Adventures in the Wild West

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This article is written for the latest edition of the Primgraph.

Welcome to Tombstone, Arizona. Considering both distance and way of life, we’re quite far away from the more civilized worlds of London, Paris, Boston and New York. This is Coyote Country, Indian Country, the Wild West, the Frontiers, and it’s quite an experience. Here I found the strong, uncut men that make their living from activities that make them wanted by the law, and the men that work the silver and copper ores; the women that take care of them, be they nurses, doctors or ladies of easy leisure; and the children, of course, often running barefoot, growing up in this wild and rugged land that might never be a fully integrated part of the United States.

I travelled a long way with train and stagecoach before I finally entered this dusty yet legendary place that lies almost in Mexico. The name itself is a small story. In the summer of 1877, a prospector named Ed Schieffelin worked the hills east of the San Pedro River, in the southeastern portion of the Arizona Territory, when he came across a vein of a rich silver ore. When Schieffelin filed his mining claim he named it «The Tombstone», after a warning given to him by his brother: «If you go back there, that place will be your tombstone.»

The town of Tombstone was founded in 1879, and even though that is only 20 years ago today, it’s already a town of respectable size. But its golden age seem to have passed. Late last decade, the silver mining industry began to decline as efforts to remove the seeping water that found its way into the mineshafts failed. Miners were disgruntled, and left to find new work in the neighbouring town of Bisbee and other new mining towns. But that doesn’t mean Tombstone today is a ghost town – far from it. It’s as lively as ever. So that is why we ask the question: What makes this city too tough to die?

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Stepping off the stagecoach at one end of Allen Street, one feels, despite the unfamiliar surroundings, very welcome. Our first meeting was with a woman given the name «Gigi» by her friends.

– Welcome to Tombstone. We’re a big family here, she quickly said.

– We are good people, bad people, and ugly people.

Ms Gigi likes it here, even though she has a habit of getting into bad situations by accident. On her way here for the first time, she got held up by one of the notorius Dalton brothers and passed out at the sight of a gun. Later, she got hit by a train, and had to use a wheel chair for one and a half month. She even got shot once while doing such a peaceful thing as playing her cello. Looking me up and down, she had no problems seeing I was new to the area, and guided me to one of the shops they have for proper women’s clothing in Tombstone. It’s a style not unlike the one back east, although slightly simpler. I got myself a nice, dark green dress, quite smart.

The trousers mostly worn by the men here are the so-called jeans. They’re solid, made by denim cotton, often blue, and not too expensive. But what’s really new here is the sight of women actually wearing trousers as well – a fashion somewhat unlikely to catch on elsewhere than here in the West.

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– How’s y’all doin’?

A small boy named Timmie greeted us this way. The language in these parts of the country reflects the simple way of living they lead. And I’d never before seen such a small boy carry an axe. When I asked what he used it for, he answered: «Jes’ wood, no worries,» as if I’d implied he planned to kill someone with it. Not far from him a tall Indian, arms crossed, greeted us with his «Dago te». Little Timmie greeted him with the same words. The children of the West certainly gets a different upbringing. From early on, they take part in the struggle to survive in these rough surroundings.

– All’s fine, jes’ lotsa werk, ’specially since Roxie got shot and cain’t care fer her cows anymore, Timmie replied to how he was doing. Now would you ever find a child in Philadelphia giving such an answer?

In the middle of Allen Street, you find a comfortable hotel. I brought my belongings there and changed into my new dress. Ms Gigi met me down in the lobby, ready to show me the town. Out on the street, she was approached by some farmers.

– There’s Gigi now. We got milk for you. One can of milk for ten dollars per our agreement.

Timmie giggled as Ms Gigi opened her purse and got out the money, and I heard him whisper «Only an idiot’d pay ten dollars fer a few gallons of milk,» which was not a nice thing to say. But when the farmer, the before mentioned Ms Roxie Marten, wanted to give him some for helping her, he answered:

– No Roxie ah don’ want it, ah hep ya as a friend, don’ want no dang payment. We’s friends.

