Tombstone Local Customs

  • Tombstone Courthouse - Wyatt Earp (2008)
    Tombstone Courthouse - Wyatt Earp (2008)
    by Kaspian
  • Tombstone, Allen Street
    Tombstone, Allen Street
    by Martinewezel
  • U.S. NATIONAL FLAGS IN LOCAL STORE, TOMBSTONE
    U.S. NATIONAL FLAGS IN LOCAL STORE,...
    by matcrazy1

Most Recent Local Customs in Tombstone

  • Kaspian's Profile Photo

    Cowboy Manners

    by Kaspian Updated Apr 15, 2011

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    The American Wild West had lots of customs, most of which still apply in some variation today. Here are a few of the most important among them:

    - Rule #1: Never, ever mess with the following three things: a man's hat, a man's horse, and a man's gun. Don't even touch them without permission. Back in the day, loss of any of these items could result in a person's death so this is serious business. "Horse" could now even apply to "vehicle", so always ask first.
    - Do not (and this is also an important one) criticize the cooking even if it's bad. During the old cattle-runs this was a surefire way at the chuck wagon that next time the cook would either spit in your food or not give you your fair share. Help the cook with whatever he/she needs and don't touch/taste ingredients, equipment, or food without permission.
    - As in Mexico, keep your hands above the table at all times while seated for a meal. People never knew back then when somebody might have a six-shooter pointed straight at their guts, so it's best to keep them reassured you don't.
    - "Howdy" was and is still a proper greeting.
    - When greeting a woman, stand up and remove your hat. This also applies when a woman first walks into a small room or whenever you enter into someone else's home. "Miss" or "Ma'am" (depending on marital status), is the proper way to address the fairer sex. Stand up if a woman has to leave a dining table or room early. Lift or tip your hat when you pass on the street or boardwalk.
    - Don't take your dog to another cowboy's ranch. Also, don't ever scold his/her dog.
    - If you're horseback riding on an open plain (and not a narrow trail), don't ride directly in front of somebody--it's considered rude. Also don't get between a cowboy and the herd.
    - Don't brag or talk too highly of yourself (they'll make fun of you if you do) and don't interrupt others.
    - Don't make fun of suspenders. Suspenders were often used because they are more comfortable while in the saddle than a belt is.

    Despite the rugged image, cowboys are still among the most gentlemanly people out there. Keep it in mind that manners are important and you won't wind up in a pine box.

    "Being polite means always being a little nicer than you have to be."

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    The Characters of Old Tombstone

    by Kaspian Updated Mar 17, 2011

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    Tombstone Courthouse - Wyatt Earp (2008)

    Wyatt Earp: Gambler, entrepreneur, and lawman from Dodge City. Middle brother to Virgil and Morgan. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and emerged unscathed. Later married Josie Marcus.
    Virgil Earp: Longtime career lawman and town-marshal of Tombstone. Older brother to Wyatt and Morgan. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and was shot in the right calf but survived. Virgil was ambushed by the Cowboys two months after the gunfight and shot again in the back and arm with buckshot but survived this as well.
    Morgan Earp: Deputy of Tombstone. Younger brother to Wyatt and Virgil. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and was shot in the back but survived. Fatally wounded in an ambush by the Cowboys 5 months later at a billiard hall.
    Doc Holliday: Dentist, professional gambler, drinker, southern gentleman, intellectual, quick wit, and gunfighter. Sickly and dying of tuberculosis. Close friends with Wyatt Earp and arch-enemy of Johnny Ringo. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral on the side of the Earps but received only a minor flesh wound on the hip.
    Frank McLaury: Cattle rancher and member of the Cowboys gang. Older brother to Tom. Killed in the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Buried in Boot Hill Cemetery.
    Tom McLaury: Cattle rancher and member of the Cowboys gang. Younger brother to Frank. Killed in the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Buried in Boot Hill Cemetery.
    Billy Claiborne: Outlaw, gunfighter, and cattle rustler. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral on the side of the Cowboys, may have fired several shots, and then ran away.
    Ike Clanton: Ill-mannered ranchhand, cattle rustler, and member of the Cowboys gang. Older brother to Billy. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral on the side of the Cowboys but ran away when the shooting started--shouting that he was "unarmed". Ike is often credited with provoking the entire battle in the first place.
    Billy Clanton: Well-mannered, well-liked, and hardworking ranchhand and member of the Cowboys gang. Younger brother to Ike. Participated in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and was fatally wounded. Buried in Boot Hill Cemetery.
    Josephine Marcus (AKA "Josie Marcus", "Sadie Jo", "Shady Sadie", "Josephine Earp"): Professional dancer and actress, possibly a high-priced call girl. Girlfriend, then wife to Wyatt Earp.
    Mary Katherine Horony (AKA "Big Nose Kate","Kate Fisher", "Kate Elder","Mary Katherine Cummings"): Longtime girlfriend of Doc Holliday and owner of a boarding house in Globe, Arizona. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that Kate was a prostitute or operated a brothel while in Tombstone.
    William Brocius (AKA "Curly Bill"): Outlaw, rustler, excellent gunfighter, and high-ranking member of the Cowboys gang. Accidentally shot Marshal Fred White while in a drunken stupor one night. Curly Bill was later hunted down and killed by Wyatt Earp in retaliation for the Cowboy's assassination of Morgan Earp.
    Fred White: A young man and first town Marshal of Tombstone. Accidentally shot by a drunken Curly Bill (although the two had been friends prior) and died several days later.
    John Peters Ringo (AKA "Johnny Ringo", "Johnny Ringgold"): Mean-tempered drunk, murderer, and high-ranking member of the Cowboys gang, Ringo was often called "the King of the Cowboys". Arch-enemy of Doc Holliday. He was found dead of a bullet wound to the head in West Turkey Creek Valley. He was possibly killed by Wyatt Earp in retaliation for the Cowboy's assassination of Morgan Earp or he committed suicide. The name "Johnny Ringo" was later often used for characters in 1950s and 60s Western movies.

