Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die and to the revival of Six Gun City
I need to do something a bit out of the ordinary for todays blog post. Bare with me. As some of you know, Tombstone, AZ was a major stop on my trip. I haven't quite caught up far enough to write about it in the blog yet but today I need to skip ahead. The town suffered a terrible loss yesterday morning. One of the bars in town, Six Gun City, burned to the ground. I found out about it through a facebook post my friend Carey Granger, who runs the Goodenough Mine Tour, posted last night. The news broke my heart because I spent a great deal of time at Six Gun. It was the only place in town where you could drink a beer, smoke a cigarette, order lunch and watch a gun show. I met some fantastic people at this bar. Donna the bartender, as well as the rest of the staff were always very kind to me.
Tombstone was important to me because in the short story I based this trip off of, Huckleberry, it is where the story reaches it's finish. I visited the town twice. I stayed a night there before Annie and I continued on to California. And on my way back, after Annie and I had seperated, I returned to the little town for three days. I cannot tell you how much I loved it there.
Before I get sentimental about Six Gun City I will try and paint you a picture so that perhaps you will fall in love with the town the same way that I did.
Tombstone: The Town Too Tough To Die
I drove to Tombstone from Tuscon, which is about an hour and a half at most. The road in to town is long and dusty with desert sprawling out on both sides of you. Border Patrol trucks cruise up and down the stretch making sure no one is smuggling anything in, or out. The first thing you see before hitting town is a billboard displaying the Ok Corral Gunfight Show and a Holiday Inn Express up on the hill. Keep going. Within moments you'll of traveled back in time to the Wild West. Tombstone, which at one point was the greatest city in the west, has kept it's flair. It's a town preserved for tourists in most ways. Family's come to see gun shows and drink giant mugs of frothy beer, buy Stetsons and shoot exact replicas of Wyatt Earps pistols. This is what I knew I would find. I had done extensive research online while writing the short story two years ago. But I had come to the town for a different reason. I had come to meet the people who ran it.
As I said before, the first time I visited Tombstone was with Annie. Cowboys roamed up and down the streets calling out to us to come see their gunshow, “Two O'clock at Helldorado!” So at two o'clock we payed our five dollars and went to see the show. It was pretty funny. It was a comedy show , good guys against bad guys. The bad guys, as they did in real life, were represented by wearing red sashes around their waist. The show was full of bad but funny jokes like, “Hey let me borrow some bullets, I'll give them right back to you!” and “Tombstone has had the same population for one hundred years, everytime a baby is born a man is shot.” The show ends with one of the actors getting a bag of dirt thrown in his face. We laughed, we clapped, we booed the bad and cheered for the good. At the end of the show one of the actors made a comment to us, “We'll be at the Dragoon Saloon later girlies, come see us.”
I won't get too detailed about the personal problems Annie and I were having at this time but I will mention it because it caused us to split up for the day. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. The town was so bizarre and the “townspeople” were all “working,” meaning they were “acting” like “townspeople”. A strange web to try and untangle. But I remembered what the cowboy had said about the Dragoon Saloon and went in search of it. I meekly asked a carriage driver where the Saloon was, praying that it was a real place and had not simply been a line in the script the cowboy had been trained to say. Happily I discovered it was real and I was able to get directions. Directions in Tombstone usually sound like this, “Down there at the bottom of the street.” Easy enough.
I was delighted to find that the Dragoon Saloon ran rampant with locals. I am not going to lie... I was suddenly very nervous. I had driven all the way from North Carolina, I was in Tombstone and all I wanted to do was talk to a gunfighter and here they were... sipping Budweisers and smoking Marlboros. The fictional world I had invented in my mind had come to life and here I was in the middle of it. Dragoon Saloon was an outdoor bar, basically a chunk of wood with a tarp over it and tables set up all over. I ordered a beer. Literally, just a beer, as in I said, “Can I have a beer?” Nothing specefic... oh yes, I was nervous. The bartender was surprisingly young, probably not much older than I was and she was very nice in asking me which type of “beer” I wanted. The words Miller Light came out of my mouth, though I'm not sure why because I have never been a Miller drinker. But by saying this I had, without meaning to, sealed my fate in Tombstone as the girl who drinks Miller Light. I didn't mind, it's not a bad beer as far as being a cheap light one. Anyways, I took my Miller Light and eyed the customers. I recognized one as the guy who had caught the bag of dirt with his face in the show. The dirt was still caked on. I approached him, asking if he minded if I sat down. Of course he didn't. I began to speak really quickly, spilling out my whole story of why I was there, where I was from, what I wanted to know, why I wanted to talk to him. He stared at me with a lazy, confused and somewhat hestitant expression. I caught my breath finally, taking a sip of beer and eyeing him from behind the bottle. Talk to me! I prayed.
So you're writing a story about gunfighters?”
