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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Meditations in Tombstone (Arizona)

One of the fun-est things I did while working as a seminary recruitment officer back in the olden days was make a sidetrip to Tombstone, Arizona. I'd been in Tucson meeting with prospective students at a Lutheran church when I noticed the famed Western town nearby on the map. I had a half day I could afford to kill so I hustled on down there.

For reasons I cannot quite identify, I have long been fascinated with the legendary gunfight at the OK corral where Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday whooped the Clanton boys. So the opportunity to walk those same dusty streets was too good to pass up. I was not disappointed. The route there was right through the deadest and hottest desert I'd ever been in. This was before I had a cell phone and I actually got a bit nervous on that lonely road. If my car were to stall, I pictured myself becoming buzzard bait.

The first thing I did was visit the cemetery on Boot Hill, hoping to read some of the famously funny epitaphs. One said:

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les no More

Re-read that once or twice until the macabre humor of it dawns on you. I was also struck by the great number of Chinese buried there, railroad workers I'd imagine. And the high number of infants and very small children.

Oh, I did a few other touristy things. Had a snort at one of the local watering holes. Saw the presumed site of the OK Corral and watched a re-enactment of the gunfight.

This all comes to mind again because I re-watched the movie Tombstone from the early 90s starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, plus an unmistakable Billy Bob Thornton in a throwaway role. There've been better Westerns than this. And those are not my favorite actors (though I do confess that Kilmer should've gotten an Oscar for his Doc Holliday). It's moderately accurate historically, however and not un-entertaining.

Why I am writing this? I'm curious. What is it about gunfighting, bloodlusting murderers like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (or Tony Soprano for that matter) that makes them almost iconic figures for Americans? It's not the classic good vs. evil dynamic because these yahoos were every bit as vicious as anyone they ever felled. Maybe it's just the testosterone effect.

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12 comments:

Petersen said...

You went to Tombstone because you are an American man. You don't need a reason beyond that.

As to the movie, I am in shock. Better Westerns than this one? I think not! What? True Grit? Unforgiven? The Outlaw Josey Wales? All good, to be sure, but Tombstone is the ultimate Western.

Repent! Stiegemeyer! Repent! I don't make fun of you for loving Star Wars or point out how poorly written the LOTR, now take this slander back. For these, my friend, are fighting words. Tombstone is the best Western. Period.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hmmmm... How to respond?? [In a winsome though incredulous tone of voice, Stiegemeyer says:] I can appreciate your conviction, Compadre Petersen. But I beg to diff. Tombstone is pretty doggone good. But here are the truly great Western pictures (you philistine): The Magnificent Seven, The Searchers, High Noon, Shane, Stagecoach (1939). Oh, and Westworld. Does Oklahoma count?

Lisa said...

These men stood for something at all costs, no apologies..even until "no Les no more". I think we crave this in our society. The fact that these men often stood for ornery things makes it ok for us to admire them without seeming too pollyanna-ish.

Caspar said...

I love Westerns and have been to Old Tuscon too (back in 1987)! Did you go the the San Xavier del Bac Mission and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, both nearby?

I think the draw is nostalgia for the bygone days when men were men and women were women. Lisa is right too. It's kind of like war movies where people are willing to give their life for a cause. My all time favorite Western is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) starring Jimmy Stewart, my all time favorite actor.

The Heresy Hunter said...

I'm fascinated with Tombstone as well (even though there was often a thin line between the "good guys" and the "bad guys"), and Arizona in general. I've been travelling there since the mid-1970s. It's probably the sinful nature in us that attract us to them.

Darrell said...

Petersen: Unforgiven? The Outlaw Josey Wales? All good, to be sure, but Tombstone is the ultimate Western.

Whoa, whoa, whooooa, little buckaroo! Yer talkin' heresy, there, pardner. Unforgiven is the best western ever made, and I'm happy to provide you with a rambling essay that proves it! ;)

I wasn't a fan of Tombstone, which puts me in the smallest of minorities. I actually prefer Wyatt Earp, and Dennis Quaid's version of Doc Holiday, which was much more historically accurate. I'll accept that I'm in the minority there... but I'll argue the merets of Unforgiven till I'm blue in the face. Little doggie.

Petersen said...

[b][i]Westworld and Oklahoma!!!![/b][/i]

I can respect the opinion that [i]Unforgiven[/i]is the best Western ever, even if it isn't; because it is second. I can even tolerate all the other films so far listed here (except maybe Darrel's claim to prefer the tedious [i]Wyatt Earp[/i] to [i]Tombstone[/i]) but to list [i]Westworld[/i] and [i]Oklahoma[/i] is just foolish talk.

I have to warn you: this is going to add years to your time in purgatory. And what will purgatory be? Endless performances of [i]Oklahoma.[/i] Or maybe that is Hell. I can't remember. It might be [i]Westworld[/i] in purgatory.

Speaking of [i]Purgatory,[/i] that was a good Western!

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

So Pr. Petersen doesn't like my choices of Westworld and Oklahoma. I guess I won't even bother mentioning City Slickers or Blazing Saddles then. Actually, all kidding aside, if I HAD to vote for a number 1, I'd pick The Magnificent Seven. Sorry, but no one does it better than Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, and James Coburn. I did like Unforgiven a lot too. And I have to admit that last year's Open Range with Robert Duvall and K. Costner was pretty good, though the romantic subplot should've been left on the cutting room floor.

Lisa said...

" And I have to admit that last year's Open Range with Robert Duvall and K. Costner was pretty good, though the romantic subplot should've been left on the cutting room floor."

Pfft. Men! That was a great movie, subplot and all.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Lisa,
I stand corrected. And I'm delighted to see someone actually write pfft.

JMFjr said...

If you want a bad western check out Wyatt Earp.

Rick Ritchie said...

Tombstone is partly good for the camaraderie in it.

I've been to old Tombstone, too.

My dad and I had a picture taken at Billy Clanton's grave. My dad's mother's family ranched with the Clantons and were convinced the Clantons had been murdered.

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