The History of Boothill Cemetery
DURING THE WILD and lawless years of the settling of the West, some sort of graveyard could be found near almost every town or camp. Because many of the people in those settlements died rather quickly and unexpectedly, usually with their boots on, and were buried with their boots still on, these cemeteries became known as “boot hills.” The first and most famous of them all is Tombstone’s Boothill, which was laid out as a burial plot in 1878 and was originally called the Tombstone Cemetery. On that rocky hill at the edge of town lie many of the legendary characters of the “Town Too Tough To Die.”
When the rest of the world heard in the late 1870s that Ed Schieffelin had found a mountain of silver worth $85 million in the middle of Apache country, newcomers flocked in droves to the new boom town in Arizona Territory. Tombstone had no law except that of the gun and knife, and Boothill’s population grew quickly. Then as today, Boothill lies thickly covered with mesquite, cactus, ocotillo, and crucifixion thorn. Narrow piles of rocks mark the final resting places facing the Dragoon Mountains. At the head of each grave stands a small marker with an epitaph giving the name of the occupant, the date he or she ceased to be, and sometimes the cause of death. Naturally, there are a multitude of reasons as to how the occupants came to lie under these narrow mounds of rock on this wind-swept hill.
A number of graves are marked “UNKNOWN,” and there is no possible way to identify who lies in them. In most cases the identities were unknown at the time of burial. Tombstone was the wildest of boom towns, and strangers poured into the area daily. They carried no identification cards and often used aliases. The stories of these unknowns have been forgotten, but there are plenty of “knowns”; in Boothill whose stories live on. Here are some of them:
John Hicks claimed his plot in Boothill early in the game. He had the distinction of being the first man buried there in a white shirt. During an 1879 gunfight with Jerry McCormick and a miner named Jackson, John Hicks was killed and his brother Boyce was wounded in the head and blinded for life. John Hicks did not live to see Tombstone reach its peak. In just two more years, it would grow to have more saloons (110), more gambling halls (14), and more untimely deaths than any other town in the nation.
On July 24, 1880, T.J. Waters did two things; he bought a new black-and-blue plaid shirt and then he got drunk. Little did he realize that the brightly colored shirt would cause his death. Friendly comments about his shirt from the men on Whiskey Row raised Waters’ ire. Finally, he said, “Now, if any man here don’t like my shirt, let him get up. I’m boss here, and I’ll knock any man down who opens his mouth about my shirt again! Unaware that these words had been spoken, E.L. Bradshaw entered the saloon, smiled and commented about the shirt. Waters struck him a powerful blow, rendering him unconscious. Bradshaw recovered and found a gun. He located Waters in the doorway of Corrigan’s saloon and shot him four times. Waters was falling at the second shot and was dead at the fourth. Bradshaw was arrested and brought before Judge Gray, but the times being what they were, he went free. Waters went to Boothill.
In 1887, gunman “Buckskin Frank” Leslie found himself a new girlfriend, buxom Mollie Williams. There was just one problem–her current boyfriend was E.L. Bradshaw. The problem seemed to he solved one morning when Bradshaw turned up in an alley with a hole through his head. Many believe that Leslie had killed him to get Mollie. Buckskin Frank never denied shooting him…but he never admitted it, either. Bradshaw took his place in an unmarked grave in Boothill, and no more was ever said about the incident.
Johnny Blair was a member of the “Double” Dobe Gang. He was out rustling cattle when he contracted smallpox. Two of his outlaw friends took him to a Mexican woman who was immune to the dreaded disease. She cared for him about a week before she proclaimed him “very dead”. One of Blair’s friends went out to Boothill and dug the grave. The other rode up to the cabin and dropped a rope over the feet and around the ankles of the dead man. When he was certain the rope was secure, he dallied its other end around his saddle horn, and spurred his horse to start the funeral procession. It was quite likely the fastest ever seen in the old silver camp. At his waiting grave, Blair was hastily covered with a foot of Arizona dirt and rock. His epitaph tells the story all right: “JOHNNY BLAIR. DIED OF SMALLPOX. COWBOY THREW ROPE OVER FEET AND DRAGGED HIM TO HIS GRAVE.”
