Guns have many purposes, such as, well, protection. Other uses include hunting, war, sport – even investing, as some makes and models become rare and expensive.
The taming of the “Wild West” would not have been possible without frontier firearms. There were just too many things that were dangerous or delicious and firearms provided the recourse people needed.
While not as violent as movies and television would have you believe, still, people often got killed by being on the wrong end of a firearm. The result usually was a grave and headstone – often with reference to the victim’s situation.
The best examples of this I can think of exist in Tombstone, Arizona’s infamous Boot Hill cemetery. Epitaphs in Boot Hill have become part and parcel of the tourist trade and tourists are encouraged to visit the site.
One of the better known headstones is that of one Lester Moore:
“Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No more.”
Humorous? Yes, but probably not to Les. Here is another Tombstone cemetery attraction, one that takes a biting swipe at the truth in the OK Corral gunfight:
“Billy Clanton Tom McLaury Frank McLaury
MURDERED in the streets of Tombstone, 1881”
Evidence of the use of firearms in our history is by no means limited to Boot Hill. Somewhere in the eastern states is a marker etched with the following story:
“Near this spot, SAMUEL WHITTEMORE, then 80 years old, killed three British soldiers, April 19, 1775. He was shot, bayoneted, beaten and left for dead, but recovered to be 98 years of age.”
Hardy soul, that Samuel Whittemore.
Robert Clay Allison, gunfighter, rancher, outlaw and generally a dangerous man, had at least enough supporters for his Pecos, Texas, tombstone to read:
“Robert Clay Allison 1840-1887
He never killed a man that did not need killing.”
Colorado also had its share of morbid humor, with this headstone reading,
“Here lies Scotty Fife for foolin’ around with the Marshal’s wife.”
Stories told on these old headstones are often funny, often sad, and sometimes vindictive. For example, on the stone of a fellow named Jerry Farrer:
I was supposed to be 102, and be shot by a jealous husband.”
Jealousy obviously accounted for many killings long ago:
“Edward Hurley – shot January 1st, 1873
He drank too much and loved unwisely.”
Epitaph accounts often used humor:
“Here lies Byron Vickers died Oct. 10th, 1887
Second fastest draw in New Austin.”
That particular one was used in other places with other names.
Another Boot Hill marker in Tombstone tells a story:
“Here lies Butch, we planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger but slow on the draw.”
A fake headstone at the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, borrowed “Butch’s” lines with this winner:
“Itchy Finger McCoy We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw. 1845-1885”
Hope Butch didn’t mind too much.
Fred Causley is a former OSU Agriculture Communications employee and a longtime Stillwater resident and NRA member. Send him questions or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.