It was not long after that
first strike of silver near the ridge known as Goose Flats that
men by the dozens found their way here in search of their new
beginnings and yet often times finding their endings. This became
in the true sense of the word a "boomtown" and the population
grew tremendously in a very short time. Life could be good for
a few here and death would be certain for a lot more. In the 1800's
it was not uncommon to bury the dead in a shallow grave some place
close to the trail traversed leaving only a marker of wood or
a pile of stone as these pioneers moved on. For those with permanent
residences on ranches and farms it was traditional to bury their
loved ones close by in a family burial ground, but here in this
new city it became necessary to designate a plot of ground as
the cemetery where those who died in Tombstone would have their
final resting place. A walk northwest just barely out of the town
limits would bring one to a rocky knoll where the views of the
sculpted Dragoon Mountains to one side and the shadow of Comstock
Hill on the other would surround these dearly departed souls.
This was the City Cemetery for Tombstone Arizona Territory, 1879.
Respect was shown for the
dead depending upon the status one held while alive. A drifter
caught between a bullet and a hard place would have been buried
without notice, only the undertaker aware of his passing. While
a young woman buried along with her stillborn child would have
the finest in funeral services as the townsfolk would all be there
in their mourning outfits.
Marking these 3 X 6 plots
of ground would most often be two pieces of wood affixed together
in the shape of a cross. Words either chiseled in or painted on
would mention a name, if known, and a date. Sometimes there was
a mention of the cause of death. Hanged. Drowned. Shot. Suicide.
Murdered. These and other words would have been their epitaph.
Wild flowers would have been gathered and brought to these gravesites
and tears would have dropped from swollen eyes to the fresh dug
earth now mounded around the tombstone of this loved one's final
For more than four years
this was the place where the famous and the notorious were buried.
Where the epitaphs such as "Murdered in the streets of Tombstone",
"Hanged by Mistake", and "Shot by Ormsby"
are the last and final words attributed to the person now residing
at the Tombstone Cemetery. The wild side of Tombstone took many
lives and just as fast as one would die in this raucous town a
new man or a new family would be arriving with wagons piled high,
ready to be unloaded in their new home here in Tombstone. Tombstone
was growing fast and as the town grew the cemetery began to get
a bit over crowded. Simply put, there was going to be a need for
a new cemetery if this town continued to grow as it was. The need
was answered, the land generously donated and the deal sealed
with a handshake. The land where the Jennie Belle, Little Tom,
and the New Year's Gift mining claims sat was gifted to the city
for the New Tombstone Cemetery at the west end of Allen Street.
By 1884 the town of Tombstone
was beginning to take on the established standards that all fine
cities maintained and having a "new" city cemetery where
"proper" residents of town could be buried would have
been met with a feeling of status. The simple wooden crosses with
painted or etched epitaphs were soon over-shadowed by the large
granite carved headstones. Etched for eternity would be words
that described these individuals. And standing tall above the
ground these ornately carved stones would tell of the life once
lived in words and symbols.
As the years went by the
"old" city cemetery fell upon neglect. It began to be
reclaimed by the desert. It was no longer used for services and
the friends and loved ones of those buried within this perimeter,
for the most part, no longer lived in Tombstone. The call to move
on would have taken them to the next boomtown and with their departure
a void would have been placed over the final resting spot of the
loved one they had to leave behind. No longer would there be tears
shed on the soil here. No longer would there have been flowers
placed beside a wooden cross. And no longer would there be footsteps
to follow that once led the way to little Eva's small mound. The
"old" city cemetery had become forgotten and no longer
revered as the sacred and hallowed grounds for those who died
in Tombstone's infancy.
The wooden crosses marking
the unnamed man known only as "Killed by Apaches" and
the double mound of dirt where the Brady brothers were buried
soon fell victim to the scrub brush and the cacti that over took
the old cemetery. Oh, Mother Nature did a good job on this once
sacred plot of ground while reclaiming the land and almost completely
erasing all traces of this final resting place. But Mother Nature
did what she does naturally.
