The Man Who Found Tombstone

Ed Schieffelin directly caused the foundation of the town of Tombstone. The town itself was more of an afterthought; Ed was after valuable minerals.

In Southern Arizona there was a huge amount of minerals, and men combed the landscape, searching for veins of silver, gold or copper. Men who could find and exploit such mines could end up wealthy beyond belief. In today’s dollars, billions of dollars could be found. For such fortunes, some men would risk everything. Ed was one of those men. Ed Schieffelin was born in Pennsylvania in 1847. The family settled in Oregon territory, and Ed began hunting gold and silver in 1865, first looking in Idaho, then moving through Nevada, California and New Mexico.

He was intent on making his fortune and in 1877 he was in Arizona Territory. He seemed crazed: his hair hung below his shoulders, and his beard was so unkempt that snarls and knots had formed. His clothes were shreds stitched together from whatever he had on hand: flannel, deerskin or corduroy. He was working as an Indian Scout for the Army and investigating on his own when he could. On his own time, Schieffelin would steal off from Camp (now Fort) Huachuca and scout out Apache Territory.

It was extremely dangerous. The previous year, Schiefflin and his party had been attacked by Apaches, killing a man. Schieffelin’s friends told him that if he went hunting in Apache Territory, where he would creep to within a dozen miles of the Chiricahua encampment, commanded by the legendary warriors Geronimo and Cochise, the only thing he would find would be his tombstone. Ed soldiered on. Northern Arizona had yielded silver, but Southern Arizona was still too “hot” for geologists and surveyors to determine if or how much silver there was there. This kept most away; it did not deter Schieffelin.

Ed searched gullies and washes. His theory was that the torrential rains that poured through every summer would wash silver flakes downstream. Bear in mind that Arizona, then as now, has almost no ground cover in parts. A man can be spotted from miles away fairly easily. It would be very hard for Ed to hide his activities from a Chiricahua band. And if spotted, there would be little he could do except die, fairly miserably. After months, Schieffelin found some silver in a wash on Goose Flats. He traced it back to its source: a thick vein of silver. It was, he estimated, fifty feet long and 12 inches wide; a fortune of silver! Ed was excited, as anyone would be. He was broke, unfortunately and could not pay for the claim to be assayed. He threw in with a local, William Griffin, who paid for the paperwork in return for a claim of his own. However, there was not an assay office in Tucson and the claim could be certified. Scieffelin worked for 2 weeks on another mine to get the money to find his brother, who was working at McCracken’s mine in Signal City, AZ. But when he found his brother and showed him his specimens, 20 to 30 people called them all but worthless – more lead than silver. Ed threw most of his samples away, keeping only three. After working for a month as a common laborer, Schieffelin met the new assayer for the McCracken mine.

Ed asked if his find was worth anything. After examining them for 3 days, the assayer said the find was worth at least $2,000 a ton. Ed, his brother Al and the assayer, Richard Gird, made a gentleman’sagreement to split the claim. It was spring, 1878. 15 months later, Ed rode into Tucson with nearly $500,000 in silver (in today’s dollars).

Schieffelin, his brother and Gird were running multiple mining claims: the Lucky Cuss, the Tough Nut and the Contention. The mines were incredibly profitable and soon men arrived by the throngs, ready to work claims or to try to find their own. A town was needed to take care of all the men working these and other claims. In March, 1879, Solon Allis first laid out the town and Tombstone was born. Eventually and despite the riches (Ed’s claims were worth billions in today’s dollars), Ed headed back to Oregon to scout for gold. In May, 1897, Schieffelin was found dead, slumped over his work table, checking the purity of gold samples. The ore was later assayed at $2,000 a ton. His final diary entry simply reads: “Struck it rich again, by God.” He was, per his will, buried nearby Goose Flats, where he made his first claim. He found his tombstone there, yes, but quite a bit besides.

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