Menu Close

A Little Tombstone AZ History

Tombstone is More Than a Title From a Movie!

Ed Schieffelin

In 1877, the City of Tombstone was founded by Ed Schieffelin. At the time, there was a scouting voyage in Tombstone against the Chiricahua (chir-i-cow-uh) Apaches. Ed was part of this mission and was staying at a place called Camp Huachuca (wa-chu-ka) . During his stay, he would leave the camp to look for rocks within the wilderness despite the fact that fellow soldiers at his camp warned him not to.

The soldiers told him that he wouldn’t find stones out in the wilderness and would only eventually find his own tombstone. Fortunately, for Ed, he did not find his tombstone, but he did find something: silver.

Taking the advice his fellow soldiers gave him, his very first mine was named The Tombstone.

Word quickly spread about his silver strike. It wasn’t long before homesteaders, cowboys, speculators, prospectors, lawyers, business people and gunmen headed to the area. Known as Goose Flats back then, a town site was situated near the mines in 1879 and was named Tombstone due to the first claim of silver mining by Ed Schiefflelin.

The popular in Tombstone increased to approximately 7,500 by the mid-1880s. However, this figure only consisted of the white males over the age of 21 that were registered vote. The figure that consists of women, children and other ethnicities, the population was at least 15,000 and possibly as much as 20,000. Tombstone was considered to be between San Francisco and St. Louis as the fastest populating city. Tombstone was home to more than 100 saloons, a multitude of eateries, a huge red-light district, a larger popular of Chinese, newspapers, churches, schools, and one of the original Arizona community swimming pools, which is still being used today.

The Bird Cage Theatre

The town also housed a few theaters, with the most prominent of those theaters being the Bird Cage Theatre as well as Schieffelin Hall. The Bird Cage Theatre was more than just a theater and was a gambling hall, saloon as well as a brothel. They saw that any woman with self-respect wouldn’t step foot inside the Bird Cage Theatre. It operated 24/7/265 and opened in 1881 on Christmas and closed in 1889. The New York Times said that this theater was the wickedest and wildest night spot between the Barbary Coast and Basin Street, which isn’t far from the truth since 140 alleged bullet holes can still be seen in the ceiling and the walls. So, where did the name come from? Reportedly, the Bird Café featured compartments, similar to that of a cage, that hung from the ceiling. “Ladies of the evening” kept their customer entertained in these suspended cages. Legend says that this was the muse for a song, “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage,” one of the most popular songs in the early 1900s.

On December 25, 1881, William “Billy” Hutchinson and his wife Lottie opened the Bird Cage Theatre. It got its name from the 14 boxes that were referred to as “cages”. These cages are located on the second story balconies on both sides of the main hall. Each box had drapes that could be drawn while the prostitutes amused their cliental. Also found in the main hall is a stage where live performances were held and below was an orchestra pit.

Many famous and notorious legends frequented the Bird Cage. Performers such as Lillian Russell, Lotta Crabtree, and Eddie Foy Sr. have performed on the stage along with Fatima, the belly dancer. Others like the Clantons, Earps, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and even Pete Spence, laid down many silver coins for a shot of whiskey. The basement was set up as a poker room and where the story is told that the longest-running poker game in history was played there. This game was played 24 hours, and apparently lasted eight years, five months, three days, with over 10 million dollars exchanging hands. Some of the participants were Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst, with the house getting 10 percent of the profits. The game ended when the ground water seeped into the mines, flooding many of the buildings. In 1889 the town went bust, along with the Bird Cage Theatre and the building had to be closed.

In 1934, the Bird Cage Theatre’s new owners opened the place back up for show. They found everything in the building the exact way it was left, even the poker table. Today the Bird Cage stands as a tourist attraction and a visual look into its colorful past. With its violent history, there is no short supply of ghostly activity reported there. Several ghost hunting teams such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Ghost Lab have investigated the place with incredible results.

The Schieffelin Hall

“Respectable” individuals in the town went to Schieffelin Hall for entertainment. In June of 1881, the Schieffelin Hall was opened and built by Al, the brother of Ed Schieffelin.

It was used as more than a theater, as it was also a recital hall as well as a meeting venue for citizens of Tombstone. In the Southwest U.S., it is this building that is considered the largest adobe structure standing.

Wyatt and Morgan Earp were both at a performance at the Schieffelin Hall when Morgan was shot dead by the bullet of an assassin. This building is still used today by civic groups and city government.

Tombstone Fire

Downtown Tombstone after 1882 fire destroyed the town's business corridor for the second time in two years.

