Cochise County Overview and History
Covering a nearly perfectly square 83 by 84 mile area in the southeastern corner of the state of Arizona, Cochise County was carved out of the eastern portion of Pima County on February 1, 1881. Named after the famous Chiricahua Apache war chief Cochise and purchased from Mexico in 1853, the area that is now Cochise County has a long and storied history that predates the United States of America. The first European contact with the land that would become the county came in 1528, when the remnants of the groundbreaking but ill-fated Narvaez Expedition were shipwrecked off of the coast of modern-day Texas.
The four survivors of the expedition, Spanish explorers Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Estevanico (de Carranza’s North African slave) decided to make their way to the Spanish stronghold of Mexico City. With the help of indigenous people native to the region, they traveled west into modern-day Arizona, and south, through the San Pedro Valley, located in what is today the western edge of Cochise County.
The men would eventually finish their journey, becoming the first non-native people to navigate and travel the South-West. Cabeza de Vaca would later sail home to his native Spain, and in 1542 he published his account of the ordeal, “La relación y comentarios,” or “The Accounts and Commentaries,” an account that included the Old World’s first introduction to the land that would become Cochise County.
Over 300 years later the county would get its namesake when in 1861, following the murder of several of his family members by the US Army, the leader of the Chiricahua Apache (whose territory covered the land that would later come to be known as Cochise County) came to an agreement with his father-in-law, the chief of the Mimbreños Apaches, to take advantage of the escalating American Civil War and drive the encroaching non-natives off of Apache land. That leader was named Cochise, and he’d wage a decade long guerrilla campaign against both the Confederacy and the United States, sheltered safely in the virtually impenetrable mountains of Southeast Arizona.
A born leader and savvy tactician, Cochise and his warriors would use hit and run tactics to terrifying effect, striking out from the hills, sacking a settlement, and fading back into the mountains before the army could leverage their massive advantage in numbers and firepower, or even prepare any sort of effective response. Hidden and tightly ensconced in their home territory there, the Chiricahua were virtually unassailable, able to easily resist or evade all attempts by the US government to root them out. For ten years Cochise and his band hid in the mountains, fiercely resisting the encroachment of outsiders onto his peoples’ territory.
In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant personally ordered Civil War hero General Oliver O. Howard to find Cochise, and put an end to his raiding. Grant and Howard, despairing of ever removing the Chiricahua by force, elected instead to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict.
In 1872, General Howard was granted safe conduct into Chiricahua territory, where he met with Cochise. Working through an interpreter, the general offered the Apache war chief peace terms: in exchange for stopping the raids, the Chiricahua would be given reservation land in the East, where they’d have government protection and a guarantee of sovereignty. Cochise refused. He’d stop the raids and lay down arms, but only if the reservation he was given was right there. He wanted the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains that his people called home.
General Howard agreed.
Cochise was 67 years old, and would die peacefully two years later, having never been dislodged from his mountains. Twenty years after he began his war, the mountains that he and his people fought from would be part of a county that, to this day, bears his name.
The very same year that Cochise County was created, an act of violence in the small mining town that then served as the county’s seat would forever define and typify not just one county, but an entire region and epoch of American history. The name of that town was “Tombstone”, and the events that occurred there on October 26, 1881 would catapult that name and the names of the men involved into American myth, and, more so than any other happening, come to epitomize the Wild West.
The Gunfight at the O. K. Corral would be over in 30 seconds, and would remain a footnote in Arizona history until nearly half a century later, when Stuart N. Lake described it in his 1931 biography, “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall”. While the events of the book were heavily dramatized, the remarkable tale of the heroic and skillful lawman taking righteous vengeance on the dastardly outlaws that had gunned his brother down caught hold of America’s imagination, and hasn’t let go since.
In reality, Wyatt Earp was one of the less experienced Earp brothers. He had come to Tombstone to get away from a career in what he called “lawing”, but his plans fell through and he ended up deputized alongside his far more seasoned brother, Virgil Earp, a veteran of the Civil War and an experienced gunfighter and lawman. Although it’s likely that prior to the famous shootout, Wyatt Earp had never fired a shot in anger, his image as an invincible, implacable bringer of justice was cemented in popular culture, and his legend, and the legend of his companion ‘Doc’ Holliday, has only become more ingrained in American folklore. Since the release of his biography in 1931, nary a decade has gone by without someone trying their hand at telling the story of Wyatt Earp and the Shootout at the O.K. Corral, cementing Tombstone and Cochise County as the very epicenter of Wild West folklore.
County Seat Overview and History
Founded as a mining town in 1880, Bisbee, Arizona has been the county seat of Cochise County since 1929, when the seat was moved from Tombstone. Named after mine financier Judge DeWitt Bisbee, the town has a long and interesting history that began in 1877, when a detachment of US army scouts and cavalry was sent to find and root out renegade Apaches operating in the nearby Mule Mountains.
The detachment didn’t find any Apache warriors. Instead, they found the telltale signs of lead, copper, and silver all over the mountains. The news soon spread with the help of an opportunistic, hard-drinking prospector named George Warren who duped the soldiers into entrusting him with their discovery, and a claim was staked (Karma would catch up to George Warren several years later, when, in 1880, he lost the entirety of his share of the enormously lucrative Copper Queen Mine after drunkenly wagering it on himself in a footrace against a horse.) That claim would attract prospectors and speculators from all over the country, including the town’s namesake, Judge DeWitt Bisbee, who provided the financial backing for the famous Copper Queen Mine, a site that survives to this day as a living museum.
The early predictions of mineral wealth were, if anything, too conservative. Prospectors found vein after vein of valuable ore buried deep in the Mule Mountains, and the city boomed as ton upon ton of extraordinarily pure ore was pulled out of the ground. By the dawn of the 20th century, Bisbee was the largest town between St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, and the home of some of the most lucrative mines in the world. That success brought people from every corner of the globe and walk of life, and soon, Bisbee was the most cosmopolitan city in the South-West. An oasis of culture, the city was the site of a whole range of Arizona firsts: first ballpark, first library, and first golf course (an impressive feat of engineering for the first years of the 20th century, given that Bisbee is situated on the western edge of the Chihuahuan Desert,) all of which still stand, monuments to the city’s boom-town days.
