Whenever I visit Tombstone, it takes me a while to get oriented. But when I see a town map, I understand why. Unlike most communities established in the Mormon Territory of Deseret, the streets aren’t aligned to the compass points and aren’t centered on an intersection named Central and Main. Instead, the town is 45° off the compass; there’s no Central Avenue, and Allen Street substitutes for Main Street. Given Tombstone’s distance from Salt Lake City and its rough and tumble history, I don’t suspect its citizens weren’t concerned about religions.
When I visit the “Town Too Tough to Die,” I consider the OK Corral its social and geographical heart. As I stand on the corner of 3rd Street and Allen and look the town over, I see the streets lined with one and two-story old wooden buildings. They’re either painted in bright colors or left in their natural dull brown finish. The only exception is a block southwest on 3rd Street. There you’ll see a large two-story brick building trimmed on each of its angles with white stones. On top is a cupola festooned with a widows-walk. The first time you see this pearl before the swine, you instantly know it must be important. It was—is. It’s the original Cochise County Courthouse.
It only took five years from the silver find to the OK Corral gunfight. In that brief time, the population swelled to 7,000, and robberies and lawlessness ran rampant. Wikipedia notes, “Except for the Earp–Clanton feud, which gave Tombstone an extremely bad press—from which it has no interest in recovering—citizens gladly accepted the proffered alternative.” The townspeople wanted a change. More importantly, miners had to make a two-day journey to Tucson to file a new claim. In 1881 two historical events happened; the shootout and the state legislature carved Cochise County out of Pima and made Tombstone its seat. The irony of those events and building the courthouse a block away from the Corral the next year isn’t lost on me.
By 1929 the silver played out, and Bisbee became the next boom town. The copper strike there required more men to work the mine. With a larger population, Bisbee won the county seat in an election, and the government offices moved 25 miles down the road. The old courthouse sat empty between 1931 and 1955. That’s when the local historical society took an interest in it. They began restoring and lobbying using local contributions until the Arizona legislature declared it an Arizona State Park.
In this week’s featured image, I call Courthouse Yard, I tried to capture the gingerbread and grandeur of the red-brick building, but I wanted to emphasize the wall surrounding the side yard. Inside those enclosures is where convicted murderers met justice at the gallows. The first hangings were the perpetrators of the Bisbee Massacre in 1883, while the last was the two men that killed a sheriff and deputy at the Wilson Ranch Shootout in 1899. The tall brick walls were designed to shield the gentle public from the gruesome hangings, but most of the town went inside and watched through the second-floor windows anyway. Incidentally, I like the foreboding clouds hanging above the courthouse.
You can see a larger version of Courthouse Yard on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we tell another thrilling tale from yesteryear in Tombstone.
Till next time
We’re planning to visit Temecula, California, wine country, in the upcoming weeks. I hope to bring home a bottle or two along with the pictures and stories we gather.