Friday, March 4, 2016

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, Arizona, is one of the best known of the wild towns of the Old West. It has long been on my bucket list, so during our stay at Kartchner Caverns State Park, we moseyed on over to take a look.

Tombstone is located in the southeastern portion of Arizona, not that far north of the border we share with Mexico. Today, it is a rather small town with about 1,300 citizens, but when it was founded in the late 1870s, it became an overnight boom town because of rich silver deposits. People poured in to this desert town and its population soon swelled to well more than 10,000. As with all booms, the bad comes with the good, and Tombstone soon developed a reputation as a rough and tumble town, offering at one time more than 100 saloons, numerous gambling parlors, and more than its share of brothels. But it also offered some good things, such as schools, churches, banks, newspapers, and even an ice cream parlor. But booms don't last forever, and Tombstone's boom died about a decade after its birth. By 1910, there were fewer than 1,000 people in the town. Today, it relies on tourism as its main source of revenue.

East Allen Street. 2 or 3 blocks of this street are blocked to vehicular traffic, making it safe for pedestrians. Most of the interesting shops of the town are located here. The OK Corral is near the end of this street on the right.
What really put Tombstone on the history map is the legendary "Gunfight at the OK Corral," which really did not happen at the OK Corral but rather in a vacant lot next to the OK Corral. But "Gunfight at the Vacant Lot Next to the OK Corral" just doesn't have that ring, does it? The fight was only a 30 second affair with about 30 shots fired, but it has gone down as the most famous gunfight in the Old West. Personally, I can think of some other gunfights I consider more interesting, such as the fight between US marshalls and the Bill Doolin/Bill Dalton gang at Ingalls, Oklahoma. The gunfight at Coffeyville, Kansas, when 4 Daltons and several townspeople were killed is another interesting fight. The fight involving the 3 Earp brothers and their friend, Doc Holliday, pitted against the Clantons and McLaurys in Tombstone has somehow captured the public's imagination more. Today, the gunfight is reenacted for tourists several times each day, but Donna and I passed up the chance to spend lots of money for a 30 second show. For my money, the gunfight as depicted in Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer would be hard to top.

The OK Corrall. The gunfight actually happened in a vacant lot behind this building.
There are lots of shops in town, especially along East Allen Street, and all of them are willing to take your money. Various tours are available, including underground tours and ghost tours. You can ride a stagecoach on a guided tour of Tombstone. Whatever your interest might be, you can find something in Tombstone. We are notorious cheapskates and declined almost all activities. We did, however, tour the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. The old courthouse contains numerous exhibits that cover the history of the town. The courtroom on the second floor was the scene of many trials, some including the Earps and Clantons.

Tombstone Courthouse Museum

The gallows behind the courthouse.

Stagecoach tour coming down East Allen Street. Now, I'm not a horse expert, but those look like Clydesdales to me. I've never heard of Old West stagecoaches being pulled by this breed.
We also visited the Boothill Graveyard on the northwest side of town. I enjoyed this. You can wander the graveyard, free of charge. The number of graves there resulting from violence is a bit disturbing, but it does reflect the nature of Tombstone in those days. I was especially drawn to the graves of Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers who were killed by the Earps and Doc Holliday at the infamous gunfight. They rest together near the fence next to the parking lot. The Boothill Graveyard site provides information on all the known graves, and the words on the tombstones often make interesting reading.

Boothill Cemetery, with its graves dug from the rocky terrain.

Some of the graves have humorous markers, such as this one, which reads, "Here Lies George Johnson Hanged by Mistake 1882. He was right, we was wrong, But we strung him up, and now he's gone."
Graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury, killed by the Earps and Doc Holliday in the infamous gunfight. Billy Clanton's father lies to his right in another grave.
I've seen Tombstone now. I don't need to go back. But for the western enthusiast, you need to walk the streets of this old town at least once; you need to get the lay of the land, so to speak, to see the hills surrounding the town.

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