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.
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.
- Lester Moore. His epitaph reads: Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les No more. This is, without doubt, the most famous grave in Boothill. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of anyone named Lester Moore being killed in a gunfight or even living in the Tombstone area, nor of the burial location of the other man supposedly also killed in the gunfight, Hank Dunstan. Finally, the date of this incident is not known though some people report the year as 1880. All-in-all, this grave does not seem to be genuine.
- George Johnson. His epitaph reads: Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right, we were wrong, but we strung him up and now he's gone. It is not possible to know if there was actually a George Johnson who lived in Tombstone in the 1880's, but there is no record of a lynching, or other untimely death, of anyone by that name. The most probable conclusion is that this clever epitaph was added to Boothill for the tourists.
- John Heath. He was lynched in Tombstone, but his body was shipped to his relatives in Terrell, TX, for burial. The February 28, 1884, issue of the Kaufman Sun published in Terrell, TX, printed this notice: "John Heath was taken by a mob from jail and hung [sic] in Tombstone. His remains were brought to Terrell and interred yesterday. He was a notorious gambler, burglar, horse and cattle thief." Thus, while there was a John Heath who was lynched in Tombstone, the grave with his name in Boothill is empty.
- Thomas Harper. He was hanged and buried in Tucson, not Tombstone. He supposedly killed John Talliday in a card game. Both Harper and Talliday have been listed as buried in Boothill by different sources, but since Harper is not in Boothill it is doubtful that Talliday is here.
- Neves Deron. This grave was also listed as "Fiderico Doran" but is likely actually "Federico Duran." The legend is that Duran robbed a train in Mexico and escaped to the Tombstone area. A friend, Guadalupe Robles, let Duran hide at his wood-cutting camp in the Whetstone mountains. Then, John Slaughter, the Cochise County Sheriff, found the hideout and shot Duran while attempting to capture him. In reality, Duran was captured in Mexico by Mexican authorities and executed there by a firing squad. He was not killed in Cochise County, Slaughter had nothing to do with his death, and he is not buried in Boothill. This also casts doubt on the grave of Guadalupe Robles in Boothill, who was said to have also been shot by John Slaughter during the Duran arrest. Robles may be buried in Boothill, and he may have died of a gunshot by Slaughter, but his death is not related to that of Duran.
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.