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The Ghosts of Tombstone and Boot Hill

Updated on September 12, 2015

Boot Hill

Many cemeteries, mostly in the American West, were named Boot Hill during the 1800’s. The most famous of which is in Tombstone Arizona. Boot Hill was a common name given to burial grounds of gunfighters or for people who died in a strange town without money for a burial. They were also known as “paupers' graves.”

The cemetery was founded in 1878 just north west of the city. This historical cemetery was the last resting place for Tombstones earliest citizens. The name Boot Hill comes from the fact that many of these graves are those of gunfighters that died violently with their boots on. About 250 were known to be buried before it officially closed in 1884.

For many years this famous graveyard in Tombstone was left unattended to the mercy of the elements and time. Naturally, original wooden grave markers became terribly faded, Weatherworn and decomposed or stolen by souvenir hunters. Many were virtually unreadable.

A Makeover

Therefore it should come as no surprise some of the graves could be slightly off, but most are generally quite close to their exact locations. It wasn't until around 1929 the old cemetery, formerly known simply as the “Tombstone Cemetery,” began to be referred to as Boot Hill. In the 1940’s Tombstone citizens realized the historical value of the cemetery and it began to get a makeover.

The graves have been studied extensively and those which were not already marked with a headstone were provided with one as close to their original locations as possible. Official city records and charts were used to determine the positions.

"This is the photo that changed my opinion about ghosts," says Terry Ike Clanton, a cousin of the legendary Clanton Gang.  Clanton took this photo of a friend at Boothill.  Among the gravestones, to the right of his friend, appears to be a man.
"This is the photo that changed my opinion about ghosts," says Terry Ike Clanton, a cousin of the legendary Clanton Gang. Clanton took this photo of a friend at Boothill. Among the gravestones, to the right of his friend, appears to be a man.
Old Tombstone
Old Tombstone

Many Unknown

Many still read unknown, because their occupants were unidentified. In those days not everyone carried identification. If someone wasn’t not identified or claimed by family or friends, it was not uncommon to display the body in the parlor window, so passersby by could try to identify them. And some people were only known by nicknames.

Perhaps the most famous residents of the cemetery are Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury; three men killed in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Currently the Graveyard is open to the public and a popular tourist stop. No admission fees are charged. After all, it is an official cemetery. Over 300 persons are believed to be buried there. Only 205 are officially recorded because many Chinese and Jewish immigrants were interred without record.

However, the grave yard and city of Tombstone may not be as peaceful as seen at first glance. Evidently,

Visitors and residents, often tell of seeing strange lights and hearing peculiar noises coming from the old graveyard. Reports of spirit sightings have been reported on numerous occasions. They are often said to appear in photographs.

In fact, many believe the entire town of Tombstone is haunted. One lingering spirit said to inhabit the town is Marshal Fred White, who was accidentally shot by Curly Bill Brocius on October 28, 1880. White was the first marshal of Tombstone and was respected by the Clanton Gang. In fact, he had arrested several a number of times. Early the morning of October 28th, Curly Bill and several others were shooting up the town.

White went to disarm the gunman and a shot was accidentally fired, hitting him in the groin. It was the general opinion he would recover. However, he died two days later. Today, he is said to haunt the shooting site, where the Bird Cage Theatre was built a year later.

Another sighting is of a man in a black frock coat. He is seen crossing the road near the site where Virgil Earp was ambushed and shot in the arm. Many believe it’s the ghost of Virgil himself.

The identity of a woman in a long white dress spotted on Tombstone streets is in question. One story says she is the mother of a child who died from yellow fever in the 1880’s and took her own life. Another claims she was a brothel madam who was hanged.

Many others in the town died as a result of other events. Twice, the city was practically razed to the ground by fire. The first in June, 1881 and the second in May, 1882 claimed more than 40 lives in the crowded saloons and brothels that burned to the ground. These spirits are said to appear complete with burns, accompanied by the smell of smoke.

Tombstone's most popular attraction, the OK Corral, was the site of the best-known gunfight in the Old West. Bad feelings had been building between the Earp’s and the Clanton’s in Tombstone, for some time and on October 26, 1881, the two factions clashed. When the smoke cleared, Frank and Tom McLaury, as well as Billy Clanton lay dead.

Today, the O.K. Corral is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Cowboys. Witnesses have reported apparitions of men dressed in cowboy attire, often appearing with guns drawn. Others have claimed to have felt numerous cold spots around the corral.


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