Tumstone: what is it famous for? Part 1
Many of you have probably seen the American western “Tumstone – Legend of the Wild West,” which appeared on screens in the early ’90s. I, unfortunately, have not yet had a chance to see the film, but was lucky enough to visit Tumstone, located in southern Arizona, close to the Mexican border, in the Wild West.
It still looks like it did in the 1980s. Many American action movies about cowboys and Indians, with chases and endless shootouts were filmed on the streets of this city. Its name translates as “Tombstone. Wow, a name for a town, I thought to myself. I want to tell you how much I learned and saw of American history on this trip. 19th century street Photo: T. Hellwig, personal archives
A little history
Tumstone Township was founded after the end of the Civil War in 1865, at a time when the “gold rush” in the area of gold and silver mines began. Within a couple of decades, Tumstone was already a real town.
One of the old saloons Photo: T. Hellwig, personal archive
Main Street was decorated with several expensive hotels and decent restaurants, numerous saloons and bars. Even a theater was built in the city.
In 1880, retired Sheriff Wyatt Earp came to Tombstone. He wanted to meet his brothers, who kept their own saloon in town. Besides, the marshal there was an acquaintance of Yerp’s. But at that troubled time, the town was not actually run by a marshal or mayor, but by two gangs of cowboys: the Clantons and the McLaurys. Note that cowboys at that time were not called shepherds or herdsmen, but cattle thieves, simply thieves.
As the gold rush began, people from all over the world poured into Tombstone. That meant that all the newcomers had to be fed and watered. And in Arizona, water was scarce, grass was scarce, and cattle was a problem. But in neighboring Mexico at the time, cattle ranching was booming. Sheriff’s Office Photo: T. Hellwig, personal archives
And so gangs were formed, mostly of former soldiers, who stole cattle from Mexicans and killed the cattle owners themselves in the process. The cowboys drove the cattle to Arizona and sold them there. In the towns they chose as their residence, they were total masters and kept the inhabitants in panic-stricken fear.
The Yerpa Brothers and Doc Holiday
When the retired sheriff arrived in Tumstone, Doc Holiday, a failed dentist doctor with tuberculosis, was already residing there. He was a desperate gambler, brawler, and duelist. Holiday had a reputation as the most dangerous shooter in Arizona, so he was not to be messed with. But he was very popular with the female sex…
And it was not at all clear what had brought such polar opposites as Wyatt and Doc Holiday together, but they quickly became close friends. When fellow cops asked Yerp, “Why do you ruin your reputation by being friends with that bum?”, Yerp replied, “Between you and me, he saved my life once. And when Doc’s many ladies asked him why he risked his life for policeman Yerp, Yerp answered cryptically, “I owe you one, though.
There was another official in Tombstone who was supposed to help the Yerps brothers fight the cowboys’ rampage. That was Sheriff Johnny Behan. But between him and Wyatt Yerp came, quite unexpectedly, a woman, an actress of the local theater…
O.K. Corral Shootout.
Sheriff Bean, out of jealousy, began “playing” on the side of the cowboy bandits. When townspeople reported to the Yerps that a cowboy attack was being prepared on them and that the cowboys had gathered behind them (simply a horse corral), Bean assured the Yerps that the cowboys were unarmed. Gang of cowboys in O.C. Corral Photo: T. Hellwig, personal archives
In the fall of 1881 Wyatt Yerp, his two brothers, and their friend Doc Holiday walked down Tumstone Street to the backs of an empty horse corral. There were four of them, the bandits six. Seeing the Yerps, the cowboys grabbed their guns. One of the brothers shouted: “Wait, I don’t want to shoot. Just lay down your guns!”
The next 30 seconds have been described many times in the literature, with drawings, plans and bullet trajectories. There was even a special film, “The Shootout at O.C. Corral,” which was released in 1957. The cowboys were the first to open fire. And no one had ever seen such a firefight before or since! The Yerpa Brothers Photo: T. Hellwig, personal archive
In half a minute, three of the six bandits were dead. And everyone else in the shootout was seriously wounded. One of the cowboys, after being hit by three bullets, raised himself on his elbow, fired one last shot and wounded one of the Yerps, then fell dead. Thirty seconds later, nine men were lying on the ground. Only one Wyatt Yerp stood upright. His coat and hat were shot in several places. But he himself remained unharmed.
No one knows what happened next. All that is known for certain is that Wyatt and Doc Holiday obtained an arrest warrant for the killers. However, they did not arrest a single person. But over the next few days, all the members of the Clanton gang were killed under different circumstances.
After the raid on the cowboy gang, Sheriff Wyatt Yerp finally retired. He decided to help a sick friend and took Doc Holiday to Denver, a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients, where he visited him constantly. Holiday died a few years later in that sanitarium…
Everyone who visits Tombstone is sure to come to see the site of the famous gunfight at . Two groups are represented there: the cowboys and the Yerpa brothers with Doc Holiday. The scene replicates the exact disposition of the opponents before the fight begins. One can’t help but feel like a participant in this dramatic event.
