Gallows at Tombstone Courthouse

Tombstone actually started out with the illustrious name of Goose Flats. Construction started here because Ed Schieffelin found a mother lode of silver nearby in 1877. Goose Flats was the nearest level, buildable space to the mines. When Schieffelin was first prospecting in this area, friends had warned him of the Apaches and that all he'd ever find would be his own tombstone. The miners who built that first shantytown on Goose Flats remembered this story and renamed the place "Tombstone."

By 1881, the population of Tombstone had reached 10,000 and rivaled Prescott (the territorial capital) and Tucson (the county seat). The Earp brothers were working in the County Sheriff's office, Doc Holliday was working the poker tables, and their feud with the Clanton brothers spilled over into the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Later that year, a fire broke out and burned most of the town to the ground. But Tombstone was rebuilt almost immediately with a new Opera House, a meeting hall for the Masons and a new theater.

In late 1881, the Arizona Legislature established Cochise County and placed the county seat at Tombstone. In 1882, the Cochise County Courthouse was built at a cost approaching $50,000. In those years, Tombstone had a reputation as "the Wildest Town in the West." The markings on the gravestones at Boot Hill went right along with that reputation ("Here lies Lester Moore, 4 slugs from a .44, no Les, no more"). But when the local folks elected a cattleman named John Slaughter into the Sheriff's office, he virtually cleaned out all the outlaws.

Water started to seep into the silver shafts in 1885 and pumps were installed so that work could go on but no pump was good enough. By 1886, the shafts were all flooded up to the 600-foot level and the main ore body was inundated. By that time, $37 million worth of silver had been pulled from the ground around Tombstone.

As usual, when the mines closed down, most of the townspeople left pretty quickly. Tombstone remained as the county seat until it was outvoted by Bisbee in 1929. These days, what's left of Tombstone survives as a tourist destination and frontier movie set. The Wildest Town in the West essentially rose and fell in the short span of eight years.