Boothill Graveyard entrance sign in shape of tombstone.

Boot Hill

Field review by the editors.

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone's Boot Hill didn't originate the idea of a tourist-friendly cemetery with Wild West epitaphs -- that credit goes to Dodge City, Kansas's Boot Hill -- but it definitely has perfected the art. Every Wild West attraction with an empty a patch of land, some scrap lumber, and an employee who can rhyme now has its own imitation Tombstone Boot Hill graveyard. In fact, Boot Hill-inspired comedy cemeteries are now in places that have nothing to do with the Wild West. Everyone wants to get in on the joke.

McLaury and Clanton graves.

These imitators have raised expectations, and the result is that you may not be as amused 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."

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 coyotes.

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 some prickly pear and agave to hold the dead in place.

It's a graveyard that every tourist in America should visit, but you'll enjoy your visit more if you remember that it was designed for corpses, and that colorful Boot Hill characters such as Bronco Charley, Stinging Lizard, and 3-Fingered Jack Dunlap really weren't poisoned, hanged, shot, stabbed, blown up, run over by wagons, or ambushed by Indians for your entertainment.

Boot Hill

Hwy 80, Tombstone, AZ
I-10 exits 303, 304, or 306, then south on Hwy 80 for 23 miles. On Hwy 80 just north of town, northbound side.
Daily 8-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $3.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Wyatt Earp StatueWyatt Earp Statue, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
Mini-Museum of the StrangeMini-Museum of the Strange, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
O.K. CorralO.K. Corral, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Singing Cowboy Rex Allen and KoKo the Horse, Willcox, AZ - 39 mi.

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October 21, 2020

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