In these modern times, death is portrayed as uncommon and tragic , often hidden from daily life. Contrast that to the rollicking days of the Wild West, when dead bodies were commonly found (and even more commonly created) for all to see in the town square, and it’s easy to see how a place like Boothill Cemetery would seem curious now.
A rocky graveyard atop a hill in the ghost town of Tombstone, Arizona, Boothill Cemetery is a looking glass through which we can see a time and place where death came casually, and even humorously. Chintzy wooden signs mark the graves of about 300 men, women and children who passed, literally, through Tombstone at the height of its infamy.
Although this cemetery and the town that surrounds it are now known for being tourist attractions because of their quirky ghost town appeal, a darker aspect that isn’t discussed as much is the cemetery’s segregation by race, with one section reserved and marked for Jewish graves, and another for Chinese graves. Even in a place where death itself was taken lightly, the divisions between races were carried on into the afterlife.
More often than not, the graves are unmarked by name or even date. Mostly they tell a blunt tale of how the person came to be deceased. “MURDERED,” reads one in outraged capital letters, while another says “Found dead in his cabin with bullet wounds,” solemnly giving more detail. It’s up to the visitor to examine the distinction between terms like “Hanged” and “Legally Hanged.”
The main reason this cemetery has become the stuff of folk tales is its often humorous take on death. One grave marker famously reads “Here lies Lester Moore. 4 slugs from a .44. No Les. No More.” Others indicate a certain savagery of the time, indicating two women who came to murderous blows over a man, or another who simply “died in a dispute.”
Since the original grave markers were wooden, very few remnants have actually remained throughout the century. Most of what visitors see there now are recreations of the originals for the benefit of tourists, which takes a little away from the historical mystique; but a few are still standing in their former, tongue-in-cheek glory.
Daily - 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. (Call 520-457-3300 to verify)
Know Before You Go
At the top of Boot Hill off of Hwy 80, in Tombstone, Arizona