Contention City: The scene of many gruesome gunfights

Nikola Petrovski
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Close to the borders of Mexico, in the country of Cochise in Arizona, two mills were erected – the Contention Mill and Sunset Mill. Their role was to process all of the ore brought from the Central Mines as well as the mines in Tombstone. The mills were erected nearby to the San Pedro River.

In order to fully understand the history of the area, one needs to travel back to the start of the 1880s and meet with one of the richest prospectors of the day: Ed Schieffelin.

Schieffelin discovered an abundance of silver in Arizona – an act that would later lead to the formation of the town of Tombstone and the extraction of $85,000,000 worth of silver.

Photo of the post office. 

One night, as Schieffelin was in his camp, he noticed two mules approaching. They still had their chains around their necks, and the chains dragged in the earth and jingled as they stomped.

It was obvious that the mules belonged to someone, and in an area where silver is counted in millions of dollars, competition is never welcomed.

The owners of the mules were prospectors Jack Friday and Ed Williams. The chains had left a mark on the ground, and this enabled the men to track their animals.

Ed Schieffelin. Author: Unknown

As they followed the marks in the ground, they noticed something momentous. It was silver.

When they tracked the mules to Shieffelin’s camp, a dispute arose. Shieffelin considered the area to be his territory and therefore felt that he owned the discovered lode.

The dispute led to the area being divided into two. The land that went to Shieffelin was named the Contention Mine, and the part that went to Williams and Friday became the Grand Central Mine.

The success of Shieffelin and his mine led to the formation of Contention City. The first post office was opened on April 6, 1880. With each passing month, the town kept growing. Soon, a saloon was erected that belonged to a man by the name of John McDermott.

The mill. Author: Scan from Ghost Towns of Arizona, by James E. and Barbara H. Sherman, page 42

As the population and popularity of the town grew, general stores were opened as well as a hotel and two shops – one a blacksmith and the other a butcher’s shop. A Chinese laundry was also opened.

It is easy to picture the town swarming with people, but according to researchers, its population never surpassed two hundred.

Photo of the hotel. Author: Scan from Ghost Towns of Arizona, by James E. and Barbara H. Sherman, page 41

The town’s growth continued, and it was marked as a rival of Tombstone. Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp were brought to court in Contention City for partaking in a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The fight was between lawmen and a group of outlaws called the Cowboys.

Doc Holliday. Author: Unknown

But, no trial was ever held. Another notable event in the town was a gunfight between John Slaughter – a notable lawman and poker player – and the Old West Jack Taylor Gang.

Wyatt Earp. Author:  Heritage Auction Gallery

This event took place in 1886. The Jack Taylor Gang comprised of four members, and all of them came to Tombstone one day. Slaughter, back then still a newly erected sheriff, went straight towards Tombstone to put an end to this gang and their violence.

When the outlaws heard about this, they quickly left. A period later, the sheriff learned that the gang was in Contention City. He managed to track them down, and soon a gunfight began. Two of the gang members died in the fight, and the other two died not long after in another.

Tombstone. Author: C.S. Fly (1849–1901)

The end came for Contention City when the amount of silver ore started to drop towards the end of the 19th century. By 1890, it was almost fully abandoned.

Nowadays, almost nothing remains of this famous town but dirt and rubble, but its stories keep thriving and keep the memory of Contention City alive and well.