NRA Family Destinations: Famous Boot Hills

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posted on October 3, 2020
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Thoughts of October often lead to thoughts of Halloween and black cats, jack o’ lanterns, ghosts, witches and assorted spooky places—like old cemeteries. What better could there be than to seek out such cemeteries in search of the graves of famous 19th-century Americans?

Starting on the East Coast, at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, N.Y., you can view the final resting place of Bat Masterson. This famed figure in the Old West wore many hats over the course of his life, including lawman, U.S. Marshal, Army scout, gambler, hunter and—later in life—newspaper columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. In fact, Masterson died of a heart attack while penning his final column.

Heading west, Frankfort, Ky., and Marthasville, Mo., both lay claim to the grave of pioneer and frontiersman Daniel Boone. The story is that Boone died at his home in Missouri and was buried nearby. Some 25 years later, his remains were removed and reburied in Kentucky. But—and this is where it gets interesting—some claim that Boone’s original tombstone was placed over the wrong grave and, therefore, the wrong remains were relocated. The more likely explanation is that while the larger bones were found and re-located, much of Boone’s remains—along with the coffin itself—had already disintegrated and become part of the soil by the time they were dug up for removal. As a result, Daniel Boone’s remains lie in both Missouri AND in Kentucky.

North of Kentucky, sharpshooter Annie Oakley is buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio. The marksman had a basketful of tricks, among which was being able shoot and split a playing card, edge-on, with her .22-caliber rifle, adding several more holes to the misused card before it hit the ground—and all from a distance of 90 feet! She died of anemia at age 66. Her grieving husband stopped eating and died 18 days later.

Continue westward to the grave of frontierswoman and scout Calamity Jane in Mount Moriah Cemetery in South Dakota. She died at age 51 and was buried next to gunfighter and scout Wild Bill Hickok, who was murdered during a poker game some 27 years earlier. The story goes that “Broken Nose Jack” McCall walked up behind him unnoticed and shot him in the back of the head. The motive is unknown.

Heading south and a little west, soldier, hunter and showman Buffalo Bill Cody is interred atop Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colo. Cody achieved his fame for the cowboy-themed shows he organized and took on tour throughout the United States and Europe. He died of kidney failure and was buried at what is now the Buffalo Bill Museum and gravesite.

New Mexico claims three famous personages: outlaw Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, lawman Pat Garrett in Las Cruces and frontiersman Kit Carson in Taos. The Kid, who was only 21 when Sheriff Pat Garrett gunned him down, was alleged to have killed as many as 21 men. Frontiersman Kit Carson is best remembered for his skill and bravery as an expedition guide for John Fremont to map the American West.

And on the West Coast, in Colma, Calif., is Wyatt Earp. The lawman became known as one of the toughest gunmen of his day after taking part in the 30-second Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a fight in which three outlaws were killed. Earp died of natural causes at the ripe age of 80.

If quantity is more important to you than a specific person’s grave, check out any of several cemeteries referred to as Boot Hill. These cemeteries were so named because the inhabitants often died quickly and violently—with their boots on. Perhaps the most celebrated of these are the Boot Hill Cemetery and Museum in Dodge City, Kan., and the Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, Ariz.

As to the spookiness factor, are these cemeteries and gravesites actually haunted? Are the ghosts of the souls buried here likely to tap you on the shoulder? Well, maybe not, but just to be on the safe side, I’d recommend being long gone when the sun sets.

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