Along with success and enormous population growth came vice, and Bisbee was the home of one of the largest and most vibrant entertainment districts in the west, the notorious Brewery Gulch. Home to over 50 saloons at the peak of the town’s growth, Brewery Gulch was a thriving avenue of brothels and rowdy bars, a living reminder of the town’s former life as a rough and tumble mining camp. Some of those saloons survive to this day (albeit in slightly tamer form) and are open for business to those looking to relive a bit of Bisbee’s rustic and rugged past.
Successful as it was, Bisbee was not free from greed and iniquity. The same mines that were the lifeblood of the city gave rise to a series of brutal labor disputes, the most infamous of which would profoundly alter public policy not just in Arizona, but throughout the entire nation. The fallout from the so-called “Brisbee Deportation” would reach the highest echelons of the American government, capturing the attention of President Woodrow Wilson himself.
The incident that would come to be known as the Brisbee Deportation began in 1917, when the city’s miners furnished a list of demands to the city’s three main mining firms; Phelps Dodge, the Calumet and Arizona Co., and the Shattuck Arizona Co. Of the three, Phelps Dodge was by far the largest, owning the lucrative Copper Queen Mine, as well as the city’s only department store, the hospital, the city’s largest hotel, the city library, and even the town newspaper. The miners’ demands included an end to physical strip searches (conducted at the end of every shift to ensure that they weren’t smuggling out valuable ore), basic safety changes (such as not detonating explosives while the miners were inside the mine), and a shift from a payment system that renumerated the workers based on quantity and quality of ore mined (which was largely out of their control) to a flat rate of $6.00 a day. If the demands weren’t met, the miners would strike.
The mining firms flatly refused all of the demands.
On June 26, 1917, the strike was called. Over 3000 miners walked off, leaving the mines staffed by less than a quarter of the normal workforce. The mining firms immediately sent a message to the Governor of Arizona, Thomas Edward Campbell, requesting that a detachment of either state militia or federal troops be sent to break the nonviolent strike. Occurring as it did during the height of America’s involvement in the First World War, the mining firms’ representatives suggested that the strike was In fact an Axis plot to halt the acquisition of vital war material, an act of sabotage that required an immediate federal response.
Both President Wilson declined to send the military in to break the peaceful strike, electing instead to send the state’s first Governor and noted labor ally, George W. P. Hunt, to negotiate a mutually agreeable end to the demonstration.
Dissatisfied with this arrangement, the president of Phelps Dodge, Walter S. Douglas, a self avowed union breaker, gathered together a group of mining executives, along with the county sheriff and executives of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, and conspired to break the strike by force, then kidnap and deport from the state any man that refused to work in the mines, renounce the miners union, or who was a noted member of a labor organization or involved in the organization of the strike.
To accomplish this task, the mining firms formed a posse, deputized by the county sheriff and composed of over 2,200 men from the surrounding area. The posse moved into the town just before dawn on July 12, 1917, carrying firearms and lists of known strikers. The armed deputies of the posse moved through town, seizing control of telegraph stations and telephones to keep news of the incident from leaking out. They detained journalists and soon had a stranglehold on the city, preventing the world at large from learning of the deportation until the act was done.
The posse pulled men from their homes, and robbed and looted the local shops, throwing the town grocer in with the striking miners. As they were arrested, the men of the town were marched at gunpoint to the ballpark, where they were placed under guard by an automobile-mounted machine gun. Those who weren’t recorded union members were given an ultimatum: get back in the mine, or leave the state.
The men who refused, or who were avowed union members or strike organizers were again lead out at gunpoint, this time to waiting cattle cars furnished by the mining firms’ friends at the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. Shoved into cars covered ankle-deep in manure, the nearly 1300 men were told that they’d be lynched if they ever returned to Brisbee. The train left at just past 11 AM, stopping briefly to take on supplies at a station 10 miles outside of town, where hundreds of armed men and two machine guns stood watch over the unwilling passengers, ensuring that escape was impossible.
The train would travel east for nearly 16 hours, an almost 200 mile journey through scorching desert heat without food or water, arriving and being refused at several stops before finally being allowed to unload in Hermanas, New Mexico. The striking miners were now far from home, in a strange state, all of them without a cent to their name.
The expulsion resulted in a minor humanitarian disaster for New Mexico, as the state authorities scrambled to find acceptable accommodations for close to 1300 men. A near panicked message to President Wilson brought relief in the form of a US Army escort to Columbus, New Mexico, where the miners were housed in a federal tent city set up to hold Mexican refugees.
The mining firms’ posse would rule the town of Brisbee with an iron fist for the next four months, arresting and deporting hundreds more citizens. Despite the efforts of President Wilson and the federal government, no one involved with the Brisbee Deportation was ever successfully prosecuted, and only a bare handful of deportees ever returned home or received compensation from the mining firms. The kidnapped men largely made do as best they could, and faded into history.
While a terrible miscarriage of justice, the Brisbee Deportation was a watershed moment for the city, Cochise County, and the nation as a whole. The incident sparked widespread debate over the role of private citizens and state government in policing labor, and the right of the federal government to interfere with a state’s ability to decide who moves through its borders, a dispute that would eventually find its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.
While mass deportations would happen again in the United States, they would all be at the behest of the federal government. Never again would a state kidnap and displace citizens without due process on behalf of a private organization. The Brisbee Deportation would remain a singular and extraordinary event in the history of American labor disputes, and Brisbee itself would eventually recover. Though the mines would dry up by the mid-20th century, the city remains a vibrant tourist town with an interesting history and a unique heritage. Never a huge city, and smaller now than it was at its peak, Brisbee has nonetheless had a huge influence on Arizona and the nation, and its small size belies a fascinating Old West pedigree and lively history that stretches far longer than you’d expect from the shadow of what was once a tiny desert mining camp.