Not all the wooden crosses
and other markers were taken over by the growing desert life and
ravages of time and rot. Grave robbers stole many and those not
stolen were broken and destroyed. This abandoned cemetery soon
became the final resting place for someone's worn out icebox and
every other form of garbage one could imagine. The "old"
Tombstone City Cemetery where the famous and the notorious were
buried along with the brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters, daughters,
and sons of Tombstone's first pioneers was now the city dump.
Years passed and the garbage
continued to accumulate and while this was taking place so was
the resurgence in excitement about the old Wild West. People wanted
to find Tombstone and find where these heroes and their nemesis's
walked and where those that were violently killed had been buried.
It was unfortunate for those that did find their way to Tombstone
in the 1920's. Visitors wanting to find the grave of Billy Clanton
or the brothers McLaury had to pick through the growing piles
of discarded rubbish, broken glass and thorny cactus. What was
the city to do?
Times were hard in this decade
and the future did not look bright. Word was traveling that the
old west town of Dodge City Kansas was starting to capitalize
on its history for the tourist dollars. The bodies buried in the
original pioneer cemetery there had many years before been removed
and the grounds built over with a school house but people still
wanted to know where these heroes and villains had been buried
once. Seeing the vision of tourists flocking to this historic
place, the powers to be at the time decided to capitalize on the
cemetery's notoriety and create a tourist destination where dollars
would be spent. The place was made to look like a haphazard graveyard
and cleverly worded epitaphs would be inscribed in fake headstones
placed over an empty and void graveyard. Other methods were incorporated
to entertain those who wanted to visit this famous "Boothill"
and soon the blend of hucksterism and feigned authenticity was
seen by the town council as a way to make money. The Old West
was a commodity that required only a pretext of authenticity to
be marketable and if Dodge City could do it then why not Tombstone?
Yes, Tombstone's cemetery
(soon to officially borrow the title "Boothill" and
incorporate that name in the effort to draw tourists) was so desecrated
that even the town's first mayor and founder of the Tombstone
Epitaph Newspaper, John Clum, was unable to locate the site where
his late wife was buried while visiting during the 1920's. Words
written about the condition of this cemetery refer to it as a
disgrace and humiliation to the town of such legendary history.
If the town was going to
follow suit with Dodge City it best clean up this cemetery for
its commercial potential. There appeared to be a lack of pride
in Tombstone's past pioneers except for the patriotic and loyal
Boy Scouts of Tombstone whose mission it was to clean up this
graveyard/dump. A call to action was announced and yet no one
really cared to pitch in and clean it up. Funds were requested
and denied. John Clum even offered to match any funds acquired
for the clean up of this "most pathetic dump" and no
one stepped up. And so for the second time it was the town's Boy
Scout troop that stepped forward and started the action to clean
up the old city cemetery that had, by this time, been given the
official name change to "Boothill".
There was money to be had
here. The commercial profits that could be made at "Boothill"
were going to help pull this town out of the slump after the mines
had closed down. Tourism was going to be the big thing and an
"authentic" Boothill would be this place's claim to
fame. Soon the old timers of town were helping out with finding
the names and gravesites of long forgotten family members. Others
remembered what certain epitaphs said filling in some blank spots.
And specific yet uncertain mounds were formed where once only
wild desert plants proliferated among the heaps of piled rubbish.
In 1932 the "Broadway of
America" (highway 80) was being constructed through this area
and the town council knew that this "Boothill" would be a great
tourist stop along the way. In 1933 the highway department granted
permission to the town to construct a by-way to the site marked
with a six-by-twelve foot black and white sign that could be easily
seen and photographed by passing tourists. "Welcome to
Tombstone and Boothill Graveyard. Buried here are the remains
of..." Yes the names and epitaphs of those buried here
would call those to stop and perhaps spend some money, take a
photograph and tell everyone they knew to come see this famous
graveyard. What a find this long forgotten and almost obliterated
graveyard was to the economy of this quiet community.
