TOMBSTONE, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- It must have been unnerving: pushing through hostile territory searching for any promising signs through washes and gullies. Searching for anything that would confirm his hunch. The lure of gold is a powerful motivator.
Tombstone founder Ed Schieffelin was a prospector. A man on a quest to find his mother lode, he followed his hunch and it would lead him to great wealth and a place in Arizona history.
At just 17, when he set out from his Oregon home, Schieffelin left in 1865, carrying little with him but the notion of becoming a prospector. By the time he was 30, he had bounced around the west prospecting through Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and California. All prior stops had proven fruitless in his search.
Southern Arizona was relatively unexplored in 1877, mostly because it was a dangerous place. Chiricahua Apache called the place their home, their great leader, Cochise, laid to rest in a secret burial site among the boulders of their stronghold in Dragoon Mountains.
Others tried to mine the area before. The area Schieffelin was eyeing was close to the cabin of German-born miner Frederick Brunckow, who sunk a mine there almost 20 years earlier in 1858.
Brunckow’s efforts were rewarded with treachery and murder when he, along with two others, were killed there in 1860.
The site of Brunckow’s cabin holds the honor of being known as the “bloodiest” cabin site in Arizona history; between the years 1860 and 1890 no fewer than 21 people came to their end there. Still, it seems Schieffelin had a similar notion to Brunckow and took up searching the area for promising ore.
Finding work at Camp Huachuca, Schieffelin took a job as a scout at the newly established post in 1877. Camp Huachuca came about as an effort to tame the wild area under the watchful eye of the U.S. Army.
Situated west of the San Pedro River at the base of the Huachuca Mountains, Schieffelin worked for the Army, getting paid to explore the same area he was interested in mining. He used his spare time to investigate possible ore deposits east of the San Pedro River.
Other scouts at Camp Huachuca said he was nuts wandering so far west among the hostiles on his search for rich stones. His friend and fellow scout Al Sieber told Schieffelin, “The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.”
Sieber would be right in the long run.
Leaving his job as a scout, Schieffelin scoured the desert until he discovered promising silver ore in an area known as Goose Flats.
He took several samples north to find his brother Al who was working at a mine in northeastern Arizona.
When two brothers showed the samples to an expert assayer, Richard Gird, the top sample assayed at $2,000 a ton. Ed Schieffelin, flat broke, needed money to work his discovery. When Gird offered himself as an expert partner with grubstake cash to start mining, a handshake sealed a partnership between the three men.
The trio called their enterprise the Tombstone Gold and Silver Mining Company and shared in the profits of three mines: the Lucky Cuss, the Contention and the Tough Nut. It wasn’t long before the word got out and the rush was on.
A tent town popped up at Goose Flats as prospectors flooded into the area. March of 1879 saw it became official when the town adopted Tombstone as its name.
About the same time Tombstone was founded, Ed Schieffelin and his brother sold their interest in the mines. He was now as rich as he ever imagined he could be. He married and moved to California. Still, he must have missed his prospecting adventures as he took up his prospectors' tools and tried his luck again, this time up in Oregon.
It was there, in Oregon, where Schieffelin met his end. He was found dead on the floor of his miner's cabin. He was only 49 years old. At his request, he asked that he be buried in the place where he made his fortune, Tombstone, dressed in his old prospector's clothing with his pick and canteen in the coffin with him.
Less than a decade after its founding, the population of Tombstone exploded to over 16,000 people. It became the fastest-growing boom town in the Southwest, drawing merchants, professionals, entrepreneurs, along with their families and elite tastes.
Cultured and refined, the cosmopolitan life in Tombstone thrived. The town had an opera house, theater, dance halls, bowling alley, two banks, three newspapers, an ice house, gambling halls and more than 100 saloons.
The New York Times proclaimed Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” The longest-running poker game in history took place in the basement of the Bird Cage. It started in 1881 and ran all day, every day, for a solid eight years, five months and three days. Buy-in was $1,000.
Only five years after Ed Schieffelin found his mother lode – 32 bullets fired in about 30 seconds on an October day in 1881 are remembered as the most famous shootout in the American West’s history. The violent episode gained worldwide attention and forever placed the town among legendary place names of the American West.
The good times didn't last forever. In 1886, mining operations came to a halt when operators hit water. The town's population dropped to under 700 by the turn of the century. Still, the town survived.
These days, Tombstone's main business is tourism, calling itself "the town too tough to die." Tombstone thrives with about 450,000 visitors each year, stopping by to roam streets and see the historic buildings, some with bullet holes still visible from its rough and tumble past!