Cochise County was established on February 1, 1881 during the 11th Territorial Assembly. The County was carved from the southeast corner of Pima County with Tombstone serving as the County seat. After the decline of silver mining in Tombstone, the county seat was moved to Bisbee in 1929, where it remains today. The population of Cochise County in 2015 totaled 126,427.
Original Industries: The three industries that put Cochise County on the map are copper, cattle and cotton. Agriculture continues to be an important industry in the county today, even with new-to-the-County agricultural ventures such as vineyards. Fort Huachuca has also played a major role in the development of the County and contributes substantially to the local economy.
Location & Land: Cochise County, in the southeast corner of the State of Arizona, has a land mass of more than 4 million acres, or 6,219 square miles. Private land ownership accounts for roughly 40 percent, with the State of Arizona holding about 35 percent, and the Federal government (USFS and BLM) holding about 22 percent.
Surrounding Sierra Vista are communities with unique style, attractions and history. Fort Huachuca, Benson, Bisbee, and Tombstone are legendary communities within a short drive (or bike ride) from Sierra Vista. Also short distances away are Douglas and Nogales, international border towns that offer great shopping and dining experiences. These communities are great locations to visit or relocate to. Near the eastern border of Cochise County, Willcox dominates the landscape with expansive agricultural operations, and is the cradle of Arizona’s Wine Region.
An active Army base and National Historic Landmark, Fort Huachuca is a product of the Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s. In March 1877 a camp at the mouth of Huachuca Canyon was established with two missions: to protect settlers in the area and to stop Apache raiding parties from escaping into Mexico. The all African-American 24th Infantry was the first entire regiment stationed at the Fort. The 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” arrived in 1913, served in Pershing’s punitive expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916, and helped guard the U.S.-Mexican border until 1931. Following World War II, the Fort was declared surplus and transferred to the State of Arizona. But in 1954, the Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, discovered that southeastern Arizona is ideal in area and climate for the testing of electronic and communications equipment. As a result, the U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground (EPG) reopened Fort Huachuca as an active Army base. From that time on, the Fort has steadily increased in importance as a vital contributor to the national defense. Fort Huachuca was annexed by the City of Sierra Vista in 1972, and these two entities currently enjoy one of the most cordial relationships in the United States.
Although founded in 1880 Benson’s civilization began long before even the Spanish missionary, Father Eusibio Kino, established Catholic missions in the late 1600s. For thousands of years Native Americans made their home along the San Pedro River. Familiar names like Cochise, Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, and Geronimo, an Apache freedom fighter, are very much a part of the history of the beautiful San Pedro Valley. The U.S. Army waged campaigns to protect the homesteaders, Mormons settled in adjacent St. David and the Butterfield Overland Stage was founded. As the dust of the age of stages and Pony Express cleared, Benson matured into a bustling railroad town. In 1880 the Transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad opened the way for two more major rail lines. Its lifeblood was the copper and silver flowing from the neighboring mining communities of Tombstone, Fairbank, and Bisbee. Benson and the San Pedro River Valley are rich in natural wonders and provide a home for myriad of wildlife, including more than 500 species of birds. In the surrounding mountains and San Pedro Riparian areas, are hiking trails, bird watching, and camping. The area boasts a beautiful temperate climate year-round.
Bisbee was founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine. One of the richest mineral sites in the world, Bisbee produced close to three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper in its prime. In the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco with a population of 20,000 people. A 1908 fire destroyed the town, but it was rebuilt. Today the homes and businesses in historic Bisbee hold a Victorian charm.
As the mines were depleted, the population began to shrink. Mining operations on such a grand scale became unprofitable. The mine eventually ceased operations in the mid–1970s. But the grand dame, the Queen Min, re-opened as a tourist attraction in 1976.
Today Bisbee is rich in architecture and culture, with numerous art galleries, antique stores, restaurants, museums, and period B&B accommodations and hotels. Nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of southern Arizona, Bisbee more closely resembles a European hamlet than a dusty turn-of-the-Century mining town.
Douglas is located on the US-Mexico border, adjacent to Agua Prieta, Sonora. Douglas has just over 18,000 residents who share a lifestyle with neighbors to the South. With a long history of cross-cultural cooperation, Douglas and “A-P” engage in cultural events, education, retail, and business on both sides of the line.
Founded in 1901 and incorporated in 1905, Douglas was established as a smelter site for the prosperous copper mines in Bisbee. The financial prosperity of Douglas is evident is commercial property and homes built during the early 1900s, including the crown jewel, the Gadsden Hotel, which welcomed Hollywood stars, outlaws, and revolutionaries alike. The community also has a history of cattle ranching and agriculture dating back to the 1800s that continues to thrive to this day. Home to the first international airport, Douglas continues its aviation history, serving as home to Cochise College’s aviation program.
The nearby John Slaughter Ranch, once a working cattle ranch, is now an historic site, welcoming visitors to the museum and grounds. Also nearby is the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, where wildlife watchers can find myriad birds, flora, and fauna.
”The Town too Tough to Die,” Tombstone is perhaps one of the most well-known towns in Arizona. When Ed Schieffelin came to Camp Huachuca with a group of soldiers and set out to prospect, his companions told him that he’d find his tombstone instead of silver. So when Schieffelin made his first strike in 1877, he named the claim Tombstone. News of his silver strike spread and quickly brought prospectors, miners, businessmen, fortune hunters, lawmen, and the lawless, until the population of Tombstone swelled to 15,000 in 1881.
Surging waters in the mines ended the boom in the late 1890′s, but not before names like Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the OK Corral and the Clanton Gang were household words throughout the nation. During World War I, Tombstone was a major producer of manganese for the government. In World War II, Tombstone was extracting lead for the cause. After both conflicts, Tombstone faded into obscurity. The stalwart citizenry of Tombstone decided rather than relying on a vanishing mining industry, they would gamble on tourism and restoration.
Truly a Historical American Landmark, Tombstone is America’s best example of 1880 western heritage, which is well preserved with original buildings and artifacts displayed in its many museums. The wild days of the 1880s are recreated each year with the exciting three-day celebrations: Wyatt Earp Days, Memorial Day weekend; Rendezvous of Gunfighters, Labor Day weekend; and Heldorado Days, the third Friday weekend in October. Weekend shows throughout the year keep the fun alive.
Another city rich in American history, Willcox is a thriving agricultural community and is home to vineyards that grow 75 percent of Arizona’s wine grapes. Dotted with tasting rooms and farm stands, Willcox is Cochise County’s bread basket.
Founded in 1880 as a whistlestop on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Willcox was incorporated in 1915. Silver Screen cowboy Rex Allen hailed from the ranches of Willcox, and today a museum chronicling his Hollywood contribution is found on Railroad Avenue.
Minutes from Chiricahua National Monument and Cochise Stronghold, Willcox welcomes hikers, rock climbers, and bicyclists. Each January, Sandhill Cranes take center stage during the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival, when tens of thousands of these massive birds descend on the nearby playas. Check out the Nikon Birding Adventures episode, featuring the bird life near Willcox!