County Courthouse Overview and History
Located in the town of Tombstone, the historic Cochise County Courthouse was first built in 1882, only three years after the town was incorporated, and one year after Cochise County was formed. Constructed at the cost of $50,000 (the equivalent of approximately $1,240,000 in 2018), the construction of the courthouse was a fundamental part of why the people of the county elected to split off from Pima County, located far to the west. In addition to suffering from rampant crime and lawlessness, the town of Tombstone and Cochise County at large had no easy way for the resident miners to file claims, deeds, or other documents necessary to their trade. Prior to its construction, the nearest courthouse to Tombstone was nearly 70 miles away in Tucson: an unpleasant, potentially hazardous two-day ride through open desert and rocky, mountainous terrain.
Housing all of the county’s officials, including its treasurer, sheriff, and other law enforcement personnel, the courthouse was, relative to the other local buildings of the age, huge and imposing. One of the largest buildings in the Arizona Territory at the time of its construction, the courthouse was 76 feet wide at its wings, and 88 feet long. Befitting a town and county newly awash in mineral wealth, it was also one of the most elegant. A dignified, cross-shaped building in the Territorial Victorian style, the courthouse is constructed of red brick and white stone, with a pillared porch and balcony overlooking the entrance, gently pitched roofs, symmetrical windows, and a peaked, central lookout tower rising a story above the second floor.
A commanding presence in the otherwise chaotic and lawless town, the courthouse was instrumental in bringing order and rule of law to the region. In its time, the building acted as the headquarters of famous lawmen, like Sheriff Johnny Behan, infamous for his feud with the Earps, and ‘Texas’ John Slaughter, whose heavy hand scourged the county of outlaws. Its jail, too, at times held legends: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday themselves slept a night behind its bars following the famous Shootout at the O. K. Corral, though they were soon exonerated, and the outlaws responsible for the infamous Bigbee Massacre were incarcerated there before finding their way into the history books when they became the first men to be (legally; one of their conspirators was dragged out of the jail and hanged from a telegraph pole by an angry mob a month prior) hanged in Tombstone.
In 1904, the county had an extension built onto the rear of the building, expanding the jail and courtroom, and lengthening the building to 116 feet. By then, Tombstone’s boomtown days were long gone, the silver mines that were the city’s lifeblood having variously been flooded, or dried up years prior, and its population slowly but surely contracted, having fewer than 700 citizens by the turn of the 19th century. Still, Tombstone held on, largely propped up by the courthouse and its status as the administrative center of the county.
In 1929, that status came to an end. The people of Cochise County elected to move the county seat to Bisbee, by then far larger than Tombstone, and still economically booming. A massive, Art Deco style courthouse was built there and finished by 1931, the same year that the last administrative official left Tombstone.
A sprawling, modern building, the Bisbee Courthouse serves Cochise County to this day. Trading in Wild West charm for modern amenities, this courthouse has never hosted legendary gunfighters, but is far better suited to the trials of the modern legal world.
As for the old Tombstone Courthouse, it stood empty for the better part of 30 years, until it was restored in the late 1950s, becoming a registered state park in 1959. Today, it continues to operate as a historical museum, and a window into Tombstone and Cochise County’s colorful frontier past.
Established in 1881, the office of Cochise County Sheriff is an integral part of the region’s legendary Wild West heritage. The inaugural office holder, Johnny Behan, was infamously friendly with the outlaw Cowboys that the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday shot down at the O. K. Corral, and the fourth holder of the office, Texas John Slaughter, was a former Texas Ranger and Civil War veteran who had a hand in hunting down and capturing the renegade Apache medicine man and war leader, Geronimo.
Briefly inheriting the position of undersheriff of eastern Pima County from Wyatt Earp himself, Johnny Behan was elected as the first Sheriff of Cochise County when it split off from Pima County in 1881. A former miner, saloon keeper, and minor political appointee, Behan came into conflict with the Earp brothers almost immediately.
Allegedly annoyed by an incident in which Wyatt used the threat of Behan to recover his brother Virgil’s stolen horse from a member of the outlaw Cowboy gang (a group that Behan was infamously close to), the sheriff refused to name Wyatt as his undersheriff. Earp insisted that the position had been promised to him in a backroom deal as payment for agreeing not to run against Behan in the election.
The friction continued to build when the Earp brothers were appointed city marshals, a position that resulted in the lawmen frequently being at odds with one another, as the Earps periodically arrested members of the Cowboys gang and Behan let them go, an arrangement that culminated in the Earps handing the outlaw Luther King over to Sheriff Behan, and Behan quite literally walking him in the front door of the courthouse and out the back.
The friction came to a head following the famous Shootout at the O. K. Corral, when the Earps and their associate Doc Holliday gunned down most of the Cowboys gang. Behan had attempted to get both factions to disarm, but was unable to prevent the incident, and would afterwards arrest both Wyatt and Holliday for murder, testifying against them at a preliminary hearing, though the marshals were ultimately exonerated.
Behan would again pursue Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday during their legendary vendetta ride against the remaining Cowboys, following the assassination of Morgan Earp, but wouldn’t catch them. Sheriff Behan would hold a grudge against the Earps for the rest of his life, frequently decrying them in the press.
Five years after the Earp brothers’ famous shootout with the cowboys, a man named John Horton Slaughter would be elected sheriff. Every bit as imposing as his name would suggest, Slaughter was a former Texas Ranger who had once hunted a cattle rustler and card cheat across state lines, gunning him down on the grounds of a mutual friend’s ranch.
Grim eyed and taciturn with a short, well groomed beard, Texas John Slaughter would virtually depopulate the county of outlaws in his two terms as sheriff, the most famous incident coming at the very beginning of his tenure when he and his men tangled with the Jack Taylor Gang, killing some and scattering the others. While most of the outlaws would escape, they’d never again be the menace that they were, and the remainder of them all met violent ends at the end of a hangman’s rope or a lawman’s bullet, or were caught and jailed.
Another of Slaughter’s famous exploits came when he assisted the United States Cavalry in pursuing and capturing the Apache leader, Geronimo.
A protege of the county’s namesake, the Chiricahua Apache warchief Cochise who had resisted Mexican and American incursions onto his territory for so long, Geronimo was a medicine man and leader of the Apache guerrillas who refused to be moved from the Chiricahua reservation following a series of attacks on American settlements.
