Monday, March 8, 2010

Made by Silver and A Gunfight

"Three Men Hurled into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment." So read the subhead to the October 27, 1881 edition of The Tombstone Epitaph.

"Stormy as were the early days of Tombstone, nothing ever occurred equal to the event of yesterday" was the opening sentence of the account of what has become known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

But to begin with the founding of Tombstone, we visited the Tombstone Courthouse.

When Ed Schieffelin left Camp Huachuca to prospect, his fellow soldiers told him that he'd find his tombstone rather than silver. Thus, in 1877 Schieffelin named his first claim the Tombstone, and rumors of rich strikes made a boomtown of the settlement that adopted this name.

After cashing in on the Arizona bonanza and traveling around the country, Schieffelin went back to the mining life he knew so well. He prospected in Alaska in 1882 and later in the Pacific Northwest.

He died in Oregon in 1897 at the age of 49. At his request, he was returned to Tombstone for burial. He was afforded a grand funeral at Schieffelin Hall May 23, 1897.

They gave him the largest funeral in the town's history. Saloons, stores and offices closed and people came from all over the country to take a last look at the man who had found a Mountain of Silver worth $85,000,000.

As we walked past the old buildings down the dirt streets, we could imagine an earlier time. The town of Tombstone has maintained the character of the Wild West.

The stagecoach only added to the feel of the West as it carried visitors through the town.

Listening to the sounds of boots on the wooden sidewalks, we could imagine what it must have sounded like as townsfolk ran toward the site where the accusations and threats among eight men would culminate in the gunfight at the OK Corral.

There is much controversy about the circumstances leading up to the gunfight and the sequence of events in the shootout itself.

But there is no controversy about the outcome. The shooting began quickly. Of the four men accused of rustling cattle, Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton were killed; Ike Clanton had dashed from the scene.

Of the four lawmen, Morgan Earp and Virgil Earp had been wounded and Doc Holliday grazed across the side. Wyatt Earp remained the only participant standing, untouched by lead.

We understood how Tombstone had earned the nickname "The Town too Tough to Die." The lawlessness and violence nearly had President Arthur declaring martial law and sending in military troops to restore order.

Some of the signage of the shops still maintains a lighter approach to announcing their trade.

Our last stop was Tombstone's only historic landmark in its original state: The Bird Cage Theater. Its name is derived from the 14 cages suspended from the ceiling of the main hall. The “ladies of the evening” were on display in these cages so the men could make their selections. The popular song refrain from the era: “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage” was about the ladies of the Bird Cage Theater. The lobby has this poster of the belly dancer Fatima, the stage name for the exotic dancer Farida Mazar Spyropoulos. She later went by the name "Little Egypt."

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