As we continued, Ms Gigi pointed to the bank:

– It gets robbed a lot. I think the outlaws need to be more creative.

A saloon is the natural meeting spot for all towns of the West. We stopped outside and had a nice chat with some of the men and women standing there. While Ms Gigi stayed, I walked on over to the doctor’s office, interested seeing the doctors were in fact two women. Dr Soph Shepherd said she had a very busy job.

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– Busier than I’d care for sometimes. I usually mend bullet wounds, some pretty nasty. I also look after animals that get hurt.

Dr Reb Latte added «a few broke limbs» to that.

– People fall of horses. I’ve also removed arrows.

Dr Latte came to Tombstone one year ago, while Dr Shepherd had come only a month earlier.

– But it seems like years already. I learned a lot back East before I came here, and I’m glad I can put it to use, she said, adding that she came here looking for her husband that went missing from home.

– All the clues pointed this way. Sadly, I haven’t found him yet, and I’ve stayed in Tombstone because this is where the clues ran out. I’ve found a place and friends here.

Dr Latte then took me inside to see the office. I asked her if any of the townsmen found it peculiar having a woman for a doctor.

– Well, I have run across a few that didn’t want a woman doctor, but when they found out we didn’t have any men docs they seemed to change their mind and let me treat them. Yes ma’am, I think I look a lot better to them than death.

Latte showed me her equipment; the bandages, the healing salves, and «the hated syringes».

– These little things can make a grown man cry. Some have asked me just to let them die, Dr Latte said with a smile.

Next to the sheriff’s office, the doctors’ are the most busy one of the town. She admits that some patients can be a very tough challenge.

– I do all I can, make sure there is nothing more I can do, and then with God’s help I hope they will recover. I’ve learned to accept I can only do so much. What affects me most are the kids – the innocent ones.

Asked what she likes to do when not working, Dr Latte said:

– Not working? I’ll let you know when that happens. Ya never know when a doc will be needed around here.

It’s no wonder being the doctor is so busy. Tombstone and its surrounding countryside are known as one of the deadliest regions in the West. Gigi told me: «I’ve run out of things to wear at funerals.» She’s quite familiar with guns, and even refer to one simply as «steel».

– I have a pretty garter gun, she told me, smiling, then pulled it up for me to see before we approached the shooting range. It’s a place she sometimes come to blow off some steam by shooting down bottles and cans. When she gave me the gun and asked me to give it a try, my hand began to shake, but guided by her I actually managed to shoot down a few bottles. I’ll admit it was fun, but you’ll never get me to wear a gun like the people in this town do.mThe gunfighter is one that often comes to mind when thinking about life in these parts of the country. So how real is he? What I eventually found out is that not only he, but also she, is a very real phenomena. Even for the relatively innocent Ms Gigi, showing me the place where people duel seemed to be a natural thing to do while guiding me around the city.

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Ms Aili Kuhn, a nurse I met in the neighbouring town of Bisbee, said it bluntly:

– On weekends the bandits are all over and they shoot each other so we get a lot of work. Last Sunday I had to treat 13 people.

It was in Bisbee I met Mr Apple Pevensey as well. «How do I know yer not the law,» he replied when I asked for an interview. I gave him my word on being an independent journalist. Mr Pevensey had come to the area only three months earlier. Before that, he lived in Sacramento, California. For reasons unexplained, he had to leave.

– How do I make a living? Well ma’am, I’m sort of self sufficient. Other people help me make my living. I could tell ya exactly what I do, but then I’d have to sort of erase it from your memory.

The cuts and bruises in his face he said came from the frying pan. He intends to stay in Bisbee, describing it as «the place to make yer fortune». It will have to be seen for how long the town will let him stay. After all, Ms Mercedes Mfume told me on entering the city that there were «no riff raff here. If they try to settle, we run them out of town.»

On my way back to Tombstone I met yet another person that lived by the gun. Ms Vor Torok had escaped from her earlier settlement more than a year ago.

– They wanted to hang me for killing my husband. He was a very bad man.

Ms Torok fled before anyone had discovered the crime. For a year she lived in the deserts, where she had to learn how to use a gun.