Sheriff Slaughter’s knowledge of the area proved invaluable in the manhunt, the craggy hills of southeast Arizona having confounded the efforts of unaccustomed soldiers hunting Apache guerrillas for a generation or more. Geronimo at last surrendered, and was captured and brought East, where he lived out the remainder of his life on a reservation.
Texas John Slaughter retired in 1890, leaving Cochise County mostly tamed. He spent most of the remainder of his life tending to his ranch, and died peacefully in 1922 at the age of 80.
Today, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office is based in the county seat of Bisbee, and maintains the county’s jails, as well as policing the unincorporated areas of the county. In addition to Civil, Communications, Detention, and Patrol Divisions, the office operates a SWAT team and a Search and Rescue Posse. Additionally, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office operates a single helicopter: an Airbus EC130T2, code named ‘Geronimo’.
City/Town Police Departments
Cochise County’s nearly 125,000 citizens are served by multiple municipal police agencies, most with their own colorful histories, as well as the county sheriff’s office, tasked with providing general police services to unincorporated areas.
Many of the county’s municipal police departments have colorful histories of their own. The county seat of Bisbee established its own municipal police department in 1880, a year before the county was split off from neighboring Pima. The Bisbee Police Department was granted the sometimes unenviable job of policing a rowdy mining town, a proposition that was made all the more difficult by the presence of Bisbee’s infamous Brewery Gulch, a notoriously lawless red-light district.
The Bisbee police were involved in a few notable incidents, including the Bisbee Deportation, wherein striking miners were detained at gunpoint and illegally forced out of the state, and the Bisbee Riot two years later when a group of African-American soldiers from the 10th Cavalry Regiment were involved in a scuffle with law enforcement, an event that quickly escalated into an all-out street battle that ended with over 100 rounds fired, and at least 8 people were shot, including a female bystander who was struck in the head by a stray bullet. The federal government (who had been surveilling local law enforcement following the Bisbee Deportation) concluded that there had been a concerted effort by local authorities to provoke the African-American troopers into a fight, and, ultimately, no soldier was seriously punished for the riot.
Another local department, the Sierra Vista Police, was established as a one-man station in 1957. The tiny department lead a relatively peaceful, rustic existence, until a sudden burst of grisly child murders in 1967 brought jurisdictional conflicts with state and federal authorities, as well as modernization, lead by the department’s chief, C. Reed Vance.
When the serial child murderer Steven Huff, who had coined the grandiose title of ‘The Phantom’ in the taunting notes he had sent to the police, was apprehended, it was the Sierra Vista Police who had picked him up on a hunch from Chief Vance. As a result of their efforts, Huff would spend the next 50 years behind bars.
Other municipal agencies include the Douglas Police, serving the town of Douglas, a smelting town incorporated in 1905 to process copper ore from nearby Bisbee; the Huachuca City Police, serving Huachuca City, a tiny rail town just north of Fort Huachuca, established in 1958; and the Benson Police Department, serving the town of Benson, established in the far west of the county in 1880 to serve as a rail terminal for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
First built into the county courthouse in Tombstone in 1882, the Cochise County Jail has held a host of legendary heroes and villains of the Old West. The jail, at one point or another, housed both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, arrested and incarcerated for a night by Sheriff Behan, as well as members of the outlaw Cowboy gang that they faced in the famous gunfight at the O. K. Corral.
The original Tombstone jail saw use almost immediately when, in 1883, a botched robbery at the Goldwater and Castaneda general store in Bisbee claimed the lives of four people, including a deputy sheriff and a pregnant woman.
Five outlaws rode into town on the evening of December 8th intending to loot the shop while its coffers were full, payroll having been delivered shortly prior. Three of the men burst into the shop, leaving two to stand watch, and held the proprietor at gunpoint, forcing him to open the safe. When he did, they discovered that they had mistimed the robbery: payroll hadn’t arrived yet, and the safe was virtually empty.
As the robbers inside looted what they could, the two standing watch were confronted by a citizen of the town, J. C. Tappenier. When Tappenier refused to retreat back into the local saloon, one of the outlaws shot him through the head with his rifle.
The noise of the gunshot brought deputy D. Tom Smith, who, announcing himself as a lawman, was immediately gunned down.
As the outlaws fled, they shot anyone in sight, including the pregnant Annie Roberts, who they mortally wounded, and a fourth bystander, who they shot in the chest. Both victims would die within the day, and a further victim would be shot in the leg but recover.
The five men were soon captured (one of them having neglected to wear a mask during the robbery) as well as a sixth alleged conspirator, John Heath, who was accused of playing a part in the formulation of the robbery plan.
Both the five robbers and Heath were convicted, the latter based entirely on testimony provided by a prisoner who received a reduced sentence for his cooperation. The five outlaws were sentenced to hang, while Heath was to live out the rest of his days at Yuma Territorial Prison.
On the morning of February 22nd 1884, a mob of Cochise County citizens stormed the jail. Dissatisfied with Heath’s having escaped the hangman’s noose, they held the jailers at gunpoint and demanded that he be handed over to them. The jailers, outnumbered, had no choice but to comply.
John Heath was dragged to the middle of Tombstone and hanged from a telegraph at approximately 8 AM, having used his last words to attest to his innocence.
The five perpetrators of the massacre would be legally hanged outside the county jail a little over a month later, on March 28th. Over a thousand people attended the execution.
When, in 1929, the county seat was moved from Tombstone to Bisbee, the county jail went with it. The most recent iteration of the Cochise County Jail is a modern steel and concrete complex built in 1985, just over a century after the original was completed.
In 1959 the old Cochise County Courthouse in Tombstone was converted into a museum, and the county jail with it. A replica gallows stands next to it.
Today, the Cochise County Jail is administered by the Detention Division of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, and houses approximately 250 inmates.
Directions From Bisbee to Phoenix
Located on the US-Mexican border, the Cochise County Seat of Bisbee, Arizona is located about 207 miles to the southwest of the state’s capital city of Phoenix.
