Sunday, January 24, 2010
The Most Famous Boothill
What a hoot.
I'm in Booothill Graveyard (link to more pics), Tombstone, AZ, and all hail cuts lose. Literally. Hail a little bit smaller than pea gravel shoots down on us, scattershot. It's like God's picking us off with shotguns.
How appropriate. Most of the 250 to 300 people buried in Boothill died because of a gun, or knife or some kind of weapon or trauma.
I duck (how do you duck hail?) then run for the wooden structure that separates this historical treasure from the rest of the wild West town.
And it is a treasure. Not just a tourist trap. But it exists because of tourists.
Nature reclaimed most of the original cemetery after its closing in 1884. In the 1920s, a group of locals spiffed it up in hopes of attracting tourists. That "spiffing" continues nearly a century later, but the people involved no longer aim to please tourists.
Their passion is history. And it shows.
Remember the hailstorm? Well, after a ceasefire, the clouds depart and I return outside and visit my first grave.
The freshly painted marker says "Unknown." (All original markers were pinched or disentigrated.) I check my Directory to Graves and learn that this unknown fellow was found in 1882 at the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft. And, because he was well-dressed, it's assumed he was no miner.
Then there's Chas. Helm shot in 1882 in an argument over how best to drive cattle, slow or fast. Kansas Kid was a cowboy killed in a stampede. Geo. Johnson was hanged by mistake (he innocently bought a stolen horse and suffered the consequences.) Delia William, an African American proprietor of a lodging house on Toughnuts Street, killed herself by taking arsenic in 1881.
The stories go on and on.
Each grave is numbered and the numbers refer to a listing in the directory that's handed out to all visitors. In compiling the list, the historians interviewed family members, old town residents and Arizona Historical Society records.
All of the graves listed are documented as Tombstone residents, as the outlaws and their victims, infants, housewives, painted ladies, people who killed themselves, people who were hanged, legal or otherwise. The three men who died in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral are buried here, side by side. Some people even died of natural causes.
Morbid? Not at all. The graveyard is neat, tidy. Almost Disney-like. Each grave is dressed in a cairn, those piles of rocks that make it hard for coyotes and other predators to scavenge the remains. Some graves are landscaped with cacti. All have markers, either simple crosses or more elaborate epitaphs, such as this well-known verse:
Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les, no more.