have much more to do and places to see before we will have time to just “stop and smell the roses”.  We are thinking that this might happen when we return to Tucson in the latter half of November to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter, Christina, and her family.  At that time, we will have two weeks before we return to the San Francisco area to spend the Christmas holidays with our other two children, Heather and David Paul, and their families.

Since it was a slug day, I decided to do some research on Tombstone and its infamous “Gunfight at the OK Corral”.  We hope to drive over to Tombstone the day after tomorrow since it is so close.

Here is what I discovered while doing my research:

In 1877, Ed Schieffelin was a prospector but at the time was working as an Indian scout for the U.S. Army who were hunting the Chiricahua Apaches. He was garrisoned at Camp Huachuca, located about 15 miles north of the Mexican border, which has since become Fort Huachuca and is still an active Army base.

While at Camp Huachuca, Schieffelin would leave the camp to look for potential ore deposits within the wilderness despite the fact that fellow soldiers at his camp warned him not to. The soldiers told him that he better take his coffin with him as he would find his tombstone there and nothing else.

While he did not find his tombstone, he did find silver.  Having a sense of humor, he named  his very first mine The Tombstone.

Apparently, Schieffelin was quite a character, as shown by this 1876 description given by David P. Lansing of Phoenix, Arizona:

[He is] “about the strangest specimen of human flesh I ever saw. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall and had black hair that hung several inches below his shoulder and a beard that had not been trimmed or combed for so long a time that it was a mass of unkempt knots and mats. He wore clothing pieced and patched from deerskins, corduroy and flannel, and his hat was originally a slouch hat that had been pieced with rabbit skin until very little of the original felt remained.

Here is Ed after he discovered silver and cleaned up a bit.



Word quickly spread about his silver strike. It wasn’t long before homesteaders, cowboys, speculators, prospectors, lawyers, business people and gunmen headed to the area.  Known originally as Goose Glats, the town site was situated near the mines and in 1879 and was renamed Tombstone after the first claim of silver mining by Schieffelin.

Tombstone quickly became a rough and tumble proto-typical western mining town and grew as the local mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion, the largest productive silver district in Arizona. Its population grew from 100 to around 14,000 in less than seven years.

Tombstone circa 1881

During these early heydays, Tombstone attracted a number of famous and infamous people, including the Earp brothers: Vigil, Wyatt, and Morgan and Doc Holliday.

 In December 1879 Wyatt Earp and his two brothers with the brother’s respective wives, arrived in the new silver mining town of Tombstone.  Virgil Earp had been appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal for eastern Pima County in Prescott and had been directed to relocate to Tombstone to concentrate on suppressing a group of rustlers and stage and bank robbers known as the “Cochise County Cowboys” or just “The Cowboys”.

Wyatt had hoped to establish a stage line here, but upon discovering that there were already two in town, he acquired the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon. It was here that Wyatt met his third wife Josie, who remained with him until his death in 1929.

The notoriety and power of The Cowboys had spread from coast to coast. Well-known members of the group included Phin, Billy, and Ike of the Clanton family; Tom and Frank McLaury; William “Curly Bill” Brocius; “Buckskin Frank” Leslie; Johnny Ringo; and Pony Diehl. They used the Clanton’s ranch as their base.

Curly Bill Brocius, Ike and Billy Clanton

A few days after the Earps arrival in Tombstone in December 1879, one of Wyatt’s prized horses was stolen. He heard several times that the Clantons had his horse. Almost a year later he got a tip that it had been seen at the Clanton’s ranch near Charleston Arizona. Earp rode to Charleston with his friend, Doc Holliday, and saw the horse being ridden down a street and then placed in a corral. They stabled their horses at another corral and Wyatt telegraphed his brothers in Tombstone to send up ownership papers for the horse to Charleston. Wyatt testified in a later court hearing,

While I was waiting for the papers, Billy Clanton found out that I was in town and went and tried to take the horse out of the corral. I told him that he could not take him out, that it was my horse. After the papers came, he gave the horse up without the papers being served, and asked me if I had any more horses to lose.

During 1880 and 1881 there were numerous run-ins between the Earps, the Clayton family and other members of The Cowboys gang.  In October 1880, Wyatt Earp, now a U.S. Deputy Marshall, arrested William ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius, for the murder of Tombstone marshal Fred White.  When Brocius was found not guilty, tensions intensified.

Wyatt believed The Cowboys were involved in a bungled stagecoach robbery in March 1881. Two men on the stage were killed.  Ike Clanton publicly blamed Doc Holliday instead.  In July 1881, Curly Bill Brocius and gunfighter Johnny Ringo headed for New Mexico to kill two brothers, William and Isaac Haslett.  A few weeks earlier Cowboy members Bill Leonard and Harry Head died during an attempted robbery at the Haslett brothers’ general store.

Later that month, Curly Bill led an ambush against a Mexican trail herd at San Luis Pass. They killed six vaqueros and tortured eight. This ultimately led to the death of the patriarch of the Clanton family, Newton “Old Man” Clanton.

In 1879, Old Man Clanton had established a ranch near Goose Glats which was soon to be re-named Tombstone and did very well selling stolen beef to the miners and others that flocked into the area.  He was killed on August 12, 1881, when he and six other men began a journey herding stolen Mexican cattle through Guadalupe Canyon near the Mexican border.  Around dawn, after spending the first day and night on the trail, they were ambushed by Mexicans dispatched by Commandant Felipe Neri in what was later dubbed the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre. Five men were killed in the ambush.  Old Man Clanton, who was cooking breakfast when he was shot, fell dead into the cook fire.

On September 16, 1881, a little more than a month before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the local paper, The Tombstone Epitaph, wrote about the “Cow-boy Nuisance” in Arizona:

“It has come to pass in this county that life and personal property are unsafe; even in the town of Tombstone it seems as if one of the leading industries is to be destroyed. There is not a teamster to-day who is not in fear and dread of the cow-boys, or so-styled “rustlers” depriving him of his hard earnings… How must such men feel to be robbed by a hand of thieves and cutthroats, who take pride in announcing to the public that they are “rustlers!” Where is the teamsters protection? Can you find any officers who will follow, arrest and recover your property? If you can, I would like to see him… These chaps seem to have no difficulty in evading the law, while others, not inclined to work, daily join the band and they are increasing fast in numbers. Our town is filled with spies watching every move of the officers and imparting their information to their comrades… Men who come to examine different mines outside of town, when they learn how the cow-boys stand fellows up, do not wish to run such risks; they quietly take the road they came and get into civilization as soon as possible.”

Now, armed with all of this background, I will document the last few days that led up to “The Gunfight at the OK Corral” when I write the blog of our trip to Tombstone in two days.

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