How the West was…commercialized?

We love the movie Tombstone. As in LOVE. When I was growing up, if the new releases at Blockbuster didn’t appeal to us, we’d usually default to the greatness of Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holiday. Needless to say, with Charlie being a big fan as well, we were pretty excited to head down to Tombstone last Friday.

We had another early start and were greeted with another gorgeous sunrise, this time right over Picacho Peak where we had hiked a few days before.

Tombstone is the furthest south we’ve been so far (about an hour south of Tuscon), and the mountain colors began to turn even paler shades of beige as we got close. Our adventure started just a little outside of town at the Tombstone Livery, which was hosting a “High Noon” western pistol shooting event. Basically, about 75 retirees were dressed in authentic 1880s western wear and shooting off vintage pistols in various competitions. We had seen this event advertised in a few places, but we turned out to be the only non-participants there.  They were really nice to us, and it was fun to see their costumes and watch as they displayed their skills. Some of them were really fast and I couldn’t get enough of watching women my mom’s age pull a pistol off their hip and fire a shot before I could even blink!

After awhile we headed into town and parked near the historic Allen Street. This was the center of life in Tombstone and the street that housed all the saloons seen in the movie, as well as the OK Corral. It’s closed to traffic and now mostly features western wear shops and saloons that serve burger baskets.  The town has done a great job of including little markers that let you know what took place in a certain spot.  We got to see the part of the street where Curly Bill shot Sheriff White and went inside the building (now a store) where Morgan Earp was shot while playing pool.

We made it in time to see the 11:00 a.m. show at the Wyatt Earp Theatre, and this turned out to be a great way to begin our day in town! The theatre is housed in what used to be the sheriff’s home and place of private business. The inside is set up to look like a saloon, and a trio of actors introduces you to some of the most famous events in Tombstone’s history. It set the stage for our day to learn how the town started as a silver mining camp where the founder was told, “All you’ll find in them hills is your own tombstone.” When he struck silver, that’s exactly what he decided to name the claim. We also learned that at one point, there were more than 150 saloons on Allen Street alone and a killing just about every day. After our little history lesson, the actors portrayed three of the town’s most famous saloon brawls. We had front row seats, which made it easy to imagine what it would have been like to sit at the next card table while two men came to blows over the dumbest things.

After the performance, we had lunch up the street at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon which is in the original Grand Hotel.  It was this hotel where Kate, Doc’s girlfriend, ran her “upstairs” business and where the Earps, Doc and even the Clantons were frequent guests.  Lunch was good, but what we really enjoyed was buying our cowboy hats at the shop downstairs!  As cheesy as they may be, we couldn’t resist.  We also couldn’t resist coming back later in the day to drink a cold sarsaparilla at the exact same, unrestored, bar where Wyatt Earp and Doc used to drink whiskey.

After lunch we browsed through some of the shops and tried to soak in the history of the town.  There are costumed actors all over Allen Street, and it all kind of feels like a section of Disney World more than anything.  For ten dollars, you can go see a shooting reenactment on just about any corner in town and even play mini golf near the old silver mine.

One of the best things we did all day was pay to go into the OK Corral and see the exact spot where the fight took place.  There’s a nice re-creation of the action and a good overview of what exactly happened.  We also stood in the same room next door where Kate watched the whole thing unfold from her bedroom window.

For all the overpriced shops and overeager actors on the street, we loved our day in Tombstone.  It may not have been as historically impactful as you might expect, but we definitely scored in getting our cowboy hats, propping our elbows on the same bar as Wyatt Earp and ending the day seeing the original tombstone made famous in the movie.

I think the cowboys might turn over in their graves to see how mild mannered their town has become, but we enjoyed riding off into the sunset after our little glimpse of the Old West!

See more pictures here



Filed under Arizona

3 responses to “How the West was…commercialized?

  1. Phyllis and Ted

    If you are insinuating that your mother is as old as the woman wearing the black hat and pajamas, I am insulted…for her! And, obviously you weren’t with us when I saw your sweet mother pull a pistol off her hip and fire a shot before I could even blink! smile However, I do love you anyway! smile

  2. sheila

    Love the hats!! The hat and 5 o’clock shadow Charlie is sporting makes him fit right in with the surroundings.
    I’m glad I didn’t live during those times, watching gunfights in the streets is not my idea of a fun afternoon.
    love to you both!

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