Graves marked with humor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

“Mom, you’ve got to go to Tombstone while you’re in Arizona,” my daughter said when she called one night in March during my visit with my friend Billie in Tucson. “It’s our next destination.” I answered. Indeed, the next morning we set out in Billie’s Jeep for our 70-mile trip to Tombstone.

I was still agog over the landscape that is so different from my native Alabama. The desert with its varied plants and impressive saguaro cacti spread out around us. Mountains loomed clearly in the distance. As she drove, Billie told me about some of the natural plants. She dislikes the cholla, another cactus with sticky, fuzzy-looking foliage that grows uninvited all over. Animals spread the seeds that cause it to multiply. The fuzzy stuff gets in horses’ fetlocks. Billie learned to take along a comb to get it out when she was out riding. I noticed a plant with spiny, dead-looking sticks called ocotillo. The Indians made shelters with it on the reservation where San Xavier Mission Church is located. They cooked and sold fry bread from those shelters.

We arrived at Boothill Graveyard around noon. According to the brochure we picked up, Tombstone was a roaring mining town of the 1880s. More than 250 graves dot the final resting place of a variety of people—not only outlaws, their victims, suicides, and hanging victims—but hardy citizens and refined elements of the town’s early history. Each grave is marked with a wooden cross. Most markers only state the name and year of death. Others furnish more detail. For example, five men who were legally hanged on one scaffold in 1884 were buried together. The marker noted that they were found guilty of killing several people during a robbery. Another was hanged by mistake after innocently buying a stolen horse. The marker for a Wells Fargo agent read: “Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les, no more.” One woman’s marker said, “Dutch Annie, 1883. Sometimes called Queen of the Red Light District.”

In town, we stood in a long line to purchase tickets for the re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We were among the last to obtain tickets for the next performance. The bleachers had almost filled when we entered. Two women, noticing our plight, moved over on one of the front rows and let us squeeze in. I almost fell out of my seat when one of the actors fired a gun in the air soon after he walked out. Billie and I agreed that the actor who portrayed the drunken Doc Holliday was our favorite. He staggered onto the scene and waxed elegantly poetic before the big shoot-out scene. Afterwards, we toured The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper office. We saw several old presses and picked up a replica of the newspaper that printed the eyewitness accounts of the famous event.

I had seen Tombstone. It was time to return to Alabama.