Let’s take a little trip down memory lane to Tombstone Arizona circa 2004.
My mom’s parents, fondly known to me as Grammy and Papa, used to fly south for the winter to Mesa, Arizona to escape the cold and wet Oregon winters. When I was 10, my mom and I took a trip down to the desert to join them. We played in the pool, took walks in the cool twilight after the sun went down, went to markets filled with the neatest Native American goods and saw infinite kinds of cacti. Those things were great to see, but mostly I remember our trip to Tombstone.
Down in southern Arizona, almost to Mexico, there is a fold in time. Tombstone was established in 1879 by a young miner who struck silver and started what would be the largest productive silver district in Arizona. Miners all over the country heard about the underground riches around Tombstone and within 7 years the population exploded to 14,000. The town had a theater, countless saloons, brothels, stables, a wine house and even a bowling alley. Many of these buildings, like the Bird Cage Theater, look the exact same as they did over 100 years ago. Stepping into them is like stepping back in time.
Tombstone is known as “The Town Too Tough To Die” – mostly because the town survived 2 fires in 2 years, not to mention the fires that broke out in the pump houses at the mines. The town also earned this nickname in partial thanks to the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday, who were the heroes in what is arguably the most infamous gunfight of the Old American West and also one of my favorite childhood memories:
The Gunfight at the OK Corral
When rogue cowboy Billy Clanton and his minions Tom and Frank McLaury attempted to rob a stagecoach carrying $26,000 of silver bullion (that’s $635,386 in today’s money), Marshal Sheriff Virgil Earp pursued the cowboys with his brothers Wyatt and Morgan.
After 7 months of cat and mouse, the cowboys and the law had themselves a standoff.
On October 26th 1881, Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers shot and killed all three rogue cowboys.
Law and order was restored to the town, at least as much as the “wildest town in the west” could stand. All of the lawmen survived the gunfight, but again the law crumbled in the wild town of Tombstone and both Virgil and Morgan Earp were shot and killed. Virgil was ambushed on the streets by assailants shooting from second-story windows and Morgan was shot in the back while playing billiards. Both men died within just 6 months of surviving the OK Corral shootout. All of the men who shot Virgil and Morgan were identified, but were released due to alibis and technicalities of the law.
Wyatt Earp found this to be unacceptable and, along with Doc Holliday, led a posse seeking justice for his brothers. They eventually tracked down and killed four of the men responsible for the deaths of Virgil and Morgan. After exacting his revenge, Doc Holliday became very sick with tuberculosis in Colorado and eventually died of it in 1887. Wyatt Earp continued to explore much of the west before eventually settling down in Los Angeles, growing old and dying in his home in 1929.
You can see all of the history of the shooting at The OK Corral, like this re-enactment, and even shake hands with the actors who portray these legends of The Old West. Tombstone is chock-full of history – everywhere you look, it is like looking into the past. I was thrilled to return and see the gunfight again, and also to share the special childhood memory with my husband. Maybe someday in the (very distant) future we’ll get to share it with our own kids!