The Tombstone Western Heritage Museum
On December 26th, 2003, the Tombstone Western Heritage Museum opened its
doors, and its treasures within, to the public. According to museum
president and curator Stephen Elliott and wife Marge, it is a celebration of
Tombstone's past, and the people who made its history. The 3,000 square
foot building, located at 6th and Fremont Streets, houses a collection that
is second-to-none of Tombstone, Western, lawman and outlaw memorabilia, most
of which had never before been on public display.
A special feature of the museum is a large collection of personal items that
belonged to Wyatt and Virgil Earp, and Earp family members, as well as
numerous unpublished photos of the Earps. Many experts have proclaimed this
to be the finest collection of Earpiana anywhere.
In the world of Tombstone and Earp historians, John Gilchriese was
acknowledged as the expert. He started visiting and interviewing former
residents of Tombstone in the 1930's. It is through his avid pursuit of
history that we have many of the documents and photos that exist today. One
of the most outstanding friendships Mr. Gilchriese enjoyed was that of John
Flood, who died in the 1950's. Flood was Wyatt Earp's secretary, confidante
and best friend for many years. He inherited most of the Earp's belongings
and in turn, passed them on to John Gilchriese, who opened his Wyatt Earp
Museum in Tombstone in 1966. After several successful years he closed the
The Elliotts feel like they've picked up the torch from Gilchriese in
preserving the history of Tombstone, as many of the photos and documents
that are on display were purchased from Mr. Gilchriese over the years.
There is no way to list all of the attractions and artifacts contained
within the museum, but a brief description includes the following:
Mining objects and photos, including relics and ore from Wyatt Earp's "Happy
Days" mine near Parker, Arizona. Law and order is represented with lawman
badges, hand cuffs, and over 160 guns. Firefighters and their buffs will be
impressed by the museum's collection, since Tombstone had a very progressive
fire department - after the town burned down for the second time. The
museum boasts an original fire badge and leather fire hat from Tombstone's
1880's fire department, plus 1880's photos of Tombstone firemen.
Documents include: The original hand-written license that opened the Bird
Cage Theater, dated Dec. 24, 1881; hand-written gun carry permit issued by
Mayor John Clum; and original issues of the Tombstone Epitaph newspapers
Large display items include an original 1880's High Wheel Bicycles, the only
1941 Safticycle motorcycle known to exist, a Crosley automobile, and the SJ
Boattail Duesenberg which is the model and design of the 1933 Duesenberg.
The museum is a non-profit corporation. It has been used by the History
Channel for two programs and has been featured on PBS. An original 1900
ledger is used by current visitors to sign in and record their comments,
which range from short remarks like an exuberant "Awesome!" to lengthy and
One visiting historian commented, "No one thing, since the shootout at the
OK Corral, has done more to preserve the history of Tombstone than this
museum." Another remarked, "Most museums feature only one great, important
item. Yours has so many important, historical artifacts that it is almost
The museum is indeed "overwhelming," and it often takes several trips to
fully absorb the contents. And there are more things being added
constantly. The cases and displays are filled with such a variety of
photos, clothing, guns and artifacts that even tourists that are not
fascinated with history can enjoy their time in the museum.
The small gift store in the museum not only carries a large selection of
books on Tombstone and Western history, but also sells select, limited
addition copies of a few of the museum's rarest photos.
The Silver Lady Antique store attached to the museum has been in business
for 16 years, selling high quality artifacts and investment grade historical
documents, photos and firearms. It's contents are often viewed by visitors
as an extension of the museum - except that these museum pieces can be
Museum hours are Monday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm, and Sundays 12:30 to
5pm. The Museum is closed on Wednesdays.
Admission prices are: Adults - $5.00, Juniors 12-18 years - $3.00, and kids
under 12 are free. An entire family can tour the museum for $13.00. There
are special rates for groups, and private tours are available.
The admission price is good for an all-day pass, and the Elliotts allow
their guests to "come and go" through the day. I always encourage my
out-of-town guests to do exactly that, and visit the museum in the morning,
take a break to visit Tombstone's other sites, and return to the museum in
the afternoon. There is so much to see and absorb in Tombstone's Western
Heritage Museum that the senses are overloaded.
Stephen Elliott, President and curator of the museum is always on hand to
answer questions and often leads interested history buffs on a private tour
of his vast collection. I often pop in to see Steve and Marge, and ask
about what's new in the museum. I'm never disappointed. I encourage other
Tombstonians to do the same, and while you and your out-of-town guests
visit, be sure to thank the Elliotts for the important work they are doing
in preserving our Tombstone and Western heritage