After a night of karaoke at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon on the main strip of Tombstone the night before, we took the opportunity to sleep in a few hours. We wanted to make sure we saw the gunfight at the OK Corral and the Tombstone Epitaph. We had been told that when visiting Tombstone, we should plan a few days to see all of it, but we only had a single day, so we had better make the best of it.
Our first order of business was to get tickets to see the Gunfight at the OK Corral, after which, we could then wander down main street to the far end, working our way back to the corral. As I had mentioned yesterday, our first night in Tombstone, the OK Corral was quite literally a block from where we parked our RV. Stagecoaches run tourists around town, to the various attractions, and offer tours as well. Our RV Park owner informed us quite specifically to take one color coach, and not the other (I dont remember which – sorry). Another example of Tombstone politics.
As we walked down the boardwalk, crossing intersections, gunfighters dressed in period costume beckoned us towards their specific attraction, all guaranteeing the “best gunfight in Tombstone”. Hard to say who to believe, but as we’d been to the Six Gun Saloon the night before, we thought we’d visit them first.
We wandered past the Crystal Palace Saloon where we met up with Caesar the Tombstone Biker Bird and his owner Paul. I would have sworn that I had seen a motorcycle heading out of Tombstone earlier, with a parrot on the guy’s shoulder, and I was right.
Tombstone Biker Bird
I learned that Paul, who runs a motorcycle patches shop called Dreamwalkers, is also known as the Birdman of Tombstone and is a bit of a local celebrity. I took the opportunity to speak with him about his motorcycle riding parrot, the Tombstone Biker Bird, in this little video.
Gunfight at the Six Gun Saloon
The Six Gun Saloon was quite a different story in the daylight. The big doors on the far side of the saloon were all open, showing off the set where the gunfights were to take place, and the bar was full to capacity. Was it too early for a margarita? We thought not, and for $2 each, we ordered a couple.
The Six Gun Saloon puts on a great show, if I do say so myself. The actors were all mike’d up so we could hear the discussions between them. They played out the various stories from the town and between gunfights, the narrator explained how events unfolded. It really was good for understanding the history of this town.
Gunfights of Tombstone
We left through a side door onto the street with the intention of grabbing a quick tour of Tombstone on the trolley before catching the “official” gunfight at the OK Corral. Best as I can tell, there are three different gunfights.
- Six Gun Saloon
- Helldorado Town
- OK Corral
The Six Gun Saloon gunfight does its best to explain various portions of the events surrounding October 26, 1881. I say the “events surrounding” that date, because the actors tell the story of events leading up to the gunfight, the actual gunfight and then events that took place in the days and weeks later as a result of that afternoon. Six Gun Saloon gunfight costs a small $5 entrance fee, and the actors ask for tips when they’re done. Quite educational.
The Helldorado Town gunfight is one we didn’t see, but were told that it was more of a comedy type of gunfight and is supposedly the best one of them all. I think that depends on what sort of entertainment you’re looking for, factual or just pure fun. As I recall, Helldorado cost a bit more, and if memory serves, it was $10 to $12, but included a bunch of other things with it. If you find out, please let me know in the comments so I can correct this.
Then there’s the official gunfight at the OK Corral. $10 each, but includes entrance into the corral, the Historama, the museum buildings next to the gunfight sight and a special commemorative version of the Tombstone Epitaph, the local paper, with headlines and story describing the events that took place that day in 1881.
We already had our tickets for this one, but we wanted to squeak in a quick tour before seeing it.
Tombstone Trolley Tour
The trolley was $10 for two, but with our ticket stubs from the Six Gun Saloon, we saved $2. As he took us through town describing the various places, he made it a point to select a very specific set of other businesses and bring them to our attention. Either that they had the best food, or to save our trolley ticket as it would save us money on one of their services too. It didn’t take us long to begin putting things together, and realize that depending on who you talked to, and where you talked to them, they’d say one business was better than the other, or to direct you to a specific place.
Dar here: the trolley guy actually mentioned a motel that his mother owned and a cafe in it I think. That sort of referral stuff went on a lot is what Rob’s referencing.
