Virgil’s Six Gun


Content courtesy of True West Magazine – check out the original post here


Virgil’s Sixgun At the Old West’s best-known gunfight, Virgil Earp may have used this state-of-the-art sixgun.

Virgil Earp
Virgil Earp

Although the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral is arguably the best known and most written about shootout in the Old West, little is known about exactly which guns were used by the combatants. The only firearms that can be identified with any certainty are the two 7½-inch barreled, .44-40 Colt Single Action Army revolvers used by Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury. These Frontier Six-Shooters were retrieved at the site, right after the fight and were recorded. Identification of any other firearms, such as Wyatt Earp’s sixgun, the shotgun used by Doc Holliday, or the Winchester rifle fired by Tom McLaury, is strictly speculative. There is one gun however, at least in this firearms student’s mind, as well as that of a number of OK Corral aficionados, that quite probably saw action during this legendary fracas. That weapon is Virgil Earp’s sixgun.

Virgil was known to have preferred, and often carried, a Smith & Wesson (S&W) New Model No. 3 revolver, in .44 S&W Russian caliber. It is quite likely that it was this same shooting iron that he had tucked in his waistband when he, as Tombstone’s chief of police and a deputy U.S. marshal, confronted the “cowboys,” and moments later fired during the gunfight.

Although there were several variations of the New Model No. 3 produced—including the Target, Turkish and the Frontier models—based on production dates of the various versions, it would have been the standard model Single Action that Virgil owned at the time of the OK Corral fight. Introduced in 1878, S&W’s New Model No. 3 represented the last of the company’s No. 3 series, and marked the pinnacle of their top-break single-action design. Also referred to in S&W’s 1883 catalog as the “Army Model,” the sixgun retained much of the basic profile of the earlier American, Russian and Schofield revolvers, but with a less-pronounced hump (sometimes called the “knuckle”) at the rear top of the back strap of the grip, along with a redesigned, rounded butt shape (considered by many as the most comfortable large-frame single-action grip style ever produced). While it continued the use of the earlier S&W-style, circular or “bow type” trigger guard, the distinctive hooked or spurred trigger guard, as found on the Second and Third Model Russians, was offered as an option. Another factory offering was an optional attachable shoulder stock.

Although no one knows with any certainty which gun Virgil Earp (above) carried during the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral on October 26, 1881, he likely relied on his S&W New Model No. 3, single-action revolver in .44 Russian caliber. Chambered for a number of cartridges, it was eventually offered in more calibers than any other S&W top-break model, including .44 Henry rimfire, .32-40, .320, .38 S&W, .44 S&W American, .45 Schofield, .45 Webley, .450 revolver and more. – Courtesy Rock Island Auction Co. –
Although no one knows with any certainty which gun Virgil Earp (above) carried during the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral on October 26, 1881, he likely relied on his S&W New Model No. 3, single-action revolver in .44 Russian caliber. Chambered for a number of cartridges, it was eventually offered in more calibers than any other S&W top-break model, including .44 Henry rimfire, .32-44, .320, .38 S&W, .44 S&W American, .45 Schofield, .45 Webley, .450 revolver and more.
– Courtesy Rock Island Auction Co. –

Internally however, the new Model No. 3 incorporated a number of improved parts, such as a rebounding hammer with a manual half-cock notch (standard on all New Models except those with factory target sights), an improved cartridge extractor mechanism, a shorter barrel extractor housing, and a better cylinder retention mode, which omitted the need for a separate cylinder catch and retaining screw.

This state-of-the-art automatic cartridge ejector (when opened fully) S&W featured the traditional fluted cylinder, and factory finish was either blued or nickel-plated. Barrel lengths varied from a short 3½ inches up to 8 inches, with the 6½-inch barrel being standard. Weighing in at around 2 pounds, 8 ounces with the 6½-inch tube, grips of checkered hard rubber with the S&W monogram logo, or walnut, were standard. With a total of 35,796 standard model No. 3 Single Actions manufactured up until 1912, all of the New Model No. 3’s frames were turned out by 1898, which qualifies them as antiques. However, back when Virgil faced the cowboys that blustery day of October 26, 1881, if he was packing his S&W New Model No. 3, he would have been confident in the knowledge that he was facing danger with one of the most advanced six-shooters of the day!

