Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Tombstone, Arizona? Great, But You May Have More Fun Creating Your Own History

©Bert Gildart: Tombstone, Arizona, and things have certainly changed since the days of the Gun Fight at the OK Coral. Today, as you walk down Main Street, you see a few folks pushing their poodle dogs in baby carriages while the nearby bars feature Elvis impersonators. Yeah, it’s certainly different alright, but, if you just put on your blinders and focus on some of the vestigial remains, you’ll find some features that will remind you that this is an historic place, and that once something occurred here that was so colorful that it has become one of those iconic events of the Old West. Wander long enough and you may even be able to add a new chapter or two to the chronicles of the Old West…


Mud street and stage coach add authenticiy to Tombstone

The genuine event, of course, was the one that occurred on October 26, 1881 when the Earps met the Clantons and McLaurys. They met to settle what many say was the “West’s most famous feud;” and when it was all over Frank McLaury dropped on Fremont Street. Bill Clanton died where he stood and Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. Wyatt Earp who has become one of the West’s most celebrated heroes was unscathed.


The story of their clash is told in various ways around today’s Tombstone. It’s told on historic markers, at Boothill, in handout brochures, in the town’s various bars, and in dramas acted out by men who look much like the Earps and like Doc Holiday. The play begins on Main Street and then concludes inside of a playhouse that you must pay to follow the story to its conclusion. [CLICK TO SEE LARGER VERSION OF IMAGES BELOW]


Essentially, the gunfight occurred because of a build up of tension between the Earps with both the Clantons and McLaurys. Stage coaches had been robbed and accusations concerning the perpetrators begin to unfold. Doc’s companion, Big Nose Kate, began a rumor about Doc following a drunken quarrel, which she later recanted when she sobered.


Still, tensions grew and one morning the Earps decided to arrest the Clantons and McLaurys, so precipitating the battle. Today, that battle site is flanked by an RV camping site, and there certainly is no more corral, replaced by a nondescript building. It’s across the street from Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Though the building did exist at the time, the saloon never did. Still, you can evoke another aspect of the Old West by visiting Main Street, a portion of which remains muddy when it rains and unpaved. Climb aboard a horse-drawn old stage coach for a ride through town or visit one of the old saloons. Big Nose Kate’s Saloon offers atmosphere with its Hurdy Gurdy Girls and their friendly conversation.


Boot Hill, still authentic except that metal markers have replaced old wooden markers

Perhaps the only feature of Tombstone that remains somewhat unchanged is the location of the graves at historic Boothill, “the second most visited place in Arizona,” according to a chamber representative. However, the old wooden markers have been replaced by weather-resistant metal markers. Here, several of the Clantons are buried and so are the McLaury’s. So, too, is an innocent man, and attention is called to that fact.

Then there’s Lester More, a man celebrated in a Johnny Cash song: Here lies Lester Moore, four shots from a .44, no less no more.”


Photographing the sights of Tombstone can present a bit of a challenge and for some of the photographs I used two strobes. In another (the interior of Big Nose Kate’s illuminated with soft neon lights) I used Nikon’s “Slow Sync” setting, allowing the neon images of Kate and Doc Holiday to provide their own low-light illumination. Simultaneously the setting allowed me to properly illuminate the mount of the long-horn steer-and all the historic photographs. For the Lester Moore photo I added a strobe to illuminate the epitaph, but set the shutter and aperature so the sun would flare.


To preserve Kate and Doc, illuminated with low neon light, I used Nikon's Slow Shutter setting.

And the photo of one of the Hurdy Gurdy girl? She was a willing and knowing subject (and actually a good source of local history), and I’m going to send that picture to a friend of mine and his wife. My friend is too complacent, bragging about his placid marriage. I’m going to tell him the picture is sent compliments of “Mary,” who has asked to be reminded about his long ago “historic” visit.

Well, maybe I’ve gotten my events wrong as well as the timing, but it makes a good tale, so I think I’ll follow through on my plot.



*Mojave National Preserve


3 Responses to “Tombstone, Arizona? Great, But You May Have More Fun Creating Your Own History”

  1. Rich Charpentier Says:

    Ah Bert, I skipped Toombstone while in Southern AZ. I wanted the ghost towns that were a little less touristy. We quickly checked out Toombstone and passed on through. Hope you visit Bisbee, Douglas, Lowell, Pearce, Courtland, and a few more. If you have the time.

  2. Charles Spiher Says:


    A friend here in Patagonia, AZ, an accomplished wainwright and renowned local historian, did extensive research a decade ago on a commission from the family that owns the “OK Corral”.

    His findings were not flattering….evidence that the gunfight occurred, not at the OK, but a block away in an empty lot. That, of course, resonated like a fart in church. He was dispatched with a check and summarily dismissed. As a tourist ‘attraction’, it was and is in the best financial interest for the ownership to cling to the Hollywood version, although fictional.

    Tombstone is not to be demeaned; the strategy works for them. Much of the lore of the old west is viewed through an amorphous haze by sentimentalists wearing rose-colored glasses.

    Don’t miss Bisbee (considerably more authentic) or Gleeson if you have the opportunity.

  3. Bert Says:

    Thanks, Charles, for fleshing out my post. It rained the day of our visit, and after several drinks in Big Nose Kate’s we had entered that amorphous haze of which you spoke, capable of believing almost everything we heard and saw. Returning outside, however, everything reverted, and we saw things as they really were. We look forward to a trip to Bisbee!

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