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21st Century Shootout at the OK Corral – Life and Death in Tombstone

Water is life in the desert. The federal government designated Tombstone as a national historic site but is now denying Tombstone the water it needs to survive as a town made of wood, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a drought.

A few years ago, this same federal government that requested, and received, permission from Tombstone to use Tombstone’s water to fight forest fires has now shut down Tombstone’s access to its water leaving it with only minutes of water to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizen from being destroyed by fire.

In 1881, pipes were run more than 30 miles from the Huachuca Mountains to serve water from 25 springs to the mining town of Tombstone. Tombstone retained these water rights and the access road to service its springs for 130 years. Even after a federal wilderness area was designated in 1984, Tombstone was not impeded in its right to use the road to access its springs. This all changed last year.

Wildfires ravaged the Huachuca Mountains; wildfires that even the federal Government Accountability Office said are caused and intensified by Forest Service mismanagement; wildfires that destroyed a million acres; wildfires that killed millions of animals, destroyed their habitat, and decimated the ground cover.

On the heels of the wildfires, torrential monsoon rains caused thousands of years worth of erosion damage in just one month, destroying the water lines that deliver life-­‐saving water to Tombstone.

When Tombstone officials notified the U.S. Forest Service that they were going up the mountain to fix their pipes to restore water to Tombstone, the Forest Service first claimed that Tombstone didn’t own their water. After Tombstone documented its chain of title to its water back to 1881, the Forest Service asserted that Tombstone simply didn’t need all that water, as if such assertions should override established water rights.

Next the Forest Service demanded that Tombstone get a permit to enter the mountain to repair its water lines. When Tombstone applied for a permit, the Forest Service responded that Tombstone needed a permit for each spring. All the while, Tombstone had only minutes of water to protect itself and the safety and livelihoods of its citizen from devastating threat of fire.

When the mayor of Tombstone went up with a city crew and equipment to restore water to his town he was met by armed Forest Service agents who threatened to arrest them all and seize their rented equipment if they did not leave. When a city crew tried to go up the mountain on foot with picks, shovels and a wheelbarrow to try to remove by hand debris up to 15 feet deep in some places, armed Forest Service agents stopped them demanding that they could not take “mechanized equipment”, i.e. the wheelbarrow, up the mountain.

And so, Tombstone enters the blazing heat of the Arizona summer fearful each day that any spark could set off a fire in this wooden remnant of American history. Their minutes of water will prove worthless in saving the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Tombstone.

Why should this story matter to anyone but residents of Tombstone? If unelected, federal bureaucrats can choke off water to a thirsty wooden town, in the middle of a desert, in the midst of a drought, even despite it being a national historic site, what will they do to towns and cities, counties and private land owners in your state?

What can you do?

Join the Tombstone Shovel Brigade by sending a shovel (or two or three) and $5 to Tombstone and plan to be there on June 8-­‐9, 2012 as a demonstration that America stands behind Tombstone and against an overreaching federal government.

Donate to the Tombstone Shovel Brigade


Tombstone City Hall
613 E. Allen Street
P.O. Box 339
Tombstone, AZ 85638




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