Known as the “Land of Legends” for its legendary ties to the Old West, Cochise County, Arizona recently made the list of Cheapism’s “12 Best New Places to Vacation in 2018.” The county seat of Bisbee, Arizona also made it onto Fromm’s 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, Tombstone. 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 The Sheriff of Cochise was filmed in Bisbee and ran for two years. Broken Arrow, both the movie starring Jimmy Stewart and the television show of the same name were not filmed in Cochise County but, like Tombstone, 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 Kartchner Caverns State Park 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 USA Today Readers’ Choice 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 here.
Both the Leslie Canyon Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area 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 here.
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 website.
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 Discover Bisbee site or the Bisbee Arizona 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 here.