An American Story

This is a story about the Old West, but it is also a story about America when it truly was a land of opportunity.

In 1877 Ed Schieffelin, a prospector for gold and silver in Tucson, Arizona, was so destitute — and he looked it — that even though stores in Tucson customarily extended credit to prospectors in need of supplies, Ed was turned down, forcing him to spend his last few dollars to buy a few meager supplies.  Flat broke, he began prospecting in Arizona’s San Pedro Valley.

The odds of him striking it rich were far longer than the odds of him being killed by the Apache Indians that roamed the valley, and at a nearby fort he visited, the soldiers told him he would “find his tombstone” before he found silver.

But Schieffelin was convinced he would make a strike and he kept plugging until he eventually found what he thought was a promising ore sample.  And so this week (August 1) in 1877, as required by law, he filed a claim to a 600 by 1,500-feet stake that — recalling the soldiers’ warning — he puckishly named “Tombstone.”  Soon after, he filed two more claims, naming them “Graveyard 1” and “Graveyard 2.”

Schieffelin then took his samples to an appraiser, who called them “a very low grade,” but, undaunted, Schieffelin went to see his brother Al in Globe, Arizona, to convince Al to join him in prospecting the San Pedro Valley.  In Globe another appraiser, Dick Gird, examined Ed’s samples and was so impressed he journeyed back to the San Pedro Valley with the Schieffelin brothers to further investigate Ed’s discovery.

To make a long story short, Ed Schieffelin had hit a major silver strike, and in 1878 the Schieffelin brothers and Dirk Gird filed papers establishing the Tombstone Mining District in the San Pedro Valley.  Later that year they became major stockholders in the Tombstone Gold and Silver Mill Mining Company.  Ed Schieffelin was soon a very rich man.

And the town of Tombstone quickly grew out of his discovery.  Prospectors flocked to the town, and bars, restaurants, hotels and myriad other businesses sprang up to serve them.  Then the railroad came, bringing new settlers in and silver and gold out.  In no time Tombstone was the largest city in the Arizona territory.

Opportunity, luck and pluck — how the West was won.

As for Ed Schieffelin, he sold all his shares in his Tombstone mining company.  The town he essentially founded had become too big and crowded for him.  And besides, prospecting was all he ever wanted to do.  So he headed for Alaska, confident that, long odds or not, another big strike was out there for the finding.