Boothill Graveyard was initially laid out in 1878 and was used as a burial place
during Tombstone's wild early years. It was replaced by a community cemetary
in 1884. After that, Boothill was for many years left untended to return to nature.
In the 1940's, concerned citizens of Tombstone undertook to restore the graveyard
and preserve its history. The project included a major research effort to identify
as many of the internees as possible and how they came to be there. (Many of the
original wooden markers had rotted away.)
The records are surprisingly complete as to the causes of death. How they died
during the boomtown era gives a pretty good idea of how they lived. Clearly,
violent death was commonplace.
A survey of 188 graves shows the following:
- Killed by another, 56 (30% of total)
- Hung, 11 (10 legally)
- Suicide, 8
- Ambushed by Indians, 9
- Accident, 24
- Sickness, 25
- Unspecified, 55
At right, two of the numerous "unknown" graves at Boothill. Most of these
were due to the original markers rotting away, and not being able to determine
who was lying there.
Surprisingly, only eleven deaths were attributed to hanging. In this lawless
era, justice was not exactly applied evenly or even regularly. People were
shooting each other left and right apparently without any punishment while
a man who innocently purchased a stolen horse (see grave marker of George Johnson below) climbed the scaffold.
Only one lynching ever took place. As indicated by the gravestone, (right), and the
photo, (left), John Heath was taken from the county jail and lynched by a Bisbee
mob in Tombstone on February 22, 1884, a short distance from the court house.
Heath was the alleged leader of a gang who shot up a store in nearby Bisbee
during an armed robbery in December, 1883. Four innocent bystanders were killed.
(Photo left, from U.S. National Archives)
Legal justice was swift for the rest of Heath's gang. The five men were hanged
simultaneously on March 8, 1884, in the court yard of the Tombstone Court House.
Capital punishment was a function of county government until Arizona became a state
The court yard scaffold at right is a replica of the 1912 version when the
county hangings came to an end. Obviously a much larger structure was
erected for the five men. The mass execution was a matter of public record
which also included lurid details such as how the men died (one broken neck,
the rest strangled) and how long it took (up to 10 minutes).
A number of graves had humorous or ironic epitaths. Many used the departed's
colorful nicknames. I have been told that all grave markings are exact
duplicates of the originals where they were known. A sampling appears below.
The most celebrated residents of Boothill were of course the losers of the
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers.
The common grave marker (photo left), prepared by their supporters, reads
"Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone, 1881". "Old Man" Clanton, Billy's father,
was ambushed by Mexican bandits in August, 1881, and resides just to the left of his son.
Morgan Earp, though he died in 1882, was not buried here. His remains were sent
to his parents in Colton, California for burial. Virgil was interred in Oregon,
Wyatt, in California, and Doc Holliday, in Colorado.
The Tombstone Court House
In the pioneer days,
Tombstone was the county seat for Cochise County. The Tombstone Court House
was constructed in 1882 and was in service for almost fifty years. As the
Tombstone mining boom faded, the growing town of Bisbee became the county's
center of activity. In 1931, voters opted to move the county seat to Bisbee.
After years of deterioration, the court house was restored to its original
condition and became a state historic park. Along with artifacts of the
court building, it also displays many other relics from early Tombstone.
One room contains two studies by forensic scientists of the famous gunfight
and their opinions as to the true sequence of events at the O.K. Corral.
The photo, (left), shows the court room restored to what it was thought to
look like in 1904. The photo, (right), is the front of the court house on Allen
Street, Tombstone's main street.