Tombstone Silver

Boothill Graveyard

Boothill was the first graveyard in Tombstone and it contains the remains of 273 of our earliest pioneers. There are bad guys here, but also the innocent and even the unknown. This post introduces the history and a few of the stories of the graveyard.


History 

Boothill Vista

This is among my favorite spots in Tombstone since the stories about the folks buried here are quite interesting and the Graveyard after dark is always very peaceful and calm. Boothill graveyard was opened in 1878, the year the city was founded, and was simply called The Tombstone Cemetery. The city fathers closed the cemetery in 1884 when they opened The City Cemetery on Allen Street. The old cemetery was pretty much abandoned for nearly 40 years before Walter Meyer of the Tombstone school district organized a Boy Scout troop to clean up the cemetery and the city attempted to contact relatives of those buried here to verify their locations. In the 1940's, Emmet Nunnelley was given permission by the city to operate a new concession at Boothill in exchange for his work to restore the cemetery, properly mark the graves, and generally clean up the brush and weeds.

The name "Boothill" had been used for cemeteries throughout old west boom towns for many years and, more importantly, it had become a staple of dime novels and newspaper articles during much of the early 20th century. Thus, it is no mystery why the Tombstone city cemetery was renamed Boothill Graveyard in the 1920's due, largely, to the growing expectations of tourists who wanted to visit that "Wild West" location in Tombstone. The name was intended to symbolize those buried there who had "died with their boots on," a reference to their unexpected deaths.

Often, the guests visiting Tombstone expect to see gamblers and gunslingers buried in Boothill and they are surprised to learn that we also have the innocent buried here. It is important to keep in mind that this was our city cemetery and anyone who died in Tombstone would be buried here, the good and bad alike. For example, local legend has it that the first person buried here was Eva Waters, who was only three months old when she died of scarlet fever. Near her grave is that of Hilly Hickson, a boy who broke his leg from a fall off a pair of stilts and died a few weeks later of a blood infection. On the other hand, the three men killed at the Gunfight on Freemont Street (commonly called "The Gunfight at the OK Corral") and the seven men legally hanged behind the Courthouse are buried here, along with their peers who are far from innocent.

The graves are not organized by any system; rather, people seemed to be buried wherever there was space when they died. However, the seven men legally hanged on the gallows behind the courthouse are all buried in one corner of the graveyard and another corner contains the graves of Chinese workers who lived in this town at that time. Also, a Jewish memorial is located just off the back corner of the graveyard.

I suppose that the question I'm asked most often is, "Is Boothill a real cemetery?" Yes, it is a real cemetery. After about 1890, the silver industry was dying out and Tombstone, itself, was in danger of becoming a ghost town. During that time, Boothill was abandoned and photographs taken in the early 1920's show the area as nothing more than the desert floor with a few grave markers scattered about. Unlike other boom towns that survived to the modern era, like Dodge City, KS, the citizens of Tombstone never did anything to actively destroy the cemetery location and build on top of that ground. In the 1920's the city reconstructed Boothill, so they pored over old records, interviewed "old-timers" and people who had relatives buried here, and even pounded a long steel rod into the ground to try to locate caskets. The tireless efforts of many people throughout the mid-20th century restored Boothill as much as possible. So, yes, it is a real cemetery.

Graves

While most of the graves in Boothill are genuine, there seem to be a few that have been fabricated over the years to appeal to tourists.

Tourists in Tombstone should enjoy their visit to Boothill; however, it is likely that at least a few of the graves are only intended for photographs and stories.


Location

Boothill Graveyard is located on AZ 80 Highway, just outside town on the way to Benson. The graveyard is open to the public but there is a small fee required to enter. Visitors are given a pamphlet with name, date, and cause of death for all the people who are buried here. The Tombstone After Dark Ghost Tour stops at Boothill where I share several photographs about paranormal activity in Tombstone. The Goodenough Historic Trolley Tour also turns around in the parking lot where I share a bit of the history of the graveyard and invite my guests to return and explore the graveyard.