Like so many other places in the Old West whose history is filled with violence, Tumstone is one of America’s most famous ghost towns. It is also known as the most haunted place in the state of Arizona. The streets of Tumstone are haunted by ghosts who repeat the circumstances of their tragic deaths time and time again.
All America knows the O. C. Corral near Tumstone, where on October 26, 1881, the Earp brothers and “Doc” Holliday settled scores with the Ike Clanton gang in a legendary shootout. The 30-second exchange of fire left three bandits on the ground.
This rapid-fire, forward-action shooting became a must in cowboy movies, and Tombstone, with its classic Wild West interior, became a permanent movie set. Many stars of the Western genre have filmed there, from Burt Lancaster and Ronald Reagan to Clint Eastwood and Kurt Russell.
Ghosts of Tumstone.
Time has equalized everyone. Both the Earp brothers and the bandits they killed rest in the local Booth Hill Cemetery. On neighboring graves are some rather remarkable epitaphs: “Marguerite Golden Dollar,” “Here rests Lester Moore with four .44-caliber bullets,” “Mistakenly Hanged Joe Lucky. Forgive us, Joe.”
The postholes in the Wild West are very instructive places. You can read an era from them. After all, the pioneers rarely managed to live to a ripe old age here. One out of every five miners died of silicosis, tuberculosis or accident. Epidemics were rampant. Many died violent deaths in saloon brawls, by bandit bullets, or on the ropes of the lynch courts, and whites were hanged as assiduously as blacks.
It should be noted that Boot Hill is the slang name for pogosts in the Far West. In the XIX century it was a common name for cemeteries for gunfighters (a person who is good with firearms and has been in many gunfights) and for those who “died in the boots”, that is a violent death. In addition, these kinds of burials included those who died in a foreign city without the means for a decent burial. There are more than two dozen such cemeteries across America.
It is also home to the ghost of the long deceased Marshal Fred White, who was accidentally shot in 1880 by Cowboy Curly Billy Brosius. White was the first marshal of Tumstone to enforce some sort of order from the Clanton gang. Often he arrested gangsters from other gangs as well. Early on the morning of October 28, Curley Bill and a few of his comrades were entertaining themselves by shooting up the town. When White arrived to disarm the thugs, an accidental bullet struck him in the groin. Two days later, the marshal died. It is rumored that he can be seen at the spot where he was shot.
There used to be a vacant lot on that spot, and then the Bird Cage Saloon appeared. There is a legend that a jealous woman killed her rival there and cut out the unfortunate woman’s heart. There were only 26 reported deaths in the building, so it’s no surprise that more than 30 different ghosts have been counted there. The former saloon is now the Bird Cage Theatre Museum, and its caretakers have repeatedly reported seeing long-dead regulars, and many claim to have heard music and laughter inside the building.
Many times a cowboy in a long black cloak has been seen on the streets of Tumstone: he usually stands leaning against the wall of the post office. Many believe he is the ghost of Virgil Earp, who was ambushed there and wounded in the arm, after which he was left disabled. And more than once the ghost of a guy with half a head was seen on top of Ajax Hill smoking a cigar.
But criminal mayhem was not the only cause of death in the town. Tombstone experienced two terrible fires, the first in June 1881 and the second in May 1882. These fires destroyed large areas of the town’s business district. More than 40 people died in the overcrowded saloons and brothels that burned down completely. These men who died in the smoke and fire, who apparently to this day have not been able to find solace, are also at times reminded of themselves, whose ghosts appear in the city streets with horrible burns on their bodies. At the same time, some of the eyewitnesses have reported smelling smoke and burning while these ghosts were appearing. It seems that the events of the past have been imprinted in some way on the city, and it repeats these scenes from time to time.
The ghost of a woman in a long white dress was often seen in the city. According to one legend, it was the mother of a child who died of a fever epidemic in the 1880s. She committed suicide when she could not stand the grief (see Suicide Horror). According to another legend, she was one of the merry maidens who was hanged by bandits in a brothel, and her ghost is still seeking her killers for revenge. And in Landin Park at dawn you can sometimes see the ghost of a woman with a knife sticking out of her head burying someone’s body under a big rock.
In the vicinity of Booth Hill, the walking spirit of a lady with a sword sticking out of her leg is often seen. The story goes that she likes to scare the tourists who come to gawk at the ghosts of Tumstone.
Booth Hill became even more popular after a remarkable photograph was taken. A man named Terry Clanton, the namesake of a famous local gang leader or perhaps even his descendant, snapped a photo of his friend in front of the cemetery. Clanton gave the film to be developed, but was greatly surprised when he received the pictures. Behind the figure of his friend, who portrayed a stern cowboy with a revolver, a man in a dark hat was clearly visible. Judging by his height, it is a man with no legs, either kneeling or … rising from the grave. The photographer is pretty sure that no one else was in the cemetery at the time of the shooting, but the two of them.