New Photo of Doc?

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – check out the original article and more of their great stories at

New Doc Photo Discovery? A museum in Silver City believes Doc Holliday can be seen in a local historical photograph.


Look closely at the street scene from Silver City, New Mexico. Notice the skinny cat standing by the third stagecoach window, right hand in pocket, left hand on lapel. Could that man be John Henry “Doc” Holliday?

He does not appear to be throwing up blood, drunk, cranky or ready to draw down, but the man in the photo certainly resembles the revered gunfighter who participated in the 1881 Gunfight Behind the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.

We know the Earp party, including our favorite tubercular dentist, spent the night in Silver City, New Mexico, on April 15, 1882, while fleeing Arizona after Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride. A Wells Fargo historian confirmed that the man sitting atop the coach, holding an envelope, is the Wells Fargo agent in Silver City, G.M. Huffaker. Some historians believe that Wells Fargo was helping Earp evade the law.

The Silver City Museum, which owns this image, sent the photo to us to investigate. A notation in the museum’s collection stated the picture was taken “sometime between May 1881 and September 1882.”

We donned our Pinkerton hats and began poking around.

Old West photo collector Robert G. McCubbin took a look and dumped cold water on the Holliday possibility. Comparing it with the full-length shot of Holliday taken in Prescott, Arizona, he says the mustache doesn’t match and the chin is more pointed in the Prescott photo. He concludes the stagecoach group “could be anyone of that period,” adding that Holliday probably would not have allowed himself to be photographed while on the run.

Gary Roberts, Holliday’s biographer, says, “…while, for historical reasons, I would like this to be a photo of the vendetta posse, I have to conclude that there is insufficient evidence to confirm that it is.”

What about the purported date for this photo? The stagecoach rests in front of the Meredith-Ailman building. Was that bank around in mid-April 1882?

Yes, the bank was around, but the building looked different then. Susan Berry, retired director of the Silver City Museum, helpfully plowed through old newspapers and found evidence that she believes places the photo after April 1882.

 The New Southwest reported that a street lamp was placed in front of a building two doors north of the Meredith-Ailman building in early July 1882. The far right side of the picture shows the street lamp, which wouldn’t have been there in April.

The same newspaper reported, on July 29, the installation of large gilt letters above the doorways on the new iron front of the Meredith-Ailman building. Those gilt letters are present in this photo.

The photo, Berry concludes, was taken no earlier than late July 1882. It probably was shot before November 14, when the bank re-opened, and it was taken before May 11, 1883, when the Higbee building (next door to the bank and hidden by a tree) got a second story.

Although this is a fantastic period photo, our skinny guy is not our famous gunfighter with his posse. Such results can break the hearts of the most stalwart of latter-day Pinkertons. But we won’t give up. Only two confirmed adult photos of Holliday exist and those are not enough for a man of such legend.

We want more and vow to keep looking. If you’re out there, Doc, hold fast. We’ll find you.

Tucson-based Leo W. Banks drinks a toast to Doc Holliday whenever he visits the Palace Saloon in Prescott, Arizona.

The signed photograph of Doc Holliday, taken in Prescott, Arizona, in 1879, is one of four authenticated photographs of the famous dentist. The others show him when he was 20, graduating from dental school, when he was about one or two years old and the last when he was a baby in his mother’s arms. Unfortunately, the below photo will not be added to the list. The man (see close-up, far left) is not our revered gunfighter. – Courtesy Silver City Museum –
The signed photograph of Doc Holliday, taken in Prescott, Arizona, in 1879, is one of four authenticated photographs of the famous dentist. The others show him when he was 20, graduating from dental school, when he was about one or two years old and the last when he was a baby in his mother’s arms. Unfortunately, the below photo will not be added to the list. The man (see close-up, far left) is not our revered gunfighter.
– Courtesy Silver City Museum –

Another Great Place To Visit

 Today we celebrate another great “Wild West” destination as featured by True West Magazine online.  The original post is available here

Deadwood, South Dakota: Entertaining Guests Since 1876 Sponsored by the City of Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, SD re-enactment

In 1876, miners looking for gold in the Black Hills came across a mess of dead trees and a gulch full of gold. They staked their claim and Deadwood was born. It didn’t take long for the tiny gold camp to boom into a town that played by its own rules.