– The gun is my justice and defense. I use it for protection only, and, well, when perhaps I need to borrow things.

She almost died out there in the desert, and survived thanks to a doctor from the nearby city of Ghenna that found her. Now she’s in Tombstone to look for a new life. Somewhere she can forget her past. Has she succeeded?

– Well, time will tell. I’m still alive. Jobs are hard to find, and I’m not good with dicipline.

So her gun is still important to her.

– Don’t rightly hold much respect for the law here. It ain’t no friend to me, she said, and then felt she’d said enough.

There are signs life might get harder for the gunfighters. Tombstone’s mayor, Mr Adrian Wise, has decided to clean up the streets. He promoted Ms Kimee Babii from sheriff to marshal, and in an effort to crack down on violent crime, heavier fines and penalties will be applied on firearm usage with criminal intent. I bought a copy of the town’s newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph, where the marshal was quoted on the following statement: «We are on our way to becoming a state. Mayor Wise means to shape up this town as an example of law and order in the future state of Arizona.» They have a big job waiting, according to the Epitaph: «As always, Tombstone folk stick to their guns: when questioned about complying with the ordinances, the leaders of the outlaws in Ghenna merely laughed.» Maybe as an act of protest, two cowboys entered town, broke into the bank, shot down a woman that tried to intervene, shot down the deputy, and walked out of Tombstone, shouting: «Y’all know the cowboys run this town.»

One day, I walked out to the graveyard to see a grave that’s already legendary. A mound is marked with a simple epitaph reading «Dutch Annie 1883». The words don’t reveal very much, but quite a story lies beneath those rocks. As frequently is the case, no one ever knew her by any name other than Dutch Annie. Many a miner, broke and desperate, was grubstaked by this friend to all. When she went to her eternal rest, more than 1,000 people followed the coffin, paying tribute to Dutch Annie – Queen of the Red Light District.

Today, 17 years later, her place is still one of the more popular ones in Tombstone. It’s described as the wildest, roughest, wickedest honky tonk, and the numerous bullet holes in the building lend credence to this claim. Even if it’s not a place to be seen for a respectable woman, I ventured inside. There, I met Ms Jadzia Nightfire. She’s part of the group of women known as the Soiled Doves.

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– A Soiled Dove is one that has undergone the initial training and has earned her wings, so to speak, said Ms Nightfire.

She described her work as simple enough: They dance on stage, and flirt with the men and women that come to see them.

– They can tip us if they like what they see, and in gratitude we show them more. If they wish, we can take them on a private session.

And even if so many would find her occupation morally questionable, Ms Nightfire felt proud of her work, offering comfort and relief to men that might have a hard time finding female companionship in these harsh environments. But it might not come as a surprise to anyone that there tends to be little dialogue between the Soiled Doves and the more respectable women of Tombstone.

Like most other towns of the West, Tombstone too was affected by the Indian Wars. The town has its fort, the Fort Huachuca where 10th US Cavalry Regiment resides, and an Apache village nearby. These are the lands where the tribes of Geronimo and Cochise eagerly fought against the settlements of white people. Tombstone’s fort was the headquarter for the Geronimo campaign. After the chief’s surrender in 1886, the Apache threat was essentially extinguished, but Fort Huachuca is kept open because of its strategic border position.

I asked Ms Gigi if I could visit the Apaches, but she said I better not. Not because it would be dangerous, but she wants to respect their wish privacy. The war wounds hasn’t healed completely yet, it seems, and the Apaches are a proud people.

I left Tombstone as I’d arrived, in a stagecoach. I left behind a city that I’d grown very fond of during the short time I was there. I now know why, despite the decline of the mining industry, people still stick to their lives there. What makes the city «too tough to die» is that the people there, despite all the gun toting, the heat, the dust, the harsh climate, also love their city above everything else on God’s earth, and transfers this love into a love for each other. It’s a town that sticks together, and for that it will survive.

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~ by theresecarfagno on March 2, 2009.

One Response to “Adventures in the Wild West”

  1. please tell me IS THIS A GAME for your pc ? or somethine else i gata get it if it is

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