Cemetery Series: Tombstone’s Boothill

Boothill-- Marshall Fred White's grave

Marshall Fred White's grave

In a time of westward expansion, when men died “with their boots on”, a little town in the Sonoran desert called Tombstone was established. This silver mining boom town attracted people from all over the United States who were trying to strike it rich, but it also attracted violence as the town’s population grew. Tombstone’s cemetery was established to house the townspeople who succumbed to the desert heat, natural causes or the violent nature of the other townspeople. The violent deaths of many who are interred in the Old Tombstone Cemetery earned this hollowed ground the name of “Boothill” Graveyard. Of all the similarly named cemeteries, Tombstone’s Boothill is the most renown.

The Tombstone Cemetery plot was set aside in 1878 and was where the town’s first settlers were buried until approximately 1884 when a new burial plot was located further away from town. The old cemetery location was naturally called the “old cemetery”, where it lay unattended for years. Nature slowly reclaimed the land through neglect, but in the late 1920’s, through the diligence of Tombstone Citizens, the cemetery was restored and the grounds have been kept ever since. Though, the possibility remains that there might still be unmarked graves which have long since been reclaimed by the desert brush…

Boothill-- George Johnson's Grave

George Johnson's grave. The marker, one of the more tragic, yet comedic headstones in Boothill, reads: Here lies George Johnson hanged by mistake 1882. He was right. We was wrong, but we strung him up and now he's gone.

Boothill remains a symbol of the old mining towns of the early 1880’s, many of which, dotted around the southwest United States, are now ghost towns. It is probably the most well kept graveyard from that period of westward expansionism and the site also has great historical value as well– much of early Tombstone’s good and bad lies buried on the side of this hill.

A visit to Tombstone, Arizona’s “Boothill” cemetery won’t take all day. There’s a little visitor center with a historical marker out front that reads:

This Tombstone Cemetery gives mute testimony to the hardships of Western frontier life. The people buried here were housewives, painted ladies, outlaws, gamblers, miners, business men and women, blacksmiths, cowboys and those “who died with their boots on”. Among its occupants are Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank Mclaury of OK Corral gunfight fame, Dutch Annie, the “Queen of the Red Light District”, Quong Kee and other famous and not so famous residents that contributed to Tombstone’s early history. By the 1920’s Boothill had fallen into ruin. It was restored from early burial records by Tombstone citizens in the late 1920’s.

A $2 donation will get you a pamphlet containing some of the more detailed information dredged up by the Tombstone Historical Society. This donation goes towards the upkeep of the cemetery grounds.