Unique Tucson and Tombstone Stage Company broadside (1879-1880)

Crocker & Co., Stationers and Printers, S.F., Tucson and Tombstone Stage Co. SHORTEST, QUICKEST AND ONLY DIRECT ROUTE TO TOMBSTONE AND ARIZONA MINING DISTRICTS VIA Tucson, A.T., and intermediate Points. [Arizona Territory, ca. Sept. 1879-March 1880.]
Illustrated broadside printed in blue and red, sheet size 20 ¾”h x 8 ¾”w. Washed, a long vertical tear and a few minor separations mended, and a small loss at top reinstated, affecting a couple of letters in title and small segment of border. Lined on verso. Faults notwithstanding, the restoration is expertly done, and the broadside is now attractive and eminently displayable.

A remarkable broadside promoting the short-lived Tucson and Tombstone Stage Company. Indeed, this image has it all: a close connection with an important Tombstone enterprise; fantastic subject matter; attractive typography, two-color printing and effective use of illustrations; extreme rarity; and surprisingly-good condition.

Tombstone, Arizona had its origins in the late Summer of 1877, when enterprising miner Edward Schieffelin discovered incredibly rich veins of silver ore on Goose Flats, a high plateau a few miles east of the San Pedro River. Tombstone was laid out in March 1879, and a roaring boomtime ensued. By 1881 the town was designated the seat of the new Cochise County and boasted fine restaurants, four churches, the Schieffelin Opera House, and more than 100 saloons and gambling halls. The boom continued for just a few years, with the town maxing out at a population of somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000. The good times ended by the mid-1880s, as the town was devastated by a series of fires, the seepage of water into the mines, and, a fall in the price of silver. Mining recovered on occasion over the next few decades, but today the population of Tombstone hovers around 1300, while the economy is driven by tourism.

In its earliest years, Tombstone’s greatest challenge was transportation, both for the people gravitating towards its boomtown economy and for the freight to serve their wants and needs. Several entrepreneurs saw and seized the opportunity, beginning in November 1878 with John Kinnear’s Tucson and Tombstone Mail and Express, a grueling 95-mile, 20-hour odyssey costing a bracing $10.

Kinnear’s first serious competition came from a partnership of Howard C. Walker, his former agent in Tucson, and William Ohnesorgen, owner of a popular stage coach station along the San Pedro, some 25 miles north of Tombstone. On September 15, 1879 the two formed a partnership set to last for just one year, on the premise that the eastward march of the Southern Pacific Railroad across Arizona would soon put them out of business. Within days they began to operate their Tucson and Tombstone Stage Company on a route that was shorter and faster than Kinnear’s. Over the next few months capitalism at its best and worst ensued, with leapfrogging innovations, a price war and charges of sabotage alternating with blatant collusion and price fixing. Walker and Ohnesorgen’s greatest coup came in February 20, 1880, when they won the contract to carry the U.S. Mail on the Tucson-Tombstone route.

All this came at a great cost, however, and just weeks later the partnership dissolved amicably when a heavily-indebted Ohnesorgen sold his interest in the Company to Walker. In the late Spring of 1880, under pressure from the approaching Southern Pacific—whose inexorable extension eastward to nearby Benson cut the length of their route and thus the fares they could charge–Walker and Kinnear joined forces as the Arizona Mail and Stage Company. Within months, Kinnear managed to wrest control from the deeply-indebted Walker, who soon left Tombstone altogether.

The broadside
This attractive and apparently unique broadside touts the Tucson and Tombstone Stage Company as the “shortest, quickest and only direct route” to complete the journey from the West Coast to Tombstone. Passengers from San Francisco or Los Angeles could take the Southern Pacific to its eastern terminus, transfer to Kerens & Griffith’s stage line for the ride into Tucson, and, finally, hop on to the Tucson and Tombstone for the last leg of the journey. There’s some hyperbole to the “shortest, quickest and only” claim, given the competitive service then being offered by Kinnear, but the use of two-color printing, a variety of display type, and stock graphics of a stage coach must have made for a compelling presentation. The fact that Ohensorgen and Walker were willing to fund such expensive marketing material is further evidence of the intense competition between their firm and Kinnear’s Tucson and Tombstone Mail and Express.

The broadside lists Ohnesorgen and Walker as proprietors, indicating that it was produced some time during their short-lived partnership of September 1879-March 1880. We can further tighten the dating, however, as it also touts the stage line as “carrying the U. S. Mail”. This implies that it was produced after February 20, 1880, when Ohnesorgen and Walker won the mail contract for the Tucson-to-Tombstone route, but before the partnership dissolved in March.

We find no institutional holdings of the broadside and no record of another example having appeared on the antiquarian market. Further, any early Tombstone graphic material is vanishingly rare on the market: a search on both AbeBooks and RareBookHub for broadsides and handbills with strong Tombstone content yields no items produced prior to 1934.

In all, a remarkable and extremely rare piece of Arizona Territory and Tombstone history.

Not in OCLC. Background from Thomas H. Peterson, Jr., The Tombstone Stagecoach Lines, 1878-1903: A Study in Frontier Transportation (Masters thesis submitted to the University of Arizona Department of History, 1968).

Offered in partnership with James Arsenault & Company of Arrowsic, Maine.