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Tombstone’s Wild Oats
by [?]

In the good old days of Indians and bad men the roaring town of Tombstone had a man for breakfast every morning. And there were mornings when the number ran as high as half a dozen.

That is the way the old-timers speak of it, and there is a fond pride in their voices when they allude to the subject; the same sort of pride one betrays when he tells of the wild oats sowed by a gray-haired friend during his lusty youth. For Tombstone has settled down to middle-aged conventionality and is peaceable enough to-day for any man.

But in the early eighties!

Apaches were raiding; claim-jumpers were battling; road-agents were robbing stages; bad men were slaying one another in the streets; and, taking it altogether, life was stepping to a lively tune.

Geronimo’s naked warriors were industrious. Now they would steal upon a pair of miners doing assessment work within sight of town. Now they would bag a teamster on the road from Tucson, or raid a ranch, or attack the laborers who were laying the water company’s pipe-line to the Huachucas. Hardly a week passed but a party of hard-eyed horsemen rode out from Tombstone with their rifles across their saddle-bows, escorting a wagon which had been sent to bring in the bodies of the latest victims.

In the two years after the first rush from Tucson to the rich silver district which Ed Schiefflin had discovered, there was much claim-jumping. And claim-jumping in those days always meant shooting. Some properties were taken and retaken several times, each occasion being accompanied by bloodshed. Surveying parties marched into the foot-hills of the Mule Mountains under escort of companies of riflemen; in more than one instance they laid out boundary lines and established corner monuments after pitched battles, each with its own formidable casualty list.

What with the murders by the savages and these affrays–together with such natural hazards of disease and accident as accompany any new mining camp–the boot-hill graveyard out beyond the north end of the wide main street was booming like the town. And now there came a more potent factor in stimulating mortuary statistics.

The bad men took possession of Tombstone.

They came from all over the West. For railroads and telegraph lines were bringing a new order of things from the Missouri to the Rio Grande, and those who would live by the forty-five hastened to ride away from sight of jails and churches, seeking this new haven down by the border.

One by one they drifted across the flaring Southwestern deserts; from California, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico, with their grim mouths tight shut against all questions and their big revolvers dangling beside their thighs. The hair of some of them was gray from many winters and their faces deeply lined; and some were boys with down on their smooth cheeks. But once his hand started moving toward his pistol, every man of them was deadlier than a bull rattlesnake in rutting time.

No man challenged them on their arrival. The town was too busy to heed their presence. The one-story buildings which lined the wide streets were packed to the doors with customers; saloons, dance-halls, and gambling-houses roared on through day and night; the stores were open at all hours. The wide sidewalks under the wooden awnings which ran the length of every block, were crowded from wall to gutter with men intent on getting wealth or spending it.

The bad men mingled with the sidewalk throngs; they dropped into the Bird-Cage Opera House, where painted women sang in voices that clanged like brazen gongs; they took their places before the gambling-tables of the Crystal Palace, where girls were oftentimes to be found dealing faro; they joined the long lines before the bars and drank the stinging whisky which the wagon-trains had brought from Tucson. And they met one another.

It was like the meeting of strange dogs, who bristle on sight, and often fly at one another’s throats to settle the question of supremacy. Their big-caliber revolvers spat streams of fire in the roadways and bellowed in the dance-halls. And gradually among the ranks of the survivors there came a gradation in their badness.