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Tombstone is the one town you should visit for a taste of the old Wild West

Taking a ride in a stagecoach is popular with all the family
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If you want the best experience of what the old west was like, then a visit to Tombstone, 70 miles (112 kms) south-east of Tucson is essential. Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin. He went searching in this empty landscape in Southern Arizona for whatever he could find. Soldiers at the nearby Army camp would tell him that the only thing he would find out in the wilds was his own tombstone. So when Ed Schieffelin did find silver, he called his first mine The Tombstone Mine. It was around this that the town of Tombstone grew up.


It became a very rough Wild West town, attracting other prospectors, outlaws, cowboys, good-time girls, innkeepers, shopkeepers, and anyone else looking for some action out west. At one time there were as many as 20,000 people living there, with over 100 bars to cater to them. By the 1930s, though, when the mines had all been worked out, Tombstone dwindled to nothing, with only about 150 inhabitants.


Today's Tombstone population lives largely on tourism, by keeping the old west Tombstone alive. The main attraction is that almost all the buildings are still real, despite the town having suffered two devastating fires. The second was in 1882, after which the town was rebuilt, but many buildings date from those days. The Bird Cage Theatre was built in 1881 by Al Schieffelin, the brother of Ed Schieffelin. It was more than just a theater, though, incorporating a bar, a gambling room, and a brothel. Today you can tour the theater and hear some of the stories of those times when one newspaper described it as 'the wildest, wickedest night spot'.


The event which really makes Tombstone memorable, though, was something that was over in less than half a minute: the Gunfight at the OK Corral. This is where myths and realities collide. The fight didn't take place at the OK Corral but nearby in Fremont Street - where you can see a plaque commemorating the event. The town's Marshall, Virgil Earp, aided by his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, with Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday, confronted some suspected lawbreakers and outlaw cowboys led by Billy Clanton. The resulting brief gun battle became one of the most famous gunfights in the history of the west. Today you can see a re-enactment of the gunfight staged daily in the OK Corral itself, but be sure to buy tickets as soon as you arrive in Tombstone, as the event is popular.


The staged gunfight is not 100% historically accurate, and to find out what really happened you should visit the Tombstone County Court Museum. Another essential visit is to Boot Hill Cemetery, where Billy Clanton and other participants in the gunfight are buried. Also in Tombstone you can take a ride in a stagecoach, enjoy visiting the many shops to buy western souvenirs, and have a drink or a meal in one of the several saloons that exist on the main street. Tombstone is a lot of fun.

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