Almost everyone at some point during their lifetime goes through a cowboy phase, whether it’s playing Cowboys and Indians with their siblings or watching Clint Eastwood’s Western films. Some never grow out of that phase and the call of the Old West remains strong. In Arizona lies the famous mining town of Tombstone; it was one of the last frontier towns in the Old West, but instead of its mining, it’s more famous for its rowdy group of cowboys.
Just like in the 1993 movie Tombstone, Ike and Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom, were giving the Earp brothers a run for their money. These groups were often at odds with each other, and many added to the population of the nearby Boothill cemetery; a graveyard that’s occupied by many cowboys who “died with their boots on.” An interesting thing about visiting the cemetery is that it makes you realize that these historical people were real people—a message that simply isn’t conveyed from watching a movie.
Who can forget the, “I’m just fucking with you, Fred,” scene from Tombstone where Curly Bill, high on opium, murders Marshall Fred White in the street. “Shot by Curly Bill” is scratched in White’s tombstone. And according to Dick Toby’s grave marker, he was shot by Sheriff Behan—a pompous asshole in the movie and apparently no more respectable in real life.
The most famous scuffle is arguably the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which ultimately ended up with the McLaurys and Billy Clanton joining White on Boothill. When visiting the cemetery, the markers tell the story of frontier life, or perhaps death, as one after another reads, “shot,” “murdered,” “stabbed,” “killed,” “hanged,” or “killed by Indians,” with “death by natural causes” being the exception instead of the norm.
Some of the more interesting grave markers include Lester Moore, “four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more,” and George Johnson who was “Hanged By Mistake: He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he’s gone.”
Some headstones also convey attitudes you wouldn’t see in today’s society, such as the ones for “Chink Smiley,” “Two Chinese,” and the one for “Rook” who was “Shot by a Chinaman.” John Heath was “Taken from County Jail and Lynched By Bisbee Mob.”
If you inner cowboy calls, know that there are places like Boothill where real life and legend intersect. Just don’t be surprised if you find real life even wilder than a movie. More pictures below.
Scott Mayer & Sierra Jackson
“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”