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Following the Gunsmoke Trail
by Janice

Read what other travelers have to say about hotels in Tombstone Arizona

   Tombstone - the name alone is associated with casualties, deaths and testimonials to one's life and it is with that in mind that Tombstone, The Town Too Tough To Die celebrates its legacy - on the stories of those who lost their lives or those who took a life or two while in the midst of this infamous town - when the smell of gunsmoke was the indication of yet another life taken.

   Books, movies and many heated discussions have centered on not so much the history of Tombstone, the mining camp, but Tombstone the place "where they fell." Why, were it not for a gun battle where 3 young men lost their lives, one would wonder if this town would have survived the many incarnations it has been through. Would people have been as curious to see a petered out mining camp that once was the most opulent city between St. Louis and San Francisco were it not for the history associated with the many deaths that have held their mark on this town's inheritance? Would Tombstone still be a destination if the names associated with Tombstone had not been those that took a life or lost theirs? Would Tombstone have been your destination if it did not sell itself on death and the stories attached to them?

   As one thinks of a visit to Tombstone one of the first things they want to do is "walk where they fell" or see where they are buried. People are attracted to the stories of their demise. Others become worshipers, in some sort, of those who took other's lives. Many people come to Tombstone and want to dress just like Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo or Doc Holliday. They want to be just like them and present themselves on the wooden planks of Tombstone's boardwalk as if, perhaps in a lifetime long ago, they were the character they so associate themselves with.

   Tombstone, in general, accommodates those desires to follow the gunsmoke trail and grants the visitors their wishes. The first sign as you approach this destination brings to mind the death of those who once called Tombstone their home, actually their last and final home. Boothill - so named to attract the visitor to enter through the gateway of some of this town's most famous characters' final resting places - is the first thing you see as you enter town. For decades there as has been a sign at this location where some of Tombstone's earliest residents were buried. One of those signs from perhaps the late1920's read "Welcome to Tombstone and Boothill Graveyard - buried here are the remains of Tom McLowery - Frank McLowery and Billie Clanton} killed in Earp-Clanton Battle Sept. 25th, 1881. (yes this is how that sign read for many many decades with the wrong date and questionable spelling - perhaps its accuracy did not matter then - just the idea of their deaths was important to draw people in to this attraction) But also so listed on this sign were the list of names of others related to killings, murders, and hangings (legally or otherwise). It has forever beckoned to the traveler to stop and glimpse this infamous final resting place. Epitaphs inscribed with catchy sayings are glanced at and commented on. Post cards are purchased and mailed off in uncountable numbers depicting Boothill and the classic epitaphs therein. Everyone who visits Boothill will read some of these markers and chuckles are shared over them. Many postcards, magnets and other souvenirs have been made with the image of this one epitaph and sent all over the world. The infamous words on this marker have even been included in questions on TV games shows. I have to wonder if Les Moore looks down and chuckles too? (insert image here please)

   But perhaps the most often questioned is where are Tom, Frank and Billy buried? Yes, those young ranchers that lost their life in the gun battle that will never be forgotten are buried at Boothill cemetery and everyone wants to visit their grave. As time took over this cemetery, many actual gravesites were lost but this group of characters has been given a place of honor, so to speak, and is prominently marked with a larger mound and bigger headstones. The large wooden monument to their death states Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone bearing their names along with 1881 and next to this noticeable marker are their individual headstones marking Billy's, Frank's and Tom's presumed resting place. These graves have probably been the most visited and photographed site in Tombstone - that is - next to where their lives were taken. The OK Corral.

   There has always been a sign to catch your eye as you round the corner on highway 80 entering the historic district of Tombstone. A sign denoting the location near that famous gun battle, the OK Corral brings to mind the deaths associated with Tombstone and calls you to "Walk Where They Fell". One such sign from the 1940s read:

Earp - Clanton Fight
Here between four peace officers and four others was fought October 26, 1881 the most furious and famous gun battle of all western history known as the Earp-Clanton fight. In less than one minute three men were killed and three wounded.

   After paying your admission you can tour this location associated with this famous gunfight. You can "walk where they fell"and see the statues that have been erected depicting the offense and defense of the characters involved in this death scene. You can watch the re-enactment of that day and other gun battles that took a life in Tombstone. You can be entertained with gunshots and the resultant gunsmoke that permeates the air.

   Yes, everyone who visits Tombstone wants to know where the legendary OK Corral is. Visitors from all over the world flock to Tombstone to follow that infamous walk by the four men in black to where that pivotal confrontation took place. Walk along the outside wall of the OK Corral and there, in painted letters, are the words that tell of where these men took their final breath. The sign speaks of that day, the lives lost and the places they fell marking the legacy and the legend of a place in wild west times. This is where it all happened; this is where Tombstone's legacy was solidified. This is history and why you visit this old mining town.

