Tombstone gunfight took place 140 years ago on SR 80

Tombstone gunfight took place 140 years ago on SR 80

By Laurie Merrill / ADOT Communications
October 27, 2021

This week in 1881, 140 years ago, lawmen Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, with Doc Holliday, fought it out at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone with the the cattle-rustling "Cowboys," including the Clantons and the McLaurys.

Three men died and two were injured in the infamous gun battle, which has since been the subject of a multitude of movies, books, biographies, history lessons and televised series.

According to various accounts, the most famous shootout in the history of shootouts occured at 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1881.

There is some dispute about where the bullets flew: Was it the O.K. Corral, which fronted Allen Street and had a rear entrance on Fremont Street, or was it outside C.S. Fly's photo studio on Fremont Street?  Either way, there is agreement that it was fought, either entirely or in part, on Fremont Street, which today is State Route 80.  

"Historians have advanced various explanations as to the why of the misnamed Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which was, properly speaking, a bloodletting on Fremont Street and an adjoining lot in Tombstone, Ari- zona Territory, on October 26, 1881," author Roger Jay said in an article on HistoryNet. 

Of course, Fremont street was a dirt road back then, and the combatants more than likely arrived on horseback for their date with destiny. It wasn’t until some 40 years later that US 80 entered Arizona along the path of what is now State Route 80, passing through Douglas, Bisbee, Tombstone and Benson, then over to Tucson. 

US 80 is often referred to as the "Mother of Arizona Highways" because its history generally aligns with the rising popularity of the automobile.

The 120-mile route was part of the coast-to-coast Bankhead Highway. It wound through southeastern Arizona to Tucson, north and west into Phoenix, over and down to Gila Bend and southwest to Yuma.

From there, the highway replaced a plank road across the sand dunes between Yuma and California's Imperial Valley, offering ways to either San Diego or Los Angeles.

SR 80 has received a lot of love in the form or improvement projects from ADOT. In 2015, while contemporary characters re-enacted the shootout daily in Tombstone, ADOT contractors were recreating the adobe bricks originally used for building in the late 1870s.

As part of that 2015 $1 million improvement project, crews also replaced the sidewalk in front of historic Schieffelin Hall, the former theater and ballroom built in 1881, and along both sides of Fremont Street, which is the local name of SR 80 in Tombstone.

ADOT narrowed the road and added lighting to improve pedestrian safety, and the appearance, of the “The Town too Tough to Die.”

At the time, Southeast District Engineer Bill Harmon said, “Tombstone is a national treasure and authentic features like Schieffelin Hall are becoming extremely rare. Tombstone is much more than a premise for ‘Old West’ movies. It behooves us to preserve and safeguard Schieffelin Hall for future generations.”


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