After hundreds of miles of tourist unattraction, our first real Kansas sightseeing oasis on Day Seven was in Dodge City, fabled frontier town of the Old West. The “frontier” aspect is diminished now that the place is swamped with all the usual famous chain restaurants, but at least one section remains somewhat preserved and partly simulated: the Boot Hill Museum, which contains a preserved portion of the most well-known cemetery of the Old West.
The Museum grounds stand on the northwest corner of the land that comprised the original Boot Hill. I expected a grand expanse along the lines of Arlington National Cemetery, but with more buckshot and tumbleweeds. I was disappointed to discover the original Boot Hill closed in 1879, but slightly encouraged to find that one corner of it remains in place. I was more disappointed to read in the free Museum Guide, “No one famous was ever buried here.” It seems unfair to know all this fame and mystique is for the successful interment of ordinary people of the Old West.
In lieu of celebrities of the Old West, instead we have tribute poetry of the Old West. And pay no attention to intrusive modern civilization peeking over the fence.
Even before you walk through the required buildings and shacks to reach the centerpiece exhibit, a few sample tombstones line one side of the grounds. Available records do not confirm if the notorious Casey was ever brought to justice or hailed as a heroic vigilante of the Old West.
These sample tombstones weren’t in the Boot Hill section proper, so I’m not 100% sure if they’re still at the head of their original caskets, have been transplanted for display purposes, or are authentic simulacra painstakingly replicated by Halloween prop stores of the Old West. The true answer may well remain hidden forever in the mists of time, along with George Hoyt’s faults.
For visitors frustrated by the illegible markers and eroded epitaphs, this handy registry is a role call of the dead resting before you. It reminds me of the menu from a classic drive-thru restaurant.
I’ll take the Museum Guide at its word that none of the longtime occupants were notable personalities of the Old West. I’ll also assume that none of them are direct ancestors of anyone we know. If they were, some of these gravesites would be twice as interesting.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]