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    Actors in the streets

    by Martinewezel Written May 27, 2009

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    Tombstone, Allen Street

    One can distinguish a tourist from a local because of his clothes. Most inhabitants of Tombstone, working in the tourist areas, are dressed like in the days of the gold diggers. Very nice. It adds to the ambiance.

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    Vigilante justice then, perfomances now

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 26, 2007

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    VIGILANTE JUSTICE, BIG NOSE KATE'S SALOON
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    There is a large, colorful stained glass with writing "VIGILANTE JUSTICE" in the famous Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone. At first I didn't know that English word "vigilante." But I asked at the saloon and got to know that a vigilante is someone who takes enforcement of law or moral code into their own hands. So, this term is frequently applied to those citizens who "take the law into their own hands," meting out "frontier justice" when they perceive that the actions of established authorities are insufficient.

    Early American West including Tombstone is perfect example of vigilante justice. Although in most contexts the term vigilante is pejorative, in many instances throughout history when laws were enforced ineffectively, where officials were corrupt or where there was no established law it became necessary for private citizens to step in and fill the gap. Though the Old West is often seen as being unusually violent, some argue that the Old West was "a far more civilized, more peaceful and safer place than American society today." I don't know, Tombstone looks like a very safe place day and night now.

    Nowaday, Tombstone Vigilantes is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating an Old West atmosphere in Tombstone. They give performances on Allen Street every second, fourth, and fifth Sunday of the month at 11.45 am.

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    Prostitution and nudity in Tombstone

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 26, 2007

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    PICTURE HUNG IN BIG NOSE KATE'S SALOON, TOMBSTONE
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    In the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park I got to know that prostitution flourished in a boomtown of Tombstone, just like in the Victorian England about the same time, that is less known fact. Well, shortage of women, a lot of money from silver or gold mines (or oil fields) and thin law had to make prostitution quite common in Old Western boomtowns. Originally, prostitution was widely legal in the United States including surely the boomtown of Tombstone but was made illegal in almost all states between 1910 and 1915. Nowadays prostitution is still legal exclusively in some counties of Nevada. In Tombstone you may stay in former brothel called Bordello (built in 1881) that once was owned for a short period by the famous or unfamous "Big Nose Kate."

    Nowadays, among numerous, old, black & white pictures hung on walls of Tombstone's saloons you may see a few ones of semi-nude and nude woman and you may buy them is some gift stores. I found it unique in the USA which, surprisingly for me, is a very conservative country. I mean legal approach to public nudity (no topless sunbathing in the USA), pictures of nude women in magazines (they are very rarely available in some states/cities only), nudity in television and movies (banned in national TV networks and mostly in movies) and pornography (surely child pornography is illegal but adult pornography is mostly illegal as well). It works quite different in my homecountry Poland, and generally in Europe.

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    Culture of Harley-Davidson

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 25, 2007

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    BIKE IN FRONT OF SALOON, TOMBSTONE
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    I expected to see very many motorbikes including the famous Harley-Davidson bikes on American roads especially in warm climate of the Southwest. I was mistaken. There are very few bikers in the USA. Why? Probably because of poor safety of a biker in case of any accident and thus very expensive insurance.

    But as Harley-Davidson and Indian motorbikes are a part of Old Western America legend I could find a few bikers and their old and new bikes in Tombstone. There are also some stores selling Harley-Davidson accessories and items. Four bikes were put inside Big Nose Kate's Saloon and at the end of cowboy show their lights and engines were on.

    Until the First World War, the largest motorcycle manufacturer was American Indian. After that, this honor went to Harley-Davidson, until 1928 when german DKW took over as the largest manufacturer. Crossing the continent the famous Route 66 by Harley-Davidson is an American legend. Later motorcycle gangs (the Outlaws, the Hells Angels) which followed the Old Western American outlaws are another legend portrayed in numerous movies like The Wild One from 1953, starring Marlon Brando.

