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Day of the Living Dummies: A Visit to Tombstone

“Welcome to the OK Corral. The West’s most famous gunfight began where you are now standing. If you look around, you can see the gunfighters, just as they stood on October 26, 1881…” said a disembodied voice from the speakers.

There I stood at the actual site of the OK Corral in the blazing Arizona heat. This was where it had all happened. On this exact spot, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers faced off against the most notorious gang of outlaws in the old west. I was very excited to see the recreation of the gunfight, but I was in for quite a surprise…

wyatt earp saddle

You see, the truth is, life in the old west wasn’t as glamorous as it was portrayed to be by movies like Tombstone (starring Kurt Russel). Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and his gambler friend Doc Holiday didn’t look like Hollywood movie stars. Yes indeed, this is what they don’t tell you in the history textbooks. All the participants in the shootout (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp, Doc Holiday, the Clanton Brothers, and Frank and Tom McLaury) were not real people at all but were in fact large, lifelike dummies.

Usually, the gunfight is reenacted daily by real people (a very inaccurate portrayal, compared to the dummy one), but I’d arrived too late for that. For latecomers like me, they had an ever better show on hand. Here is a small glimpse of it:

I know, you are very jealous dear readers, because you weren’t there to witness it yourself. I think you’ll agree that even as a dummy, Wyatt Earp is quite heroic.

I also found out much about the sex trade workers who lived in Tombstone in Wyatt Earp’s time. They were sometimes referred to in those days as “soiled doves,” which sounds a bit condescending. This made me think of the doves that were living above the patio in the house where I was staying in Phoenix, only they should have more rightly been called “soiling doves” as they frequently soiled the nest and its surroundings.

Two of Wyatt Earp’s wives (he had been married three times, with the third marriage lasting until his death) were former “soiled doves.” One of the wives, Mattie, had to return to her former profession and was driven to suicide when Wyatt abandoned her. This fact seems to tarnish the romantic gloss Hollywood has wrought over this legendary hero.

I returned from my journey somewhat wiser and more aware of the harsh reality of this town’s history. Oh well. The truth is better than a romantic myth. Would you agree?

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