On June 22, 1881 there was two large fires that went through the city. Reportedly, one of the fires was at the Arcade Saloon and began when a whiskey barrel was ignited by a cigar. The fire, which occurred in June of 1881, destroyed more than 60 downtown businesses. The town was able to rebuild and continue to grow.

However, just short of a year later on May 26, 1882, Tombstone's second great fire started in the restroom of the Tivoli Saloon, on the south side of Allen Street, between Fourth and Fifth. The damages from this great blaze were estimated at $500,000; almost three times the amount of the first fire on June 22, 1881.

Boothill Graveyard

Boothill Graveyard was also a huge part of Tombstone. Founded in 1879, Boothill Graveyard was used until the new cemetery – New Tombstone City Cemetery – opened in 1884. After the new cemetery opened and began being used, Boothill Graveyard was called “The Old Cemetery.” The newer cemetery is still being used today. Stories say that Boothill received its name from the fact that the individuals there had died unexpectedly or violently and were buried boots intact. However, Boothill was in fact named after the pioneer cemetery in Dodge City hopefully helping tourism in the late 1920s. Many individuals from Tombstone are in this cemetery, including victims from a shootout that took place in 1881 between the Cowboys and Earps on Fremont Street. For years, though, the cemetery was neglected. It was taken over by the desert and gravestones were removed by vandals. Some began to clean up The Old Cemetery in the 1920s and doing research so that the grave markers could be properly replaced.


O.K. Corral

In a Fateful 30 Seconds ...

On the cold afternoon of October 26, 1881, four men in long black coats strode purposefully down the dusty Fremont Street. Around the corner, in a narrow vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral, waited six cowboys. In a fateful thirty seconds, nearly thirty shots were fired at close range. The gunbattle between the Earps – lead by Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and their friend, Doc Holliday – and the Clanton-McLaury gang left Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers dead and Virgil, Morgan, and Doc wounded.

How the O.K. Corral Got Its Name 

(Text taken from the historic display in the O.K. Corral Office Museum.)
The phrase “O.K.”, used to name Tombstone, Arizona’s historic O.K. Corral, had its origins in the Pennsylvania Dutch country of New York State in the mid-1800s. Today, the term appears in many languages, and has become one of the most used phrases in the world. It is even used in computer programs to indicate agreement. Not bad for an idiomatic expression that is over 150 years old and almost disappeared from use.
Originally spelled with periods, this term outlived most similar abbreviations of the era owing to its use in President Martin Van Buren’s 1839 campaign for reelection. During the presidential campaign, candidate Martin Van Buren was supported by a political club in his home town of Old Kinderhook originally called the “Oll Korrect” club. The name was later changed to “Old Kinderhook” and then shortened to “O.K.”. Van Buren was an O.K. Club member, and his supporters used the term as a general descriptive term for their candidate who they saw as “above average” or “outstanding”. The abbreviation proved eminently suitable for political slogans and campaign pins, although Van Buren lost the election.
During the 1830s there was a humoristic fashion in Boston newspapers to reduce a phrase to initials and supply an explanation in parentheses. Sometimes the abbreviations were deliberately misspelled to add to the humor. Opposition newspapers used O.K. in March 1839 as an abbreviation for all correct, the joke being that neither the O nor the K was correct.
Here is how one unhappy opposition newspaper of the time described Van Buren’s O.K. campaign pins:
“frightful letters …… significant of the birth-place of Martin Van Buren, Old Kinderhook, as also the rallying word of the Democracy of the late election, ”all correct” …. Those who wear them should bear in mind that it will require their most strenuous exertions …… to make all things O.K.”
The term then seems to have largely disappeared from use until some time after the Civil War. Eventually it came back into general use, and was thus chosen by John Montgomery to describe his “O.K. Corral, Livery and Feed Stable” which he founded in Tombstone, Arizona in February, 1879.
How should O.K. be written? John Montgomery always used “O.K.” on his Corral’s 1880s signs. Today, however, there are many versions: two capital letters without periods, two capital letters with periods, o-k-a-y, or two small letters with periods. There is also the question of what part of speech O.K. represents: a noun, a verb, an interjection, a complete sentence, or part of another sentence? In fact, the term “O.K.” goes beyond the boundaries of any single grammatical category to encompass a huge range of expressions.

Tombstone Historic Courthouse

Cochise County was created by a vote of the citizens in 1881 with Tombstone serving as its county seat.  The fire of 1881 destroyed the first courthouse in Tombstone. 

When the new Mining Exchange Building was completed, Tombstone officials chose the first floor as the new Courtroom as they were looking for something as fire resistant as adobe.   The Earp/Holliday hearing about the gunfight as held there on Fremont Street in late 1881.   However plans were underway to build a new permanent Courthouse.  A kiln was built and Chinese brink makers were brought to Tombstone.  The cornerstone as laid on August 11, 1882 with great ceremony.   “Offerings were deposited in a cavity beneath the cornerstone: coins, cigars, specimens of ore, poems and essays.”  The imposing building was completed in 1883. 

