Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Another Shootout in Tombstone

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Another Shootout in Tombstone

Article excerpt

There is another showdown smoldering in Tombstone, Ariz., but it isn't taking place at the OK Corral where Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers gunned down the Clanton Gang one October morning in 1881.

Instead of six- shooters and bullets, the weapons in this shootout are computers and newsprint.

On one side is the Tombstone Epitaph, founded in 1880 and the oldest continuously published newspaper in Arizona. Its current circulation is about 1,000. The challenger is the Tombstone Tumbleweed which blew into town in 1990 as a weekly giveaway and now claims a paid circulation of 1,500.

Tombstone residents -- about 1,200 these days compared with nearly 15,000 when the silver mines were running full blast -- are getting a kick out of the modern-day feud, scanning each issue to see which paper scores the most hits on town officials and kicks up the most dust on some of the current problems facing this town that prides itself for being "too tough to die."

The Epitaph has been part of the Tombstone story ever since John Clum, a former Indianagent, moseyed down to the far southeastern corner of the state where silver had been discovered in 1878. He found a brawling, whoop-it-up camp where Apache Indian raids and gun battles between cattle rustlers and their counterparts across the nearby Mexican border added zip to the drudgery of under-ground silver mining.

Law enforcement was a sometime thing and Clum figured he could score a bonanza by starting a newspaper in opposition to the already flourishing Nugget. He also got himself elected mayor and supported U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, who greatly coveted the post of county sheriff because that job included collecting taxes, a safe and sure way to get rich.

The escalating feud between the Earp clique and the entrenched "insiders" aligned with the sheriff and the Nugget fascinated the residents of Tombstone, which got its name from the widely held belief that moving there was akin to writing one's own epitaph. The town was experiencing incredible growth and was, for a time, larger than San Francisco. The Epitaph claimed the town also possessed more culture.

Besides train robberies, claim jumping, barroom brawls, cowboy bushwackings, and occasional lynchings, there was plenty of grist for the journalistic mills which included 10 local papers during the town's first seven years.

Clum soon turned the Epitaph into a daily which prided itself on its high-toned manner of reporting news such as this: "A Sixth Street Cyprian was fined $20 and costs in the city recorder's court yesterday for soliciting prostitution. The complaining witness was a next-door neighbor in the same line of business."

There was plenty of advertising business up for grabs. At one time there were 110 saloons in town, which moved A.H. Noon, a visiting Chicago Tribune reporter, to marvel that "Nearly every other building is a saloon."

There were all sorts of hostelries and stores, liveries, an opulent opera house, bagnios and other pleasure palaces, and, naturally, a thriving cemetery on Boot Hill.

That was the backdrop for the infamous incident at the OK Corral that made the front page of just about every newspaper in the United States. The Epitaph account exonerated the three Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday in the half-minute gunfight that killed three and wounded three others in the Clanton-led gang. A jury later concurred and a legend was born to be recreated in endless newspaper rehashes, novels, movies and tv shows.

Wyatt Earp, however, found it expedient to get out of Tombstone and Clum soon followed suit. The former editor headed for Washington, D.C., wrangled an appointment as U.S. postal inspector and, at the same time, became traveling correspondent for the Washington Star.

The Epitaph survived the economic decline that plagued Tombstone when underground floods closed the mines. Another blow came when the county seat was shanghaied to Bisbee in 1929 but editor W. …

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