Little hope for young people of Tombstone

Photo by: Kristine Bruun-Andersen
Photo by: Kristine Bruun-Andersen

Tombstone’s push for the preservation of its Old West heritage upholds traditions of the past, but may prevent advancements for the future.

Enthusiasts of the 1880s appreciate the tourist town’s sarsaparilla, horse-drawn carriages and an authentic cowboy lifestyle. However, Tombstone leaves little room for advancements for young people. 

Take a walk on the streets of Tombstone, you’ll most likely see people closer to social security than to their first time voting. Shop owners and elders of the city want to keep it that way, while others question whether that mindset will hasten the town’s doom.

Mayor Dusty Escapule, a fourth-generation Tombstone native, emphasizes the importance of keeping authenticity within the town, but he also explains the lack of options in the way of growth and work for adolescents and young adults.

“Unfortunately some of the young folks, like my kids, were forced to go out of town because there’s not enough jobs of their caliber, they had to go,” Escapule said. “Generally when folks move here, the majority of them are retired and they’re kids have moved on already.”

He said with only one high school and little push for advancement in the way of technology, construction or media, jobs are few and far between other than working in the tourist shops.

“We are only in this for tourism, and the tourist attraction is that this is a famous Old West town, and it’s important that we keep that image up while also trying to move into the 21st century like everyone else, especially for our youth,” Escapule said.

David Thursby, principal of Tombstone High School, said there are no youth organizations in the town besides those that are on the school campus. 

“We have clubs and sports, so students that want to be involved can be involved in a lot of different things on campus,” Thursby said. “Sometimes there are things to do outside of school but students have to be very creative.”

Many shop owners and longtime residents, however, explain their opposition to any type of modern growth when it comes to establishments that could attract more youth.

RaAnn Nerud, daughter of the owners at Spur Western Wear, a family-owned business of 22 years, said Tombstone isn’t looking for change. 

“There is a large push for authenticity and we do our best to keep up with it,” Nerud said. “As things change around us, we fight progress like tooth and nail. We have a ‘Family Dollar’ and that’s the closest thing we have to a grocery store; I think most people would be happy if we never got a traffic light or a McDonalds.”

Thursby explained that of the 297 students who are enrolled in Tombstone High School, the majority of them are not Tombstone residents.

“With open enrollment, there aren’t that many students that actually live in Tombstone,” Thursby said. “Our district also includes Huachuca City and we have students that come in on buses from surrounding areas like Bisbee and Sierra Vista.”

Escapule said it would be difficult to uphold the laws of Tombstone’s historical district while making modern improvements for millennials.

“There are no groceries stores or chain restaurants,” Escapule said. “We’re not going to add any major roads or traffic lights to the town because it would take away from Tombstone’s authenticity. We try to keep it as historic as possible, and in order to obtain our historical landmark status, we have to do that — we should do that.”

Photo by: Kristine Bruun-Andersen
Photo by: Kristine Bruun-Anders

The few advancements Tombstone is working on include projects to build tourist interest. The City Council wants to restore the 1880s’ City Hall, which has been abandoned for more than 10 years.

Escapule said the City Council “is rehabilitating it with some grants and putting it back into shape,” while other projects include the enhancement of Fremont Street and safer sidewalks. 

Josh Hawley, an employee of the O.K. Corral for 25 years, explains that the town “is, what it is” and it may not be a place where the 21st century could ever find a home.

“We take on battles every day to uphold the integrity of the buildings and to keep as much as we can original,” Hawley said. “Most people are very happy with the preservations and staying in the 1800s, but a few want to push further for advancements. However, Tombstone is a fun town, you would be surprised at how many things you can do here and enjoy.”

Kristine Bruun-Andersen is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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