Writing on the Treehouse Wall
In 1877 prospector Ed Schieffelin was staying at Camp Huachuca while searching the nearby hills for riches in gold and silver. The entire region was littered with the graves of the many white victims who had fallen prey to bands of renegade Indians. So when the locals heard of Schieffelin venturing into such dangerous territory they told him the only thing he would find would be his tombstone. But in February of 1878, Schieffelins gamble paid off when he discovered several mines including the Lucky Cuss, Tough Nut, and other reputable mines. And remembering the solemn warning he received, he named the town Tombstone.
From the years 1877 to 1890 Tombstone mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion (about $1.03 billion to $2.2 billion today), producing more silver than any other district in Arizona. In less than 7 years the population of the little boomtown grew from 100 people to over 14,000, and was therefore chosen as the county seat of the newly formed Cochise County.
The value of gold and silver mined in tombstone varies greatly. It is estimated that Tombstone has yielded around 32 million troy ounces. Most of this being before the mid-1880’s when the silver mines hit the water table.
With the water covering all of their silver ore deposits, many mine managers traveled to San Francisco to obtain the Cornish engine. The Cornish engine was used in the Comstock Lode and was the only machine capable of pumping water form mines below 400 feet. The engines were implemented in the Contention and Grand Central mines. By 1884 mining in Tombstone was back in full swing, largely due to the fact that the massive Cornish engines were not only draining the Contention and the Grand Central mines but many of the surrounding mines as well.
Tombstone’s status as a boomtown came to an end in May of 1886 when a fire swept through the Grand Central hoist and pumping plant. With the Cornish engine destroyed and the price of silver dropping to 90 cents an ounce, many people packed up and left town to find much needed work. The population dwindled to a low of about 800 in the early 20th century but has since stabilized to about 1,500 permanent residents. Tombstone’s economy is now based on tourism instead of mining, although there are still a few active mines in the area.
So if you get a chance to be in beautiful southern Arizona don’t forget to stop by Tombstone and check out this great attraction. With many locals dressed the part the whole town comes alive to give you an old west experience you won’t soon forget.
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