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Desert Grave

Fairbank Ghost Town Cemetery, San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona.

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Desert Ruins

Brunckow Cabin, San Pedro River, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

Haunted Tombstone, Arizona

I first visited Tombstone in 2009, which was a dream come true for this fan of old Westerns. Even though I was born in 1981, I was raised on TV shows like Rawhide and Bonanza. I never had the opportunity to travel out west until after graduate school. When I did, some friends from Phoenix and I made sure to explore everything the town had to offer. One of the most famous buildings in Tombstone is the Bird Cage Theatre.

I never thought I would return, but I recently found myself back in that oddly-named showcase of the Wild West. As I sat down for dinner at Big Nose Kate’s, two cowboys sat at the table next to mine playing cards. Yeah, that felt right. I could feel the living, breathing history there. As it turns out, many of Tombstone’s buildings are said to be haunted, not just the Birdcage. Big Nose Kate’s Saloon is one of these.

Big Nose Kate’s, located at 417 East Allen Street (you can’t miss it), was named after John Henry “Doc” Holliday’s companion, “Big Nose” Kate (Mary Katharine Horony). The saloon sits on the site of the former Grand Hotel, which burned in a fire in the spring of 1881. Sylvester Comstock, owner of the hotel, erected a more modest building in its place. Patrons and staff have reported hearing the sound of boots thundering against the floor, beer mugs and other objects moving on their own, and even catching a glimpse of an ethereal cowboy. Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, witnessed one of these moving objects himself when a trophy slid off a mini fridge–narrowly missing one of the employees!

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Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater

The Bird Cage Theater at 535 E. Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona, is one of the only surviving buildings from Tombstone’s Wild West days, the rest having been destroyed by two fires that swept through the town in 1881 and 1882. The Bird Cage Theater opened in 1881 and closed in 1889. In those short years, it gained a notorious reputation as a house of gambling, entertainment, and prostitution. As many as 26 people were allegedly murdered there, and there are over 120 bullet holes throughout the interior. In 1882 the New York Times called it “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Legendary figures like Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, George Randolph Hurst, Johnny Ringo, and Wyatt Earp played poker and drank the night away there.

The Bird Cage Theater is also rumored to be haunted with the ghosts of Tombstone’s tumultuous past. TV shows like Ghost Hunters (2006), Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab (2009), and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (2011) have all aired episodes about the theater. I’ve had a longtime interest in the Old West, so when I visited a friend in Arizona in 2009, we had to take a trip out to Tombstone. The Birdcage Theater was one of the places we visited. It is packed full of memorabilia and artifacts from the past.

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San Pedro Ghost Towns

The San Pedro River flows north from the Mexican border near Sierra Vista, Arizona, to the Gila River north of Tucson. As a source of water, it was invaluable to both native peoples and white settlers alike. Many settlements sprang up in the San Pedro Valley, especially after silver was discovered in the nearby foothills. Prospectors flocked to the area. Today, much of the area is protected in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and ruins of once-prosperous settlements can be found in the surrounding desert.

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In 1858-59, T.F. White and Fredrick Brunckow sought their fortunes in the hills near the San Pedro River. They struck a claim roughly eight miles southwest of Tombstone. Brunckow brought several men with him, including John Moss (Morse), David Brontrager, and James and William Williams. He built a small adobe cabin and supply shelter and hired Mexican laborers to dig the mine.

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In July 1860, William Williams went to Fort Buchanan to purchase supplies. When he returned, he discovered most of his companions, including Brunckow, were brutally murdered. The Mexican laborers fled with whatever supplies and equipment they could get their hands on. According to Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, as many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.

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Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881.

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Bloody Brunckow Cabin

Crumbling adobe walls sit on a hill overlooking the dry, meandering bed of a San Pedro River tributary. Ants and snakes burrow into the rocky soil, past the bleached bones of unfortunate prospectors and outlaws resting in shallow graves. At night, a cold chill descends on the desert floor of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. Those who dare approach these ruins after sundown often report unsettling encounters with the unseen.

Located south of Charleston Road between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, Arizona, the remnant of this small adobe cabin is known as Brunckow Cabin and has been described as “the bloodiest cabin in Arizona history.” After reading the tragic history of the cabin (and the tortured souls rumored to haunt it), I had to see it for myself. Over the years erosion, vandalism, and neglect have taken their toll, and the historic site may not remain for much longer. Finding it is not easy, and visitors are wise to use Google Earth and GPS coordinates (N31 38.31 W110 09.45 to be exact). What I found was a few decaying walls, but the remoteness of the place was not lost on me. It was easy to feel a chill up my spine as I went over in my mind the events alleged to have taken place there.

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