The two-story courthouse, designed in the Victorian style, was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture, continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

The City of Tombstone leased the courthouse building until the County transferred it to the City on January 5, 1942.

The City leased the building to the Tombstone Restoration Commission.  In 1952, the Tombstone Restoration Commission began fundraising efforts to restore and repair the old Courthouse.  By 1957, the first floor was finished and necessary repairs done on the second floor and the Restoration Commission moved their museum in with some rooms designated for community use.  In 1958 the Restoration Commission began efforts to turn the Courthouse into a state supported and funded museum for completion of the second floor and to ensure the building would be cared for and maintained. 

Mrs. Edna Landin, President of the Tombstone Restoration Commission, brought the proposal of making the Tombstone Courthouse a State Park to the attention of the State Parks Board shortly after the legislation passed creating Arizona State Parks. In April of 1958, Mrs. Landin and several members of the Tombstone Restoration Commission attended a meeting of the Parks Board in Tubac to advise the Board that the City of Tombstone would donate the property, if the Parks Board accepted it as a State Park.

The State Parks Board tentatively accepted the Tombstone Courthouse as a State Park pending acceptable agreement between the City of Tombstone, the Tombstone Restoration Commission, and the Parks Board. During the process of transferring the property, it was learned that the City of Tombstone did not own the land under the Courthouse as that land had originally been leased to the County for 99 years. The agreement was finalized and the City transferred the courthouse, its contents and the remainder of the 99-year lease on the property to the Board on August 1, 1959. Because of the restoration and rehabilitation work done by the Tombstone Restoration Commission, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park was ready to open to the public and was Arizona’s first operational State Park. Dell Lamb was the first Park Manager.

The Tombstone Restoration Commission transferred ownership of a lot across the street and east of the Courthouse to the Park Board on April 4, 1960. This lot has been continually been used for visitor parking. The old Law Offices located across the street and north of the Courthouse were acquired by State Parks on January 12, 1973. State Parks negotiated a lease for the property under the Courthouse from the mining company in 1981. The Agency continued to lease the property until it was purchased on January 25, 1994. The last parcel acquired for the Park was the Ed Schieffelin Monument site located 3 miles north and west of the City. This property was donated to State Parks on December 31, 2003.


How Allen Street Got It's Name

John Pie Allen

Allen Street was named for John B. Allen (John Brackett “Pie” Allen).  

John Brackett "Pie" Allen (October 22, 1818 – June 13, 1899) was an American prospector, businessman, and politician. Unsuccessful in his efforts as a prospector, he earned his nickname baking pies for settlers and soldiers in Arizona Territory. His business success made him a prominent territorial citizen and he served three terms in the Arizona Territorial Legislature, two terms as Mayor of Tucson, Arizona Territory, and was appointed Arizona Territorial Treasurer for six years.

John B. Allen was rechristened "Pie" Allen based on his successful Tucson-area based pie business. He came to Arizona in 1857, attempting to make a fortune in gold in Yuma. He eventually came to Tucson and sold dried apple pies to the rough characters of the western town. With his proceeds, he later purchased a large ranch and alfalfa farm in Maricopa Wells and built a fine store in Tombstone. As his fame and fortune grew, he was elected to the Territorial Legislature and as Territorial Treasurer from 1867 to 1872 he balanced the books. As Adjutant General, he became known as "General Pie." He filled two terms as Mayor of Tucson. He was also known for his building projects and concern for forward looking projects.

In 1899, Pie was dying of cancer and many citizens of Tucson hosted a honorary dinner for him. After dinner and pie, Pie was presented with a gift purchased by Zeckendorf and Company. It was understood that the man who had lived in the rough frontier would recognize his fate -- the gift was his already engraved tombstone and it was received well. He died within the month and was buried in a Tucson cemetery. When the city changed its laws and ordered the removal of bodies from cemeteries within the city limits, Pie's remains were not claimed by family members, nor was he buried in one of the fraternal sections. Pie was apparently not moved at all. Tucson archaeologist Homer Thiel says that only his sunken headstone was moved to county sections at the rear of Evergreen Cemetery along with the rest of the unclaimed.

Allen Street - Then and Now


Allen Street, Tombstone AZ  1929


Today, 1600+ residents call the city of Tombstone home. The climate is wonderful thanks to the Cochise County’s high desert. Each one of these year-round residents believe in heritage and history preservation of their authentic Wild West Town. 

Three Blocks of History!
Come For The History - Stay For the Fun!