Gillian Ferris Kohl
Tourists in Tombstone visit the O.K. Corral exhibits.
Gillian Ferris Kohl
In the late 1880s, a silver strike turned the dusty town of Tombstone, Ariz., into a cosmopolitan hot spot. There were casinos, oyster bars and shops filled with the latest Paris fashions.
But when the silver ran out, Tombstone almost died. Only one thing has kept it alive for the past century: the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral, re-enacted daily.
The 30-second gunfight that made legendary lawman Wyatt Earp famous still resonates in the imaginations of many Americans, and thanks to books, TV shows and movies about the West, the allure of the cowboy and of Earp himself have stood the test of time.
That fascination can still be seen today in Tombstone, where more than half a million tourists visit each year.
Will and Lee Bolton were drawn to Tombstone from their home in New Albany, Ind.
"[Lee] just turned 50 two days ago, and her birthday present was to come to Tombstone," Will says. "We both are [Western buffs], so this was something we've always wanted to do."
Tombstone resident Jay Clark says he never quite outgrew his cowboy phase.
"Seated in front of you is an 8-year-old trapped in the body of a 64-year-old," Clark says. Dressed head-to-toe in period clothing, Clark is a retired forensic dentist turned historical re-enactor and tour guide at the O.K. Corral.
"We have a whole generation of people that grew up watching and wanting to be part of that great westward expansion," Clark says.
Earp's mythos continued to live on through on-screen portrayals by Burt Lancaster in 1957 and Kevin Costner in 1994. Now, an actor much nearer and dearer to Wyatt Earp is playing the role onstage: Wyatt Earp.
"I'm the great-grandnephew of Wyatt Earp," he says.
This Wyatt Earp lives in Phoenix and is the producer, director and sole actor of his stage show, Wyatt Earp: A Life on the Frontier. The show tells the story of the lesser-known parts of Earp's legendary ancestor's life.
"He was an amusing person, contrary to the stoic black-and-white image you get through the movies," Earp says. "It wasn't all about the violence."