Contention City circa 1880
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society
Contention City, at one
time was expected to be the rival of Tombstone. Discovered by a prospector named
Hank Williams when one of his mules got away. When he began following its trail he
noted that the mule's halter chains were scraping something, and upon looking at it
closely discovered that it was metallic ore. He immediately staked a claim which
later became the Contention Mine when Ed Schiefflin and Richard Gird bought him out and
provided the foundation for Contention City.
The first problem that
Schiefflin and Gird ran into with the mine is when they realized that water, which was not
in the area of the mine, was needed to work the rich ore deposits. For this reason
Contention City and a stamp mill were established about 12 miles from the mine, on the San
Pedro River, about 10 miles northwest of Tombstone.
When the town was
established in 1879 "The Arizona Daily Star" wrote a series of articles on what
it called "the rival of Tombstone". In the September 23, 1879 issue this
was written, "The town called Contention City has been laid out, surveyed and mapped,
and the enterprising proprietors, D.T. Smith and John McDermott, are selling lots to all
who desire to invest in the new city, and although it is not one week since the survey of
the town was made, a number of lots have been sold and preparations to build are going on
as fast as material can be had. From the very nature of things Contention City must grow
and flourish even to be the rival of Tombstone". March 4, 1880 issue notes the
town's improvements. According to the paper, Contention City was "A
landscape for the pencil and fancy of an Italian painter." "In short, we
are compelled to say, that in point of strength, durability and perfection, the Contention
mill stands without a rival, at least in Arizona........" Contention City's
post office was established April 6, 1880.
At its peak their were
three stamp mills and they served the Tombstone mines also. The "Contention"
Mill had 25 stamps and employed 35 men, the "Grand Central" Mill had 30 stamps
and employed 35 men, and the "Head Center" or "Sunset Mill" had 10
stamps and employed 10 men. The word "stamps" refers to the machine that
was used to crush the ore into fine powder before it was sent to the smelter. The
railroad came to the town and the first passenger train reached town about January 10,
1882 - twenty years before the railroad was brought into Tombstone by way of Fairbanks.
Originally the town was
built up on the east side of the river near the stamp mills, and a number of businesses
located there. Hopkin's Restaurant, Marks General Merchandise, Mason's Hotel an
McDermott's Saloon. With the coming of the railroad, however on the west side of the
river, everyone began to move. A 15' x 175' two-story depot was built first and
everything was built around it. Describing the move, the "Tombstone
Epitaph" said "The residents of old Contention are making preparation to move
across to the new town, and it is only a matter of time when the whole town will be
abandoned and a flourishing village will spring up around the station."
But the town was coming to
a fast end when the mines in the area started to flood and quit showing profits.
People started to move on and the post office was discontinued on November 26,
There are still some ruins
to be seen at this location.