The journey from Bisbee to Phoenix takes around 3.5 hours, and is an easy drive northwest, traveling into the interior of the state from Bisbee to Benson along AZ-80, then a straight shot on I-10 W, past the city of Tucson and onto Phoenix.
Known as the “Land of Legends” for its legendary ties to the Old West, Cochise County, Arizona recently made the list of <i>Cheapism’s</i> “12 Best New Places to Vacation in 2018.” The county seat of Bisbee, Arizona also made it onto <i>Fromm’s</i> list of “Best Places to Go in 2018.” Cochise County is located about ninety minutes from Tucson in southeastern Arizona. It is a gorgeous area with beautiful mountains and a spectacular view of the starry night sky.
It is also home to a town you may recognize, the legendary Tombstone, home of Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, and the famous O.K. Corral. It is a great place to review and relive our own American history. Tombstone is not the only attraction in Cochise, however. This article will explore the county of Cochise and tell you everything you need to know about it and the best places in it to visit.
Cochise County Overview and History
Founded on February 1, 1881 out of the eastern portion of Pima County, Cochise County is the site of many major 19th century battles between the United States Army and the Chiricahua Apache tribe. It even takes its name from the famous Chiricahua Apache war chief of the same name.
Cochise and his tribe of Chiricahua Apache warriors set up their camp along the Dragoon range of mountains. He frequently ambushed the Americans who passed by on the plains below the mountains. He robbed them and murdered them seemingly without conscience. It became impossible to pass near the Dragoon Mountain range without rising the ire of Cochise. People became terrified to even attempt the pass, and for a long time, no one even attempted to go anywhere within range of Cochise and his warriors. Eventually the United States army stepped in and took action. They starved out Cochise and his tribe and hanged many of them. Afterwards, miners and other people settled in the area and named it after the terrifying Apache war chief.
The county spreads out over 6,000 square miles and is over five times the size of the entire state of Rhode Island! It has numerous mountain ranges, including the Dragoons, the Whetstones, and its most well-known range, the Chiricahua Mountains. It was created largely in part as a response to Tombstone’s rising mining-based economy.
There are six main cities in the county, and they are Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista Sierra(which was designated a Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists), Tombstone, and Willcox. It is also home to Huachuca City, which is, in fact, a misnomer because it is a town rather than a city. It is also home to numerous other towns and ghost towns, which are destinations for tourists from all over the country.
The climate of Cochise County is surprisingly temperate and pleasant nearly year round. In its coldest months, temperatures rarely go below twenty five degrees Fahrenheit, and in its hottest months, the temperatures do not normally rise above ninety five degrees Fahrenheit. There is not a ton of rain, so there are not a lot of rainy days that require residents and visitors to stay inside their homes or hotel rooms. It is a pleasant place to be pretty much the whole year round.
According to the most recent United States census data, which is a bit dated from 2010, there were 131,346 people, 50,865 households, and 33,653 families residing in the county, with a population density of 21.3 inhabitants per square mile. It is a predominantly white county, but it does have a Hispanic population of over thirty percent. Politics tend towards the Republican party in most instances.
There have been many shows and movies set and even filmed in Cochise County, Arizona over the years. The most obvious of these is, of course, <i>Tombstone</i>. It was not filmed in Cochise County, but it is based on the town of Tombstone, which is located in the county. A television series called <i>The Sheriff of Cochise</i> was filmed in Bisbee and ran for two years. <i>Broken Arrow</i>, both the movie starring Jimmy Stewart and the television show of the same name were not filmed in Cochise County but, like <i>Tombstone</i>, they were both set there.
Cochise County is also home to many different protected areas, including the Chiricahua National Monument, the Coronado National Monument (as well as part of the Coronado National Forest), Kartchner Caverns State Park, the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge, and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, all of which will be discussed below.
Amazing Things to See and Do in Cochise County
Established in April of 1924, the Chiricahua National Monument, part of the National Park System, is located in the Chiricahua Mountains. It is home to the Faraway Ranch, which preserves an important local area where one of the final conflicts between the Apache and the United States Army occurred, the beautiful Balanced Rock formation, and the preservation of the immense volcanic eruption of Turkey Creek Caldera. Over 50,000 people visit this monument each year.
The Coronado National Monument commemorates conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s first organized expedition into the Southwest and is part of the Coronado National Forest, which is an area of about 1.78 million acres in Arizona and New Mexico. The mountains run through many different counties in the two states, but the Coronado National Monument has its home in Cochise. Both the monument and the forest are gorgeous areas to visit.
The caverns of <a href=”https://azstateparks.com/kartchner”>Kartchner Caverns State Park</a> were discovered in 1974 by cavers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, but the caverns did not become public knowledge until 1988 when the owners of the land where the caverns were found sold the land to the state. The state of Arizona then decided to renovate them and turn them into a tourist attraction. They were finally made into a state park on November 5, 1999. Kartchner Caverns State Park was also named the “Best Arizona Attraction” by <I>USA Today Readers’ Choice</I> in 2017 and the “Best Cave in the USA” from the same readers’ group in 2016.
In 1960, the Fort Bowie and Apache Pass site was declared a National Historic Landmark. The site is located on Apache Pass Road in Willcox, Arizona, very near the Chiricahua National Monument. The site is very well preserved, and people come to visit it from all over the United States. It was built in 1862 in response to a series of particularly violent attacks by the Chiricahua Apache tribe. It is named for the commander of the 5th Regiment California Volunteer Infantry who built the original fort, Commander George Washington Bowie.
