Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Old/Drunk West

(catch-up bloggage--I actually finished listening to this book August 21st)
finished listening: The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral--and How It Changed the American West by Jeff Guinn

I highly recommend this book, but I cannot highly recommend the title, or, I should say, the subtitle. Careful readers of this blog will recall that long non-fiction subtitles annoy me. I would be much more impressed by someone's titling skills if they came up with an actual title that conveyed something instead of calling it basically My Book and then adding :And Now I Will Give Some Indication of What It Is About.

I mean, why not just call your book The Last Gunfight if that's what you want to call it? Sheesh! Meanwhile, it's funny that the subtitle is all "I'm the real story" because the shootout at the O.K. corral, as you will learn when you read the book, did not actually happen at the O.K. corral, but our boy Jeff Guinn is obviously going for name recognition here, much as people did with Wyatt Earp's name after his death, finally giving him the fame he had so craved in life.

Anyway, being from Arizona I am of course equal parts proud and dismayed about my state (the usual, you might say) when it comes to Tombstone and the Earps, because the whole thing is so totally famous and exciting, but it's really quite the violent thug debacle that 1. never should have happened and 2. has historically glorified people who ought to be a little demonized instead.  (I'm looking at you, Wyatt. And Doc.)

Our "we're-so-meta" proof that we were there
 It just so happens that I have actually been to Tombstone, there in my fair state. Tombstone rules! As the author of this book points out, Tombstone was a booming place with actual high society at the 1870s/1880s cusp, but then it fell apart and the railroad didn't go through there (until eventually, decades later) and people pulled up stakes and it was basically going to die and be like that mysterious ghost town the Brady Bunch station wagon passed through on the way to the Grand Canyon but then the movies got a hold of Wyatt's story, and a few books as well, and then the fifties and Gunsmoke  happened, and everyone liked the Wild West mythology, and Tombstone was reborn as a tourist destination. And that is what it is today, and what it was for my drunken poet friends and me during one college weekend trip that will be forever remembered for endless saloon shenanigans and one particularly shattering incident involving a stolen margarita glass. (Not. My. Fault.) 

I look Tomb-stoned
I lost my wallet on that Tombstone trip...well, not lost, exactly, but more like did-drunken-cartwheels-on-the-street-and-my-wallet-fell-out, but some nice Tombstonian picked it up and told the clerk in the Circle K in front of which she had found it (it's Arizona, so there's always a Circle K) and I was able to retrieve it the next morning. So, despite extreme levels of drunkenness, chaos, and a bit of senseless wailing, Tombstone will always be a fond memory for me, which is how I suspect maybe some of the Earp brothers felt about the place, too. Unlike the Clanton/McLaurys who got totally unjustly killed there that fateful day.

Fun fact: A Tombstone city ordinance actually prohibited carrying guns on the streets of town, but if you were a sheriff or marshal or deputy then you could carry one, so that's part of what caused all these problems. That and the fact that you could reclaim your checked guns on your way out of town, and then take a veeerrrrrrry long way "out of town" and maybe carry a gun around for hours, and people certainly took advantage of that as well.

Here's my astonishing fact, though: I have never actually watched the movie Tombstone.  You know, the one from 1993 that everyone, especially everyone I know in Arizona, just loves, and that people argue was Val Kilmer's finest hour, and from which we get this "Huckleberry" business that people are always quoting? Yeah, I've never seen it. I don't know why! It's because I lived in a complete and total movie bubble in 1993!  (That bubble is called "Provo, Utah.") And then I just never got around to it, and...yeah. I really need to Netflix it, though, because I loved reading this book and learning all about the (real) history, and now I am going to forever be watching Old West Tombstone things and pointing out their inaccuracies, except when they watch My Darling Clementine in M*A*S*H, because that is a classic moment in itself ("Horses, cowboys, and horses!") so it doesn't matter that the movie changed, like, lots of things about what went down.

I listened to The Last Gunfight audio book on my MP3 player while I was walking or riding the bus to work, or sometimes when I went running, and I happened to be going for a run when I listened to the actual gunfight part, and it was very dramatic and kind of got my adrenaline going! Poor Frank and Tom McLaury.

Ahhh, Tombstone. This blog entry was less about giving you the facts of the book and the last gunfight, and more about my general experience of the town, as I related my story in a kind of self-centered, bemused, and melodramatic way. Wyatt would have appreciated this approach.

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