The three most famous Old West gunslinging towns were Deadwood, Dodge City, and Tombstone. When I set off on my six-week road trip I didn’t think I’d visit one of them, let alone all three, and yet here I was, just an hour away from Tombstone. I’d been there once before to do some field-recordings and was looking forward to revisiting it. On the way, I stopped to visit the old mining town of Bisbee, and the nine-hundred-foot Lavendar Pit on the outskirts of town. When I showed up in Tombstone, I couldn’t have been happier that I’d arrived just in time for their annual celebration, Helldorado Days.
Tombstone is most known for the Shootout at the OK Corral, between US Marshall Virgil Earp, his brothers, Morgan and Wyatt, and Doc Holliday, against cowboys Billy Clairborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury. Bad blood had been brewing between both parties for some time, and Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were killed in what has also been described as a massacre. Apparently, it was all over in thirty seconds, and when the dust cleared history been made.
I parked across from the City Hall and wondered past old OK Corral. Since gunfight reenactments are part of the daily routine in Tombstone, it took me a while to realize that all of the people dressed up as cowboys, saloon girls, and mountain men, were there for the festivities and many would be taking part in a parade down Main Street that was starting in a few hours. It seemed my luck was still holding out. Too wired to sit and meditate that day, I decided to do a walking meditation on the boardwalk.
A church bell was tolling as I crossed the street. A car stopped to let me pass and a cowboy waved me across. I was standing right next to my own shadow on the ground. A picture of Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers in their coffins bore the caption, Three Murdered in Tombstone. Tom was hit by a shotgun fired by Doc Holliday. He and Billy both died slowly. Frank was shot in the head and died instantly.
Across the street was a stand selling sarsaparilla sodas. A saloon girl rode by on a golf cart. In the city park was a bounce house for children. The OK Café was selling real buffalo burgers. Up ahead on the street was a stagecoach, being drawn by a mule. A cowboy approached me selling tickets to the gunfight. I turned on to the boardwalk.
A leather-clad biker came out of Outlaw Books. I looked into a shop window. There was an Indian drum, dreamcatchers, wanted dead or alive posters, an American flag, a Mexican blanket. There were movie posters. The Magnificent Seven. Geronimo. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Unforgiven. Two cowboys stopped and posed when I asked for a picture.
In another shop window was an Indian head in a headdress, one half of his face painted white. There was a fox hat. A kachina doll. I had to stop a mountain man for a picture, clad in buckskin. He put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. There were Navajo rugs, pottery, a buffalo-headed medicine man holding up a pipe. Two Indians danced on a shelf, one with hoops, the other with feathers. A wooden Indian stood outside the shop.
Wyatt Earp looked out the door at me as I approached Tombstone Ghosts and Legends. I told him he looked like Kurt Russel. He said he got that a lot. I passed Ike Clanton’s Haunted Hotel and Russel’s Roadrunner Stetson. Dwarf Wrestling was coming to town. Also, How the West was Fun.
The Oriental Saloon featured the kicking legs of showgirls in the window. You could get a pressed penny souvenir for fifty-one cents, right next to Lilly’s Tombstone Memories. I looked in a window and saw a coyote howling at the moon, a rattlesnake, a buffalo, and a cactus. Across the street was the Birdcage Theater.
Cowboys on horseback were lining up for the parade. I came down the other side and saw Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. There was the Dead Man’s Hand, two black aces and two black eights. Tombstone. RIP. Longhorn cattle. Totem poles. Handcuffs. Cap guns. Racoon hats. Legends of the West.
Where was I at, outside of lost in time? From somewhere the National Anthem was being sung. Spurs were coming up behind me, ringing louder and louder in my ears. The parade was about to begin. I found a seat on the boardwalk and sat down to watch the show.