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    Cowboy hats, Stetsons

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 25, 2007

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    OLD TOMBSTONE STAGE COACHMAN IN COWBOY HAT
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    A lot of sun forces folks to wear head coverings. In Tombstone there are covered sidewalks which protect pedestrians from bright sunlight. But despite it quite many locals wear various cowboy hats, first as protection against sun but also to follow and show up customs of Tombstone's famous or unfamous past as a frontier boomtown in 1880'. Many gift or clothing stores offer a wide variety of various cowboy and other Old Western American hats. Common American baseball caps do not fit well to Tombstone.

    Cowboy hats, in the early days, were valued for being functional, with the wide brims protecting working cowboys from the sun and rain. They could be used to fan a campfire, signal others or pull water out of a stream. Today they are available in black and in various shades of brown and gray color, notably a warm light gray color known as "silver belly."

    In Tombstone I've got to know that Stetson hats or Stetsons, often known simply as cowboy hats, refers to a brand name, not a type of hat. This felt hat with a tall crown and very wide brim was designed in 1860'. By 1886 Stetson's hat company in Philadelphia was the largest in the world. Now, Stetsons are worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and... quite many locals and visitors to Tombstone. Well, I didn't buy it.

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    Well preserved and restored old saloons

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 25, 2007

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    BIG NOSE KATE'S SALOON, TOMBSTONE
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    There are four saloons in Tombstone:
    1. Crystal Palace Saloon (read my Things To Tip "Golden Eagle Brewery and Crystal Palace Saloon")
    2. Big Nose Kate's Saloon
    3. Silver Nugget Opera House & Saloon (corner 6th & Allen St. - entrance through the gift shop)
    4. Johnny Ringo's Saloon (60 S. 10th St.)

    I have seen 1-3. I like most interior of Crystal Palace Saloon but I entered and had a great time in Big Nose Kate's Saloon when I saw live show played for visitors.

    Historically, the western United States featured public bars called saloons which are now part of Old Western American legend. Many saloons survive in the western United States, though their services and features have changed with the times. Newer establishments have been built in the saloon style to duplicate the feeling of the older establishments. However in Tombstone a few saloons have been preserved and carefully restored and they mostly look like in 1880'. I have never seen anything like that in the USA.

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    US national flags

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 22, 2007

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    U.S. NATIONAL FLAG, TOMBSTONE
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    Although it wasn't any national holiday in April 2003, streets of Tombstone Historic District were decorated wirh U.S. national flags. They were also flown in local restaurants and saloons. Stickers with US national flags decorated motorcycles and some local cars as well. There were few Arizona state flags flown in Tombstone. US national, Confederate and Arizona state flags were sold in all gift stores.

    Some foreign visitors may be struck with the number of flags all over the town, and generally everywhere in the U.S.A. Sometimes they may think it is a bit over the top, but at least they are kept reminding all the time that they are in America! ;-) I personally like the design of that flag like the one of, say, Canada, Brasil, UK, Australia, and Japan. And I think that it's nothing wrong about local patriotism and displaying, showing off national flags in each country.

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    Yellow ribbons

    by matcrazy1 Updated Feb 22, 2007

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    CAN YOU SEE YELLOW RIBBON?
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    There were numerous yellow ribbons fixed to almost every wooden pole supporting covered sidewalks of Tombstone Historic District. I have also seen yellow ribbons of various shape and size in many stores as well as fixed to doors of quite many houses in Tombstone. I have never seen so many yellow ribbons displayed in the USA.

    Let me explain that yellow bow or ribbon means "Support our troops", a political slogan that has been used very frequently during the 2003 Iraq war and that has been imprinted just onto yellow ribbons in the form of bumper stickers which have been sold. Millions of these ribbons have been sold throughout the United States. Wearing and otherwise displaying ribbons of various colors is done to remember loved ones far away - yellow ones just for American troops/soldiers sent to the Middle East (Iraq) that time. It's likely that many guys have been sent to Iraq from Tombstone.

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    Getting Layed in Big Nose Kate's Tombstone

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2005

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    Stephen at Rest in a Coffin

    After Karen's photo session with Wyatt Earp it was my turn. Of course, this could be listed as a "tourist trap," but we weren't trapped at all. We were having great fun. "Wyatt Earp" gave me a long cowboy coat, red bandana and hat, stood me in a coffin, and placed a sign in front saying "I got lay'd in Big Nose Kate's Tombstone." Here's the picture.

    By the time we finished these photos our order was at our table and we saw others having their photos taken while we were enjoying lunch.

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    Wyatt Earp Impersonator at Big Nose Kate's

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2005

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    Karen and Wyatt Earp

    When we had lunch at Big Nose Kate's I noticed a man walking about the restaurant dressed like pictures I have seen of Wyatt Earp, the gunslinger who helped make Tombstone famous. I asked if he would mind if I took his photo with Karen. Not only did we get the picture, but he dressed Karen up a bit, propped her up on top of the upright piano, and took the pose seen here. Of course there was a spittoon on the piano for tips, which I gladly gave. We got a great souveinr photo of our visit to Tombstone.

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Tombstone Local Customs

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