Tombstone, Arizona is the land of Wild West infamy and home to the famous shootout at OK Corral in 1881. And it’s worth spending some time in this fun, historic place to find out why this place is known as “The Town too Tough to Die.”
We lived in Tucson, Arizona for two years and each time we had family and friends in town, they all wanted to see Tombstone, about an hour’s drive away. We traveled back there again for a recent visit from San Diego and found it just much fun as we experienced on previous visits.
Rugged, mountainous Tombstone became a hotbed for miners in 1877. While there wasn’t “gold in them there hills,” there was silver, and plenty of it. Tombstone quickly attracted not only the miners, but gamblers, outlaws and other ne’er-do-wells,” all before the town had a sheriff or laws on the books.
But the stories and histories of these interesting folk make Tombstone the fascinating town it is today. And these are some of the fun things families can do together to make the trip a fun and memorable one.
GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL
Probably the most popular attraction in Tombstone, Arizona, is the OK Corral. Almost everyone has seen at least one Hollywood movie about the famous gunfight, starring Hollywood actors like Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell or Val Kilmer.
In the outdoor Streets of Tombstone Theater, daily reenactments of that gunfight pit Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp against the unlawful McLaurys and Clantons.
The narrator does a great job of explaining the events that led to the 30-second showdown that left three cowboys dead, and two of the Earp brothers wounded. He really builds the drama while recreating the old historical story.
OLD TOMBSTONE HISTORICAL TOUR
A guide dressed in period costume on a horse-drawn stagecoach leads visitors through time along the downtown historic district. The fully narrated 30 minute tour is the perfect way to introduce visitors to all there is to do and see and do in Tombstone. Our well-versed guide pointed out each Tombstone site and building with significant relevance to the town’s colorful past.
GHOSTS AND LEGENDS TOUR
For little ones with shorter attention spans, Ghosts and Legends is a fifteen minute self-guided tour narrated by the ghost of Doc Holliday. Visitors travel through the history of Tombstone’s storied past with some special effects thrown in for fun. Five rooms are decorated in 1880s period artifacts, and the exhibit includes an authentic stagecoach used in the movie of the same name, and an undertaker’s parlor.
TOMBSTONE COURTHOUSE STATE MUSEUM
The two-story Victorian structure built in 1882 once housed the offices of the Tombstone sheriff, courtroom and jail, which have now been reproduced.
Filled with the glitter and guns of those who tried to tame the west, the museum exhibits portray what Tombstone was like as a frontier silver mining boomtown. Displays include a tax license for operating a brothel and a replica of the gallows where seven men were hanged.
The Epitaph was not only Tombstone’s town newspaper; it has been the voice of the Old West since 1880 and is still published today. The publication chronicled that famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Tombstone’s Great Fire.
The free museum presents a video of how the newspaper was printed on the original 1880s press. Visitors can purchase a copy of one of its historical editions.
The age of your kids or grandkids will determine how much or what you tell them about this wild and wicked Victorian establishment that operated as a combination theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel from 1881 to 1889 during the height of the silver boom. Over 120 bullet holes remain in the building of this once raucous establishment.
A fascinating tour took us through the casino area and six rooms, many with untouched artifacts over 100 years old. And word has it, the place is haunted, and all types of paranormal activity have occurred here.
BIG NOSE KATE’S SALOON
A great place to cool off is Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. It’s a fun, rowdy cowboy bar with live music and drink specialties that include Sex in the Desert and Cowboy’s Dream. The saloon is very kid friendly with a special menu and drinks for the tykes. Food items are definitely old-west themed.
As a Tombstone memoir, old time photos can be taken with a variety of costumes to choose from including a cowboy or saloon girl added for fun. We’ve done this in the past with extended family, and believe it or not, we’ve talked about that photo op for years.
Everyone plays a role here in Tombstone and totally gets into character with their role, be it historical or hysterical. Whether acting as gunfighters in the street, cowgirls trick roping, or the town sheriff walking into the local saloon, these actors assume their role for all its worth.
And there is no charge to watch these “characters” in action. And those tumbleweeds rolling through the center of town? They’re the real deal!
1878 UNDERGROUND TOUR
Don a hard hat to tour the original silver mine that put Tombstone on the map. The original 1880s silver mine once owned by Tombstones founder, Ed Schieffelin, leads visitors 100 feet underground to the Good Enough Silver Mine.
The tour passes stunning mineral deposits and artifacts left by miners 130 years ago. For the adventurous with kids over the age of 10, a more arduous climb and crawl tour deeper into the mines is available.
Just on the outskirts of town and probably the Old West’s most famous cemetary, the dry, dusty Boot Hill Graveyard was named for the numerous gunfighters who died with their boots on. And it actually sits on a rocky, windswept hill.
Though other Tombstone residents are buried here, the attraction to this historic graveyard is the markers at the head of each grave with an epitaph naming the occupant, the date of death, and sometimes the cause of death.
A sign in one of Tombstone’s fun shops in the center of town reads, “There’s a little bit of cowboy and cowgirl in each of us.” Maybe this is why people come to Tombstone, to capture that adventurous, free pioneer spirit that exists in each of us. I only know something about that town keeps drawing us back.