Because the original fort acted as more of a military camp than anything permanent, a second Fort Bowie was built in 1868. This Fort Bowie was much more of a permanent military base and included a hospital, a trading post, barracks for the soldiers, a corral, and houses. Before it was abandoned in 1894, Fort Bowie became famous for being the place where Geronimo surrendered and where the Apaches were banished to Alabama and Florida. If you wish to learn more about Fort Bowie, you can visit its page on the United States National Parks website, which can be found <a href=”https://www.nps.gov/fobo/index.htm”>here.</a>
Both the <a href=”https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Leslie_Canyon”>Leslie Canyon Wildlife Refuge</a> and the <a href=”https://www.blm.gov/visit/san-pedro”>San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area</a> are found in Cochise, Arizona, as well. Leslie Canyon is a 2,770-acre refuge which was established in 1988 to protect the habitat for the endangered Yaqui Chub, the endangered Yaqui Topminnow, and a rare velvet ash-cottonwood-black walnut gallery forest. If you have not heard of the Yaqui Chub or the Yaqui Topminnow, you are definitely not alone. Both the Yaqui Chub and the Yaqui Topminnow are endangered species of freshwater fish that are native to Mexico, and the Leslie Canyon Wildlife Refuge is one of the few places in the world where you can still see these fish today.
The much larger San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area spans a vast 57,000 acres from the border of Mexico to St. David, Arizona. It is considered to be one of the most important riparian areas in the entire United States, and it includes the San Pedro River, the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert transition zones, and the San Pedro Valley, which is home to fourteen species of fish, over forty species of reptiles and amphibians, over eighty species of mammals, and one hundred species of breeding birds. It also serves as a refuge for countless other migrating birds during the migratory season.
Another Registered Historic National Landmark that can be found in Cochise County, Arizona also happens to be one of the most visited towns in all of Arizona. Tombstone, or “The Town Too Tough to Die,” is a frequent stop for many tourists who come to visit Arizona. In days gone by, Tombstone was the epitome of all of the “Wild West” towns. It was home to such big Wild West names as Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp and his brothers. There were gunfights and whiskey-fueled brawls in taverns, horses tied to posts and spurs on cowboy boots stomping down dusty roads. In the 19th century, all of the stereotypical Wild West things that show up in every western ever made could be found in Tombstone.
Today, Tombstone still exists; it is a real town that is home to real people with real jobs and real lives; however, it has not forgotten its Wild West heritage, and that makes it a must-see destination for many Arizona tourists visiting from all around the world. Today, tourists and Wild West aficionados can walk down the same streets on which many of their gun slinging heroes also walked; they can step into some the same establishments to have a cool drink or play a hand of cards; they can still hop on a trolley or a stagecoach to see the sights. They can even see a gunfight in the streets! There are tours, both tour-guided and self-guided, museums to visit, and numerous opportunities for shopping. There is even an underground mining tour for the more adventurous guests. Tombstone truly does have something for everyone. To learn more about Tombstone, please visit its official website <a href=”https://tombstoneweb.com”>here.</a>
County Seat History and Overview
When Cochise County, Arizona was first founded in 1881, Tombstone was the county seat. Tombstone’s mining and copper industries are what made Cochise County such an important city, along with cotton and the cattle trade. Once the mining industry of Tombstone began to decline, however, officials thought it best to relocate the county seat. This happened in 1929. The county seat moved to Bisbee, a town established in 1880 and incorporated in 1902, and has remained in Bisbee ever since that time.
Bisbee was originally chosen to be the new county seat of Cochise in large part because of its booming mining industry. Even as Tombstone’s mining industry was declining, Bisbee’s was beginning to flourish. Mining was so important to the city of Bisbee that it actually took its name from one of the shareholders of the Copper Queen Mine, Judge DeWitt Bisbee. In the early 1900s, Bisbee had become the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco and was thought of as one of the West’s most cultured cities.
Today, aside from being the county seat, Bisbee is also home to several different interesting sites such as Turquoise Valley, which was Arizona’s first golf course, the Copper Queen, which was the state’s first community library, and Warren Ballpark, which is possibly the world’s oldest ball field that is still in use. All of these places were built in the early 1900s when Bisbee was in its mining prime. During its century of mining history, Bisbee can successfully boast mining over eight billion pounds of copper, over two million ounces of gold, and over one hundred million ounces of silver.
As happens with most mining operations, it eventually declined until all of the ore reserves were spent. This happened in the early 1970s, and Bisbee was forced to accept that it was going to have to find a new way to bring in revenue. They turned to tourism, and the transition was quite successful. Today, Bisbee is still an important town. It is known for its diverse culture and remains a popular place for tourists and even long-term vacationers because of its splendid art community, as well as a plethora of musical events, historical and architectural attractions, and dining and nightlife. There is also quite a bit of outdoor activity that happens in Bisbee to draw in the more adventurous tourists and thrill-seekers.
In population makeup, modern day Bisbee is quite similar to the overall makeup of Cochise County. According to the 2017 data of the U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts, there were approximately 5,192 people living in Bisbee. These people are predominantly white (eighty six percent) with a decent sized population of Latino descendants (thirty eight percent). Bisbee also now includes the satellite communities of Warren, Lowell, and San Jose, as well as many smaller neighborhoods.
Modern day Bisbee is still heavily dependent upon tourism for its source of revenue. The historic town of Bisbee is now called “Old Bisbee” and is a popular attraction for tourists and artists who visit Bisbee. It is well known for its beautiful architecture, and because it was created before cars ruled the road, it is compact and perfect for strolling through on foot.
Because Bisbee is so dependent upon its tourism industry, there are, of course, many interesting places to visit in addition to “Old Bisbee.” This article has mentioned some of those already, but they will be described below, as well.
Places to Visit in Bisbee, Arizona
The Copper Queen Mine was once the most active copper mine in all of Arizona. Today, it is a place of interest for tourists, and guided tours are offered daily for those wanting to learn more about the history of the copper mining industry in Cochise County. Since it was approved for tours in the late 1970s, the mine has had over a million visitors. You can read more about the Copper Queen Mine on its <a href=”http://www.queenminetour.com/”>website.</a>
Very near the Copper Queen Mine is the Phelps Dodge General Office Building. Phelps Dodge purchased the Copper Queen Mine in 1885 and set up its headquarters near the mine itself. Today, the building is registered as a National Historic Landmark and can be visited on Main Street of Copper Queen Plaza. It is now home to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum and is another popular destination for tourists.
