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Boot Hill – the cowboys' final resting place

If you trawl back through old Western movies, you will inevitably come across Boot Hill.

This infamous name is the title given to the graveyard where dead cowboys go to meet their maker. 

You could be forgiven for thinking Boot Hill is a fictional place, but it does in fact exist in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona.

Formerly called the ‘Tombstone Cemetery’, the site features the graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury; the three men who were killed during the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Tombstone was renamed Boot Hill, which was a common name for burial grounds of gunfighters, or those who ‘died with their boots on.’

Located in the north west corner of the town, the graveyard is believed to hold around 300 people, 205 of which are recorded. This was due to some people (especially Chinese and Jewish immigrants) being buried without record. 

Some of the notable people buried there include: 

  • Marshal Fred White, killed by Curly Bill Brocius on October 30, 1880
  • Dan ‘Big Dan’ Dowd, Omer W ‘Red’ Sample, James ‘Tex’ Howard, William E ‘Billy’ Delaney and Daniel ‘York’ Kelly, perpetrators of the Bisbee massacre, hanged on March 28, 1884
  • Jack Dunlop ‘Three Fingered Jack’ died of wounds on February 24, 1900, after an attempted hold-up
  • ‘China Mary’ – Mrs Ah Lum. Mary managed a general store where she dealt in both American and Chinese goods. She was also a money lender. When she died of heart failure in 1906, the townsfolk had a large turnout for her service

The graveyard was founded in 1878 and closed in 1886, when a new City Cemetery was opened. This led to the Boot Hill becoming neglected and overgrown.

It was only used sporadically after that to bury a few later outlaws (some legally hanged and one shot in a robbery), as well as a few colourful Western characters and one man (Emmett Crook Nunnally) who had spent many volunteer hours restoring it.

Over the years some of the grave markers on the site have rotted or have been stolen as souvenirs. 

It was restored and preserved in the 1940s and is now a popular tourist site and open to visitors for a small fee.

This is a preview of a feature article.

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