Well... this was not exactly true. But because it seemed like this might excite him and get him to talk to me I said, “Yep!” And that is how I met Lincoln.
Lincoln was of the younger generation of gunfighters, I think he was in his early thirties. He had that rugged handsome cowboy thing going for him which, in my book, didn't go too far considering how sure he was of this fact.
I got him talking about how he started in gunfighting, he'd been doing it since he was just a kid. We finished our drinks and went over to Six Gun City where his mother was working the ticket booth and his roomate was running a different gunshow. His roomate was a hulking military man with bleach blonde hair named Stacy. We sat at the bar and watched, it wasn't as funny as the Helldorado one, it was more historic and informational. (Both were a far cry from anything I'd call “good” but hell, they were gunshows!) Very loud. I was in to it.
I talked to Lincoln for quite a while and even ended up staying the night on his couch, but the more I talked to him the less interested I became. He wanted to talk about Hollywood more than Tombstone. He bragged about movies he'd been in with Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner. His wall was covered in autographed black and white photographs, including Cyndi Lauper. I quickly realized that somehow I had chosen to talk to Tombstone's most narcisistic gunfighter. Oh well, it wasn't all for nothing. Just because Lincoln didn't exactly fit my ideal description of a Tombstone gunfighter doesn't mean he wasn't a reality. I learned a lot from Lincoln and I even promised to name a character after him, which wasn't too big of a sacrafice because I really do like the name.
I returned to Tombstone a week later. I patrolled the streets again and though I saw a couple familiar faces I was feeling shy. I decided to get back in the car and drive twenty miles east of Tombstone to Bisbee. I bought some boots and gained a bit of courage and headed back.
I decided to go straight back to the Dragoon Saloon and hope for the best. A new bartender was working, a tall slender good looking woman with a warm smile. I sat right down inbetween three old men and ordered a Miller Light. It was slower at the Dragoon that day than it had been the week before and it was easy to strike up a conversation with the men at the bar. When I mentioned I was a writer the man to my right immediatly took interest. He had salt and pepper hair, a face deeply lined with wrinkles and tired but kind eyes. He introduced himself as John Ludwig, a painter. The man to my left, a white haired man with a long beard asked me, “What's a pretty young thing like you doin? You're either running from the law or running from a man.”
John pointed at my ring finger. I had recently lost the ring I usually wear on it and he mentioned the tan line, as if to point out that the latter of the white haired man's speculations was true. I smiled but kept my mouth shut, hoping the air of mystery would provoke interest and get these guys to talk.
I learned that John was the man responsible for most of the old western style artwork in town. When he asked if I'd like him to give me a tour of the town I was thrilled to accept the offer. He took me around to a couple of the local shops to see his portraits, most of them were of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. He also had a couple of some people around town. He had done a lot of the interior decor of many of the local saloons and resturaunts. Painting the walls with flowers or distressing the walls to look like they had originally. His work was obviously very niche oriented but impressive none the less. He had lived in Tombstone for almost twenty years and had a great deal of stories to tell me. He invited me to stay in his guest room if I needed a place to stay and I accepted the offer
John drank Budweiser and smoked Merit 100s. Never in my life have I seen a person smoke as much as this man did. I think within the first two hours of my time with him he'd already choked down an entire pack and was off to the general store to buy more. He bought two packs at a time and he didn't have to specify what because the whole town new his brand. He planned his whole day around where he could smoke and where he couldn't. He invited me to dinner at a place that had outdoor seating where he assured me we could smoke in peace. I didn't much mind where we went, I was just the guest. We went out for mexican food and he told me about going to art school, his ex-wife, his love of the Arizona landscape and his devotion to oil painting. After dinner we unloaded my bags at his house. He described his place as “older” but when we got there I discovered that he'd been quite kind in his description. It was the way one would assume an older bachelor might live with no one around to tell him otherwise. It smelled like turpentine and cigarettes. The guest room had a lot to be desired but I was not about to be picky. I managed to dig out a little single bed under an enormous amount of old VHS tapes, piles of dirty clothes and porno magazines. I don't want to sound like I am complaining, I was more than happy to have a bed for the night. Plus John seemed geniunely excited to play any part in helping me with my research. We went back in to town for a bit of bar hoping and tracking down some regulars he was desperate for me to meet. “I can't wait for you to meet Shoe Shine Johnny!” he said.
This is where I am going to end chapter one of the Tombstone Blog. There is so much to say that I don't want any reader to get bogged down. So here is your first slice. Tomorrow I hope you'll come for seconds.
But most importantly I just wanted to send my thoughts out to the town of Tombstone and Six Gun City. Thirty Eight people are temporarily out of work. But from the little I know about the people in that town, everyone will be there to pitch in and build it back. If I had the resources I'd send them. But because I don't I thought I'd write a little something for this strange and wonderful place that won my heart. Never have I ever met as many good people in one place. I look forward to writing about them tomorrow. Tombstone...