Tombstone Silver

Huachuca Water Company

Drinking water was a significant problem in early Tombstone. Here is the story of the solution.


Drinking water has been a problem in the Tombstone area even before the town was founded. The earliest miners would have to transport water from springs about three miles northwest of the mining camps. The owners of those springs charged so much for their water that miners got to calling the site “Gouge-Eye.” Eventually, though, it became known as Watervale (or maybe Waterville). Water was also sometimes hauled in from the Dragoon Mountains, about 12 miles east of Tombstone.

After the city was founded, the original source of water was Sycamore Springs, located about 8 miles north. Water was carried from the springs by wrought-iron pipe and stored in two small tanks 50' above the town. Unfortunately, the flow from Sycamore Springs was insufficient, so city leaders began to look for another solution.

The Huachuca Water Company, a private company chartered under the laws of the state of Indiana, solved the water problem by constructing a 25-mile-long pipeline from the Huachuca Mountains southwest of Tombstone. Water from a series of springs in the mountains was collected in a reservoir (100' long, 80' wide, and 22' deep) located at the upper end of Millers Canyon between the two highest peaks of the Huachuca Mountains. This location is some 1000' above the city of Tombstone so the pipeline was completely gravity-fed. A 7"-diameter wrought-iron pipe carried water across the San Pedro Valley to Tombstone. Extreme pressure is observed in the pipeline at its crossing of the San Pedro River, 1900' below its source. The pipeline then climbed to the city of Tombstone where water was stored in a reservoir that was 90 by 80 feet and 20 feet deep located 385 feet above Tombstone. The reservoir was lined with stone masonry and floored with Portland concrete.

The system was built at cost of $500,000 in 1882, which was unusually high figure for supplying water to a small city during the 1880s. The company imported wrought-iron pipe from England to the West Coast, then it was taken by rail to Benson, and finally it was hauled by ox teams from Benson to Tombstone. Using both Apache and Anglo labor, who worked under harsh conditions, the first pipeline system had been put into service by 1882. The Huachuca Water Company continued to serve the city with water until 1946 when the city bought it.

The original pipeline carrying water from the Huachuca Mountains to Tombstone is still in operation, although sections of pipe have been replaced. Much of the original distribution system throughout the town is still in use.

Parts of this article came from research found in the following.

Newspaper Accounts

Unfortunately, one of the workers on the project died in an accident. This is the article printed in the Epitaph about his death.

Martin, John

Fatal Accident

About 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon, John Martin, late of Virginia City, who was working on the line of the Huachuca Water company's pipe near the San Pedro, was instantly killed. It seems that early in the morning the water had been turned into the pipe at the dam for the purpose of testing the work, the lower end of the pipe having first been plugged up. About noon Mr. Longwell, superintendent of construction, ordered the foreman to go with a force of men and take out the plug. Arriving at the spot it was decided better to unscrew the last joint as the plug was so tightly fixed in the pipe. Mr. Martin was set to hold the jack – a large piece of timber which forms a rest for the pipe when being put together – and, unfortunately, instead of standing on the side he stood directly in line with the pipe so that when it was screwed off the force of the compressed air shot it forward like a battering ram carrying Mr. Martin along with it a dead man. He was brought to the city this morning and the inquest over his remains will be held at 4 o'clock this afternoon. He will be buried sometime tomorrow.

The Epitaph published this lengthy and interesting article about the pipeline.



A Grand Enterprise, of which Tombstone Should be Proud
Pure Water and Substantial Works -- The Originators of the Scheme and Its Cost
Possibilities Accruing from the Great Enterprise

The completion of the Huachuca Water Company's pipe line to Tombstone has naturally attracted attention to the magnitude and grandeur of the enterprise. Heretofore it was a standing joke that Tombstone people had to drink whiskey in order to escape the malarial effects of the water. Now, however, that agreement will no longer work. The clearest and purest of waters flow through our streets in unlimited quantities and thirsty souls can quench their appetite without having recourse to that which inebriates. Last Wednesday a party of gentlemen left the city to visit the supply at the other end, and enjoy the refreshing breezes of the Huachucas for an interval. An EPITAPH representative was among the party. Tombstone was bidden good-by about noon time, and the dust of the Charleston road rolled lazily from the wheels as the carriage sped along. Neptune Wells was soon passed; the Good Samaritan mine frowned down on the party from the steep hillside, some distance to the left the Stonewall loomed up, and a little further on the Blue Jacker dump looked down from the divide. Still further from Tombstone the Randolph hove in sight, with a half hundred seeming satelites in its tram. Approaching Charleston the unlucky Bradshaw was seen on the left of the road, and soon the thud of the stamps were heard in the city of mills on the San Pedro. Charleston looked about the same as usual - at least the party were too anxious to get a glance at the open country and mountain scenery to note any particular change. Between


