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Has Tombstone Become the Town Too Dumb to Die? – Part III

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In Part Iof this series, I discussed the handbill problem. Part II detailed the problems with the closing of Fourth and Fifth Streets at Allen. Will Mayor Escapule be recalled? Will the off-Allen Street businesses be terminally damaged? Stay tuned as the Horse Opera continues.

Did you know in Tombstone you can now be arrested for walking down the street dressed like a cowboy and subjected to anywhere from a $600-5,000 fine and up to two years in jail?

Once upon a time (back in 2008) the streets of Tombstone were filled with guys and gals dressed like characters from the 1880's. It gave the town a tremendous amount of color, flavor, and turned out some really cool photos. Now though, those days are gone, chilled by the selective enforcement of various city codes.  

Back in the “day” — the 1880s — Tombstone, Arizona was considered quite a city, even if it was just a mining town. The town was made up of a collage of people: miners, lawmen, gamblers, merchants, clerks, ranchers, drovers, the upright, uptight, and the older profession. They were all in Tombstone for one reason: to make money, and if possible get very rich, very quick. Unfortunately few people managed to see that fantasy fulfilled and many did what was predicted of Ed Schieffelin – they found their tombstone.

If the diary of Endicott Peabody is to be believed, (and trust me, as the one who transcribed and published the diary, I ought to know) people in Tombstone were very well dressed. The young Episcopalian divinity student was assigned the duty of overseeing the construction of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church there in Tombstone. Coming from a very wealthy, aristocratic family in New England, Peabody’s observations about the local attire in Tombstone are very important, and give us a perspective about how people actually dressed.

According to Tombstone historian Ben Traywick (during a recent discussion about my upcoming book), when the cowboys and drovers rode into town they would stop at one of the corrals and leave their horse. Because Tombstone had a “no carry” policy, guns could be left attached to the saddle or checked at the corral. They would peel off their chaps, leave their dusters, and take off their spurs.

Ben told me a cowboy wearing spurs could cause a lot of damage – on his dance partner. One evening, many years ago, while working at the Crystal Palace, Ben was present when a guy wearing spurs was dancing. His spurs caught his partner’s leg, and she was seriously injured.

After leaving their things at the corral along with their horses, the men would head for a shave, haircut, and then a bath. If they had any money, they might spring for new clothes; if not, they did their best to spruce up for a hot night on the town. Often their wide-brimmed hat would be exchanged for a bowler hat. The current version of what a cowboy might wear is a Hollywood invention. If possible, our cowboy on the town would dress like a banker rather than a “John Wayne” look. 

Tombstone was a 365/24/7 costume party. A few weeks ago, your humble author was in Tombstone, allegedly doing research for a book on fashion in the Wild West from 1850-1910. One of the fascinating little tidbits I learned was that Tombstone was one of the top locations for costumers and reenactors.

The SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) has two affiliate clubs in Tombstone and one in Sierra Vista. The primary group in Tombstone is the Tombstone Vigilantes, who have been been active in the community since 1948. They perform in Tombstone on the second, fourth, and fifth Sundays of each month. Helldorado Town specializes in gunfights, and is located on Toughnut Street. The premier location for “shootouts,” quite naturally, is the OK Corral.

Because the men’s clothing of that era was so spectacular and looked so good, the ordinary guy can put on his ‘gunfighter’ garb, or dress up like a cowboy, and transform himself from so-so looking male into the ultimate alpha male. Consequently the streets of Tombstone are filled with numerous Wyatts, Virgils, Morgans, and Docs – until recently.

Not long before I arrived in Tombstone back in March, one of the more popular “characters” went slouching into a friend’s eatery. She greeted him, “Well if it isn’t (we shall say) Joe Blow!”

“You can’t call me that any more.”

“What is going on now?” she asked.

It seems the new town marshal, Larry Talvy, was told to enforce certain laws dealing with street performances. If a man or woman was dressed to “portray” any historical or fictional character, and did not have a permit, they could be fined, for illegal performances. The newly elected mayor had struck again.

Stephen Keith and his group have been doing a 4:30pm “walk-down” Allen Street from around Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, to the OK Corral, where they would daily shoot it up for the tourists. In true Tombstone fashion there are several versions of what happened next, and why it happened. Allegedly there are some new “merchants” in town who did not like the idea of the street players drawing customers from their stores on a regular basis.

This author suspects that it is entirely possible there are some Machiavellian forces also at work. Let’s just say there are certain individuals behind the scenes who are such consummate troublemakers and so very vindictive…and let it go at that.

Jane Kukowski, who owns Helldorado Town (which now has a putt-putt course) sees the Huckleberry Players as competition to her business, but stands behind them 100%. She knows the 4:30 walk down, and the Players are good for Tombstone, and that only enhances her business.

Like the characters of old, Larry Talvy swooped down on the Huckleberry Players while they were doing their daily 4:30 walk down. They did not have a permit to “perform” using a rarely invoked 1973 town ordinance.

Mayor Dusty Escapule says that there have been “skirmishes” between the different groups of reenactors, and things could get out of hand; the old ‘someone could get hurt’ line. Escapule’s new orders reversed a long-standing ruling from the previous mayor and city council who agreed with the Huckleberry Players, that they were good for business. So good, in fact, they could wonder around town, in character, and not require a permit.

Marshal Talvy jumped in, saying the Huckleberry Players brought nothing but chaos to Allen Street. Nora Corrafa, owner of Six Gun City (and the subject of Part IV) also thinks the Huckleberry Players should be allowed to perform even though they are competition for her business.

It now appears that none of the groups in Tombstone have been allowed to have a permit to perform. Things are so heated that residents who walk down the streets in Wild West costume are subject to arrest. The fine is $5,000 and six months in jail – per incident. Thus far, only the non-profit groups have been given permits.

The Huckleberry Players still do their gig at the OK Corral, but are no longer allowed to walk the streets of Tombstone in “authentic” costume. The Six Gun City players have yet to receive a permit for their show, thus seriously damaging Michael Corrafa’s business, but that’s tomorrow’s story.

Things are so bad, when the venerable magazine Arizona Highways was in town photographing the Huckleberry Players, Talvy accosted them, and tried to cite them. He eventually backed down, but four members of the group, including a friend, Tim Fattig, now face up to two years in jail. The irony here is that Fattig, an author, is one of the leading authorities on the life of Wyatt Earp (as is yours truly). 

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About SJ Reidhead

  • Damn interesting place SJ. Beats Detroit all to hell.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Did you know in Tombstone you can now be arrested for walking down the street dressed like a cowboy and subjected to anywhere from a $600-5,000 fine and up to two years in jail?

    There goes my weekend!