Violence and Slaughter in the Old West: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday In Tombstone

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.” It was a busy day at the Utopia on Union Turnpike in Queens. It wasn’t a big theater, especially not in the days when movie theaters were palaces. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked the mile and some from home. I had a non-driving mom who was also a subscriber to healthy outdoor exercise. We did a lot of walking, she with enthusiasm and verve and I because I didn’t have a choice.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row, from which vantage point Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out of Hollywood. When video taped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favored “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan, so it figures. We have our preferences and they aren’t based on logic.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western, though there are a goodly number of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than any other extant version of the story. As do all the Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday stories, it omits as much, maybe more, than it includes. The Earps were wild and crazy guys.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

Doc Holliday was an even wilder, crazier guy. They were all lethal as Hell and no more honest then they needed to be … or less.

There were other Earp brothers who are consistently left out of the story, maybe because they didn’t go into the peacekeeping business. Dad, on the other hand, was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, even I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy.

First, I watch them because … I’m embarrassed to admit it … I love horses. I will watch anything with or about horses. You could probably just put on films of horses running around a field and I’d watch that too.

Next, I love westerns because they make it easy to distinguish good from bad. When I was growing up seeing Johnny Mack Brown B movies on old channel 13 in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity. Many people never move beyond that … a discussion for a different day.

Most of all, westerns present my fantasies in Technicolor and surround sound. In the western movie world, revenge and righteous violence are terrific. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both and mow’em down. Justice is meted out quickly and permanently with no guilt attached. You can be a wimp preaching peace and love in real life, but sit down in front of another viewing of “Tombstone,” watch Kurt, Val and the rest of the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest while you cheer them on.

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic! The only piece of armament I’ve ever owned is my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and a 22 caliber target rifle, but I can pretend. And I’m a dead shot with the rifle and have slaughtered paper plates and other inanimate targets from New York to northern Maine. I have a rich and rewarding fantasy life.

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Sign on a door in Tombstone, AZ

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless the entire town of Tombstone was victim of a mass hallucination  — mass hallucinations are not nearly as common in real life as in Hollywood — and merely thought a movie company came, rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then filmed a movie … unless you subscribe to this fairly bizarre theory, “Tombstone” was filmed in Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was the best part or at least, our favorite part, of a one long summer’s sojourn through Arizona. So, although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years. Everyone talks about it. It was a big deal.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host still works a real job and it’s hard to find a good time to visit when he isn’t working. Regardless, the mercury climbed to 128 Fahrenheit and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. Which, that time of year, it does relentlessly. I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that’s what the fighting was about. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat with no air conditioning? It makes one very cranky. I’ll bet the heat got to them, so they tried to kill each other.  It makes almost as much sense as any other explanation.

We don’t watch movies for a dose of reality, or at least I don’t. I have plenty of reality. More than enough. I go to escape, to move from a reality I don’t care for to another world I like better. Westerns let me immerse myself in raw emotions that are unacceptable otherwise.

I love Tombstone.

Categories: Ethics and Philosophy, Movies, Photography, Reviews, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Howdy …

    I like Gunfight at the OK Corral the best also – of all the Tombstone/Earp sagas.

    I’m getting down to Yuma and Sedona in about a month. Been to Sedona a couple of times before – never to Yuma. Unfortunately I’m afeared this is not a pleasure trip and I don’t have much time – so I can’t get around to Tombstone and a few other places I’d love to see.

    You mention how the movie theatres used to be “palaces”. The had carpeting, staircases, chandeliers, brass … man they were special. Unfortunately most have be torn down or renovated (murdered) – there otta be a law !!

    Westerns will have their day again – it just takes a couple of inspired directors. And there’s still a lot of Western Movie fans out here … just waitin’ fur some action.

    Happy Trails !



    • Some of those movie palaces were like something out of the Arabian Nights! We didn’t get to either Sedona or Yuma. Let us know how it is there! The southwest is vast … it takes a lot of traveling to see it all, and I don’t think you can do it in one visit … I don’t think anyone can. Enjoy, even if it is business! I’ll check out your site in the meanwhile. Thanks for coming by!


      • yeah … unfortunately its a whirlwind tour … but it will still be good.

        my pleasure … im still trying to figure out this blog thing … im a greenhorn.


      • It takes a bit of learning. I’m still learning too and making plenty of mistakes. I’m good at a lot of things, but despite that, this is a whole new world. And no matter how many “guided tours” you get, it’s still new an different. Ask people for help who seem to know their way around.l I’ve gotten a lot of help from complete strangers. I figure I’ll eventually figure it out. Welcome to being a greenhorn … me too!!


  2. This is a what’s-not-to-like Post! Westerns!!!!!! See: for the rest of the story!


  3. Splendid piece. Thanks.


  4. I’ve always loved westerns. I could easily name a dozen TV series I watched regularly while growing up. Even short run series like “The Plainsman” are still in my memory. The Rebel, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, Bonanza, Big Valley, Have Gun Will Travel and many more. My favorite western move was Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. To me it was closer to real life in the West. The line between good guys & bad guys sometimes gets blurred.

    I certainly wish Hollywood would bring back westerns on regular TV series. I’m sick of reality shows and talent contests. I usually stick to Public Broadcasting or The Discovery Channel now so I just turn the TV off if I don’t see anything I really want to see. I’d rather sleep in my present decrepit condition. 😦


    • We watch all the old series when they rerun them, including Have Gun Will Travel, which was a favorite for both of us. Right now, Garry’s catching up with High Chaparral. I was a serious Maverick fan, James Garner preferred. I’m sure we’d all like to see shows on TV we would enjoy. It gets stupider ever year. It’s the same old same old and I don’t know anyone who actually watches reality shows. Someone must, right? Not in this house, though.


  5. I love the movie Tombstone! In fact, I LOVE Westerns. . .have a whole collection on the out-dated VCR tapes. One day definitely need to visit the ol’ West:>) That is on my Desire List (sounds better than Bucket List any day!) As for the heat, think about all the garb everyone wore back in the day. . .especially the women. Um-m-m? Did they have deodorant that far back? Heaven forbid if not. . .GREAT post! [I am going through my massive email so you will note comments for your latest post first. If I miss any, please don’t shoot me! Sounds like you are too good of a shot and I wouldn’t stand a chance. . .LOL:>)


    • If you love westerns, going there is great, though NOT July or August. We didn’t have a choice: our host works and that was when he had time. But it was very very hot. As far as I know, they not only didn’t have deodorant, most people didn’t bathe regularly. Some did, if they had access to water, but many men didn’t bathe virtually at all. I expect that after a while, you didn’t notice. I hope so, anyway. Tombstone is a strictly tourist town these days and has been for years. It’s a lot of fun because the sets they built for the movie have become the town, so it looks exactly like the movie. You can just pretend. Neat.



  1. Violence and Slaughter in the Old West: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday In Tombstone | Movie From Mavens |
  2. Violence and Slaughter in the Old West: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday In Tombstone | Serendipity

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