a magnificent tract of grazing land lay practically useless. Here, with water for irrigating purposes, whole communities could exist. The soil is of the best description for agricultural purposes, and is capable of producing anything that can be grown in the most favored lands. A gradual slope descends from the mountains to the river, but so gentle is the grade that it could hardly be noticed except by a practiced eye, until the mountains are approached, and the level plains are seen bending away to the river. Approaching the mountains the eyes are treated to a fine view of timber land, which an Arizona residence should not help appreciating. Looking back the pipe line looks like a


stretching away in the distance oblivious to the scorching rays of the almost torrid sun. Soon, however, the brow is gently fanned by the cool breezes from the mountains, and the yellow pine, juniper and live oak give indications that the mountains are an actual presence. Soon the bleak, craggy heights loom up in savage grandeur, thrown together in a hundred fantastic groups and contorted into as many shapes. The evergreen trees hug the base of the rocks and sprout out of the interstices of earth that intervene. We are now ascending


and have a glimpse of Gird's saw will in the distance. From here a lateral pipe has been run from a spring of crystal water that bubbles and flows along with the clearness and purity of dew drops. This lateral intersects the main pipe five miles from the supply in Miller's canyon. A dam, carved from the solid rock imprisons the waters at this point. Here a minimum supply of 300,000 gallons can be drawn off daily, and yet it is but a feeder to the main line of pipe from Miller's Canyon. This beautiful sheet of water is surrounded, by what looks like an orchard of live oaks, planted out with the regularity of a gardeners art. The capacity of the catch basin at this canyon is extensive, and is so regulated by pipes and flumes that it is thoroughly protected from mountain storm. To reach Miller's canyon, the great supply depot of the company, it is necessary to retrace our steps down the canyon and go around the timbered foothills, to reach Miller's. Here the main seven inch pipe taps the chief supply dam. This is a solid structure, able to laugh storms to scorn, with such solidity has it been constructed. It is about 100 feet long, 80 wide and 22 feet deep. At this season of the year, just previous to the summer flow, the water is at its lowest point. Still it has a solid capacity of 1,000,000 gallons, and the supply is inexhaustable. It looks like a beautiful


and if planted with the finny inhabitants of mountain streams, would be able to keep the entire population of Tombstone in fresh fish. The pipe enters the dam two feet from the bottom, and is fed through a perforated head. Beneath the main, is a seven-inch drain pipe, for purposes of emptying the reservoir for cleaning. A large flume has been constructed on top to prevent any disaster by a freshet or other causes. It is eight feet wide, three feet deep and 270 feet long. It is almost impossible for any fragments of timber or heavy sediment to enter the fume, as two break waters have been constructed within a half mile above the reservoir. About 2,000 feet down the canyon a three inch lateral pipe taps the main, bringing a supply of 125,000 gallons from the Gird spring. This last line is about 1,800 feet, and has a never failing supply, as above indicated. Another, called the McCoy spring, is about 2,500 feet down the canyon, on the line of the seven inch pipe. This spring bas a capacity of several hundred thousand gallons, but the pipe bas not yet been introduced. Still another spring, with an ample flow of crystal water, available for the use of the company in case of necessity, is in the vicinity, but has not yet been tapped by pipes. From the above it can be seen that there is no lack of water. Leaving out the reservoir, from the various feeders can be obtained a maximum flow of 800,000 gallons. The water obtained from these different sources is the best to be found in any part of the country. It juts out of the ground in natural Springs, with rocky, pebbly bottoms, and is ever cool and clear.

