John Ringo Grave

John Ringo Historic Site Monument

The Historic Site Monument at the Ringo Gravesite.

If you’ve read about the untamed American frontier and have never heard of Tombstone, Arizona, for shame! This little town is a great place to learn about frontier life in a mining boom town. Tombstone is rife with legends and stories that would keep anyone interested for weeks on end. It was a silver mining town known for its rough-around-the-edges citizens. Names like Wyatt Earp, Curly Bill Brocius, Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday– are a dime a dozen in the annals of Tombstone history. Tombstone is noted for the longest poker game in history (8 years, 5 months, and 3 days) and the infamous gunfight at the O.K. corral which was primarily between the Earps and the Clantons and McLowerys.

Part of the culture of the “Wild West” was to bury a body along the trail where the person passed away. There was no transporting the body anywhere unless the deceased was close to the rail lines at their time of death. Decomposition was rapid because food didn’t have preservatives and embalming was still in its infancy. Bodies still relatively intact that were found on the trail were buried deep enough to keep the coyotes, vultures or other desert scavengers at bay. Most makeshift graves were covered with rocks and marked with a simple wooden cross near the place the body was found and buried. The practice of leaving a cross or headstone is still observed in parts of the American southwest– though, the bodies are typically transported and interred in an actual cemetery instead of beside the road.

One such body that was found and buried on the trail is the source of much historical intrigue as there is some disagreement over the death of this man whose personal legend is linked to the infamous “Town Too Tough to Die”– Tombstone, Arizona. The body of John Peters Ringo is interred near the oak tree where he was found. A coroner’s inquest was held to determine his cause of death, but not everyone agrees with the verdict. Continue reading

A Tragic Death in Western Film

I must have driven State Road 79 to Phoenix a dozen times. On each of those travels I’d pass the Tom Mix Wash and, in passing, wonder who Tom Mix was and what he did to be famous enough to have a wash named after himself. It wasn’t until his name came up in connection with a certain Santa Rita Hotel that I remembered the name “Tom Mix” long enough to look him up. That’s when I learned that Tom Mix Wash was where silent film star Tom Mix spent the last moments of his life.

The names Clint Eastwood and John Wayne have been synonymous with western film for as long as I’ve been alive. What I didn’t know was that there was another name that had made the genre popular long before I was born. That fellow was Tom Mix.
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Fort Huachuca, Arizona

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Fort Huachuca, located in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a mere fifteen miles from the Mexican border, was originally established as a government stronghold against the Native Americans in the war for the west. It was center of operations for the campaign against Geronimo and his warriors and later against Pancho Villa. The 10th Calvary “Buffalo Soldiers” called Fort Huachuca home for two decades, lending even more historical significance to an already illustrious past. Not only was February 14, 2012 the 100th anniversary of Arizona’s statehood, but February is African American History Month, so there are two reasons to honor the Fort this month!

Carleton House was built in 1880 to serve as the Fort’s hospital.  The Fort soon outgrew the six-bed facility, so a larger building was built and Carleton House went on to serve a variety of purposes, finally settling in as housing for high ranking officers and their families. These days the Fort serves as as U.S. Army’s Information Systems Command and the Army Intelligence Center and School. Carleton House is still used as officer’s housing.

Army life being what it is, there is a lot of moving around, so a number of families have moved in and out of Carleton House over the years.  Even though many of the families stayed for short periods, the house soon gained a reputation.  The most voluble witness to date for this haunting is Brigadier General Roy Strom, who served as deputy commandant of the Army Intelligence Center and School during the 1980’s.

From day one the Stroms received clues that the house had a peculiar story.  One of the local men that the moving company hired refused to enter the home when he found out in which house he was supposed to be working.  Linens and blankets neatly stored in what was once the morgue of the old hospital were found strewn about the room.

The General and his family were convinced that they were the focus of pranks by the neighborhood children because the doorbell would ring continuously throughout the day, but no one was ever at the door.  The General even lay in wait for the mysterious bell ringer and ran around the corner of the house to the front when he heard the doorbell, but no one was visible.  Finally, the family disconnected all the doorbells.

The neighbors told the family of an incident that had happened to the prior residents of the house. The neighbor had sent her son over the the Carleton House with a plate of cookies for the resident family.  The boy could see the lady of the house through the glass in the front door, walking away as he rang the doorbell, seemingly ignoring him.  He went home with the cookies and told his mother what had happened.  Concerned, she phoned next door and the lady of the house said that they had just that moment walked in the front door, as the phone was ringing.  No one had been home when the boy saw the figure through the glass.