Bars, brothels and gaming halls made up the original Main Street that would become home to legendary characters like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. While men like Sheriff Seth Bullock and Mayor E.B. Farnum tried to tame the town, the outlaw spirit never really died. Today, Historic Deadwood is still the wildest town in the West.

The entire town is a registered National Historic Landmark; but there is more to this mountain town than meets the eye. In recent years, several new properties have been built in Deadwood offering resort amenities like deluxe suites, day spas, and infinity pools. Deadwood guests can also enjoy fine dining in restaurants that feature gourmet local flavors – like elk, pheasant and bison – prepared by world-class chefs. While the food is five-star, the atmosphere remains as casual and comfortable as your favorite pair of boots and jeans.

If you’re looking for entertainment – day and night – Deadwood is the place. You’ll find 24/7 gaming with $1,000 bet limits. Try your luck at live table games, roulette, craps and the newest slot machines. Retail stores line the streets where you’ll also find live music just about every day of the year. Deadwood also hosts some of the largest – and wildest – events in the Black Hills. From the national award-winning Days of ‘76 rodeo and Kool Deadwood Nites to the free concerts with Grammy Award-winning artists on Main Street, Deadwood events are a history-making good time.

While Deadwood has evolved over the years, it has never forgotten its Wild West roots. From early May to Labor Day, visitors can enjoy daily reenactments of shootouts as well as the most famous event in Deadwood’s history – the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok and trial of his assassin, Jack McCall. Visitors can take a guided bus or walking tour and interact with Old West characters that roam the streets deputizing guests. The museums and historic Mount Moriah Cemetery – the final resting place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock and others – are filled with stories of this town’s legendary past.

Tucked in the northern reaches of the Black Hills, Deadwood is surrounded by natural beauty and outdoor adventure. You can hike, fish, mountain bike, ATV and horseback ride through the ponderosa pines of the Black Hills National Forest. The town of Deadwood also sits on the trailhead of the 109-mile Mickelson Trail that stretches from the northern hills to the southern tip of the forest. If you love off-road adventure, Deadwood is the place to stay. You’ll find outfitters and challenging trails nearby.

Fortune and adventure seekers won’t be disappointed when they come play in Deadwood, South Dakota. After all, it’s been entertaining guests since 1876.

Plan your trip here:
Historic Deadwood

Earp History

Thanks to the Tombstone Vigilantes, on which this information is sourced



Resignation of Virgil W. and Wyatt S. Earp as Deputy Marshals

Tombstone, February 1, 1882

Note that the Major was staying at the Grand Hotel🙂

Major C. P. Dake, United States Marshal, Grand Hotel, Tombstone-

Dear Sir: In exercising out official functions as deputy United States marshals in this territory, we have endeavored always unflinchingly to perform the duties entrusted to us. These duties have been exacting and perilous in their character, having to be performed in a community where turbulence and violence could almost any moment be organized to thwart and resist the enforcement of the process of the court issued to bring criminals to justice. And while we have a deep sense of obligation to many of the citizens for their hearty cooperation in aiding us to suppress lawlessness, and their faith in our honesty of purpose, we realize that, notwithstanding out best efforts and judgment in everything which we have been required to perform, there has arisen so much harsh criticism in relation to our operations, and such a persistent effort having been made to misrepresent and misinterpret out acts, we are led to the conclusion that, in order to convince the public that it is our sincere purpose to promote the public welfare, independent of any personal emolument or advantages to ourselves, it is our duty to place our resignations as deputy United States marshals in your hands, which we now do, thanking you for your continued courtesy and confidence in our integrity, and shall remain subject to your orders in the performance of any duties which may be assigned to us, only until our successors are appointed.
Very respectfully yours,

Virgil W. Earp
Wyatt S. Earp

Paris Catches Wild West Fever – Courtesy of Steve Friesen and Wild West Magazine

The feature below is from True West Magazine, written by Steve Friesen.  You can view their online content via this link

Paris Catches Wild West Fever Buffalo

In Paris, France, in May 1889, Gustave Eiffel’s newly erected marvel towered over the city. Far below, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody stood in Neuilly, surveying the camp that would be home of his Wild West show for the next six months.
In Paris, France, in May 1889, Gustave Eiffel’s newly erected marvel towered over the city. Far below, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody stood in Neuilly, surveying the camp that would be home of his Wild West show for the next six months.

