Ghost towns in Arizona are a dime a dozen. There are enough of them to fill a book. I know because I currently have five of them sitting on my shelves. The morphing of a city into a ghost town follows a familiar pattern. It starts with some loony prospector finding a valuable mineral—gold, silver, copper, diamonds, or another precious stone. News of the bonanza spreads quickly and lures a gaggle of opportunistic people. Half of them want to get rich by picking nuggets from the ground, and the rest want to pick them from someone’s pockets.
A new town springs from the ground like a children’s pop-up book. More people settled in the town and either got jobs at the mine or open shops that every mining community needed, like bars, gambling halls, and whore houses. Eventually—in a year, a decade, or a century—the gold (or whatever) pans out. The excitement of living in a mining town slowly dies, and its residents move on to the next boom town. Mother Nature reclaims the land without caretakers; all that remains is a pile of rotting wood, some foundations, and the eerie spirit of ghosts.
Of course, there are exceptions to my rule. In a handful of cases, when the mine goes bust, its residents look around and say to themselves, “This is a great place to live.” They find other sources of income. I call these places amusement communities. Examples that come to mind include Oatman, Jerome, Bisbee, Bagdad, Clifton, and Tombstone.
Of those locations, Tombstone is the odd duck. There are no gaping open pits to gawk at, historic hotels, or James Beard-worthy restaurants. I suspect that most of its visitors don’t even know about the silver mine. That’s because the silver vein wasn’t gigantic, and that’s how it got the name Goodenough Silver Mine. A gunfight between the Earps and the Clantons secured Tombstone’s historical spot. If it weren’t for that singular gang fight, Tombstone—’The town too tough to die’—would be a pile of splinters by now.
Don’t get me wrong; there is a list of exciting things to see in Tombstone. It was the Cochise County seat for a while, so there’s the old courthouse (with its gallows patio), the Crystal Palace back bar, the world’s largest dead rose bush, and the Birdcage theater should be on everyone’s checklist. Of course, if you have the time and money, you should see the show at the OK Coral, but realize that the actual gunfight was on Highway 80—behind the Coral.
I took this week’s photo on a cold, windy December afternoon. We had checked into our motel and started into town before the light faded. Standing in the middle of Allen Street (dirt, then paved until the street department poured dirt over it again—for authenticity) were four gunfighters dressed in black wearing badges. They tried to stay warm while they hawked visitors to the 3:00 pm show. I don’t know how successful they were because the streets were empty as people sheltered inside the bars. I titled this shot Gunfighters.
You can see a larger version of Gunfighters on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join Queen Anne and me throughout January as we show some of the exciting Tombstone scenes we found.
Till next time
Queen Anne and I are working on our calendar for the year. We’re putting together a list of places we’d like to visit and this year’s book topics. If you have any requests, let us know in the comments section.