   It's not just the graveyard and gunfight site that draws people's interest in Tombstone. Walk along the boardwalks in town and many of the places that once saw some action, some gunsmoke, are denoted by Plexiglas signs eternally marking the tragedy. At one point in time there were quaint old wooden signs nailed to the posts in Tombstone telling the curious seekers where Curly Bill shot Marshal White, where Virgil Earp was ambushed outside the Oriental Saloon, and where Morgan Earp was shot and killed in the Campbell & Hatch Saloon. Time and weather took their toll on these branded wooden signs and have been replaced with something more permanent. Stand on the corner of 5th and Allen in front of the Oriental Saloon, known as the "deadliest corner in Tombstone," and you can see the plaque marking just two of these deaths, Buckskin Frank Leslie killed Billy Claiborne here November 14th, 1882 and not to be forgotten is the mention of Luke Short killing Charlie Storms at this location on February 25, 1881.

   Businesses in Tombstone understand that this draw is what brings people to Tombstone and they offer their guests more of what they came here for. One attraction in town sells itself by enticing you in to hear the stories of guns and broken hearts, it offers you a view into the undertaker's parlor and even concludes the attraction with a specific room called the catastrophe room.

   Souvenir shops sell you such take home treasures as t-shirts with sayings such as "where the tough played and are laid to rest". Images of the movies associated with Tombstone are big sellers too. Words such as "Tell them I'm coming and Hell is coming with me" are very popular take home items. And probably most sought after is the shirt where the 4 men in black are on their walk to this town's eventual destiny - the OK Corral sign prominent in the background of this image.

   It is not only the daylight hours that draw visitors to Tombstone. The other side of Tombstone is often explored and now can be guided with your choice of several different "ghost" or "spirit" walks in the late hours of the night. One of Tombstone's draws, especially in this age of digital and video cameras and electronic voice programs, are the haunted tours of Tombstone. People want to get in touch with those whose lives were lived and ended here where the legends live large and eternally.

   And one of Tombstone's grandest events, Helldorado, has, since it first happened in October of 1929, celebrated the stories of Tombstone's past. Millions of people from all over the world love to plan their holidays and their vacations around this annual event. They come here looking to be entertained by the gunsmoke associated with recreations of such stories as the Bisbee Massacre, the Shooting of Marshal White, A Cold-Blooded Murder telling the story of the deaths of Filomono Orante and Sheriff Kip Phillips, and of course the not to ever be forgotten, OK Corral Gun Fight. Curiously, it was noted by writer, Grace McCool in her book "So Said The Coroner" published by the Tombstone Epitaph in 1968 "I suppose that Tombstone is proud of its "Massacre at the OK Corral." At least, the re-enactment of that infamous gunfight is the highlight of the annual Helldorado Days celebration."

   Looking back, it is interesting to note that if just one thing had happened differently, if one harsh word had not been said, if just one gunshot had not been fired, if the result of the fracas between the Earps, Holliday, Clantons and McLaury's had resulted in a different outcome - if only - your visit to Tombstone would be just a side trip off highway 80 to see the remains of what was once a booming mine town, destined to be it's name - a tombstone, a gravestone in the annals of Wild West History. There would be just pieces of dust holding together perhaps the remains of the once opulent Crystal Palace Saloon, the bawdy Bird Cage Theatre or the historic 2-story adobe building, Schieffelin Hall - all places with a history never to be forgotten from Tombstone's hey day.

   We are grateful for such stories that have helped Tombstone live on in books, movies, television shows, documentaries, ghost hunting shows and heated discussions of right and wrong, good and bad. We cling to the events, the characters involved and the gunsmoke that played a part of this town's legacy. We retell the stories over and over again. We delight in movies scripted with the sweat and breath of those hearty citizens that found their way to this town and we honor those memories - those stories - and those men who both died in Tombstone and who took a life here.

   Yes, in the grand scheme of things, Tombstone does sell itself on death and the names associated with it, but those occurrences, those appointments with destiny, are all part of this town's inheritance. Men and woman came to this hearty mining camp with one thing in mind - a better life. Many found that dream while others were cut short of achieving it. And still today, Tombstone draws people here in search of a better life, and I for one am grateful for the continued telling and retelling of the stories of those souls whose lives were taken as well as those who took a life, for were it not for those legendary moments, those names that bring to mind "justice" and "honor" and "gunsmoke" I would not be living in one of the most wonderful towns in the west. Books would never have been written, movies would never have been made and you would not be reading this. And Tombstone would be just a brush stroke of the past - the legends lost to time, their lives and deaths forgotten and their stories like a tumbling tumbleweed - drifting through the years - to no where.


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Goose Flats Graphics
P.O. Box 813
Tombstone, AZ 85638
(520) 457-3884


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