Imagine the clatter of hooves and wagon wheels on a dusty boulevard, as the wind rustles and roils the red soil beneath. Imagine beer mugs clinking behind wooden shutters and the whoop of men beneath wide-brimmed cowboy hats. This is the Wild West as we know from the movies, and this is the Wild West that used to be Tombstone, Arizona.
Tombstone was established by the prospector, Ed Schieffelin, in 1877. Where he was warned that he would find only his grave in the barrens land, Ed found instead a lucrative silver mine. The settlement soon flourished into a town with brothels, banks, churches, and more than a hundred saloons, witnessing in its time some of the most wicked gunfights between outlaws and the townsfolk. As one of the last boomtowns on the American frontier, Tombstone today is a popular destination for those looking to get a taste of life on the dangerous outskirts. Here, we show you the best ways to experience the fascinating heritage preserved in this old western town.
Read on to find out the best things to do in Tombstone, AZ:
1. O.K Corral
Most of Tombstone’ s attractions can be found on East Allen Street, three blocks of sheltered boardwalk that run through the heart of the town. The first stop is O.K Corral, infamously associated with the shootout between law keepers and members of the outlaw group, the Cowboys, following a long-simmering feud. Although the vicious gunfight did not actually occur at the stables, this mattered little to the public who saw it as a representation of life in the treacherous old west.
The current O.K Corral is a preserved site that presents dramatic reenactments of the shootout. Visitors can explore the grounds of the stables as they were back in the 1800s, and visit the Historama Theater next door for an overview of Tombstone’s history. For the price of your ticket, you also receive a reprint of the Epitaph, Arizona’s oldest newspaper, with original reports of the fight!
Address: 326 East Allen Street, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
Website: O.K Corral
2. Bird Cage Theater
Of all the entertainment joints in 1800s Tombstone, the most notorious of all is undoubtedly the Bird Cage Theatre. An unassuming theater on the front, the place also doubled as a gambling hall, a saloon, and a brothel that drew lusty men from far and wide. Word goes that Bird Cage was named for the cages suspended from its ceilings, where ladies of the night kept their customers entertained 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Yet it was not all fun and games at this rowdy joint. Visitors can see for themselves the bullet holes that still riddle the flaking ceilings and musty walls. A self-guided tour takes you through the original furnishings of the old theater, with mannequins adding a spooky presence to the scene. For the braver souls, sign up for a ghost tour that starts every evening at 6.15pm. Who knows, you just might meet a patron of the wild and wicked Bird Cage Theatre.
Bird Cage Theater
Address: 535 East Allen Street, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
Website: Bird Cage Theatre
3. Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
The Tombstone Courthouse was once the administrative center of Cochise County. Built in traditional red-brick Victorian style, the elegant courthouse was one of the largest buildings in Arizona at the time it was erected. Its two floors housed the offices of the sheriff, recorder, treasurer, and the Board of Supervisors, as well as courtrooms and a jail.
The courthouse was designated a state park in 1959. Visitors can get a glimpse of the place in its former glory days, and key historic moments in Tombstone through artifacts and renderings at the museum. There is also a replica of the gallows in the courtyard where convicted murderers met their sorry end.
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
Address: 223 East Toughnut Street, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
4. Boothill Graveyard
Boothill Graveyard was Tombstone’s first cemetery, built in 1879. While it was known simply as the Old Cemetery back then, it acquired the name Boothill in the 1920s in reference to those who died “with their boots on”, that is, in gunfighting action. The cemetery fell into disrepair after the mining downturn, as people departed from the settlement. Locals claim that it was John Clum, former mayor and editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, who motivated the clean-up process when he returned to visit the grave of his wife Mary and could not find her resting place. Of the ill-fated that rest at Boothill, notable names include China Mary, the undisputed queen of Tombstone’s Chinese neighborhood, and Dutch Annie, queen of a different sort – the Red Light District.
Address: 408 North Hwy 80, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
5. Gleeson Jail
The Gleeson Jail is technically in the ghost town of Gleeson, 26km (16.2 mi) east of Tombstone. Even so, it is such an important symbol of the region’s lawlessness in that historical period, that it has to make the list. The jail was built in 1910. Many of the region’s most wanted have passed through its cells, from petty bootleggers to the most abominable murderers, and only the boldest sheriffs dared guard the post.
As Gleeson faded as a town following the closure of the mines, the jail too lost its purpose. It was not till 2008 that several locals restored the place so as to preserve this integral part of Gleeson’s history. Since then, it has been drawing past residents and curious visitors alike to marvel at this 106 years old slammer.
Address: Gleeson Road, East of Tombstone, Tombstone, AZ
Website: Gleeson Jail
6. Big Iron Shooting Gallery
If all this history has you riled up and ready to for some action, the Big Iron Shooting Gallery offers visitors a chance to load up a real Colt 45 caliber cowboy gun. Admittedly, firing wax bullets at a metal target is not quite the same as engaging in an epic duel to the death. Still, challenging your friends and family to a shootout to see who is the sharper marksman can be an exhilarating experience. To up the excitement, try firing two pistols simultaneously as Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp, Tombstone’s best gunfighters, would. As any old western fans know, a true blue gunslinger must have a lightning fast draw and a repertoire of trick shots.
Big Iron Shooting Gallery
Address: 510 East Allen Street, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
Website: Big Iron Shooting Gallery
7. Gunfighter and ghost tours
Shootings, lynchings, hangings and more, there were plenty of ways to die a violent death in 19th century Tombstone. Armed with EM meters and infrared thermometers, ardent ghost hunters can embark on a quest with Gunfighter and Ghost Tours to investigate the most haunted sites in town. Stops include the courthouse gallows, China Mary’s Opium Den, and the former General Hospital. As night falls and the streets empty, familiar sights in the day become shrouded in a chilling aura. Be warned, this tour is not for the faint-hearted.
Gunfighter and ghost tours
Address: Tour starts on 5th and Allen Street in front of the Oriental Salon
Website: Gunfighter and Ghost Tours
8. The Good Enough Mine Tours
It is easy to forget amidst all these excitement of being in the actual wild west, but Tombstone was first and foremost a mining town. With The Good Enough Mine Tours, you can actually venture half a mile deep into a once-operational silver mine. Visitors crawl through twisting passages and descend rope ladders into narrow shafts, where the cool subterranean air can be a reprieve from the unforgiving Arizonian heat above. Occasionally, the passages open up into cavernous stopes where miners used to dig for the precious silver ores.
Every tour is led by a guide with thorough knowledge of the local history and geology. Strap on your helmets and fasten your safety vests. A unique foray into Tombstone’s mining past awaits.
The Good Enough Mine Tours
Address: 435 East Toughnut Street, 85638 Tombstone, AZ
Website: The Good Enough Mine Tours
Saddle up for the Wild Wild West
Tombstone Arizona may be the resurrected version of a ghost town, but many of its sights and structures have been preserved for more than a century. The Wild West comes to life in this bygone mining town. Where felons use to run amok in the untamed territory, and miners used to toil for buried treasure, you can now see for yourself what life was like on the American Frontier.
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