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A Wild Resting Place For Gunslingers And Cowboys

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A Wild Resting Place For Gunslingers And Cowboys

A Wild Resting Place For Gunslingers And Cowboys

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's time for another trip to the cemetery for our series Dead Stop.


MONTAGNE: This summer, we've been touring unusual gravesites around the country. Today, we visit a graveyard with a famous name: Boot Hill. Turns out, there are several Boot Hill graveyards in the West, named because many of their inhabitants died violently, with their boots on. But none is as famous or visited as Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona. NPR's Ted Robbins tells us why.


TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Tombstone's Boot Hill is a tough-looking place: gravel, mesquite trees and cactus, no lawn. The graves are covered with stones to keep varmints from digging up the bones. Boot Hill was only open from 1878 to 1884. It took just six years to fill up with graves.

DAVE ASKEY: Many of which are unknown.

ROBBINS: Dave Askey, who manages Boot Hill, points out that people back then didn't carry Social Security cards or driver's licenses.

ASKEY: Typically, what would happen when someone died, the mortician would put them on a cooling board in front of his office, and people customarily would walk by for about two days to see if they could identify the body.

ROBBINS: The markers with names on them are a catalog of violent death in the Old West. Killeen, 1880, shot by Frank Leslie. Red River Tom, shot by Ormsby. Marshal Fred White, 1880, shot by Curly Bill. And the unfortunate George Johnson.

ASKEY: Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right. We was wrong. But we strung him up, and now he's gone. He was stopped. They thought he'd stolen a horse. So they strung him up, and later found out that he had legally purchased it. So there's George.

ROBBINS: The markers are wooden. They fade and decay, so the town of Tombstone replaces them from time to time. It also sells T-shirts, posters and mouse pads of the graveyard's most famous epitaph.

ASKEY: Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No More.

ROBBINS: But Les Moore, he's not one of the most notorious inhabitants here.

ASKEY: Well, there's the graves of Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury that were killed at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral Oct. 26th, 1881.


ROBBINS: The gunfight at the O.K. Corral: It's been in dozens of movies and TV shows, from John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" in 1946, through the film "Tombstone" in 1993. It's re-enacted daily near the actual site in town, and it's what brought Steve Napolitan from California to the gunfighters' graves.

STEVE NAPOLITAN: And it's kind of rewarding for me, because it's kind of a fulfillment from all the stories, and seeing the movies, and now seeing the real place.

ROBBINS: One hundred forty-six thousand people visited Tombstone's Boot Hill last year, which makes it a big municipal moneymaker. Admission is free. Start at the gift shop. Boot Hill is probably the only graveyard selling souvenirs and fudge made on the premises. It also may be the only graveyard with its own Johnny Cash song.


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) Here lies Les Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No more. Out in Arizona, just south of Tucson.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.


CASH: (Singing) Where tumbleweeds tumble...

MONTAGNE: And you can get a look at some other interesting locations where people are buried at our Dead Stop series at


CASH: (Singing) There's a town they call Tombstone, where the brave never cried. They lived by a six gun, by a six gun they died. It's been a long time...

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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