Wild West

WAR OF THE TOMBSTONE UNDERGROUND

In the spring of 1881 geologist John Adams Church replaced Tombstone, Arizona Territory, co-founder Dick Gird as superintendent of the Tombstone Mill and Mining Co., which operated some of the silver camp’s richest mines, including the Good Enough and Tough Nut claims. A year earlier Gird had wanted to hire America’s premier geologist, Clarence King, to author a report on mineral prospects in the district as a come-on to investors; King, however, begged off, citing his responsibility as founding director of the U.S. Geological Survey. The job instead fell to Church, who had spent time on and written about Nevada’s famous Comstock Lode.

Church duly prepared a lengthy and glowing prospectus, touting Tombstone’s mineral wealth and relative peacefulness. Writing in the summer of 1880, Church noted that “only” two fatal street shootings had marred Tombstone’s tranquility, that of Mike Killeen on June 22 and Tom Waters on July 24. By the time Church saw his report published in late 1881, however, the deadly tally had soared. The bloody events—mostly involving the badge-wearing Earp brothers and the “Cowboys” outlaw faction—would render Tombstone a legendary example of frontier violence and have been chronicled endlessly in print and on film. At the same time Church found himself in a courtroom showdown with fellow geologist William Phipps Blake. Their fight, though largely forgotten, would have a far greater impact on Tombstone’s economy.

Compared to the iconic figures of the American West—cowboy, cavalryman, Indian warrior, prospector, gunfighter and peace officer—the mining engineer has received short shrift. Assessing the state of American Western literature in the 1920s, Owen Wister, who had practically invented the traditional cowboy story with his 1902 novel , credited General Charles King with popularizing stories of the frontier

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