On our way back from California, as we crossed into Arizona, we saw a sign for the old historic town of Tombstone. As soon as we saw that sign my wife said…”we must stop and check it out”. You need to know that my wife’s favorite western movie is Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Sam Elliot as Virgil Earp, Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Many other good actors also appeared in this film, but the movie centered around these four as they were the principal historical figures of the famous gun fight at the OK Corral. If you have not seen this film it is highly recommended.
Promotional picture of Kurt Russell’s Tombstone movie. Can you tell who is who in this picture based on the names listed above? One of my favorite quotes in this movie was spoke by Russell…”tell them I am coming and hell is coming with me!”
The town of Tombstone was founded in 1879 by Ed Schieffelin in Arizona territory. Tombstone has the distinction of being the last wide-open frontier boomtown in the old American West. Mining was the source of wealth in Tombstone, the town boomed from 1877 to 1890. Here you see my wife at the west entrance of Tombstone. Yes, in the background you can see the famous OK Corral, more on that later.
No doubt that the Tombstone movie gave this old town a good boost. Tombstone survives today due to its many visitors attracted by the history, OK Corral gunfight reenactments and museums showcasing the towns short but rich history. In this museum, amongst many other items we found the saddle Kurt Russell rode in the movie Tombstone. Ok, not that historic, but hey.
The site of the famous OK Corral gunfight where the Earp’s and Doc Holliday killed Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Bill Clanton. The gunfight was the result of a personal, family and political feud. This display is actually very well done. Press a button and you get the whole story over loudspeakers. The props move according to the gunfight sequence. Unfortunately we were 20 minutes late to the live re-enactment of the gunfight; hope you get there on time when you visit.
In one of the many small museums we found a good size collection of old photographs documenting every day life in Tombstone. I liked this one in particular; the 1904 Tombstone football team after they beat the University of Arizona team. That must have been something to celebrate then. Check the protective equipment; wonder if they were better off without so much protection as I would think you would need to factor it will also hurt you when you hit your opponent.
Doc Holliday’s girlfriend; Big Nose Kate. Well, Hollywood does not always pick actors that look like the individuals they play. Big Nose Kate was a lot better looking in the movie than in this period photo. Oh well, the past is always romanticized a great deal isn’t it? Brief account of Kate’s role in this plaque.
So what is one option when you retire after practicing dentistry for several decades? Join the Tombstone period re-enactment players is one option. That is exactly what this gentleman did; we spoke to this gentleman briefly and told us that he was a dentist for many years and after retiring decided to join the re-enactment group in Tombstone. He loves it and wished he did it sooner.
Tombstone Sherriff outside Big Nose Kates Saloon. Not sure if he liked his picture taken, could not see his right hand and wonder if it was on his gun ready to shoot me at the same time I did…hmmm
Inside Big Nose Kate Saloon. According to the last US census, Tombstone has about 1,504 residents and 419 families residing in the city. While the main source of income for Tombstone is tourism (about 450 thousand visitors per year) many of those in the bars were local. Many of them looked like they belong in the town’s heyday. Having a beer in this historic place was fun.
East Allen Street, pretty much like it must have look like in its heyday. Unfortunately, Tombstone saw many fires throughout its history and many of the original buildings (were rebuilt; some more than twice). Regardless, the feel of the town is like going back to a time romanticized by Hollywood. This street is closed to vehicles and is the main tourist attraction in the town. There are many gift shops, eateries and saloons along its three blocks.
Inside the Crystal Palace; originally known as the Golden Eagle Brewing Co. it was one of the early Tombstone saloons. During the massive 1881 fire, this building was partially damaged. After quick repairs, the saloon changed its name the The Crystal Palace. It quickly became the premier saloon with fine dining in addition to serving the choicest brands of wines, liquors and cigars. Gambling and live music were also part of the action every night of the week. Remember, Tombstone was a very prosperous mining town and money was abundant.
The actual roulettes that were in use during the Earp’s stay in Tombstone.
A wider view of the Crystal Palace Saloon. The bar is a beautiful mahogany art work. Unfortunately, after prohibition the bar closed and for many years it was vacant. During prohibition it was used as a Greyhound station, a warehouse and a movie theater. Soon after prohibition was lifted it reopened as a saloon again. By then the mahogany bar was no longer there and could not be found. Fortunately, in 1963, the Historic Tombstone Adventures, an organization formed to preserve and restore many of the town’s landmarks purchased the property. The found drawings of the original bar design and reproduced it to it finest details.
This is a picture of the original bar. As you can see when comparing the two; they look identical. Cheers to successful restoration efforts!
Two streets from East Allen Street you find the entrance to one of the many mines in Tombstone. Silver was the primary precious metal mined in this area. By 1981, cumulative silver production in this area totaled 490 million troy ounces (15 million Kg. or 33 million lb.). That is a lot of silver. We were told that mining has not stopped and tourism is the main source of income in town.
The famous Oriental Saloon. This is the saloon that Wyatt Earp and his brothers took over and made a good deal of money overseeing gambling operations. Like to take a peek inside? Click HERE for a brief video I found in the web.
Drinking and gambling were not all of the activities miners and visitors had available.
Some things never change!
We hope you enjoy this brief tour of Tombstone. We wished we arrived earlier as many of the stores were closed by the time we arrived. However, we really enjoyed our visit and highly recommend you stop by if in the area.