Ed Scieffelin discovered silver in Arizona in 1878. A town soon developed near to where the silver was found on a high plateau between the Dragoon and Whetstone mountains. Its name came from the common saying that prospectors in the Apache area were in danger of finding their tombstones instead of gold and silver.

Within two years the population grew to 5,000. This included Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, James Earp, Doc Holliday and John Behan. In 1881 Wells Spicer wrote that "Tombstone has two dance halls, a dozen gambling places and more than 20 saloons. Still, there is hope, for I know of two Bibles in town." Later that year Tombstone was the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

In 20 years it is estimated that the area yielded some $40m in silver and $3m in gold. The mines were abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century and Tombstone became a ghost town.

Primary Sources

(1) Paul Trachtman, The Gunfighters (1974)

From the outset Tombstone promised to be as lusty a town as any in the West. When Wyatt Earp and his brothers first set eyes on it in December of 1879, it was 10 months old, a dust-blown collection of tents and shanties perched on a high plateau between the Dragoon and Whetstone mountains.

On the day the Earps hit town,the main street swarmed with prospectors buying tools, merchants setting up new shops, and carpenters erecting storefronts, complete with board sidewalks in front of each entrance. Confidence men loitered about, waiting to tempt strangers with offers of town lots that had no legal title or of shares in mines that had no ore. No doubt they viewed the three long-legged, mustachioed Earps with expectation. Dressed in black frock coats and stiff-brimmed hats, politely helping their wives down from the trail-worn wagons, the brothers looked as respectable as deacons.

(2) John Gosper, U.S. Secretary of State (September, 1881)

The cowboy element at times very fully predominates, and the officers of the law are either unable or unwilling to control this class of outlaws, sometimes being governed by fear, at other times by a hope of reward. At Tombstone, the county seat of Cochise County, I conferred with the Sheriff upon the subject of breaking up these bands of outlaws, and I am sorry to say he gave me but little hope of being able in his department to cope with the power of the cowboys. He represented to me that the Deputy U.S. Marshal, resident of Tombstone, and the city Marshal for the same, seemed unwilling to heartily cooperate with him in capturing and bringing to justice these outlaws.

In conversation with the Deputy US Marshal, Mr. Earp, I found precisely the same spirit of complaint existing against Mr. Behan (the Sheriff) and his deputies. Many of the very best law-abiding and peace-loving citizens have no confidence in the willingness of the civil officers to pursue and bring to justice that element of outlawry so largely disturbing the sense of security, and so often committing highway robbery and smaller thefts. The opinion in Tombstone and elsewhere in that part of the Territory is quite prevalent that the civil officers are quite largely in league with the leaders of this disturbing and dangerous element.

Something must be done, and that right early, or very grave results will follow. If is an open disgrace to American liberty and the peace and security of her citizens, that such a slate of affairs should exist.

(3) Editor of the Tombstone Nugget (October, 1881)

We live mostly in canvas houses up here and when lunatics like those who fired so promiscuously the other night are on the rampage, it ain't safe, anyhow!

(4) Wells Spicer, district attorney, letter written in 1881.

Tombstone has two dance halls, a dozen gambling places and more than 20 saloons. Still, there is hope, for I know of two Bibles in town.

(5) Ford County Globe (26th October, 1881)

A Tombstone, Arizona, dispatch says: Four cowboys, Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury, have been parading the town for several days drinking heavily and making themselves obnoxious. On Wednesday last the city marshal Virgil Earp arrested Ike Clanton. Soon after his release the four met the marshal, his brother Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and a citizen named (John H. "Doc") Holliday. The marshal ordered them to give up their weapons, when a fight commenced. About thirty shots were fired rapidly. Both the McLaury boys were killed. Bill Clanton was mortally wounded, dying soon after. Ike was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Wyatt Earp was slightly wounded, and the others were unhurt.

(6) Ford County Globe (8th November, 1881)

The Earp boys, who had the fight with the cowboys, at Tombstone, Arizona, which resulted in the killing of three cow boys, have been arrested by the friends of the men who were killed. The Earp boys were acting as peace officers, and from all reports were justified in doing what they did. Wyatt Earp was formerly city marshal of Dodge City, and a paper setting forth his good qualities was circulated last week and signed by all the prominent citizens.

(7) Dodge City Times (8th December, 1881)

Wyatt Earp, formerly a city marshal in this city, was recently under trial before a magistrate in Tombstone, Arizona, charged with homicide. Great interest was taken in trial which lasted four weeks. From the voluminous testimony taken the Justice makes a long review of the case and discharges the defendant. The following is an extract from his decision: "In view of all the facts and circumstances of the case; considering the threats made the character and position of the parties, and the tragical results accomplished in manner and form as they were, with all surrounding influences bearing upon the res gestae of the affair, I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides; that it was a necessary act done m the discharge of an official duty."

(8) Judge Wells Spicer, statement at the trial of Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, James Earp and Doc Holliday (1881)

When we consider the condition of affairs incidental to a frontier country, the lawlessness and disregard for human life; the existence of a law-defying element in our midst; the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed; the supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country, and kept away capital and enterprise, and considering the many threats that have been made against the Earps. I can attach no criminality to his unwise act.