Old Cochise County Courthouse has seen its share of excitement
riding the roller coaster of history and economy since 1882.
Tombstone's Courthouse is now a fascinating museum with exhibits interpreting frontier life and government in Tombstone's boom times. Various aspects of Cochise County history are on display including mining, ranching, transportation and government in Tombstone in the 1880's, and much more.
Exhibits include mining artifacts, mineral specimens and a fully-stocked assay office. There are re-creations of offices that existed in the Courthouse in the 1880's. In the Treasurer's Office, business licenses for 32 Tombstone brothels are on display, and we learn that over forty percent of taxes collected in Cochise County in the 1880's were from saloons and gambling concessions.
The Sheriff's Office is furnished with books, guns and furniture of the 1880's. Exhibits document true tales of Tombstone's lawmen, who sometimes operated on both sides of the law. One pair of lawmen-turned-outlaws, Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles, were the only criminals to escape from the Courthouse's jail. They escaped twice, once in 1900 and again in 1903.
Law and order were sometimes a matter of opinion as detailed in the exhibit on the Shootout at the OK Corral. Conflicts existed between Deputy US Marshall Wyatt Earp and County Sheriff John Behan. In an 1881 letter, the Governor of Arizona Territory suggested replacing all Tombstone's lawmen, for "winking at crime" for personal gain in Tombstone's "general reckless spirit of accumulation of money and property." The US Marshall wrote back and denied any conflict between the lawmen, praised his deputies as the best and bravest in the west, and asked for a special appropriation to cover a raise in pay.
There is an invitation from the County Sheriff to a hanging, one of only two hangings from the gallows erected in the jail yard behind the Courthouse.
Upstairs is the restored wood-paneled Courtroom where many of Cochise County's most sensational trials were held. An iron spiral staircase at the southeast corner of the courtroom allowed the judge to slip out of the building without going through crowds of spectators that often packed the courtroom.
There are collections of photographs, personal possessions and amusing anecdotes of Tombstone's colorful pioneers. Nellie Cashman was Tombstone's "Angel of the Mining Camps", a humanitarian and later an accomplished sled dog musher in the Yukon Territory. Allen English was a successful local attorney whose courtroom antics improved as the day progressed and his tongue became "well oiled" with liquor.
A COUNTY IS BORN
Founded in 1879, Tombstone was located in the southeast corner of Pima County, one of four original Arizona counties. By the early 1880's Tombstone was one of the wildest, wealthiest and most populous cities in Arizona Territory. Money flowed freely, and Allen Street was soon lined with fine hotels and restaurants, retail stores, saloons and gambling establishments.
Tombstone was the center of mining, ranching and finance for the entire region. With only about 30 miles to an escape across the Mexican border, Tombstone was also a haven for cattle thieves, stage robbers and other outlaws.
Before 1881, Tombstone's citizens had a long, dangerous two day ride of 75 miles each way to the Pima County Seat in Tucson to record a mining claim, deed or legal document. When the citizen returned from the arduous trip, claim jumpers were likely to have occupied the property, resulting in serious legal questions about property ownership in Tombstone.
As the population of Tombstone grew to rival the size of Tucson and Prescott, Arizona's Territorial capital, so did Tombstone's political influence. To help protect southeast Arizona's citizens and mineral wealth, in 1881 the Territorial legislature voted to create Cochise County. They carved Cochise County out of the eastern 6,256 square miles of Pima County and designated Tombstone, the largest city in Southeast Arizona, as County Seat.
BUILDING THE COURTHOUSE
When Cochise County was established in 1881, one of the Board of Supervisors' early tasks was to contract for the construction of a Courthouse to provide offices for the County Treasurer, Recorder, and Sheriff, courtrooms and a secure County jail.
Of several designs submitted, the Supervisors selected the tall, elegant red brick Courthouse designed by Frank Walker, superintendent of Tombstone's Sycamore Springs Water Company.
Walker was a multi-talented
builder and architect. Prior to arriving in Tombstone in 1880,
he had worked in the lumber industry in Eureka, CA, and later
built and operated mills for gold and silver mines in Idaho, Nevada,
and old Mexico. In the 1870's he was a building designer and contractor
in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in Santa Barbara California,
where he built that city's first street railway. Walker also designed
Tombstone's City Hall and several commercial buildings before
returning to California in 1885.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the Tombstone Courthouse is one of the oldest courthouses still standing in Arizona. At over 10,000 square feet it was one of the largest buildings in all of Arizona Territory at the time of construction.
Built in the shape of a Roman cross, the tall red brick building's style has been described as "Territorial Victorian" with Italian Villa and Classical Revival influences, and a touch of Queen Anne Victorian style in the fanciful iron-railed "widows walk" atop a square, mansard-roofed cupola. The cupola's windows open and still provide natural ventilation to cool the Courthouse on warm summer days.
A symbol of stability in
turbulent times, the Courthouse features a classical triangular-shaped
pediment atop each wall, highlighted by a wide white fascia under
deep roof eaves supported by large square dentils (tooth-like
brackets). This theme repeated in miniature on the cupola.
The Courthouse windows are tall and symmetrically arranged, with heavy redwood frames topped by decorative window hoods. Prominent white "quoins", plaster details simulating cornerstones, highlight the exterior angle of each wall. A white plaster belt- course visually separates the upper and lower halves of the tall brick building.
The construction year "1882" is displayed prominently on the central roof pediment over the front entrance portico. Entering the Courthouse through twelve foot tall, heavy wooden double doors, citizens must have felt the power and authority of the newly established County government.
Inside the Courthouse, the ceilings are 16 feet high. Wide wooden trim, originally hand painted to simulate a walnut wood grain, gives the rooms a solid, comfortable feel.