Charley Storms was rated by Wyatt Earp as one of the deadliest guns in the West. What caused his dispute with Luke Short in Tombstone lies forgotten in the musty records of history. Short was frequently called the “undertaker’s friend.” He did not stay long in Tombstone but was there long enough to send Storms on his way to Boothill. At the time of the gunfight on February 25, 1881, Short was dealing faro at the Oriental. Storms appeared, drunk, waving a loaded pistol about. After a brief argument with Short, he called him out into the street, telling him he was going to kill him. When the two met in front of the Oriental, both were rated as top-notch gunmen. Charley Storms was considered better with a six-shooter than Short…until their duel. Storms offered Short the shot and Short took it, shooting him twice through the chest. Down with a fatal wound, Storms still managed to fire several times, but not accurately enough. Luke Short holstered his gun and returned to his interrupted faro game, leaving the corpse in the street. The losing gunman now sports a marker that simply reads: “CHARLEY STORMS, SHOT BY LUKE SHORT 1881.”
Billy Claibourne, 19, shot and killed James Hickey in nearby Charleston on October 1, 1881. Hickey was drunk, feeling mean, and reckoned the kid would add an easy notch to his gun. Consequently he followed Claibourne around, daring him to fight. Billy left Ben Wood’s Saloon and crossed the street to J.B. Ayer’s Saloon, with the taunting Hickey right behind. Again Claibourne left because of Hickey, and headed toward Harry Queen’s Saloon. Hickey stopped him before he could enter Harry Queen’s. Claibourne said, “Stay away from me!” With those words he pulled his six- shooter and fired. A blue hole appeared between Hickey’s eyes, and he slumped to the board sidewalk. Constable Clark arrested Claibourne, who stood trial in Tombstone, but was acquitted because of Hickey’s harassment.
“Old Man” Clanton and five other men were bringing a herd of cattle up from Mexico in August 1881 when they were ambushed. Only two men escaped with their lives; the rest were shot down. Clanton and the other dead men were taken to Cloverdale and buried. Early the next spring, Ike and Phin Clanton moved their father’s body to Boothill so that he would be near their brother Billy Clanton. Billy met his end on October 26, 1881, when three of the Earp brothers–Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil–and Doc Holliday met near Hafford’s Saloon, walked down Fourth Street to Fremont Street,and into the bloody pages of Tombstone’s history. A confrontation with Tom and Frank McLaury and Ike and Billy Clanton occurred in the vacant lot beside Fly’s boardinghouse. Guns roared and thundered for 30 seconds, leaving Billy and both McLaurys dead. On the opposing side, Morgan Earp was shot through, shoulder to shoulder, and Virgil Earp had a painful wound in the calf of his leg. The dead men were given an impressive funeral and were laid to rest in Boothill.
Another marker up there reads: ‘Margarita, STABBED BY GOLD DOLLAR’. The latter was the business name of a prostitute known as Little Gertie, the Gold Dollar, who was blonde, pretty, petite, and particularly fond of pretty coins. She was living with a dance hall cowboy named Billy Milgreen. Another prostitute, dark-eyed, sultry Margarita, tried to cut in on Billy, and succeeded in taking him away from Gold Dollar. Little Gertie kicked up a fuss about losing her man, and Margarita turned nasty. Gold Dollar slid a hand under her skirt and came out with a wicked-looking knife that she planted just below Margarita’s wishbone Then all there was left to do was hold the funeral and put up the marker.
Possibly the most remarkable epitaph in Boothill reads: “M.E. KELLOGG, 1882. DIED A NATURAL DEATH.” Not many who did likewise are to be found in Boothill.
When Morgan Earp was murdered in a Tombstone pool hall on March 18,1882, a coroner’s jury determined that the murderers were Frank Stilwell, Indian Charlie, Pete Spencer, Joe Doe Freis and an unidentified Indian. Wyatt, infuriated at the killing of his younger brother Morgan and the earlier crippling of his older brother Virgil, rode a bloody trail of revenge. Wyatt and his posse killed Stilwell in Tucson on March 20, 1882. Two days later they rode to Pete Spencer’s woodcutter camp at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains. Spencer was not at the camp, but
Florentino Cruz was. Wyatt and his posse shot him full of holes and left him there. Taken into Tombstone, he was buried in Boothill.
