Tombstone is a very unique place that lives in a constant balance of their historic past and modern day life. Originally founded by Ed Schieffelin, it is easy to find a broad mix of legend and truth and there is plenty of historic sights to spend hours touring. This has always been one of my favorite places to visit in this region of Arizona, since there is so much to do and see, especially if the old west is of interest to you.
How to get around:
I would suggest driving and parking at the intersection of Sixth Street and Allen Street, behind the old high school. From here you have easy access to all the main sights and shops and there is no fee. Parking can be crowded at times, but luckily almost all parking spots in the area can get you where you need to go. There is Uber if you aren’t driving yourself, but I would strongly recommend driving independently, since the roads are easy to navigate and you can be on your own schedule.
Where to stay:
There are a number of hotels in Tombstone to stay at when visiting. Most of the cheaper ones are behind Allen Street and towards the highway, but most of the cultural and historic options are near some of the sights and tend to be a more traditional boarding house or bed and breakfast. Most lodging is under $100 a night, but options in some of the nearby towns are cheaper if you are looking for opportunities to save.
What to do:
Tombstone is the epicenter of history of the old west, making a trip here both educational and exciting. Even though the time of cowboys was well over a hundred years ago, people still dress and act as though they are in the 1800s, making for a unique dynamic. There are plenty of activities for people of all ages, but some of the history of that time period may not be suited for a younger crowd.
If you are into history and oddities, check out the Bird Cage Theatre. When you walk in, there is so much to look at, from the massive painting on the wall, to the collections that fill the shelves. This place used to be a brothel and gambling hall, as well as a theatre, hence the bullet holes in the ceiling and numerous rooms. You can see the table where Doc Holliday, famous gunfighter and friend of Wyatt Earp, played cards against outlaw Johnny Ringo or another table that hasn’t been moved for over a hundred years or so. This building is one of the most well preserved in the area and certainly holds much information for all to understand the chaos of the time period.
Another big historical sight is OK Corral, which put Tombstone on the map, since it became one of the most famous shootouts of the Wild West.
This fight is often considered the climax of a series of events that led up to the death of several people, from both sides of the conflict. After moving to Tombstone, the Earp family, including Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan held positions of power as the local lawmen. Their time in service was not easy going, as it was often tainted by the difficulties presented by the Cowboys, a local outlaw gang. Part of the Cowboys included Tom and Frank McLaury, as well as Ike and Billy Clanton, who would rival the Earps and Doc Holliday, during the gunfight in 1881. Despite the name, the shootout actually took place behind C.S. Fly’s Photographic Studio, which is settled near the OK Corral and is now marked at the true location. As a result, Billy Clanton and the McLaurys were killed (Ike had fled from the fight) and Virgil, Morgan, and Doc were all harmed. Only Wyatt remained unscathed.
Afterwards, the tensions still remained and Virgil was shot by a Cowboy and maimed. Nearly four months later, Morgan was killed while playing billiards, which ultimately pushed Wyatt into leading a personal vendetta to extinguish the Cowboys. The posse created by Wyatt included some of his closest friends, such as Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, John “Texas Jack” Vermillion, Jack “Turkey Creek” Johnson, and others. The new lawman in Tombstone, Johnny Behan, immediately led a search to arrest the Earp Vendetta, but soon faded after they crossed into New Mexico Territory.
With this history in mind, you can visit the OK Corral and the Photographic Studio. You enter through a gift shop that is full of interesting artifacts and gifts (flavored crickets, anyone?) Leaving the building, you can see information and buildings on brothels in the city, as well as the life of corral and stable workers. Keep going and you will see the photography studio, and the building where Doc’s significant other, Kate, watched the entire shootout. Next to Fly’s is the area itself where the Clantons and McLaurys turned their guns against Doc Holliday and the Earps. If you are really lucky, you may be able to witness one of the gunfight reenactments, which in my opinion, are a little exaggerated but entertaining.
For more history outside of the legendary gunfight, the Tombstone Courthouse Historic State Park is also nearby. For a small admission cost, you can chronologically view the history of Tombstone, starting with Schieffelin and his hunt for mining wealth, which resulted in his friends saying “the only stone you will find out there is your own tombstone,” and the early history of the boomtown. There is plenty of history about some of the other happenings besides the shootout, including lynchings and the trying of outlaws. You can actually see the gallows where those proven guilty were hung, as well as other artifacts of the court.
Another small place to check out (even if you don’t go inside) is the Rose museum, which is home to the world’s largest rosebush. However, it is more like a tree and if you are lucky enough to catch it blooming, you can smell it blocks away. There are more artifacts about the history of the family and Tombstone inside if you still haven’t cured your history fix.
For a more interactive tour experience, check out the Good Enough Mine. These tour guides are the greatest. They tell the best jokes and are super helpful in guiding you around the massive mine that lugged out large amounts of silver. Learn what a honey pot is, as well as how they mined well beneath the town and the history of Tombstone’s mining industry. Dogs are allowed and its pretty cheap compared to many mine tours.
If you are on a budget, check out Boothill Graveyard, where many of the people in this area were buried. Here you will find the graves of Billy Clanton and the McLaurys, John Heath (a prominent rancher), China Mary, and Lester Moore. Some of the gravestones are rather uninteresting but other are punny or clever in their weird sadistic way. If you want to get a full experience, you can pay for a pamphlet that lists each grave, who is in it, and their cause of death, which can be exceptionally peculiar.
Last, but not least, I would certainly recommend eating or at least stopping by Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Here, you will find great food, but will have to stop and gawk at all the memorabilia lining the walls. If you are lucky, there will be a live singer to entertain you and the staff is super friendly and often dressed to match the time period Tombstone was booming. After you eat, check out the Shaft, which is a little underground gift shop with a few tunnels nearby, where a man nicknamed “The Swamper,” lived and dug his own shafts in attempt to find fortune. According to legend, he now haunts the area to make sure no one finds what he hid.
Overall, Tombstone is a fantastic place to discover the Wild West and the history surrounding it. I have come back not just once but somewhere around four times to delve into its engaging history and to learn more about the time period! I hope you enjoy your time there!