Paris was a city Buffalo Bill’s Wild West hoped to conquer. Cody’s show proved a sensation. Parisians flocked to Neuilly to see the Wild West extravaganza over the next several months. Stetson cowboy hats became the rage, and the “Buffalo Bill Galop” was the best-selling sheet music in town. Excitement about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West swept through Paris like a fever. By the end of the summer, the newspapers likened Cody’s capture of Paris to the taking of the Bastille.

One could blame the success on journalist and author Mark Twain. Twain wrote Cody in 1885, “I have now seen your Wild West show two days in succession, and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It brought back vividly the breezy, wild life of the great plains and the Rocky Mountains and stirred me like a war song.”

Praising the show for being genuine, his letter went on to remark, “It is often said on the other side of the water that none of the exhibitions which we send to England are purely and distinctively American. If you take the Wild West show over there you can remove that reproach.”

Cody, who had already been considering transporting the show to Europe, took this advice to heart. The next year, when he was invited to be part of the American Exhibition at Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee celebration in 1887, he jumped at the opportunity.

Journey to Paris

Cody was the right person at the right time, and, as it turned out, at the right place to promote the American West in Europe. Born in Iowa Territory on February 26, 1846, he had grown up in the West, experiencing the strife in Kansas Territory prior to the Civil War. He made his first journey across the Great Plains at age 11. He traveled to what became Colorado Territory in 1859 during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, delivered mail for Alexander Majors’s firm (although not for the Pony Express route Cody would make famous through his shows), hunted buffalo and scouted for the U.S. Army. He learned one of the most important scouting skills, how to feel comfortable around and communicate with American Indians, who knew more about the Plains than the newcomers. Charismatic and likable, Cody soon became the focus of newspaper articles and dime novels about the American frontier.

In 1872, Cody began appearing on-stage in plays about the West. The plays were successful, but Cody had even greater ambitions. After 10 years touring the country with his acting troupe, he moved outdoors. The arena provided an opportunity to stage re-creations of life in the West with a cast of hundreds and for an audience of thousands. That year, 1883, proved to be pivotal for Cody. With the inception of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Cody took a leap from the small stage to the world stage.

Four years after its creation, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West became a runaway success in London, England, eclipsing every other American offering at the exhibition honoring Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. Attendees were eager to observe, in person, an America that they had read about in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, in news dispatches and in dime novels. Cody was the toast of the town, meeting everyone from Queen Victoria herself to author Oscar Wilde. Author Bram Stoker later based one of the characters in his novel Dracula on Cody. James McNeill Whistler vowed to paint Cody’s portrait, although he never did get around to it, as he instead turned his attention to matronly figures. Cody returned to the United States in late 1887, with the sweet taste of European success in his mouth.

The Wild West toured the northeastern U.S. during the 1888 season, but Cody could  not shake Europe from his mind. His interest in the European continent had been whetted by a brief vacation there with his daughter during the London sojourn. When the opportunity arose to visit Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, he jumped at it.

Nearly Eclipsing the Exposition

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was not set up within the exposition grounds, which were adjacent to Eiffel’s tower. The extravaganza was situated in Neuilly, just a few kilometers away, and near the Bois de Boulogne, a park popular with Parisians and easily accessible from all parts of the city. Almost immediately, the Wild West became the most popular show in town, nearly eclipsing the exposition itself.

Critics observed of Cody’s first appearance on the American stage that he was no actor, but they also noted his ability to charm the audiences. He was clearly a showman. He brought not only his experiences and a personal flamboyance to the Wild West, but also an innate sense of what audiences wanted. His show did not re-create endless hours on the trail or weeks huddled in a cabin during the winter, but instead distilled out the exciting aspects of Westward Expansion.

The Wild West didn’t just re-create exciting events; it also offered visitors the opportunity to learn about the peoples of the West, who exhibited their skills and cultures. More than 100 American Indians, including women and children, participated in the show. The Indian village, populated mainly by the Lakota Sioux, was as huge a draw as the mock battles. Entering the show grounds just off Boulevard Victor Hugo, visitors walked past the tents of Cody, Annie Oakley and the cowboys to a large plaza filled with the Indians’ tipis, revealing how the tribes lived back on the Plains.

