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TEARS ON THEIR TOMBSTONES
by Janice
(from the June 2005 issue)
Read what other travelers have to say about hotels in Tombstone Arizona

   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 resting place.

   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 "Boothill Graveyard"".

   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 coffers.

   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 destination.

   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.

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