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Reliving The Past In The Wild West Town Of Tombstone
By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

They saunter into the scene, four abreast and finely dressed in Stockton coats and wide-brimmed Stetsons. Three of them clutch six shooters, the other a shotgun. Beads of sweat trickle down their cheeks over taut, tense muscles as they proceed towards their armed targets. Their steely eyes remain riveted. Leather-lined faces are grim. The pressure is mounting. Over the next thirty seconds, both groups erupt with stormy fusillade. And after the gun-smoke clears, one man flees, one walks away, and the others aren’t as fortunate.

For us, there’s no better place to get in touch with your cowboy spirit than the western town of Tombstone, where this famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, is re-enacted every day. Although more than a century has passed since the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday battled it out with the Clanton outlaws, we’re enthralled by this realistic revival that helps keep America’s Wild West alive.

In spite of all its past bloodshed, this historical hamlet has long since been deemed a town ‘Too Tough To Die.’ It acquired its symbolic appellation when prospector, Ed Scheiffelin, was told that all he would discover by mining the nearby hills would be Apache attacks followed by his tombstone. Ironically, instead of being riddled by silver, his pockets were lined with a mother lode of the glittering ore. The rush was soon on and, wanting to keep the legend alive, Ed decided that ‘Tombstone’ would be a befitting title. Although the mining has long since dwindled in these parts, the commemoration of its historical roots continues to live on today.

We stroll the dusty boardwalks where spurs replace sandals and lace blends with leather. Gals gussied up in crinolines and corsets flirt permissively with bow-legged wranglers. Weary-eyed mules share hitching posts with palominos, and their weather-worn riders look like the real McCoy. It’s a setting that John Wayne, Gene Autry, or the Cisco Kid would feel right at home in and, while dressed in city duds, we feel out of place at this 1800’s fashion fair.

As well as attractions like the shoot ‘em up, action-packed, Helldorado, Tombstone’s main artery of Allen Street is clogged with historical haunts that remind us of its raucous past. We exchange our modern day automobile comfort for an authentic stagecoach jaunt, pulled by a pack of Clydesdales, and are ushered back to an unhurried era. We’re informed that these wagon-wheeled buggies, were the primary mode of transportation in the 1800’s, and passengers often traveled for hundreds of miles with only fifteen inches of seating space to claim. “Hardly like the modern day pleasures,” Brent chuckles, as we jostle in time to the clip-clop of the horses’ hoofs. “and our modern day road rage would be a walk in the park compared to attacks from vigilantes and Indians.”

We rumble past the Epitaph newspaper, where its original printing press is displayed, and slow down to check out some hard rock drilling, a process that was once profitable for Ed Scheflien and his prospector pals. The stylish Cochise County Courthouse is also worth a Kodak moment. Officers of the law had manned the well-used jail here during more turbulent times, and today, its rehabilitated courtroom shares space with historical exhibits and thousands of artifacts that tell tales of long ago.

Spirited beverages once flowed freely from nearly a hundred saloons in this ‘hey day’ town and the still standing Crystal Palace was known to be one of its finest. Due to its sophisticated décor, polished service, and reputation for honest gambling, it was the favorite hangout for Tombstone’s more prominent citizens. While the distinguished sipped fine liqueurs out of sparkling crystal, the hearty-party crowd conjugated down the street at the wildest and wickedest cabaret for miles around. The Bird Cage Theatre acquired its signature from the fourteen suspended crib-like compartments where ladies for hire proudly displayed their goods. Poker games were another drawing card to this lusty den of iniquity and the bullet holes that pit its walls remind us that it was a hot spot for a number of gunfights as well.

Just down the street, in the old Tombstone Hotel, is Big Nose Kate’s, another popular watering hole where barkeeps still sling beers. It was named in honor of Tombstone’s first lady of the night, a flamboyant and promiscuous lady who turned out to be the perfect mate for the high rolling inebriate, Doc Holliday.

Emporiums and cowboy clothiers offering 1800’s reproductions also flank the main street. As well as holsters, spurs, and chaps for the chaps, I discover there’s enough satin to tempt any gal who has a passion for historical romance.

Tombstone Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 995
Tombstone, Arizona 85638

Tombstone Office of Tourism
P.O. Box 917, Tombstone, AZ 85638

Jane and Brent freelance for a number of publications

Jane is president of BC Association Of Travel Writers and can be contacted at


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