Three Men Hurled Into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment”
Tombstone Epitaph Oct 27th, 1881
Such were the words that headed the local newspaper in Tombstone, AZ the day after one of the most famous gunfights in wild west history. It happened at 3PM at the OK Corral between outlaw brothers Tom & Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, and the Earp brothers (Virgil, Morgan & Wyatt), aided by Doc Holliday and resulted in 3 deaths (the Earps & Doc walked away). But the story was not always so well known. In fact the town of Tombstone was mostly known for its silver and as one of the last wide-open wild western frontiers. Established in 1879 as a mining town it prospered and grew from a mere 100 people to ~17,000 by the mid 1880′s. It became your typical rabble trouble wild west town with over 110 saloons and 14 gambling halls at its peak dotted by brothels, miners and no-good cowboys.
But the gunfight at the OK Corral is what we remember it for, at least those of us who ever saw the movie. That fight, as dramatic as it was, remained mostly local news until 1931 when Stuart Lake published the rather fictional biography “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal“. Then retelling of retelling propelled the story and the names involved to infamy.
You all know I love these old frontier towns, even the ones that are clearly just tourist attractions. Tombstone is all about the 1880′s and the history of the personalities that lived in that era. The downtown area has retained all its period character and hosts tons of old-style museums, cowboys in western outfits and wild west sights. Oh yeah, my kinda place!
We headed down there yesterday afternoon with buddies Jil&Tom to take in the atmosphere and witness the re-enactment of the fight. We took in lunch at the Crystal Palace Saloon (so-so food, but nice atmosphere) strolled over to the Bird Cage Theatre (known as ”the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast” and containing one of the only remaining authentic bars & interiors in town…plus over 120 original bullet holes!) and bought the $10 tickets for the gunfight show at 2PM (the show was somewhat drawn-out, but entertaining). At this point we’d already managed to laze away several hours just milling around town so we didn’t make the visit to the Tombstone Epitaph (the oldest continuously published newspaper in AZ!) or the Silver Mine tour, both of which I’ve heard are worth the effort. And that’s just a small selection of all there is to see and do here.
But what is really the most fun is just walking around, talking to some of the “local characters” and enjoying the atmosphere. We met 3 Canadians travelling cross-country with their horses (one of their goals was to ride through Tombstone), heard about the “dames” of the night (girls cost $25 in those days, the equivalent of ~$1000 today!) and chatted with Wyatt Earp (well, his modern-day version anyway).
Yeah it’s a total tourist trap, but it’s totally worth it. A step back in time and a truly entertaining day!