Growing up in a small southwest Georgia town in the 1950’s, I spent many hours playing cowboys and Indians throughout the neighborhood with my buddies. On Saturdays we would ride our bikes to the “picture show” to watch a double feature, cartoon, and a serial (“Rocket Man” was my favorite). Many of the movies were Westerns, starring the likes of Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, “Lash” LaRue, “Whip” Wilson, “Rocky” Lane, Rex Allen, William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, Johnny Mack Brown, with sidekicks the likes of Smiley Burnette, Gabby Hayes, Slim Pickens, and Chill Wills. Probably one of the most popular towns of many Westerns was Tombstone, AZ with its history of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the shootout at the O.K. Corral. How many times my buddies and I pretended to be Wyatt or Doc I have no idea, but there was always an argument over who would get to be Wyatt Earp.
Well, today Carol Ann and I took a little side trip to Tombstone, less than 60 miles from Tucson. Our first stop was The Tombstone Cemetery (it was not called Boothill Graveyard until the 1920’s) as it was on the way into town. The cemetery was closed in 1884 when a new cemetery was opened. It lay untended for many years, the wooden markers rotting away and mostly unreadable. It took years of research by interested citizens to restore and help preserve the cemetery as it is seen today. Some of the graves may be off by a couple of feet but where identified using old city charts and records.
Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury were killed by the Earp’s and Doc Holliday at the O.K. Corral and are buried at the cemetery. However, none of the Earp’s (Wyatt, Virgil, or Morgan) or Doc Holliday are buried in Tombstone.
After leaving Boothill, we drove on into Tombstone. It is a small town of less than 2,000 people, most of who make a living off of the tourists. The buildings on a couple of the streets have been preserved and may very well look like the 1880’s Tombstone but now house mostly gift shops, restaurants, and “museums”. You can’t even see the O.K. Corral as it is walled off so that admission can be charged to sit in a grandstand and watch a reenactment of the famous gunfight. There were at least two other gunfight venues in town, both requiring paid admission. There were quite a few characters in period dress walking the streets but there were no public gunfights. In short, it was interesting, but a tourist “trap”. Carol Ann and I walked around a bit, had lunch, and left. I prefer to remember Tombstone the way I do from the movies. And if you have seen the movies, especially the movie, “Tombstone”, don’t expect the town to look as it did in the movie. I was disappointed.