It became so frequent and so obvious to us, that I started to refer to it as Tombstone Politics. I was to learn more about this later.
The trolley begins and returns to its starting location at the corner of Toughnut and 4th, right across the street from the Big Iron Shooting Gallery and the Rose Tree Inn Museum. You can shoot off a few rounds yourself in the Shooting Gallery and then see the worlds largest rose tree. We toured Tombstone, learning about the courthouse, the hanging tree, the haunted places and ended up at Boot Hill even. They’d drop us off if we wanted, and then pick us up on the next tour, but we had a gunfight to see, so opted out for the time being.
As we exited the trolley and headed towards the OK Corral, I noticed a couple of motorcycles on the side of the street. Very innocent looking to the average person, but having seen both The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down, round the world motorcycle trip excursions by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, they caught my eye.
In 2004, Charlie and Ewan set of on a 19,000 mile trip from London to New York by motorcycle, taking… well, the Long Way Round. Taking three and a half months to complete, they drove through Europe, Asia and Alaska before driving through Calgary Alberta, into the US and then straight across to New York
In 2007, they decided to do another one, but this time from the northern tip of Ireland to the southern tip of Africa, hence the name Long Way Down.
I’ve seen both of these documentaries and encourage you to rent them from your local video place, or find them online as they’re an excellent way to understand a journey of this nature.
Seeing literally hours of footage of the boys, these two motorcycles I now saw parked innocently on the side of a Tombstone street set off flags for me.
It was them!
They were doing it again. This time they were calling it East to West and they were obviously going to be spending more time in the US seeing sights here as well. I thought of blowing off the gunfight at the OK Corral and instead setting off on a mission to find the lads, when I realized that they too could be booked into the same time slot we were for the gunfight.
I couldn’t expect to stop what I was doing to search them out, and as I believe in the powerful power of intention, I set one in regards to finding them and left it to the Universe. How was not important, only the “what”.
Gunfight at the OK Corral
As we lined up for the entrance to the stage area, we filed past life sized replicas of Doc Holliday, Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp facing off with the Clantons, the McLaury’s and Billy Claiborne. Great positioning of the replicas because it shows how close they really were to each other. In what took about 24 seconds, the gunfighters who were between five and ten feet apart, open fired on each other leaving three dead, three wounded and one to run away.
The show started, and through it all, I kept an eye out for Charlie and Ewan. After a very good display of storytelling, we were invited to the original Oriental Saloon, across the street from the Tombstone Epitaph, later in the day for lessons in Faro, by Doc Holliday himself (photo above). Faro is the game of cards that was played in the old west and one which caused Doc to be run out of town (several different towns actually) on more than one occasion (several different towns actually).
Our vantage point in the bleachers offered very few opportunities for good photographs of the action, and the shooting was over too quickly for Dar to capture the action.
C.S. Fly Photography
Leaving the stage area, we toured C.S. Fly Photography studio where Big Nose Kate and Camillus Sydney Fly, the only known witnesses to the shootout, hunkered down. C.S. Fly, or “Buck” as he liked to be called, was known for the many photographs he took of the Tombstone area during that time, and more notably for taking the only know photographs of the Apache, Geronimo, as a free man. He’s also known for his photograph of Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, and Billy Clanton in their caskets before being interred at Boot Hill Cemetery, west of town.
If you like photography, then make sure you spend the extra time to tour the C.S. Fly studios there on the property.
OK Corral Blacksmith
Tucked away in the far corner of the property is a working blacksmith shop. I ventured over for a look and met Grizz Mace, the OK Corral Blacksmith. We talked for over 30 minutes as he made a few items in his forge and Darlene photographed him. He’s new to Tombstone, but worked as the blacksmith at the Ponderosa previously, and now both of his boys are blacksmithing too.
Grizz can repair any of the items or implements in the Corral, or make anything they need if required. While not working on Corral specific jobs, he’s creating items to sell to folks who wander by. While we were there, he made a steak flipper in front of us, but other items are available as well.
We eventually made our way out of the OK Corral property and Dar wanted to shop. I remembered someone telling me that the whiskey that Doc Holliday drank was available at the Crystal Palace Saloon, so I made my way there, telling Dar to meet me when she was done.