Also located near the Copper Queen Mine is the Lavender Pit, a former open pit copper mine named for the Vice President and General Manager of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, Harrison M. Lavender. The Pit was opened in 1950 and managed to produce about 600,000 tons of copper by 1974. Silver and gold were byproducts of the mining, but the most important byproduct came to be known as Bisbee Blue. Bisbee Blue is turquoise mined in the Bisbee mines, and it is some of the most beautiful turquoise that can be found anywhere in the world. Today, many shops in the area carry jewelry and other items made with the famous Bisbee Blue turquoise.
Other popular places to visit in Bisbee include the Evergreen Cemetery, the Copper Queen Hotel, Warren Ballpark, and the Bisbee County Courthouse, which this article will discuss in further detail in the next section. There is even a haunted ghost tour of Bisbee for those hoping to catch sight of something spooky. To learn more about Bisbee, check out either the <a href=”https://www.discoverbisbee.com”>Discover Bisbee</a> site or the <a href=”https://bisbeeaz.gov”>Bisbee Arizona</a> website.
County Courthouse History and Overview
There have been a few different Cochise County Court Houses throughout the years, beginning in 1882 when architect Frank Walker and contractor A.J. Ritter worked together to build the beautiful Cochise County Court House in Tombstone, Arizona. It cost them over fifty thousand dollars, which is a substantial amount of money today but would have been an outrageous sum in 1882.
It is a two story, north facing building made of red bricks with stone trim decorating each corner. The front features a small white portico made of wood, and there is a balcony on the second floor of the building. The center of the building houses a square white cupola with a lovely green roof.
When in use, it housed the offices of various public officials, including the sheriff, the treasurer, and the board of supervisors among others. The courtroom and jail were also both on-site. This particular courthouse remained in use for many years, and it was not until 1931 that it was finally vacated for good. In 1959 government officials decided to turn this building into a museum that showcased the history of Arizona and, in particular, Cochise County. It is also considered a state park. It is still used for these purposes today.
The current Cochise County Courthouse is located in the county seat of Bisbee, Arizona. It is a very well-known building due to the fact that its architecture makes it a frequent stop for visitors to Cochise County. It was built in the Art Deco style of architecture and is an incredibly beautiful building. Built in 1931 by architect Roy Place and contractor Clinton Campbell, the court house was built on Quality Hill in Bisbee. It was dedicated by Governor George W.P. Hunt on August 3, 1931.
The building is approximately seventy three feet high and contains six floors. It is beautiful both outside and within. The two front doors are large and covered in copper, a reminder of just how Bisbee came to be such a prosperous town. The stone framework surrounding the front doors also illustrates Bisbee’s mining heritage; it is made of dark brown stone and features designs and the figures of two miners. The lobby is done in Tennessee pink marble and Belgian black marble. It also has terrazzo floors and staircases with brass stair railings, as well as mahogany trim.
If you would like to read more about either of the two Cochise County Court Houses or see detailed pictures of either, you can visit the United States Courthouses website, which is a great reference and has pages dedicated to court houses all over the country. The Bisbee Court House specific page can be found <a href=”http://www.courthouses.co/us-states/states-a-g/arizona/chochise-county/”>here.</a>
County Sheriff of Cochise County
The first sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona was John Harris Behan, also known as Johnny Behan. He is fairly well known due to his animosity with the Earp brothers. He was sheriff during the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. If you are unfamiliar with the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which is incredibly unlikely as it has been memorialized in so many films and shows, it was a very big deal. The following is a brief account of what happened.
It took place on October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt Earp, at the time a security guard at a bank, and his brothers Morgan and Virgil, who was the town marshal, and the Clantons and McLaurys, who were known outlaws, did not get along and had frequent quarrels over territory and other matters.
On October 25, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury came into Tombstone, and for the next twenty four hours, the two men had several violent run-ins with the Earp brothers and their good friend Doc Holliday. The next day, Ike’s brother Billy, Frank McLaury, and a man named Billy Claiborne came to Tombstone to join Ike and Tom. They came across Doc Holliday, who spurred the conflict forward by bragging about how Ike and Tom had been badly beaten by the Earp brothers. They left the saloon swearing that they would get revenge on Wyatt Earp and his brothers.
That afternoon, the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday ran into the Clanton-McLaury gang at the O.K. Corral, and the famous gunfight ensued. For all the fame it now receives, it only lasted about thirty seconds; however, during that time, over thirty shots were fired. To this day, it is still unclear who shot first, though reports tend to claim it was Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. At the end of the gunfight, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead, while Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were all wounded. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran away.
Later, when the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, Sheriff John Behan charged all of the Earp brothers as well as Doc Holliday with murder. He claimed to have witnessed the whole event. He had had some run-ins with the Earp brothers in the past, however, so his judgement was considered suspect by many, but the charges stuck and the case went to trial. Once there, however, the judge presiding over the case found each of the men not guilty because they had had just cause.
The story has been told and retold numerous times in books and movies. Some of the more well-known movies are <i>Tombstone</i>, <i>Gunfight at the O.K. Corral</i>, and <i>Wyatt Earp</i>. This story cemented the legend of not only the Earps, McLaurys, and Doc Holliday but also of Sheriff Behan as well, and to this day, his is one of the most famous names of all the sheriffs throughout Cochise County’s history. There have been a few others who were almost as popular, as well, including Texas John Slaughter, who become sheriff in 1886 and his deputies Jeff Milton and Burt Alvord.
The current sheriff of Cochise County is Sheriff Mark Dannels. His chief deputy is Thad Smith. The mission statement of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, according to their <a href=”https://www.cochise.az.gov/sheriff/home”>website</a>, is “to provide professional, high quality and effective law enforcement and correctional services in partnership with the community.” The statement continues on, saying, “We are committed to the protection of life and property; the preservation of peace, order, and safety; the vigorous enforcement of Local and State Laws; and the defense of the Constitution of the State of Arizona and the Constitution of the United States of America in a fair and impartial manner.”
Also according to their <a href=”https://www.cochise.az.gov/sheriff/home”>website</a>, their vision statement reads as follows: “Providing citizens of Cochise County with effective and efficient public safety services since 1881, the Sheriff’s Office will continue its legacy to “lead the way.” We will perform our duties with the utmost character, competence, and open communications.”
