Picture the day. Feel
the event. The Railroad was coming to Tombstone!!!! It had been
nearly 25 years that folks had been arriving in Tombstone, but
not by rail. The railroad had not laid tracks and Tombstone was
assessable only by horse and buggy so to speak. So here it is.
The day has finally arrived and the streets are filled with the
expectation of the very first train to arrive in Tombstone. The
streets are all decorated. The shop windows display the banners
and ribbons that had been readied for this historic event. From
the top of the surrounding hills one could hear the trumpeting
gun salutes announcing the arrival of the very first train into
Tombstone. Picnic lunches were prepared. Ladies were dressed in
their finest. Gentlemen were speaking in unison with pride and
joy regarding this historic event for their town of Tombstone.
And children were playing train engineer with their toy wagons.
This was an event to beat all events in this mining town, as the
advent of the railroad into Tombstone would mark the future of
this "town too tough to die". We are presenting the following
article with some interesting facts regarding the true history
of the railroad's arrival in Tombstone in April of 1903. One hundred
years ago this month. Editor
The hundredth anniversary
of a significant milestone in Tombstone history is passing this
month with virtually no recognition. In April 1903, the town celebrated
the arrival of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, finally fulfilling
the dream of a railroad connection to the outside world.
Tombstone's progressive businessmen
had been lobbying for a rail line since March 1880, when the Southern
Pacific Railroad constructed its transcontinental route through
Benson, only 25 miles to the north. The need for a railroad to
encourage commerce by providing a reliable form of transportation
for goods and passengers was seen as being of paramount importance.
It was also needed to move ore from the silver mines around town
to the mills along the San Pedro River.
Over the years, several projects
were proposed, but never materialized. Stagecoaches and other
horse drawn conveyances continued to be relied upon by the town
for its transportation needs. The dream came a bit closer in 1882,
when the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad was built between Benson
and Nogales. The 88-mile line passed through Fairbank, located
only nine miles from Tombstone.
The N.M. & A. was an isolated
subsidiary of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, headquartered
in Topeka, Kansas. The Santa Fe planned to enter into direct competition
with the Southern Pacific in southern Arizona, and this line was
intended to be its foothold in the area. A branchline into Tombstone
was included, and two miles of new right-of-way for it was graded
near Fairbank in 1882, but nothing more was done, and the Santa
Fe ultimately abandoned its southern Arizona aspirations.
There were occasional proposals
to build into Tombstone during the balance of the 1880's and the
1890's, but declining silver prices, labor unrest and problems
with the mines flooding discouraged all of these ventures. The
turn of the 20th century came and went without Tombstone achieving
its dream of a railroad.
copper boom in nearby Bisbee finally set in motion the chain of
events that resulted in a branch line being built to Tombstone.
The El Paso & Southwestern Railroad was incorporated in July 1901,
to connect various Arizona mines with smelters in El Paso, Texas,
and in the new city of Douglas, 20 miles east of Bisbee. The line
was also planned as a major regional carrier. The first segment
was constructed from Benson to Bisbee, a distance of 55 miles,
by May 1902. This line passed through Fairbank. The Bisbee to
El Paso segment was completed November 1902. The line was extended
into Tucson in 1912.
At the time this railroad
was under construction, there was a renewed mining boom in Tombstone.
Local mining entrepreneur E.B. Gage incorporated the Tombstone
Consolidated Mines Company, Ltd., in June 1901. The objective
of the company was to purchase most of the independent mines in
the area and merge them into a large-scale operation. Having been
part of the original mining boom in Tombstone, Gage was familiar
with the deficiencies of Tombstone's previous mining ventures.
He also knew a railroad line was needed for his new company to
achieve its goals. Fortunately, the El Paso & Southwestern was
According to David F. Myrick,
in his epic history Railroads of Arizona, Volume I, the El Paso
& Southwestern made a preliminary survey in February 1902. The
final survey for the branch was completed in early July and grading
for the new line began on July 29. Crews consisting of Mexicans
and Papago Indians utilized the two miles that had been graded
by the N.M. & A. in 1882 and completed an additional seven miles
of right-of-way. Six wooden trestles were built across various
streams along the route.
From Fairbank, the new line
followed Walnut Gulch, a tributary of the San Pedro River, east
for six miles, then climbed out of the ravine via a two and a
half percent grade. It circled Comstock Hill (behind the spot
now occupied by the Best Western Lookout Lodge) and entered town
through the area now occupied by the post office and residential
neighborhoods. After passing behind the courthouse, it reached
its terminal along Toughnut Street. Construction crews began laying
track at Fairbank on March 9, 1903, and reached Tombstone on March
Two boxcars served as a temporary
depot while E.P. & S.W. carpenters built the wood frame passenger
and freight station that still stands at the corner of Fourth
and Toughnut streets. Passenger service began on April 5, 1903.
Two thousand people came to town on Sunday, April 12, 1903, for
a celebration. The Tombstone Prospector, the town's major newspaper,
published a 56-page souvenir edition.
The Tombstone Consolidated
Mines Company, Ltd., constructed 9,700 feet of track which connected
to the new line and served its various facilities. This track
was completed on April 25. Cars of coal were delivered to power
the machinery. Coal was later replaced by fuel oil. Outbound traffic
from the mines consisted of ore bound for the mills along the
San Pedro River.
The entire El Paso & Southwestern
system was leased by the Southern Pacific in November 1924. It
was finally merged into that railroad in September 1955. The Tombstone
branch continued to serve the town's needs until 1960. The last
major mine closed in 1959. After that, there was not enough traffic
to support continued operation. Southern Pacific petitioned for
abandonment, which was granted. The last train ran on August 13,
1960, and the track was removed shortly thereafter.
The railroad donated the
depot to the city for use as library. It continues to be used
for that purpose today. Retired Southern Pacific caboose number
1057 and a boxcar were brought to Tombstone by truck in 1971 and
placed next to the building on the old right-of-way. They are
the last reminders of Tombstone's rich railroad heritage.