The name of Wyatt Earp drew
many people to this part of Arizona, all wanting to see the graves
of the three men killed in the gunfight where he and his brothers
and a man named Doc Holliday "triumphed over the evils of
the cowboy faction". The violence of Tombstone's past was
to be the focus here at "Boothill". While in that same
graveyard were the forgotten final resting places of over 250
lost souls ... people who would not or could not be associated
with violence. Perhaps their value or disvalue to this town would
never be known, as they had no association with the famous Earp/Clanton
feud or the wild cowboy vendettas. Time saw to it that a few were
located and reclaimed, to the best of their memories, thanks to
loved ones who helped with the renovation process. Many buried
here were true Tombstone pioneers and yet many of them forgotten,
their markers removed never to be reclaimed, their story never
to be told.
The popularity of this "outlaw
graveyard" soon haunted the grounds. Souvenir hunters sneakily
carried headstones and funeral markers away and the cemetery was
in need of a caretaker and some kind of fencing. The fencing was
taken care of with the sharp branches of the ocotillo plant. And
the position of caretaker was awarded in exchange for the concession
income to be made from those that visited this tourist draw. And
soon it was not uncommon to see the "donation" box in
place where funds could be gained for the "upkeep of Tombstone's
Yes, now the "old"
city cemetery was taken care of. The dirt where once only the
wild growing desert plants and carelessly discarded garbage claimed
home now had well formed mounds and exceptionally manicured landscape
with not a weed to be found in it. This was to honor these Tombstone
pioneers. Actually no, this was to capitalize on the violence
of Tombstone's past. This was to bring in money to the Tombstone
And now the "new"
cemetery remains, for the most part, devoid of any city attention.
Almost a dichotomy of sorts. This cemetery once meant "status"
to many folks in town. Enough so that the "old" cemetery
was allowed to fall to ruin and disrepair with never a thought
given to clean it up until the vision to reclaim it brought dollar
signs to the eyes of early city fathers. For many years and even
up to today a collection box has been placed at the "old"
cemetery. I wonder what other cemeteries, historic or not, ask
for donations to view the burial grounds of their pioneers. The
City of Tombstone today claims that the donations for the month
of April were slightly over $23,000 with over 48,000 visitors
walking through the doors that lead to "Boothill". And
at this moment bids are being accepted for a new tile floor in
the gift shop as well as for the addition of a patio at this tourist
Here the rocks have been
carefully mounded and delicately placed so that no foot should
trip over the replica headstones or metal rod crosses that mark
even the "unknown's" of Tombstone's pioneers. All cleverly
re-created to bring tourists to this destination. Special attention
is given to the grounds that never a weed can grow from as this
well-visited and often photographed graveyard has constant attention
while the "new" city cemetery has been allowed to become
over grown with the same weeds, cacti and other wild desert plants.
These sometimes devouring up the unreadable epitaph ... covering
the tombstone for this forgotten pioneer.
Here at the "new"
city cemetery headstones are crumbling and the ground is too.
The wild critters of the desert have delightfully found their
homes under many of the concrete slabs, unmarked mounds, and granite
tombstones. Their burrows have tended to weaken the grounds that
support the slabs and markers. Each step must be taken carefully
here so as not to lose your footing with the crumbling grounds.
Our pioneers, the ones who kept this town alive so that there
is now and will forever be a "Boothill" to visit have
now become the forgotten ones. The doctors, lawyers, marshals,
councilmen, mothers, fathers, and children of this great town
now have their last and final resting place becoming a common
dumpsite as well. Garbage sometimes seems to just grow out there
along with the heavy century plants whose roots have grown deep
under the faded headstones, their epitaphs unreadable. Will it
take a century for this plant to bloom before there is shown a
semblance of care about the upkeep of this place?
The donations collected
at the tourist destination, "Boothill" do not go towards
helping shore up these falling and sinking graves nor does it
help replace weathered, broken or lost tombstones like had been
done where there is a donation box. "Boothill" has a
paid groundskeeper and yet the "new" city cemetery none.
There are only the ones who come through once in a while, pull
a weed, place a flower and shed a tear leaving a small section
lovingly attended to.
