Clum and His Epitaph
John Clum was no stranger to southern Arizona when he decided to relocated from Tucson to Tombstone in 1880. In Tucson, Clum had published the Tucson Citizen, another landmark Arizona newspaper that soon may cease publication. Prior to taking over the Citizen, Clum had been the U. S. government appointee in charge of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. While there, Clum had the distinction of being the only U. S. authority to capture Geronimo the renegade Apache. Geronimo later was released. He did not finally surrender to the U. S. Army until 1886, thus bringing the Apache War period to an end.
Chided by associates who said he would write an epitaph and not a newspaper, Clum was inspired to call his new publication The Tombstone Epitaph. Setting a tone followed by several subsequent owners and editors, Clum sang Tombstone's praises when he launched what he initially saw as a mining journal. As mayor of Tombstone and publisher of its Republican paper (the rival Italic Nugget provided the Democratic counterpoint), Clum was among the group of townspeople who supported the Earp brothers as they attempted to enforce law and order in Tombstone in the early 1880s. Tensions between the factions—the Earps and the "cowboys" -- escalated to a violent showdown near the O.K. Corral in 1881. In an explosion of gunfire, the Earps and their eclectic friend, Doc Holliday, killed three young cowboys—Frank and Tom McClaury and Billy Clanton. Personal, professional and political disagreements found their outlet on that cold October afternoon, producing an event that continues to inspire historical research and debate.
Although an inquest into the shootout determined the shootings were justified, public opinion in Tombstone was with the outlaw Cowboys. The Earps soon left Tombstone, as did Clum, who traveled to Washington, D. C., to accept employment with the U. S. Post Office. Ironically, ownership of The Epitaph fell to former political adversaries.
After Clum left, The Epitaph remained a going concern, though it could never regain the standing it had prior to 1886, the year Tombstone's silver boom began to crumble as silver prices fell and the mines filled with water. Subsequent editors predicted a return to the heady days of the 1880s, but such a turnaround in the town's financial fortunes never occurred.
Tombstone's future seemed tied to its relatively mild desert climate, the emergence of automobile tourism in the 1920s, and its sometimes violent history. Such were the elements that underlay Tombstone's first Helldorado celebration in 1929—an event orchestrated by one of Tombstone's greatest boosters, editor William Kelly. But soon Kelly was gone and The Epitaph passed into new hands as it continued to cover local news and take on job printing from area clients.