Billy Claibourne, who in October 1881 had killed James Hickey and witnessed the O.K. Corral gunfight, had a deadly enemy in Buckskin Frank Leslie. One morning Claibourne stood outside the Oriental, waiting with rifle in hand for Leslie. Instead of going out the front, Leslie stepped out a side door on Fifth Street and shot Billy in the side. Claibourne’s rifle fired once but only chewed splinters from the boardwalk. Buckskin Frank Leslie’s most recent victim earned a bit of immortality under the marker that says, “WM. CLAIBOURNE SHOT BY FRANK LESLIE 1882.”
Two years earlier Leslie had put a new grave m Boothill by shooting Mike Killen. He had met Mrs. Killen, the Commercial Hotel housekeeper, at a dance. She was separated from her husband, but he still objected to Leslie escorting her home late at night. When he found the two together on the front porch, he objected loudly. His objections earned him a long rest under a marker: “KILLEN 1880. SHOT BY LESLIE,” and Buckskin Frank Leslie married the buxom widow a few days later.
One mound is marked with the simple epitaph reading, “DUTCH ANNIE 1883.” The words don’t reveal very much, but quite a story lies beneath those rocks. As frequently is the case, no one ever knew her by any name other than Dutch Annie. Many a miner, broke and desperate, was grubstaked by this friend to all. When she went to her eternal rest, more than 1,000 people followed the coffin, paying tribute to Dutch Annie–Queen of the Red Light District!
On February 23,1883, William Kinsman was standing in front of the Oriental Saloon on Allen Street when May Woodman walked up and shot him. Some wag had put a notice in the Epitaph that Kinsman intended to marry Woodman, with whom he had been living. Kinsman had countered by running his own ad in the Epitaph, stating that he had no intentions of marrying May Woodman. Big mistake. Woodman was sentenced to five years for killing Kinsman–but she apparently was so hard to deal with in the Yuma Territorial Prison that the acting governor pardoned her after she had served less than one year. Her victim resides in Boothill.
Lester Moore was employed as a Wells, Fargo Co. station agent in the border town of Naco. Hank Dunstan showed up to claim a package one afternoon. He received it, but it was thoroughly mangled. An argument ensued, and both Moore and Dunstan reached for their six shooters. When the smoke cleared, Les Moore lay dead behind his window with four .44 slugs in his chest. Dunstan, too, lay dying, a hole blasted through his ribs by the one shot Moore had been able to get off before he collapsed. Les Moore was given a space in Boothill and an epitaph that has made him famous: “HERE LIES LESTER MOORE, FOUR SLUGS FROM A 44, NO LES NO MORE.” There is no evidence to indicate where Dunstan was buried.
On December 8, 1883, Dan Dowd, C.W. Sample, Dan Kelly, William Delaney and Tex Howard held up the general store in Bisbee. While two of the five robbed the store, the other three shot up the street outside, killing several people. It was discovered that John Heath, a Bisbee saloon owner, had masterminded the robbery. Eventually all six men were arrested and wound up in the Tombstone calaboose. The five robbers were sentenced to hang. However, Heath, who demanded a separate trial, was given life in the Yuma pen. At this sentence, the whole county became enraged.
Early on the morning of February 22, 1884, 50 armed men rode up to the Tombstone jail and took the prisoner Heath from Sheriff Ward. Half an hour later the lynch mob departed, leaving Heath dangling from a telegraph pole on Second Street. The other five were left in jail to let the law take its course. The five of them have one common epitaph that states they were legally hanged March 8, 1884. Heath’s epitaph relates that he was taken from the county jail and lynched by a Bisbee mob.
In 1886 a Mexico-Arizona train was held up a short distance out of Nogales. The bandits shot the train crew. Two of the outlaws, Manuel Robles and Neves Deron, decided to hide out at the camp of Manuel’s brother Guadalupe Robles. An honest, hard-working woodcutter, Guadalupe had his camp in French Joe Canyon in the Whetstone Mountains. Reluctantly, he agreed to hide the two until they could leave the country.
Cochise County Sheriff John Slaughter was a man who received a great deal of information, and it was not long until he knew where the two he sought had gone into hiding. Slaughter, Burt Alvord and one other deputy raided the hide-out one morning at daybreak. In the uncertain light, the lawmen shot at anything that moved. Consequently, when Guadalupe Robles and Deron ran out of the camp toward him, Slaughter shot them both. Manuel Robles was seriously wounded by Alvord’s shots, but still managed to get to a horse and escape. His innocent brother, Guadalupe, was planted in Boothill along with Deron.
