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Day 2 Thursday Aug 28th (continued) Tombstone – three interviews

Included in the price of the Gunfight ticket you get a free copy of a modified facsimile of the Tombstone Epitaph‘s report on the fight, to be collected from the newspaper office just round the corner. The township’s loyalties fractured on the line between the two main newspapers: the wittily named Epitaph, representing the more republican business community for whom the Earps were necessary if slightly unsavoury enforcers of law and order; and the Tombstone Nugget, which represented the more democrat, rural side of the community with a more ‘flexible’ attitude towards the law. It was the Nugget that led the campaign that ultimately led to the Earps’ departure from the town in 1882. The Epitaph‘s report of the gunfight is headed with a famous line that contains more than a hint of grim jubilation: ‘Three Men Hurled Into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment’.

I took advantage of the quiet spell to engage in conversation with the nice lady behind the counter – Bonnie Short (64), raised in Tucson –  who had her own thoughts on guns and gun control. I’ll let her do the talking here:

Bonnie Short at Epitaph

“I’m a single woman. I live in a home by myself. I’m 64 years old. You can’t outrun ’em. You can’t fight ’em. Don’t break into my house ’cause I will shoot you… somebody breaks into my house, they’re going to carry them out on a stretcher.

“I know that in England they [the police] have whistles and I just don’t see that working here – put up your hands or I’ll blow my whistle!”

“We have too many unhappy people here I think…minorities that are trying to become majorities…”

“Most people here though … like guns. In this town anyway. You have all the guys pretending they’re cowboys with guns strapped on and just living out their fantasies from childhood. Then you have the gang members [in the cities] who think they’re cool because they can have a gun and they turn it this way [demonstrates holding gun with palm upwards]. Go ahead and shoot it that way! It can tear your arm off, you idiot!…it’s gonna  bring it back and smack you right in the face!”

“We used to go hunting when I was just a little kid. I learned how to shoot dove and quail, ’cause, oh man, are they good eating!”

“My kids learned respect for guns. They learned how to – You touch it, I’m breaking your fingers! [laughs] No, well I showed them what it could do.”

My trip to Tombstone would not have been complete without a visit to Red Marie’s Bookstore and its proprietor and publisher the 87 year old local historian Ben Traywick, author of a host of books, one of which was swiftly added to my collection. When I asked if he had any thoughts on Dr Goodfellow, he was quick on the draw: “I’ve got a chapter on him in one of my books”. It was only his third book sold across the counter that week, but fortunately  his wholesale and mail order business is doing better.

Ben Traywick 1

The chapter in The Chronicles of Tombstone doesn’t  add anything  of great substance to  the Don Chaput biography, but does give a greater colour and social importance to a figure who barely warrants a footnote in some histories of the time: “Dr George Emory Goodfellow was the most universally admired and respected man to ever reside in the famous silver town of Tombstone… [his] favourite hangout was the Crystal Palace Saloon. He was never to be found in his office upstairs if the Crystal Palace was open. On several occasions he was known to have performed emergency operations on the barroom tables. If he could not be found in his office or the saloon it was a safe bet that he was either officiating or participating in a boxing or wrestling match or a horse race.”

Race… now that’s an uncomfortable one. Though he was a hero to the Mexicans, and spoke good Spanish and even some Apache, and operated impartially on all races, it is quite possible that Goodfellow was as racist towards the black population of the US as many or most white Americans of that time and place. One shameful episode in his early life – when he was expelled from naval college for fighting with its first ever black recruit – has its accusers and apologists. Traywick, in conversation, falls squarely into the latter category. Some accounts portray the teenage Goodfellow as a racist bully; Traywick has him responding to a provocation on a stairway by “some kind of smart aleck” (subtext – ‘uppity’?) young man, who was expelled himself a few months later for an altercation with another student. This is one of the problems of historical hagiography: do we discount, for example, the achievements of Oscar Wilde because he was an anti-Semite? How many celebrated male figures from history beat their wives?

Historical Tombstone was a class-ridden society and the very rare mention of a ‘colored’ person places them at the very bottom of the social scale, and near invisible. George Parsons in his diaries makes only one mention, and that is of street sweepers. There is a poignant record in Boothill Graveyard of: Delia William 1881 Boothill, Tombstone, AZ (suicide by taking arsenic, colored lodging house proprietress).

Before leaving town, I dropped into the Crystal Palace Saloon for a parting (soft) drink, and struck up a conversation with a man – a local councilman and ex-marine – who was in favour of some gun control:

“We’ve had a few of them folk in this town. People that just have these illusions that they’re still back in the early 1880s,  and wish they probably were, but they ain’t there. That’s the last person you want carrying a weapon. It’s very easy to get a weapon here – too easy.”

He shared two local stories:

“We did have a situation just recently when a gentleman was shot six times. It was over a female, no less. He was 70 and the other gentleman was 64, so it made the woman look like she was Sophia Loren or somebody.”

“We had a person tried to hold up a stagecoach about 10, 15 years ago and ended up shooting himself. We have stuff like that.” 

The shooting in Tucson of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 (“we lost our Gabby”) was raised as support for his gun-control stance. More of that in Day 3. The nice man insisted on paying for my drink.

And I rode off into the sunset…

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Arizona dusk 3