Old Overholt Whisky
It’s called Old Overholt and it’s been distilled since 1810 by Jim Beam in Clermont Kentucky. Doc Holliday is said to have drunk this stuff, and from what I had been told, was only available in one place. Pretty exclusive for Tombstone, so had to go there to sample a shot. Well I did, and got some video drinking Doc Holliday’s whisky at the Crystal Palace Saloon.
Take a moment to watch the video inside the Crystal Saloon. Let me know what you think.
Dar eventually caught up with me, and we had one of the burgers we heard had rated as “fair” and it was plenty fine. Maybe it was the whisky?
Politics play a big role in Tombstone, and whiskey isn’t the least of it. Maybe we’re just more aware of what’s going on in the town, but it seems pretty blatant if you ask me.
I thought I’d write up a little piece about the politics of Tombstone for your information.
The next natural progression was a tour of the Tombstone Epitaph, the local newspaper, founded in 1880 by John Philip Clum. One of the first writers for the paper was Bucky O’Niell who I’ve mentioned previously in our adventures from the Grand Canyon.
Not a lot to see at the Epitaph, other than historical printing presses and such.
However, once leaving the building, we noticed that Doc Holliday from the gunfight was opening up the door to the Oriental Saloon across the street and ushering in a few people.
We scooted over and joined them.
Over the next hour (at least), Doc Holliday taught a few players including Dar, how to play the game of Faro. Not only did he show how to play it, but how to catch the dealer cheating at it (which was always, and the usual reason why Doc was run out of so many towns by angry mobs). While he taught the game, he regaled Doc’s history through dentistry school, his time in Texas, coming to Arizona and his eventually alleged death.
Fascinating to say the least. And I mean the cards, the cheating AND Doc’s history.
If anyone from the OK Corral corporation is reading this, let it be know that whomever is playing the part of Doc Holliday does a fantastic job at it. It’s with ease that we can say that one of our best experiences in Tombstone was our interaction with this man.
It was late. We headed back to our motorhome at Stampede RV Park to get the car so we could head up to Boot Hill ourselves.
Boot Hill Cemetery
With minutes before closing (yes, the cemetery closes), we headed out to Boot Hill to see what was there. The victims from the gunfight at the OK Corral were buried there (C.S. Fly took the only photo of the boys in their caskets you know), along with a few other notables. I’m still trying to figure out how the cemetery became privatized and are able to charge an admission. We had 5 minutes till close. We could “browse” Boot Hill, but when we heard the bell, we’d have to leave. Dar got some quick shots, but nothing worth sharing, while I ran around seeing what I could see.
The best photo’s came when we left the property.
Just off the entrance was a fantastic old hearse that seemed to catch the light just right as the cars drove past on the highway.
This is more of that HDR Photography that Dar has been experimenting with. It’s working out as far as I’m concerned.
Dar here again: this one’s actually not HDR, sorry Rob. I learned this new little layering technique from Ben Willmore at his workshop in San Antonio and it applied perfectly to this series of images. I combined about 5-6 images into each of the shots above, to get the final image.
She wanted to end the night with some homework for a course she was taking and I thought I’d spend some time back at Big Nose Kate’s.
By the time I got there at 9:00 Saturday night, they were closing up shop for lack of business. I moseyed over to the Crystal Palace Saloon, where there was a live band, and had a few more Overholt, washed down with beer, just as it was hundreds of years ago. A full day in Tombstone it was indeed. Tomorrow – Bisbee.
Epilogue: as it turns out, the motorcycles I had seen with the East to West website address were in fact NOT Ewan and Charlie, but rather a couple of other blokes raising awareness for Dalit Children of India. While I was at the Crystal Palace Saloon (which had free wi-fi), I looked them up on my blackberry. Turns out their time in the US was paralleling ours and they had been to the same places as us. Very surreal. Have a look at their around the world motorcycle travel blog as well. I’ve got their website as a permanent tab in Firefox and check in on them every day.
Images in this post are available for purchase on the Her View Photography online gallery at Zenfolio.com.