The sheriff’s department of Cochise County is hugely active in the community. In addition to protecting and serving, they also sponsor and hold many different community-centric programs and events, including the “Are You Okay?” program, which is a program designed to help people who are homebound or physically disabled receive help in case of an emergency.
Participants in this program give their information to law enforcement and decide on a particular interval of time during which they want to be contacted. For instance, some people want to be contacted once a day while others feel comfortable being contacted only once or twice a week. A call is made to the participant according to their chosen interval, and if no answer is received after several tries, an officer of the law or other point of contact is sent to check on the individual. It is an effective way to ensure that those people in the community who have limited contact with others can still feel secure in the knowledge that someone will be checking in on them on a regular basis.
City/Town Police Department
In addition to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department in Bisbee, Arizona, each of the six major cities, as well as Huachuca City, has its own police department.
Bisbee has its own police department specific to Bisbee in addition to the sheriff’s department, which serves the entire county. The police chief of the Bisbee Police Department is Chief Albert Echave. The station is located at 1 State Highway 92. Their mission statement is a simple one, but it is also a powerful one. They vow to serve and protect so that all citizens of Bisbee can live in peace, neither afraid for their own fates or the fates of their goods and/or properties.
Benson Police Department, under the leadership of Police Chief Paul Moncado, has a similar mission statement – to protect and to serve. Their statement also includes a section concerning community involvement, stating that its desire is to “provide more than just a Police Department for our community.” You can read more about the Benson Police Department <a href=”https://www.cityofbenson.com/index.asp?SEC=09D2BBB8-0255-4B1D-AC11-D867E7CAE5E3&Type=B_BASIC”>here.</a>
The Huachuca Police Department is located on Gonzalez Boulevard in Huachuca City, Arizona. The department is run by Police Chief Jim Thies. Their website can be found <a href=”https://www.huachucacityaz.gov/town-departments/police-department/”>here.</a>
Located at 300 West 14th Street, the Douglas Police Department of Douglas, Arizona is under the leadership of Police Chief Kraig Fullen. They are a forward thinking police station with not only their own website but their very own Facebook page, as well.
The Sierra Vista Police Department is another innovative Cochise County police department. Located on Coronado Drive, they have many community programs and events. They actually have a Citizen Police Academy program that teaches normal, every day citizens about the multiple facets of what the police do. They also have a Citizen Ride Along Program that allows citizens to ride with police officers in their cruisers to get a feel for the daily activities of a police officer. Furthermore, they offer comprehensive and informative tours of their facilities as well.
With Tombstone having the colorful and rich history that it does, it is no surprise that the Tombstone police officers have a lot to live up to, and it seems as though they are equal to the task. Tombstone does not have a police department; instead, it has the Tombstone Marshal’s Office, under the direction of Marshal Bob Randal. According to their <a href=”https://cityoftombstoneaz.gov/marshals-office/”>website</a>, “The Tombstone Marshal’s Department is proud of its heritage in the west and strives for professionalism and excellence in service.” The mission statement goes on to state the main goal of the Marshal’s office as “to provide excellent service to our citizens through proactive patrols and enforcement as well as establishing good public relations through community involvement.” The city officials realize that tourism is what keeps Tombstone prosperous, and the Tombstone Marshal’s Office plays a big part in that both as something to keep the peace and something to remind tourists of Tombstone’s Wild West heritage.
In Willcox, Arizona, the Department of Public Safety houses both the Willcox Police Department and the Willcox Fire Department and is located on West Rex Allen Drive. There are many different initiatives and departments covered by the Willcox Department of Public Safety, including the Willcox Meth Task Force and its Victims’ Rights group, among many others.
Cochise County Jail
Cochise County actually has three jails, and they all fall under one big umbrella referred to as the “Cochise County Detention Division” and is under the command of a jail commander. Other people on staff include a detention lieutenant, six sergeants, seven corporals, forty eight full-time detention officers, one mental health counselor, five detention aides, and two maintenance workers.
The main jail, referred to as the Cochise County Jail, is located in Bisbee, Arizona. It was built in 1985 and includes one hundred and sixty cells, each with a bed, a window, a light, and a toilet/sink. Each cell is set up in a two-tier housing format, which means that there is one cell over another cell, and the two cells share a common day room.
The other two jails are located in Sierra Vista and Willcox. These two jails are mainly used as temporary holding facilities until the inmates can be transferred to the main county jail in Bisbee.
Distance and Directions from Bisbee, Arizona to Phoenix, Arizona
The county seat of Bisbee, Arizona is approximately three to three and a half hours away from Phoenix, Arizona in normal traffic conditions. The distance between the two cities is two hundred and seven (207) miles. Although the distance may seem quite a large one, the drive itself is fairly easy and straightforward to make.
From AZ 80, you will get on I-10 West. You stay on I-10 west for over one hundred and fifty miles before reaching Interstate 10 Frontage Road in Phoenix. There you will take exit 148 for Jefferson Street toward Washington Street. Once you drive approximately ten minutes to Washington Street, you will have arrived in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a very easy drive to make.
There are other routes, of course, but this one is the easiest and most straightforward route. Plus, this route takes you through several major Arizona cities and places of interest, such as Tombstone, the Coronado National Forest, Tucson, and the Gila River Indian Reservation. The other route available for you to take would take you via AZ 90 instead of AZ 80. This would take you through Sierra Vista rather than Tombstone. It only adds about fifteen or twenty minutes to your trip before getting onto I-10 West, but if you are more interested in visiting Sierra Vista than Tombstone, then it might be the better route for you.
Cochise County, Arizona is an incredibly interesting place full of a lot of history in its cities and towns. It is a great place to visit if you are a tourist looking for somewhere new to vacation. There are multiple things to do in its many cities including tours, reenactments, shopping, dining, concerts, and art festivals. It truly does have something for everyone.
If you are looking to relocate permanently, it is also a good place to consider. It has a very diverse population, and the cost of living is reasonable. There are plenty of jobs available in various industries, the climate is temperate, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous.
I hope that this article has helped you to learn more about Cochise County, and I hope that I covered everything you might want to know. Thanks for your time, and thanks for visiting our site today.