This morning I hopped in our little Fiat and drove over to explore the old Wild West town of Tombstone. Mary Margaret opted out, wanting to relax a bit more while doing another load of laundry. Undaunted, I pushed on by myself.
I ended up spending all day in Tombstone as there were lots of old buildings, some of them originals dating back to the 1880s, which have been turned into museums. The town had been gutted a couple of times during its heydays by fire. Thus, most of the buildings are reconstructions, trying to show the modern-day tourists what it looked like way back when.
Back in the early 1880s there were fancy French and Italian restaurants, along with several Chinese and Mexican restaurants, chop houses and upscale “Continental” establishments. The town boasted a bowling alley, four churches (Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist), an ice house, a school, the Schieffelin Hall opera house, two banks, three newspapers, and an ice cream parlor. It also had over 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls and too many brothels to count. They and the town were all situated among and on top of a number of small, hardscrabble mines. The Arizona Telephone Company began installing poles and lines for the city’s first telephone service in 1881.
While there, I learned that the town heydays lasted only until around 1886 when a fire destroyed the main pumping system that kept the mines open, plus the price of silver plummeted to less than 90 cents an ounce. With the mines closed, there was no wealth to support businesses resulting in the population leaving, seeking opportunities elsewhere. Almost overnight the booming mining town became close to a ghost town. It barely survived, mostly because it remained the Cochise Country seat until 1929, when it was voted to move the official offices to Bisbee.
I took lots of pictures while there and will post a few of them today and many more over the next few days. There are just too many to post in one blog. Plus, in a previous blog, I had promised to finish the history of the days leading up to the famous “Gunfight at the OK Corral”.
If you will recall, there was a history of bad blood between the Clantons and the members of the outlaw gang known as The Cowboys (who made the Clanton ranch their base) and the Earps. With this in mind, here is the chronology of events:
October 13, 1881: Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp and his brother Wyatt arrested Frank Stilwell and Pete Spence for a stagecoach robbery. Stilwell and Spence had just been acquitted for lack of evidence on similar charges filed at the local level. Since Stilwell and Spence were friends with members of The Cowboy gang, gang members saw the new arrest as evidence that Stilwell and Spence were being unfairly harassed and targeted by the Earps for any stage robbery. They let the Earps know they could expect retaliation.
October 17, 1881: Morgan Earp was named as a special police officer in Tombstone by his brother, police chief Virgil Earp.
October 21, 1881: Morgan Earp hurried to Tucson to get Doc Holliday after trouble was brewing in Tombstone. He found Doc with his girlfriend, “Big Nose” Kate, at the San Augustin Feast and Fair in Levin Park.
October 22, 1881: Morgan Earp accompanied Doc Holliday on a freight train stock car as they returned to Tombstone from Tucson.
October 24, 1881: An editorial in the Tombstone Nugget predicted violence just two days before the West’s most celebrated gunfight: “The arming of oneself in a peaceful community, as every well-organized community is supposed to be, and walking about like a moving arsenal, is highly ridiculous and, as events demonstrate, exceedingly dangerous.”
October 25, 1881: Members of The Cowboys gang, Ike and brother Billy Clanton with brothers Frank and Tom McLaury, arrived in Tombstone. They planned to enjoy some time in the town and involved themselves in drinking and gambling through the night. At some point during the night, Ike got into an altercation with Doc Holliday at the Alhambra Saloon.
October 26, 1881: A series of events led to a date with destiny. Throughout the morning, residents of Tombstone warned the Earps brothers and Doc Holliday that Ike Clanton had been making threats for hours. They were told he intended to kill them and was brandishing a rifle after drinking all night. Chief of Police Virgil Earp found Ike on the street and before anything could happen, hit him over the head with his pistol. He and Special Officer Morgan Earp drug Ike off to court where he was fined $27.50. As Wyatt Earp left the courtroom, Tom McLaury approached him where another verbal altercation took place. It resulted much the same way: Wyatt drew his pistol and hit Tom over the head with it.
Later in the afternoon, the Clantons and McLaury were seen in Spangenberg’s gun shop loading their belts with ammunition. In an apparent attempt to disarm the cowboys, Virgil gathered together his brothers Wyatt and Morgan along with friend Doc Holliday for a march to the O.K. Corral. They discovered the cowboys were armed and a gunfight broke out. When the smoke cleared, Billy Clanton, 19, and both Frank, 33, and Tom McLaury, 28, were dead. In the middle of the fight Ike Clanton had run away. Morgan Earp had a serious wound through his shoulder. Virgil Earp was shot in the leg. “Doc” Holliday had been grazed on his hip by a bullet. Wyatt was unscathed. The gunfight lasted less than 30 seconds.
Who actually started the shooting has been a subject of much speculation.