Tombstone News

Thanks to True West magazine for this content – you can check the original post here

The Toughest News in the West The Tombstone Epitaph lives on…and on.

tombstone epitaph true west
In one of our nation’s most storied Wild West towns, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, C.S. Fly took this photograph of a crowd gathered in front of the town’s newspaper office from the front porch of his photography gallery across the street. The daily Prospector, launched in 1887, served as competition to The Tombstone Epitaph weekly.
– Courtesy Bob Love –

The Old West was filled with colorful names—none more so than The Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest continuous newspaper in Arizona.

Former Apache agent John Clum, who was just 29, helped found the paper soon after arriving in the silver mining boomtown in early 1880. He’d already owned and operated a publication in Florence, so he was no novice to the business.

When he got to Tombstone, Clum enlisted a couple of partners to put the operation together (the ownership group changed several times over the next two years).

Clum claimed that he came up with the name himself, contrary to stories that others had suggested it. That first issue included a Clum-authored article that trumpeted, “No Tombstone is complete without its epitaph,” evidence of the publisher’s Eastern education and natural wit.

Clum, who headed the local vigilante group and became mayor in January 1881, was pro-Republican, pro-business and pro-law ’n’ order, and so was his newspaper.  He was friends with the Earp brothers and the Epitaph made no bones about its opposition to the Cowboy faction.  The coverage of the famed 1881 street fight was decidedly one-sided in favor of the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Clum pulled up stakes in 1882 and sold his interest in the newspaper. The owner over the next several years is hard to track, and the newspaper’s political stance bounced back and forth. Tombstone began to fade after the silver ran out later that decade. The Epitaph continued to publish, but only on a weekly basis by the 1890s.

But it was still vital to the community. Thirty years later, the Epitaph helped finance and oversee Tombstone’s first Helldorado celebration in 1929.  Researchers began using its archives to write books and articles, and the paper itself featured more Old West historical sketches, helping to keep the local heritage alive, even as the town declined.

But the modern foundation was established in the mid-1970s, when Michigan businessman Harold Love entered the picture. Love had a dream of Tombstone as a tourist destination, so he bought up and renovated several Tombstone landmarks, including the O.K. Corral, Schieffelin Hall, the Crystal Palace—and the Epitaph

Love and his associates made a deal with the University of Arizona, whose journalism students would gain real-life experience by putting out two local news issues per week.  Meanwhile, a new national and international edition would print history articles on a monthly basis.

That arrangement has worked well for more than 40 years, with many subscribers to the two editions accessing the papers online.  There’s no end in sight.

If Tombstone is the “town too tough to die,” then the Epitaph is the “newspaper too strong to write its obituary.”

Tombstone Treasures – The Bird Cage Theater

One of the most interesting places to visit in Tombstone, AZ is the Bird Cage Theater.


Originally opened in December of 1881 by Billy Hutchinson and his wife, this landmark is now a unique tourist attraction that appeals to a wide-range of visitors to the area.  The theater derived its name from the fourteen cages which lined the upstairs balcony and offered a place for the local ladies of the evening to entertain their clients.


Although it only remained open for eight years during its initial run, the theater proved to be a popular watering hole and place of entertainment that was sought out by many locals and travelers.  Portions of the exact history of the Bird Cage are lost to time, however performers popular in that day, including Eddie Foy Sr, Lotta Crabtree, Fatima and Lillie Langtry, are rumored to have spent time at the theater.  It also had a reputation as a rather rough place to visit, with gun fights, brawls and other notorious activity taking place on a regular basis.  In 1882 the New York Times remarked that the theater was “the wildest, wickedest nightspot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”

After closing in 1889, the Bird Cage re-opened in 1934 with the new owners finding much of the interior untouched from its days as a ‘wild west saloon and brothel’.  Since that time it has operated as a tourist attraction, offering insights into the history of the West and its own exotic background.  The theater is said to be haunted and has been featured on programs such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, and a haunted tour is still a popular attraction at the Bird Cage.  There are also 120 bullet holes that remain to be viewed throughout the theater, along with a wide range of displays featuring unique items of Tombstone history.  The theater recently opened up some previously sealed off rooms, which offer an ‘un-touched’ view of how the place was furnished during its heyday.

When you visit, be sure to ask about the murder of Billy Milgreen, one of the most grisly murders in Tombstone history.  And yes, of course Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and all the rest were regulars…

Faro tabel used by Doc Holiday

Phoenix to Tombstone…Not Such A Long Way

There are many reasons to visit Tombstone and if you are from the Phoenix area a few of those include:

1. It may be only a short 3-4 hour drive however you will be able to experience a totally different lifestyle, pace and historical viewpoint.  The Tombstone area is closely surrounded by the Whetstone, Huachuca and Dragoon mountains, and the quiet pace of life in the valley of these ranges can be a welcome relief.  Take time to sit outside on a cool evening and watch the stars and bands of the Milky Way wheel past you overhead.  Go for a quiet stroll along the banks of the San Pedro and then grab lunch at one of the local eateries that feature both traditional and more exotic fare.  Speak to one of the local historians about why Tombstone was the center-point of much of the events in the historic “Wild West.”  Even if you have already visited the Tombstone area, expand your horizons by checking out the local wine scene or booking a wild off-road adventure up a mountain or far out into the sand.


2. The history of Arizona is often told through the eyes of those that observed it in Phoenix, Tucson and Tombstone.  Yes, there were plenty of other areas in play as the United States grew and flourished in the Southwest, however if you look at those pivotal events you will often be able to trace them back and forth from Phoenix to Tombstone.  Outlaws, politicians, celebrities, wandering prospectors and traveling entertainers all were part of the group that made the circuit between the western towns of the 1800’s and you can find pictures and references to many of them in Tombstone.  The local archive in the town is full of interesting photos and other historical documents that detail this rich history.


3. Ghost towns abound in the Tombstone area and whether you like to seek them out on your own or join up with a scheduled tour, all of them offer that tantalizing prospects of encountering something unknown.  Many of these abandoned villages are also full of local history and legend that make for a rewarding visit and long lasting memories.