Tombstone’s Other Legacy: The Railroad

A caboose on display in Tombstone, Ariz.
A former Southern Pacific caboose on display in Tombstone, Ariz. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. — Today, “The Town Too Tough to Die” isn’t remembered as a railroad town.

It usually lies somewhere between historic re-creation of a southern Arizona mining town and a Hollywood movie that’s come to life on dusty western streets; shootouts are a daily occurrence.

Today, the town is best known for the events of Oct. 28, 1881, when Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down three cowboys in what is remembered as the “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” This town, once among the largest in Arizona, holds an important place in the state’s history, even if more for the mining history than the gunfight.

By 1880, the Southern Pacific had constructed its rail line through Benson. But, for Tombstone that about was 25 miles to the southeast. That meant a stage coach ride was required to reach the nearest rail line.

In 1881, Tombstone was a remote mining community. There was no railroad link to Tombstone for the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral.

During the next two decades, city leaders debated the need for a railroad and urged railroad officials to lay tracks into town, but nothing materialized. Even when the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad built a line within nine miles of Tombstone in 1882.

That is until the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, incorporated on Oct. 16, 1900, completed a 9.3-mile link from Fairbank (today a ghost town) to Tombstone in 1903.

With the completion of the railroad, Tombstone experienced somewhat of a building boom.

The railroad served the “Town Too Tough To Die” until Aug. 13, 1960.

Today, little of Tombstone’s railroad past remains. A Southern Pacific caboose (No. 1057), a Frisco caboose (No.129), a third caboose and a box car are on located in town along the railroad’s former right-of-way. The town’s historic depot now serves as the city’s library.


Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 282 Articles

Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.