After passing through this area, visitors entered the arena where the show was staged. A map provided in the 1889 program shows that the arena took up less than 50 percent of the grounds, which also offered opportunities to visit a buffalo enclosure and extensive horse stables. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was much more than a “show,” a word publicist John Burke avoided in all marketing and even threatened employees with dismissal if they used the word.

Cody was the most popular attraction, taking part in battle re-enactments, demonstrating buffalo hunts and chatting with visitors to his tent.

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley was a close second in popularity. The French were fascinated by this petite young lady who could outshoot any man alive at the time. Oakley arrived in France with a secret. French law forbade the import of gunpowder, so she smuggled in her favorite British gunpowder, hidden in hot water bottles under her bustle.

More than six feet tall, Buck Taylor, nicknamed the “King of the Cowboys,” towered over his fellow performers as well as most of the European visitors. The skill of this cowboy, sitting so tall in the saddle, greatly impressed an audience still dependent upon horsemanship for everything from transportation to recreation.

Taylor contrasted with young Johnny Baker who, at age 19, was billed as the “Cowboy Kid.” Baker, who learned shooting from Cody and Oakley, had become a crack shot, coming near to rivaling them in marksmanship.

The Paris Performance

The Wild West opened with the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by a grand procession of all of its participants. The first act was a pony race, pitting an Indian, a Mexican vaquero and a cowboy against each other. Unlike the battles, which had a predictable conclusion (Cody’s side always won), any of the three could win the race.

The first shots were provided by Oakley, whose ladylike demeanor helped ease any Victorian anxieties caused by the gunfire.

Following a demonstration of a Pony Express ride, the first battle was fought, an attack on an emigrant family in a wagon by “marauding Indians.” The Indian contingent was led by Lakota Chief Red Shirt. Lakota holy man Sitting Bull had been part of the Wild West in 1885, but he was no longer with the show. Red Shirt, who was well-spoken and comfortable in cross-cultural contexts, was probably a better representative than the gruff Sitting Bull. He had even visited Parliament during the show’s stay in London.

The gunfire in the show was broken up by quieter activities. Following the attack on the emigrant family, cowboys and cowgirls danced the Virginia Reel on horseback. The Cowboy Kid’s marksmanship was followed by “Cowboy Fun,” which featured ranch skills that included bronco riding and lassoing. This portion of the Wild West is considered a forerunner of modern professional rodeo.

As the show reached its climax, the Deadwood Stage entered the arena at breakneck speed, pursued by whooping Indians. Driven off by Cody and the cowboys, the Indians returned to demonstrate bareback racing and their tribal dances. Following presentations of sharpshooting and buffalo hunting by Cody, the grand finale was an Indian attack on a settler’s cabin. Once again, the Indians were driven off by the show’s star and “Le Roi des Hommes de la Frontière,” Cody.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was unlike anything the French had seen before. Among the thousands who flocked to the show were royalty and dignitaries from the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Even the English, who had seen it two years before in London, came to France for a second viewing. The opening on May 18 was attended by French President Marie François Sadi Carnot and the American ambassador, as well as former Queen Isabella II of Spain. Powerful, famous and everyday people caught “Wild West fever” and converged on the show until its close six months later.

Lasting Impressions

The exposition not only catapulted Cody into the spotlight, making him the toast of Paris and adding to his credibility back home in America, but also gave him a chance to interact with the movers and shakers of his day. In Paris, Cody made his first acquaintance with inventor Thomas Edison, while throwing a Western breakfast of buffalo in his honor. Edison later recorded both the Wild West and Cody himself on Edison’s new moving picture and sound recording inventions.

The Wild West was not without its influences upon the many artists who visited Paris for the exposition. While American artist Whistler never got around to painting his portrait of Cody in London, renowned French artist Rosa Bonheur created what has become one of her most famous works, a portrait of Cody on his horse Tucker. Edvard Munch, who had left his native Norway to study art in Paris, was much impressed by Cody and his Wild West. Who knows how that singular experience may have influenced Munch’s work, including his most famous painting, The Scream, created just a few years later.

