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A Town Too Tough To Die



A depiction of Tombstone, Arizona during its heyday.

By Raymond Fernandez

All of us– well, most of us– grew up on a diet of Westerns. Dime novels, TV shows, classic movies, all portrayed a wild-and-woolly American frontier full of tough people, harsh desert landscapes, shady saloons and tin-star justice. What draws so many people to Tombstone, Arizona, “The Town Too Tough to Die,” is the fact that here, in the yellowed pages of our history, is the real story more wild and more interesting, than anything Hollywood could create.

Tombstone Arizona was founded in 1879 and is infamous for its Wild West history. Known as the town “to tough to die” is a glimpse into how the west was won.

I have been to Tombstone often, including Bisbee.  Each time it is always a pleasant visit and each visit the towns felt ‘authentic’. The town still has wooden walkways, you can almost hear the clanging of the cowboys’ spurs on the dirt roads. 

There are three main areas of Tombstone that I would recommend.

The Birdcage Theatre. It operated intermittently from December 1881 to 1894. When the silver mines closed, the theater was also closed [1892]. This structure is one of the very few original buildings left from the early 1880s. It was known to house many plays for different stage performers who traveled by horse and stagecoach.  For those eight years, the theater operated continuously ~ 24 hours a day ~ 365 days a year. Legend has it that 26 people were killed int eh theater during its reputed years as one of the wildest and meanest place in tombstone. Over 140 bullet holes remain in the building

The O.K. Corral. Horse rustlers and bandits from the countryside often came to town, and shootings were frequent. James, Virgil, and Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone on December 1, 1879, when the town was mostly composed of tents as living quarters, a few saloons and other buildings, and the mines. Though not universally liked by the townspeople,  the Earp brothers tended to protect the interests of the town’s business owners and residents. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a thirty-second shootout between lawmen led by Virgil Earp and members of a loosely organized group of outlaws called the Cowboys that occurred at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881. 

The last place to visit is The Oriental Saloon and Theatre. This Historic 140 year old saloon is at the Corner of 5th and Allen Street in Tombstone. On July 22, 1880, the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper reported on the opening of the newest and grandest saloon in town, calling the Oriental  “the most elegantly furnished saloon this side of the Golden Gate.” It was intended to be a high-class establishment catering to high-rollers, but frontier violence found its way there too: Tombstone diarist George W. Parsons called the Oriental “a regular slaughterhouse,” and wrote that “some of the boys will have to be boxed and sent home yet if they don’t behave themselves. Faro, whiskey, and bad women will beat anyone.”

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