The Tombstone & Guaymas Railroad


Sonora Territory 1810

Part of a territory map of New Spain from 1810.

I started by finding out a little about the history of the area. So first stop was an old map. I decided to start with the oldest map of the area I could find that was still in the 19th century. The one above is a portion of the one done of New Spain in 1810 (based on the 1807 expedition of Zebulon Pike). It was the oldest one I found. If you look at this section of map, there is only one town of any size, Arispe, New Spain. Actually not too far off this section are the towns of Chihuahua, Passo (El Paso), and Sinaloa. The only town in what is now Southeastern Arizona is St. Xavier del Bac. There are also three Presidios: de Tucson, de St. Cruz, and de Tubac.

The future site of Tombstone, and the rest of Cochise County, is the blank area to the East of the San Pedro River. Guaymas is near the bottom of the map on the Gulf of California.

Why did I start before Tombstone even existed? My feeling is that if you build a fictional railroad in an area that really existed, you are not really free-lancing. You are building a what-if railroad. In other words you are creating an alternate history of the area in question. To me the only way to do that is to start with the area’s prehistory, at least history before the coming of your railroad.

So, as of 1807, I have a relatively clean slate for my railroad. The fact that railroads did not exist yet makes it especially clear. What this map does not show very well is the topology of the area. There are numerous mountain ranges, dry washes, flats, canyons, etc. that break up the landscape and make developing a route for a railroad a real challenge.

I started to fast forward to the 1880s but decided quickly that I really needed to know more about how Arizona came to be and why it had the railroads it did as well as why it did not have the railroads it didn’t. It would be easy to fill page after page with Arizona history but that would only serve to repeat that which is available elsewhere. One of my favorite sources of information on early Arizona is a volume available online from the University of Arizona. It is ARIZONA AS IT IS; OR, THE COMING COUNTRY by Hiram C. Hodge, Hurd and Houghton, Boston, 1877.

Here are some of the highlights for the impatient or only mildly interested:

  • In 1810, when the map at the top of this page was made, Southeastern Arizona was part of the Province of Sonora (or Senora), New Spain.
  • In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and the area became part of the Province of Sonora, Mexico.
  • In 1848, the tiny portion of the map above the Gila River became part of the Territory of New Mexico as part of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo. The portion below the Gila River was still a part of Mexico but there were disputes surrounding the area.
  • In 1854, the portion that constitutes the current boundary between the United States and Mexico was purchased by the United States as the Gadsden Purchase. That section became part of the Territory of New Mexico.
  • In 1863, congress approved the separation of the Territory of Arizona from the Territory of New Mexico. The area in question was now, finally, the Arizona Territory. To put this in context, California became a state in 1850.
  • Page 47 of ARIZONA AS IT IS contains a paragraph that will play an important part in the future of the area around the San Pedro River:

    “The San Pedro Valley is about fifty miles east from Tucson, in which, and the lateral valleys, are about fifty thousand acres of good farming land, most of which can be successfully cultivated. At Tres Alimos, in this valley, are some well cultivated farms and one choice dairy farm, that of H. C. Hooker, Esq. Near the upper part of the San Pedro Valley is one old Spanish-Mexican land grant, said to be the only one in the Territory which is legal and valid. At Tres Alimos, a grant was made of several leagues many years since, on conditions which were never fulfilled, and consequently the grant is void. This freedom from land grants in Arizona is extremely favorable to its settlement, and its future prosperity and freedom from litigation and strife, which has been so prolific a source of trouble in California. It will give to the settler peace and security, it will give permanent homes to the many, and build up good communities where schools and churches can be supported by a resident and independent farming community.”

At this point my railroad list gained one more entry that seemed to make sense:

  • Name: Tombstone and Tucson Railroad

One of the previous entries also was modified. Tombstone didn’t exist until 1877 and was pretty much a ghost town by 1886. Since I was doing a what-if railroad the end date didn’t really matter but the start date did unless the railroad came TO Tombstone instead of FROM Tombstone. Then it occurred to me that the end date does matter. For my what-if to work, the train needs to arrive in time to change history. I didn’t quite know what to call this but I now had another entry for my “givens-and-druthers”. So the amended entry now read:

  • Era: 1877-1900

And the new entry was:

  • Train service begun: 1877-1886

This then is the complete revised list:

  • Locale: Around Tombstone, Arizona Territory
  • Era: 1877 – 1900
  • Train service begun: 1877-1886
  • Scale/Gauge: HO Standard Gauge