French painter Paul Gauguin, friend to Vincent Van Gogh, was probably the most deeply impressed among the artists who visited the Wild West. After his first visit, he wrote another artist friend, urging him to join him in a second visit, remarking that the show was “hugely interesting.” His enthusiasm led him to purchase a Stetson. A self portrait, done on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti four years later, shows Gauguin wearing a hat that looks remarkably like Stetson’s “Boss of the Plains.”

Shot in the Heart

On November 14, 1889, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West closed its attraction in Paris, France, and moved on to other European destinations. During its run, the residents of Paris had certainly fallen in love with the Wild West. Perhaps their hearts had been struck by the “Attack on the Settler’s Cabin,” a concluding shoot-out between the Indians and the cowboys, led by Cody, that had the greatest impact on audiences.

Months later, a shoot-out inspired by the Wild West might very well have become responsible for the death of one of Europe’s greatest artists, Vincent van Gogh.

But during the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, that final shoot-out scene promoted a victory of America’s pioneer experience that Parisians could share with Cody. In the arena, they witnessed the danger and excitement that Parisians had only read about. History leaped from the pages.


Buffalo Bill Cody (center) poses with Buck Taylor (far right), Johnny Baker (far left) and other members of the Wild West by the Deadwood Stage, which was featured in both London and Paris.
Buffalo Bill Cody (center) poses with Buck Taylor (far right), Johnny Baker (far left) and other members of the Wild West by the Deadwood Stage, which was featured in both London and Paris.
– All images courtesy Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave in Golden, Colorado, unless otherwise noted –


A major attraction at the Paris premiere, Annie Oakley took aim in this studio photograph, possibly photographed in 1886 or 1887, before the trips to London and Paris.
A major attraction at the Paris premiere, Annie Oakley took aim in this studio photograph, possibly photographed in 1886 or 1887, before the trips to London and Paris.


Buffalo Bill Cody sits on the knee of France while Gen. Georges Boulanger, displaced as the darling of Paris, shakes his fist in anger. – Illustrated in the June 19, 1889, edition of the satirical Puck magazine –
Buffalo Bill Cody sits on the knee of France while Gen. Georges Boulanger, displaced as the darling of Paris, shakes his fist in anger.
– Illustrated in the June 19, 1889, edition of the satirical Puck magazine –

Tombstone’s Competitor – Courtesy of Kevin Hogge and Cindy Smith

The feature below is from True West Magazine, written by Kevin Hogge and Cindy Smith.  You can view their online content via this link


Contention City played a major role in the growth of southern Arizona at a time when the territory needed it most. An accidental stumble started it all.

In 1879, prospectors Ed Williams and Jack Friday were searching for their missing mules. The chains their mules had dragged behind them scraped away the dirt and unearthed streaks of silver, gleaming in the morning sunlight.  But, unbeknownst to them, Ed Schieffelin was camped out a short distance away.

Schieffelin, who was prospecting the unsettled hills of “Goose Flats,” had already uncovered the lure that would draw thousands to this place only previously known to the Chiricahua Apaches and a few soldiers at Camp Huachuca. Camped out in the same area as Williams and Friday, with previously staked claims to several other nearby mines, Schieffelin disputed the ownership to the newfound silver lode. One can only assume these prospectors exchanged an abundance of ill-tempered words over the find. So much that Schieffelin, after the claim was split, called his mine the “Contention,” a tribute to the dispute of the claim.

The river gave Contention City its location. Ten miles from the Tombstone Mining District, the San Pedro was the closest source of water for supporting the stamping mills, which separated the silver from the ore. With the construction of the Contention Mill, the city grew into a mining camp along the eastern bank, bringing with it fortune hunters, gamblers, whiskey peddlers and other colorful characters of the day. Supporting the vision of enterprising entrepreneurs, including D.T. Smith and John McDermott, Contention City was destined for greatness. In September 1879, Smith and McDermott mapped out the town and sold the lots within a week. By early 1880, Contention City had a post office, a hotel-restaurant, a Chinese laundry, one saloon, a meat market, a dry goods store and its first school. Soon, three large stamp mills served the Tombstone mines, together employing almost 100 men.

By 1881, Contention City was in full swing. Despite Tombstone’s own early rapid growth, the railroad was built in Contention City instead of Tombstone. A two-story train depot was built a little farther up the San Pedro River, where the residents relocated the city, packing up and taking the buildings with them. The first trains arrived in January 1882, bringing oyster shipments, mainstream Paris fashions for the ladies and other luxury items from afar. More than 20 years passed before the railroad reached its sister city of Tombstone in 1903.

