LIVING THE GOOD LIFE IN MINING TOWNS
Mining history by Harold Hough
We all know the scenes from the western movies – the hero rides into a raw western mining town. The bars serve rot gut whiskey. The only entertainment is the crooked card game. And, the food is just one notch up from what the buzzards are eating.
That may be the Hollywood (or spaghetti western) version, but the reality was quite different. Mining brings in money and investors. And that brings in all the amenities of the big cities of the East Coast and Europe.
Take Tombstone Arizona, the frontier mining town known for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. When the Earps and Doc Holliday decided to stop the Clantons on October 26, 1881, Tombstone had a stock exchange with electronic links to the major companies listed on the exchange, the best wine and food from around the world, and even microbreweries. Better yet, you could have your beer cold thanks to an ice plant.
There was more to these cosmopolitan tastes than a desire to spend money. Foreign money was flooding into mining towns to turn prospective deposits into profitable mines and it was also bringing in educated foreigners. Tombstone had more than cowboys and rough miners. It was home to geologists, mining engineers and professors from around the world. And, it was evident by the amenities found in town.
A booming mining town needed a stock exchange and Tombstone had one in the Mining Exchange Building. The exchange had telephone communication with the major mines so accidents, production rates, and the grade of ore could be quickly communicated to the investors. Communications with the outside world, however, still relied upon the telegraph.
This was a far cry from the remote mining claims that had been filed by Ed Schieffeiln just a little more than three years before. Then, cavalry officers had warned the prospector that if he chose to prospect in Apache country, he would only find his tombstone. Instead he found silver. By 1880, people were coming from as far away as Europe to make their fortunes.
As Tombstone took on an international flavor, so did its tastes. Kelly’s Wine House offered customers 25 imported wines. So as to discourage its clientele from shooting each other when drunk, they even had an indoor shooting range. If your taste ran to fancy cooking, you could pick from Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican, and even “Home Cooking” eating establishments. In the stores, you would find common name brand foods like Campbell’s Soup, Underwood Deviled Ham, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Pillsbury Flour, Heinz Ketchup, and Tabasco Sauce. Of course, if you wanted a salad to go with your meal, you were probably out of luck. Vegetables were expensive and didn’t offer the profit margins that shippers wanted.
That same variety was found in the bars. Although rotgut whiskey was available, everyone, including cowboys and miners had more sophisticated tastes. Bartenders in these mining towns could whip up a cocktail as quickly as a modern New York City bartender. For those British citizens who wanted a gin and tonic, there was imported Schweppes Tonic Water along with a wide variety of gins from Great Britain.
Although saloons remained the center of the mining community, Tombstone residents wanted more entertainment than dance hall girls or cards. Tombstone had baseball teams, a bowling alley, a gym, and Shakespearian plays. They even had a bookstore where newspapers from around the country were found as well as a good selection of books. Those with a sweet tooth, like Wyatt Earp, also had several ice cream parlors to choose from.
Since a train spur hadn’t come to Tombstone yet, the stage line was critical. Oysters, which were popular at the time, had to be shipped in ice from San Francisco to Benson, Arizona and then moved by wagon to the town. Once there, they were kept cold thanks to Tombstone’s own ice plant.
Ironically, it was this last 25 miles of the trip that these luxuries took, that became the bone of contention for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The Clantons had a habit of holding up the stagecoach and freight wagons coming to and from Tombstone. And, there is nothing more likely to rile the citizens than interfering with the delivery of their luxuries. So, when the Earps and Doc Holliday called out the Clantons, they were doing nothing more than what modern police do when they stop truck hijackers.
Although the gunfight and the continued clashes between the Clanton Gang and Earps created Tombstone’s reputation as a Wild West City, it was the destruction of this lawless element that actually allowed the town to evolve into a more law abiding community, where freight could move peacefully, capitalists could invest money without fear, and citizens could enjoy the luxuries of the world in the remote West.