Mrs. Strom once saw what she now believes to be the ghost one morning when she was in the kitchen.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a female figure walk past the doorway.  She called out, believing it to be her teenage daughter.  When she didn’t receive a response, she investigated and found her daughter still asleep. No one else was in the house at the time.

The family also had some of the standard ghost activities: pictures falling off walls in the middle of the night for no reason, a swirling mist seen in the bathroom, voices being heard from empty rooms, things being moved.

The next residents of the home, Colonel Robert Bishop and his family, had their own experiences.  The colonel heard a young boy calling for “Daddy” in the wee hours of the morning.  He checked on his own son, but found him sleeping peacefully. The lights in the house would switch on and off of their own volition.  The base’s electrician checked the wiring, but could find nothing faulty.  The colonel’s wife would hear footsteps when she was alone in the home.

The spookiest encounter Colonel Bishop had was when he opened the door to one of the closets in the house and found himself face to face with a tall, blonde, female apparition.  Nonplussed, the army man closed the door and walked away swiftly.

The Bishops warned the next family slated to move into the Carleton House of the crazy happenings.  Colonel Warren Todd and his family said they lived in anticipation of finding the closet ghost, but never ran across her that way.  One of the Todd sons did see the blonde ghost in the living room one morning around three, and the youngest son, though remaining mute on the subject of the ghost, refused to sleep in his own room for the three years that they lived there.

As with the previous families, the Todds experienced the lights going on and off and when they reported it to the base electrician, he just shook his head and told them the issue with the wiring was psychical, not physical. They also heard a boy’s voice calling for “Father” and a female voice in the living room that said, “I’m tired. I’m sleepy.”

No one knows who the blonde ghost is, though at some time she was dubbed “Charlotte” and the name has stuck.  Since there were not many women on army bases out west back in the 1800’s, a popular theory was that she was the wife of an officer, or a local woman who died at the hospital while giving birth. That would explain why she is staying around the Carleton House, to search for her baby.

The most interesting aspect of the haunting, in my opinion, is that it takes place at a military base that is the center of cutting edge informational technology. In spite of the occupants being seasoned army personnel and logic-minded professionals, they still have to admit that there is more to their world than meets the eye!

I would like to thank the late Arthur Myers for his informative story on Fort Huachuca’s Carleton House in his book The Ghostly Gazetteer, which is one of my favorite ghost story books.  Thanks, Mr. Myers!

Ghosts You Can See

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I remember as a young girl growing up, I discovered the only author of Western novellas I’ve ever really loved: Louis L’amour. I think perhaps I tried to read Zane Grey somewhere along the way, but in my opinion, Zane couldn’t hold a candle to Louis L’amour’s writing skills. In the summer of 2003, I moved to California and never once thought Hey I’m moving closer to Hollywood! In fact, I often forgot that Hollywood was in the same state that I was moving to. No, the one thought that came to me over and over during my drive out there and occasionally once I’d settled in was, I’m living in the West! The West that I read so much about. It was Louis L’amour’s West.
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Billy Clanton’s Corner

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If you ever go to Tombstone, Arizona one thing you DON’T want to do is speculate aloud over who started the infamous O.K. Corral gunfight. Even though the courts found the Earps and Doc Holliday innocent of murder, there is still a lot of controversy over whether Holliday and Morgan Earp fired the first two shots of the historic gunfight… and whether or not that shooting was justified.

Fly's Lodging House and Photographic Studio

Fly's Lodging House and Photographic Studio beside the O.K. Corral gunfight location in Tombstone, Arizona.

The southeast corner of Fremont Street and 3rd Street is where the O.K. Corral, now a major tourist location, still stands. The original gunfight took place in the empty alley north of the O.K. Corral between Fly’s Lodging House and Photographic Studio and the MacDonald Assay House to the west. At 3 P.M. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881 approximately thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds. Wyatt Earp walked away from the gunfight unscathed. Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday sustained minor wounds. Ike Clanton (whose aptly named descendant, Ike Clanton, still lives in Tombstone) and Billy Claiborne ran through the gunfight uninjured. There were three casualties when the fray was finished—Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury all sustained fatal wounds in the gunfight.

While the justification of the shooting is still heavily debated to this day, one thing is certain—Billy Clanton is not resting in his afterlife. Continue reading