This water neither springs from alkali flats, nor is drained from the filth and refuse of the city. Its surroundings are fresh, pure and healthy. There is no possible chance for mud accumulations in the reservoir, as the system of swing pipes are excellent, and the supply is so arranged that any one pipe can be drawn off without detriment to the others. The principal supply at Miller's canyon is controlled by a reel, so that the flow of water can be regulated to suit all purposes. The work of constructing the dams and water catches in the mountains was commenced last September, and on the 16th of March last the construction of the pipe line was begun. About the first of last month water was turned into the grand reservoir on Contention Hill. This magnificent piece of work would be a credit to the enterprise of any community, or the genius of any engineer. This grand distributor is 365 feet higher than the central street of Tombstone. It was hewed out of the solid rock, and is twenty feet deep, 90 feet long and 80 feet wide, with a capacity of holding 1,100,000 gallons of water. The sides are lined with solid masonry, three feet thick at the bottom, and two feet at the top, with the bottom cemented with the best hydraulic cement. It was constructed under the personal supervision of John W. Childs, and is a lasting monument to his genius. From the bottom of the reservoir two seven-inch pipes lead down the hill and intersect 3,000 feet from the reservoir, and one of them then continues 1500 feet further to the corner of Fremont and Ninth streets. Both pipes are regulated by valves, and the short one will be devoted to the use of mills and hoisting works. A five-inch main connects with the main pipe on Allen street, and a six inch pipe taps it at Fremont. These pipes convey the water along the streets named, intersecting at the different cross streets for supply purposes. When finished there will be fifty-three fire plugs two inches and a halt in diameter. To provide against any possible accident, a four inch pipe has been run around the reservoir, tapping the pipe, at some distance before it enters it, and again joining it at a point a couple of hundred feet down the hill.


is of the best quality of rolled wrought iron, and was manufactured by the Pennsylvania Tube works. In placing the line 8,000 large collars were used, and it is a singular circumstance, and greatly to the credit of the manufacturers, that not single one of them was broken. Usually an extra one is ordered for every twenty, but in this case there was not an extra collar needed in the entire work. When the pressure of water was turned on not a joint gave way, nor did there a leak of any consequence occur. This has the greatest fall of any gravatation line in the world. The pressure here in the city is 170 pounds to the square inch.

The success of the construction is mainly due to the energy and ability of D. W. Longwell, who had the active management of laying the pipes, regulating the supply, etc. Mr. Longwell was for a long time connected with the United Pipe Line of the Standard Oil Company. This company is known as the most gigantic monopoly in the United States, and has its headquarters at Cleveland, Ohio. He was recommended by the Standard Oil folks to this company to superintend the construction of the water line, and how well he performed his work shows how correct was their judgment of his ability. Mr. Longwell was ably assisted by Messrs Luddington and Roach, and the close attention these gentlemen gave to details, aided by their practical experience contributed not a little to the success of the work. Mr. J. S. McCoy is the financial agent and general manager, and to him more than any one else the people of Tombstone are indebted for the splendid water works. The work cost considerably more than $500,000, and the following gentlemen have the most capital invested in the enterprise: James P. Hill, the extensive piano manufacturer of New York, P. C. Eastman, Wm. B. Astor, Mr. Ralston, President of the Farmers' and Loan Trust Company, and Charles Place. The large experience and capability of Mr. A. R. Fisk, engineer and examiner of the New York, N. E. and Western Investment Co., made the enterprise possible. This gentleman reached town last evening, and the people of Tombstone should show their appreciation of his enterprise and public spirit. Mr. L. J. Gird, the civil engineer of the enterprise, should not be forgotten when the success of the work is being discussed. His engineering qualities came into good play, and the result of his labors is the best compliment that can be paid him. Of course there is not a doubt but the enterprise will prove a profitable investment for those who have risked their money in it. The line passing through the heart of a country needing nought but water to produce any kind of a crop, will in time be tapped for irrigation purposes, and pleasant farms and verdant gardens will mark its course. Cattle too will slake the thirst from its ever abundant flow, and the lowing of luscious beeves will echo along the shallow gulches and rolling plains between the San Pedro and Huachucas. Again, it is hardly possible that ore will be hauled to mill on the San Pedro when water can be obtained cheaper here than mules necessary to freight the ore can be fed. It need surprise no one, if some of our great producing mines were making arrangements to remove their quartz mills to Tombstone in a very short time. And certainly, even if the mills already constructed are not removed, there will be no more built at such a distance from the mines, when a never failing supply of water adequate for all purposes can be had on the ground at moderate cost. Viewing the enterprise from the least enthusiastic standpoint, its success is the greatest boom Tombstone ever received. Insurance rates should come down one-half. The danger of destruction by fire is removed two-thirds, and property owners can go to bed and sleep more comfortably when it is in full working order. At a moderate estimate, the successful introduction of such an extensive water supply is worth $1,000,000 to Tombstone, and $10,000,000 to Cochise county. This is something to be grateful for. Let us doff our hats to its successful introduction.


The pipeline started in the Huachuca Mountains and ended in Tombstone. It roughly followed the route of the modern Charleston Road.