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The legend of the Swamper lives on in Tombstone

The Swamper
Posted at 5:00 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 21:49:13-04

TOMBSTONE, AZ — As part of our Historic Arizona takeover, our crew went to a place that’s rich in history, paranormal activity, and is one of the only cities in the world where time stops.

It's a place in southern Arizona where you’re taken back to the Wild West.

We’re talking about Tombstone.

“It’s just something about Tombstone that draws the people here,” said Arizona Bill, a walking tour guide in Tombstone.

He says history surrounds Tombstone and oozes out of each building, including the Bird Cage Theatre.

“There’s a lot of history in the Bird Cage Theatre and that’s one of the only buildings that never burned in all the fires we had in Tombstone,” he added.

Arizona Bill says there isn't anything quite like being stuck in the Wild West.

“Come see Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Morgan and Virgil, take on the Cowboy Gang in the most famous gunfight in history,” an actor could be heard saying as he made the ‘last call’ for the re-enactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

“That put Tombstone on the map,” said Arizona Bill.

It’s a gunfight that unfolded in 1881.

“It was a 30-second gunfight. 38 shots were fired, and three men lay dead on the street,” he added.

A battle to gain control of Tombstone, which at the time, was full of silver.

“They came here to get rich, just like everybody else,” said Arizona Bill.

Though, in the basement of Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, which was once the Grand Hotel, another infamous legend was born.

“Well, that would be Swamper and legend has it…he was a journeyman, and nobody knew his name,” said Keri Brillon, who works at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.

“How did he stumble into Tombstone?” ABC15 asked.

“He was definitely a wanderer. He just came in on his mule and he became a handyman here at the Grand Hotel,” she responded.

The Swamper lived in a small basement room there, and our crew was able to go inside.

Brillon says he, too, was on a mission to get rich, spending countless hours digging a hole in his living quarters.

All so that he could tap into one of the mine shafts that ran underneath the hotel.

“Tombstone back then was a mining town, so the mining companies owned all the silver here,” said Brillon.

“He was planning on stealing our silver,” added Arizona Bill.

Those who work at Big Nose Kate’s say the Swamper is very protective of his home, adding as folks get closer to this gate, things start to happen.

It’s the Swamper letting them know to stay away.

“They would get pushed, just like a shove to get away,” said Brillon.

“And what do you think the Swamper is trying to tell them?” we asked.

“Get away from my place,” she answered.

“Get away from my silver,” said ABC15.

“And we don’t know if the silver is still down there. Nobody’s found it,” said Brillon.

Brillon says strange things happen in the basement.

“T-shirts flying off the shelves,” she added.

Some say at times, a distinct voice can be heard as people approach the Swamper’s shaft.

Brillon says these phrases included “get out” and “stay away from here.”

The Swamper has been dead for hundreds of years, and yet…

“He’s very much a part of Big Nose Kate’s and the Grand Hotel,” said Brillon.

As for what happened to the Swamper...

“Basically, the legend is, they don’t know if he took off out of town or if they killed him,” said Brillon.

“Do you think the Swamper got away?” we asked.

“I think so. I really do,” she responded.

“A rich man?” we asked.

“Yes. He bought a horse instead of a mule,” she said with a laugh.

Tombstone may have been put on the map by the infamous shootout, but it’s legends like that of the Swamper and other souls who roam the town, that keep it active and full of stories yet to be told.