WHEN MOST PEOPLE hear the name Tombstone, Arizona, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Gunfight at the OK Corral.
But Tombstone’s reputation had as much to do with Boothill Cemetery, and silver mining as anything else.
A Vein of Silver Ore
Tombstone was founded in 1879 by Ed Schieffelin, a US Army scout. He spent a couple of years visiting the year searching for ore samples.
The site wasn’t far from the Santa Rita Mines, where several superintendents had been killed by Indians,.
One of Schieffelin’s friends warned him, “The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.”
But Schieffelin discovered a vein of silver ore, filed a claim, and named his stake, Tombstone.
Explosive Economic Growth
At its founding, Tombstone consisted of a few dozen shacks and tents, and a population of about 100.
Two years later, the population of the silver mining town grew to more than seven-thousand, and then to 14,000 by 1879.
This explosive growth attracted numerous gambling houses and saloons – about 110 of them – and a Red Light District that rivaled New Orleans’ Basin Street and San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.
The economy was so strong, Tombstone was also able to accommodate three newspapers, two banks, several churches, an opera house, the glitzy Grand Hotel, and even a bowling alley.
Boomtown Days Numbered
Between 1877 and 1890, Tombstone’s mines produced from $25 million to $85 million in silver bullion.
But its boomtown days were numbered.
A series of fires wiped out a number of businesses, as well as the pumping plant.
Then it was discovered, in the mid 1880s, that the silver mines had penetrated the water table.
Subsequent pumping and mining operations, at that point, made it too expensive to continue.
Soon afterwards, the price of silver dropped to ninety-cents an ounce, and never reached its previous level. Workers were laid off. Others left Tombstone behind, as well.
Too Tough To Die
Tombstone, with its motto of The Town Too Tough To Die, is still alive, but smaller.
Old Tucson is a combination movie lot, and an amusement park.
The population today stands at about 1,400, and its major source of income is tourism, rather than silver mining.