The Town Too Tough to Die

Tombstone, AZ

January 21, 2001

Wandering the desert plains of southern Arizona presents a different perspective on this country and the people, as I would find while wandering the small towns, feeding my constant curiosity about the history of the land. In one of the few states where, even today, walking around with a pistol stuck in your belt is so commonplace so as not to draw attention, a history of violence might be expected. Although our generation can, without much difficulty, still bring forth the names of Barry Goldwater or John McCains as Arizona's favorite sons, I was looking for names as familiar to the American public as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Two names that crystallized themselves in the minds of the nation for all times, for an act that took less then 30 seconds. An incident immortalized in song and movies. The names of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday having first been recorded in the dime novels of the late 1800s. It all happened in a dustbowl town just 25 miles away. The present day tourist town of Tombstone Arizona is a far cry from the rough and tumble mining town it was in the late 1800s. Today the main street is cluttered with trendy restaurants and gift shops. A slow moving stage coach pulled by a team of sedate horses moves through the tangle of motorcycles and cars as the driver works his way around the blocks while reciting a monologue of the history of the buildings being passed. Many of the original buildings have somehow survived in the town that brags of being "The town too tough to die". The Bird Cage Theater is one of the original buildings that still stands. The bartender recites the time and dates of the various incidents as he points out ancient bullet holes in the walls and bar. Old memorabilia and artifacts decorate the walls among photographs of some of its more notable ladies. They built a building around the OK corral. Not so much as a glimpse can be had without proper payment at the door. Yet for all its tourist glitter and money making schemes, the true Tombstone is still there, and we were there to find it. In setting the stage for the "Gunfight at the OK Corral", the incident that forever launched Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday into the history books, a bit of history is in order. The Tombstone of 1881 was not the sedate small community it is today. Silver had been found in the nearby mountains and the rush had been on for some time. Upwards of 20,000 people, mostly men, worked and played in and around the town. Prior to the first silver strike, the town was under the control of the ranchers known as cowboys, and later as the wild bunch. They worked all week on the range and then after getting paid headed to town to let off a little steam. The Apache Indians were still uncontrolled, living in the surrounding hills and a brush with them often meant someone would die. Handguns were as common on the hip as boots on the feet. Whisky and the women who served it were plentiful. But the town quickly found itself in the throws of change with the finding of silver. Thousands of miners and prospectors flocked to the town seeking their fortunes. The cowboys found themselves outnumbered but not outgunned. Terrorizing the local residents became a part of the Saturday nights activities. The county had a sheriff who worked out of the town but he was no match for the wild ones. The town, finally having had enough, passed a series of city ordinances including prohibitions against being disorderly or being in possession of a firearm within the town limit without a permit. To enforce these ordinances the town hired a part time prospector, and part time gambler who had made a reputation for himself in Dodge City where he had served as town marshal.

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