Friday, February 24, 2012

Tombstone, Arizona

Tough Kids
Of all the historic cities we've visited this year, Tombstone has to be the coolest!  Where else does Doc Holliday saunter up asking if we cared for some whiskey and society over a friendly game of poker?  Where else do the three Earp Brothers stride through town with their long, black dusters flowing behind them?  Where else can you eat at Big Nose Kate's Saloon and see the janitor's secret mineshaft?  Though the local high school's tennis practice began as we were leaving, no other place we've visited in the west brought history to life like Tombstone.  Isn't it ironic that it's famous for death?
Though no daisy, Greg was his huckleberry.

Looking very tough... The Earps.

For the one percent of American adults who don't know about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, here's a HISTORY BREAK:

By 1881, thousands of people had converged on the tiny town of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory hoping to strike it rich in the local silver mines and gambling tables, or just looking for healthier living.  Few found fortunes (I don't think anyone found healthier living), and by October, two rival groups were prepared for battle: The Cowboys and The Earps.  

The Cowboys were a disjointed group of cattle rustlers and thieves who regularly raided ranches just over the Mexican boarder selling the cattle in the U. S.  Eventually, their crimes escalated to robbing stagecoaches: strongboxes and passengers.  These Cowboys ran rampant over most of the Territory.  

The Earp Brothers, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan, arrived in Tombstone in 1879 when Virgil accepted a post as U.S. Marshall hiring Morgan as his deputy.  After failed attempts at business, Wyatt Earp joined his brothers in local law enforcement to assist in bringing order to Tombstone. Doc Holliday, one time dentist and Southern Gentleman and long-time friend of Wyatt, came to Tombstone for his health, but made a name for himself by his drinking proclivities and reckless gambling.  

After months of threats, romantic rivalries, pistol whippings and arrests, tensions between the two groups climaxed in an 18 foot-wide lot behind the O.K. Corral.  Picture, if you will...

In the far corner: four lawmen- Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and newly deputized, Doc Holliday.

And in the near corner: four outlaw Cowboys- Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Clanton, and Ike Clanton.

In 30 seconds, 30 shots were fired at almost point blank range leaving one unarmed Cowboy, Ike Clanton, running for his life while the other three lay dead in the dirt.  Virgil Earp (shot in the leg), Morgan Earp (clipped in shoulder blades), and Doc Holliday (grazed in the hip) were all wounded in the shoot out, but survived.  Only Wyatt Earp walked away unharmed.

Wyatt and Wyatt
Thanks to the wonderful reenactment actors and the preservation of Tombstone, our family witnessed this (granted) very violent historical event.  But what a better way to experience history? And it was history.  These eight people really lived and breathed: with many flaws and strengths, with many problems and hardships. They loved and hated. Unfortunately, their lives have been defined by the hate.

I was impressed by the attention to detail the writer of the reenactment gave while showing both sides of the story.  Hollywood depicted only the Earps' side in one of my favorite westerns, TOMBSTONE, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as the perfect Doc Holliday.  (If you are over 17 and never seen this movie, rent it tomorrow!)

We actually bought the movie in Phoenix to watch with the kids, but then we remembered the extreme violence, with blood, throughout the movie.  We ended up just telling them about the gunfight during our three hour drive from Tempe to Tombstone and saved the violence for the live show.  Though extremely loud, the live shootout was thankfully bloodless.

Doc Pontificating.
In the end, the dead lay immobile in the dirt, while Doc Holliday delivered an eloquent soliloquy summing up with, "Just as on that fateful day, the fallen shall not rise."  And with the Earp Brothers telling our crowd of about fifty people to "Move on!  There's nothing else for you to see here!"  We silently exited the theatre while the Cowboy actors were motionless.
The "Dead" Billy Clanton

Though on the way to nowhere, Tombstone is worth the drive.  The historic district is faithful to the old west configuration of a mining boomtown and offers much more than just recreating the gunfight.  Visitors can get the full history of the town from Geronimo and the Apaches to the bust of the mines to modern times at the Historama's multimedia show narrated by Vincent Price... okay, not completely up to modern times.  There are also tours of the silver mines, stagecoach rides, and several saloons still in operation.  

Our $10 ticket to the gunfight included admission to the Historama, the museum, the O.K. Corral, and C.S. Fly's photo studio next to the gunfight site.  We lunched in Big Nose Kate's saloon and my Wyatt and I ventured down the shaft and witnessed the creepiest bedroom once inhabited by a janitor named the "Swamper."
Big Nose Kate's Saloon

Wyatt heads down the "Shaft."

And the Award for Creepiest Bedroom goes to...
The Swamper!

Driving by Boothill Cemetery on our way out of town, I felt like we had spent a day back in time which is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. (No ibuprofen.  All that gunfire gave me a headache. No wonder they used so much laudanum back then.)

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