Contention City wasn’t immune from the lawlessness of the “cowboy” faction of southern Arizona. Although their exploits gained little notoriety in this new town, some incidents were as colorful as classic Western movie shoot-outs. These included the pursuit of the robbing and murderous Jack Taylor Gang by both the Mexican Rurales and Arizona law enforcement, particularly Sheriff John Slaughter. Slaughter’s posse tracked the outlaws to gang member Manuel Robles’s brother’s home in Contention City. They waited to raid the house until the residents were asleep. Thinking this would be an easy capture, the lawman was surprised by the hail of gunfire from inside the house!

Perhaps the best-known Contention City tale is the Benson stagecoach robbery that took place just outside of town on March 15, 1881. Through a coerced confession by a drunken “Big Nose” Kate Elder, Sheriff John Behan used the opportunity to arrest John Henry “Doc” Holliday and charge him with the murder of stage driver Eli “Bud” Philpot. Holliday was soon cleared of all charges when Elder sobered up.

John Clum found solace at the town’s Grand Central Mill on the night of December 14, 1881, when he dodged a near-assassination attempt. After an ambush on his stagecoach, he set out on foot through the darkness until he reached the mill.  From there, he made a phone call back to Tombstone around 1:00 am. Yes, Arizona had telephones between the mills in Contention City to the Gird Block in Tombstone as early as 1881.

In March 1882, George Hand stepped off the train at the Contention City depot. He had traveled from Tucson with a diary tucked inside his coat pocket. Hand was in Contention City to help out a U.S. Army buddy, Billy Bradley, with his new venture in the saloon business. Somewhat to Contention City what George Parsons was for Tombstone, Hand recorded in his diary the people and events of the town.

The day after Hand’s arrival, he wrote of the cowboys riding in on Friday, March 24, fully armed and prowling through town. The cowboys he saw, if they were indeed part of Sheriff Behan’s posse, were tracking down famous Tombstone lawman Wyatt Earp and his crew. Hand, who was in Tucson just days earlier, witnessed the body of Frank Stilwell—who Earp was suspected of killing to avenge brother Morgan’s murder—as he lay dead on the train tracks. “He was the most shot up man I ever saw,” Hand reported.

On April 10, 1882, Hand was present when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman arrived by train. On his way to Tombstone, Sherman was on an inspection tour to address concerns surrounding renegades from the San Carlos Apache Reservation. On May 30, Hand reported that he accompanied Judge A.O. Wallace and Bill Bradley (along with Hand’s favorite dog, Rip) on a visit to the graves of the late Co. E.A. Rigg and William Petty.  He carried a big basket of flowers to decorate their graves.  If not for the writings of those like Hand, no records of the people of Contention City or their time there would have survived.

Unfortunately, Contention City had but one source of revenue. When that ended, so did the town, much like flowers in the spring sprang up with the promise of tomorrow, but wilted with the first frost of fall. Flooding in the Tombstone mines brought an early demise to Contention City. When the mines were forced to close down, the town’s stamp mills went silent. Workers and residents packed up and left, forcing the post office to close its doors on November 26, 1888.  Two years later, the productive and booming city had turned into a mere ghost town. Its time spanned only a decade. Tombstone managed to survive because it was the Cochise County seat, and it remained so until 1929.

No landmarks remain in Contention City today, save the foundations of the mills, a few overturned headstones of a small cemetery and a pile of rocks perched near an old adobe wall.

Hollywood deserves credit for keeping Contention City alive. The movie 3:10 to Yuma with Glenn Ford, and later Russell Crowe, portrayed a small-time rancher escorting an outlaw to the Contention City depot for the train to Yuma Territorial Prison. Real-life events inspired the movies too. Ike Clanton, still seeking revenge on Earp and Holliday for Tombstone’s infamous 1881 O.K. Corral gunfight, petitioned for a trial in Contention City, after Earp and Holliday were found not guilty in Tombstone. Of course, no trial transpired, but that didn’t stop the 1993 blockbuster movie Tombstone from again exposing Contention City to the world.

The mining ghost town may be just another lost town of Arizona, but in the heart of every Old West historian, Contention City will live forever.