One Boothill headstone and epitaph is a little different. It is the grave site of a former slave who outlived most of the good, the bad, the ugly and any others who happened along the streets of Tombstone. The old black man was Sheriff John Slaughter’s servant, and his epitaph reads: ‘JOHN SWAIN (SLAUGHTER) BORN JUNE 1846, FORMER SLAVE WHO CAME TO TOMBSTONE 1879, DIED FEB. 8,1946. ERECTED BY THE PERSONNEL AT FORT HUACHUCA AND FRIENDS OF TOMBSTONE IN MEMORY OF A WORTHY PIONEER.’
China Mary was the wife of Ah Lum, co-owner of the Can-Can Restaurant with Quong Keel Ah Lum was also the “Worshipful Master of the Chinese Masonic Lodge.” China Mary was the absolute ruler of “Hoptown” and all its denizens. She not only ruled them but also virtually owned them body and soul. Her word and her decisions were undisputed law, and none disobeyed. It was extremely unusual for a woman, any woman, to occupy such a position in the American West. No Chinese could be hired except through China Mary; none could be paid: except through China Mary. She also controlled Chinese prostitution and all the opium trade in town. She owned an interest in most Chinese businesses in Tombstone, too. In spite of all her shady operations and the fact that she was Chinese, Mary was respected and well-liked in Tombstone. She would lend money to anyone who impressed her as honest and hard-working. No sick, injured or hungry person was ever turned from her door. She once took a cowboy with a broken leg to the Grand Central Boarding House and paid the bill until he recovered. At her death, a large number of people attended her burial in the Chinese section of Boothill. Her funeral had all the pomp and ceremony of a lavish Chinese extravaganza.
Three legendary characters of Tombstone who avoided spending eternity in Boothill were Doc Holliday, John Slaughter and Wyatt Earp. Holliday, probably Tombstone’s most cold-nerved gunman, died of tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, Colo., six years after the Freemont Street gunfight. As he lay dying, he said,”This is funny.” Likely he meant it was funny for him to die peacefully in bed rather than in the midst of roaring guns. Slaughter also died peacefully in bed. He had served four years, 1886-1890, as sheriff of Cochise County. During that time very little was spent on prisoners because Slaughter very seldom brought any back. Mostly, he left them lying where he found them. His quick gun turned the county from a haven for two bit outlaws to a place of law and order. Just before he died in Douglas, Ariz., in 1927,Slaughter said: “Don’t bury me in Boothill. I don’t want to be buried there because Tombstone will be a ghost town.” His wish was granted, and he lies in the Douglas cemetery. Wyatt Earp lived in many places after leaving Arizona Territory in 1882. He settled in Los Angeles m 1906, dying there on January 13,1929. He was cremated, and his wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, had his ashes buried in a family tomb in a Jewish cemetery at Colma, Calif., near Oakland. In fact, none of the Earp brothers are buried in Tombstone.
Ed Schieffelin, the man who brought Tombstone into existence, was another who did not wish to be buried in Boothill. He left instructions to bury him on a nearby hill where he had first found traces of rich silver ore. His pick, shovel and canteen are buried beside him amid the cholla and prickly pear.
Boothill was used until late in 1884, at which time the new “City Cemetery” on Allen Street came into use. For a while after that, Boothill was called “the Old Cemetery” and was almost totally neglected. Much of it was soon reclaimed by nature. The original markers were round-topped wooden slabs that eventually either rotted away, were burned in tramps’ campfires, or were stolen by souvenir hunters. In 1923, the City of Tombstone contacted old-timers who could tell them where their relatives and friends were buried. New wooden head markers were placed at the graves they indicated.
During the 1940s, Emmet Nunnelley saw the historic value of Boothill and requested that the City Council allow him to restore and preserve it. Metal markers were used to replace the old wooden ones that had, for the most part, disappeared. Harry Fulton Ohm, owner of the Bird Cage Theater, provided the new steel markers from his plant in Indiana. As the new markers were placed, each grave history was checked with relatives, friends, older residents and historical society records for accuracy. Tombstone’s Boothill has been preserved as it is seen today through the hard work of several Tombstone citizens, especially Nunnelley, who asked that he be buried there. His request was granted.
Ben T. Traywick wrote “Tombstone’s Boothill”, which was first published in 1971 but has since been updated several times.