Boothill Graveyard entrance sign in shape of tombstone.

Boot Hill

Field review by the editors.

Tombstone, Arizona

The idea that frontier cemeteries have wood tombstones with hilarious epitaphs began here, and it's become a popular notion. Every Wild West attraction with an empty a patch of land, some scrap lumber, and an employee who can rhyme now has its own boot hill graveyard. In fact, Boot Hill-inspired comedy cemeteries are now in places that have nothing to do with the West. Everyone wants to get in on the joke.

A hundred-plus years of these imitations has raised expectations, and Boot Hill has been surpassed by its copycats. You may not be as entertained as you had hoped to be when you visit. No boots stick comically out of the ground, no buzzards circle in the air, no towering hill casts an ominous shadow over the town (you'd have to go to Virginia City, Montana's Boot Hill for that). Most of the graves are marked by small metal plaques, and many of these read, simply, "Unknown."

McLaury and Clanton graves.

There are only a few wooden headstones, and only a handful of these have clever sayings. "Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les, No more" is the most quoteworthy. The Boot Hill gift shop sells miniatures of it as a ceramic bank.

Burials here were quick. A shallow grave was scratched into the cement-like soil, a wood casket was set into the depression, and rocks were overlaid to keep out the carnivores.

Grave marker for Rook, shot by a Chinaman.

Boot Hill was pretty much shut down after 1884, restored in the 1930s, and hasn't changed much since. It's a crumbly, crunchy, dun-colored, sun-bleached, southern Arizona slope with slippery footing, lots of body-length piles of rocks, and a few desert plants added for variety.

It's a place that every tourist in America should visit, but you'll enjoy your visit more if you remember that it was designed for dead people, and that Bronco Charley, Stinging Lizard, 3-Fingered Jack Dunlap and the rest really weren't murdered, hanged, shot, stabbed, or ambushed by Indians for your amusement.

Boot Hill

Address:
Hwy 80, Tombstone, AZ
Directions:
I-10 exits 303, 304, or 306, then south on Hwy 80 for 23 miles. On Hwy 80 just north of town, northbound side.
Hours:
Daily 8 am - 6 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
520-457-3300
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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November 26, 2014

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