Prior to 1879 mining in Arizona Territory was carried on in an ignorant, unsystematic and sporadic fashion which squandered a lot of money. At Tombstone experienced mining men replaced the fools and frauds who for so long, to use a sporting phrase, "cold decked the country." During its developmental years Tombstone set a record for an Arizona silver district and ushered in a new era of legitimate, honest, and systematic mining. The camp let the world know that Arizona was one of the greatest mining centers on the North American continent.
Mining was an easy task at Tombstone in the early days, ore being rich and close to the surface. One man could pull out ore equal to what three men produced elsewhere. Because of that no more than 400 men worked in the mines at any one time during the bonanza period from 1878 to 1882. Tombstone's mines were developed following principles established on the Comstock; its mills, engines, and hoists engineering marvels. By 1882 the Tombstone District had 130 stamps pounding on ore, more than any mining region in Arizona.
Then disaster struck. Silver slumped in value, mines were flooded, and the fight began to maintain Tombstone as a producer of precious metal. Ponderous Cornish pumps were installed, and for a brief period it looked as if the district would shine again. Fate had other plans, however. Pumps malfunctioned, hydraulic facilities burned, and water rose in the shafts. By 1890 Tombstone had shriveled to 1,800 people. Fortunately, a few mining engineers dreamed of draining the mines and following ore fissures to great depth.
That dream became reality in 1900 when E.B. Gage, Frank Murphy, and William Staunton consolidated the camp's mining properties, formed a company (the Tombstone Consolidated Mines Company), and commenced draining the district. A rail spur was laid into town, and Tombstone was on its way back. For a few years precious metals were retrieved from below the water level. It was a valiant fight, brought to an end when pumps failed in 1909. The company went bankrupt, and its mines passed to the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. During World War I the camp was revived, not as a silver producer but as the nation's foremost supplier of manganese, a strategic metal. In 1917 the district's work force was larger than at any time in its history.
After World War I Tombstone faltered as a mineral producer, and it looked as if the community would go the way of many other mining towns, into oblivion. Had it not been the (Cochise) County seat it probably would have. But in the end Tombstone lost its shire status (in 1929 when the County Seat moved to Bisbee, where it remains), and townsfolk had to fight to keep the town alive. It was a thirty year battle, heroically waged against almost overwhelming odds. In the end, Tombstoners won and made the transition from an economy based on mining to one focused on tourism.