Time too has taken its toll
on the Tombstone Cemetery. The desert winds take with them the
names chiseled in granite nearly erasing all memory of who lies
beneath this tombstone once cried upon. Metal funeral markers
denote where a family once placed flowers on the mound leaving
their teardrops to melt into the freshly dug earth. Permanent
headstones, whether elaborately ornate or simply worded with name
and date are void here. Were there no funds to purchase this final
possession for their loved ones or have they been carried away
by souvenir hunters who just want a piece of Tombstone's tombstones,
we may never know. But how wonderful would it be if we could know
that those who made Tombstone truly the town to tough to die are
remembered beyond a thirty seconds of their lives?
A dear couple in Tombstone
has given an incredible amount of their time and energy filling
in the mystery of these lost epitaphs and markers in Tombstone's
Other Cemetery. Years of research has gone into their labor of
love that now tells a story of sorts in names and dates of those
whose lives were lost and eulogized here at the end of Allen Street.
A gift to be sure to the town's history as told from the epitaphs.
And now a new call to action
is being heralded for these pioneers' history to be told. This
important historic landmark, the "new" Tombstone Cemetery,
has fallen into a state of disrepair. The town no longer has the
Boy Scouts to follow the footsteps of those who once took care
of their loved one's grave by cleaning up and pulling the overgrown
weeds. Perhaps once a year near Memorial Day there can be found
a few family members or other volunteers who wander through and
pick up the empty beer bottles and other pieces of garbage now
claiming home here near their family's site. Weeds are pulled
and fresh flowers are exchanged for those that were left from
last year's Memorial Day sprucing up. This done in memory of the
loved ones resting here, gone days or decades matter not, for
they are remembered and loved.
Lovingly nearly every day
in the very early morning hours you can find someone very special
at the Tombstone Cemetery. Someone who is not motivated by dollars
or even a scouting badge. She has no loved one buried here and
knows none of them resting here from life... only their epitaphs.
She is someone who dearly and truly just wants the "real"
cemetery in historic Tombstone to have the polish it deserves.
She rakes and pulls up weeds. She tugs the long dead century plants
whose growth has now toppled over the tombstone. She scoots along
and removes the dead desert grasses growing tall against the headstones.
She cleans up the old and weathered articles that have blown throughout
these chain link fenced in walls. And she leaves each one she
tends to with a new and bright bunch of cheerful yellow daisies
or sunflowers. Where there is mention of military service she
leaves the red, white and blue flowers. The careful attention
she devotes to each burial location will hopefully one day keep
this "new" cemetery from being neglected and forgotten
in favor of the tourist attraction, "Boothill".
Her efforts are not supported
by the funds gained from the donation box at "Boothill".
She is not paid to do this; it comes from her heart and her desire
to see that all those buried at Tombstone's City Cemetery are
remembered with respect for the life they lived in the town at
the bottom of the hill. As she says, "They all have a story
and I want to know them all." Who out there would be willing
to share the stories of Tombstone's true pioneers with this "angel"
in Tombstone? Who wants to make sure that Tombstone can be remembered
for its hearty citizens who kept this town on the map and not
just the notorious citizens whose only claim to fame was ending
up at the wrong end of a bullet? Please hear this call to action
and if you know the stories of those you visit in the Tombstone
Cemetery share them. Go out there in the morning and spend some
time with her and let her know you care about the stories as well.
If you no longer live in this town or prefer to speak with us,
then write or call this paper and tell us how to contact you for
these stories. Tombstone's pioneers deserve a proper burial ground
and she devotes her mornings seeing to it that the overgrowth
of weeds and rubbish does not deter from that respect. She asks
no money for her efforts. She does not have a donation box at
her side. All she truly wants is to know the stories of these
pioneers she has become so close to. Close enough to spruce up
their final resting place up. And close enough to place the "wild
flowers" and shed a tear upon the tombstones of those that
are gone but not forgotten in Tombstone's history. Death was certain
for our pioneers of the past but let's not let their stories die
too. And let it never be said that the Tombstone Cemetery was
a disgrace or humiliation to the town of such legendary history.