For the second time in two years, the WYATT EARP LOOK-A-LIKE COMPETITION “was scratched” because no one signed up. What happens when you throw a four day event no one shows up to compete as the reigning “WYATT EARP” at the premier OLD WEST location with all the bragging rights, TOMBSTONE, AZ, Home to the ShootOut at the OK Corral, Boothill, Crystal Palace, the Birdcage, Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” and Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday in “TOMBSTONE”. Hundreds of people come from all over the world to walk in Wyatt Earp’s footstep, to follow Earp, Doc Holiday, brothers Virgil and Morgan strutting into the OK Corral and telling the bad guys to throw down their guns and throw up their hands, “They’re under arrest and goin to jail.” Its possible folks feel Earp’s footstep may be too large and haunting to settle in for an entire year because there was many EARP want-a-be who enjoyed getting out for the long weekend and living the past for four days, perhaps they thought “walking on water” for an entire year might be too much. Still for two years running, the competition was scrapped while the competition for dance hall girls, specialty entries like 1992 Tombstone Movie Actor, and town folks were very competitive and had the judges pulling on their beards and squinting in the late May glare of day. In the crowd, I found a “dance hall” mother with her “cowgirl” daughter, a Pinkerton Agent, the Duke was there, Johnny Ringo, Ike Clanton, John Behan, Curly Bill Brocius, Big Nose Kate, Johnny Rebs, Mexican Bandiditos (one was really ugly) and Charros and yes, Morgan, Vigil and Wyatt were there so were there wives and they strolled the boardwalks and occasionally would pause and reflect the scene in “TOMBSTONE” when Kurt Russell lines up the family in a window reflection and marvels at life’s blessings. “We’re from San Diego!” for the past four years the group of twelve has been coming to Tombstone and “living the dream”. For many they just love the old west and the legends, and for some specifically the antics of one person at a time and place in history. How does did this group get its’ start? “It all started with a vest”, says Vinny Skandunas. “He made one for himself, the next year he made another, and a third vest was made the year following and the rest, the boots, jackets, sidearms, knives, hand fans, corsets, dresses just followed and here we are again, Esther Skandunas says.specialitycatagoryjudging
I tapped one cowpoke’s shoulder one year to ask a question and found he spoke no English, strictly German, but looked like he belonged and was born there. The bartender at the Crystal Palace remembers one very slow night when ten cowpokes wandered into the bar and quietly settled at the bar. He didn’t know a one of them, but they looked the part, it wasn’t til the third round when they started getting loud and very German. “‘It was great” says the bartender, “they had a great time til closing, so did I and as they left they said they’d be back, but they haven’t been back yet. The APACHE SPIRIT RANCH, three miles north of Tombstone, opened its door last fall and was already completely booked in April. Early on it catered strictly to Europeans, mostly Germans and Swedes, who like the owner grew up on tales of the American West and the Indian. Wanting to build a bridge between the noble Redman and White man, the Apache Spirit Resort has a couple Chiricahua Apache, a Blackfoot, a Hopi and some World-class Hoop Dancers who visit the ranch and teach the Europeans their ways of life. The last week in September and the first week in Octobers, the Resorts will celebrate the Native American’s contribution to the Old West, with different programs each night. While the Resort’s nightly stay is over $200 a night, that does include all meals, campfires, gunfights and programs, including the horseback outings both morning and evening and you get to meet real indians. The seventeen rooms lineup with old west fronts like the Post Office, the Newspaper, Kittie’s Bordello, with the multi-room suites going for between $400-$500 a day. The onsite Trappmann Saloon has a glass floor highlighting the old ranches root cellar where its residence reportedly hid from raiding APACHES and a bare bulb illuminates the supply room and a skeleton. “It’s an Ebay skeleton ! It came in pieces and took forever to piece together.” Last week, the Resort held a horseback wedding for a Minnesota couple, they can do it all, wifi anywhere for laptop packing guests, even the pool area. Still Americans are welcome, “Americans are so easy going! says the very perky German office manager, Germans complain so much. We enjoy the Americans visits so much, Germans are always so picky and always complaining about the service, she adds, “Americans are so laid back.”
So TOMBSTONE, AZ is at a crossroads. Since the shooting at the OK CORRAL, the town has depended upon volunteers (Lion’s Club) to run the show, local Gunfighter groups participate and the Arizona Rangers have provided security and traffic control and apathy has slowly eroded the OLD WEST Experience probably because more and more is asked of fewer and fewer (thirteen, I’m told) people. This year some folks were doing four jobs, daily programs were nowhere to be found, phone calls in advance assured callers that locals were clueless, no ads in local newspapers and the website was dated. The question is Why Kill the Golden Goose? You have the franchise on something folks come from all over the world to see, to participate in and to hear and feel. They love TOMBSTONE, AZ ! Make it a good experience and they love it and return. Make it a bad experience and slowly nobody comes back. It’s an easy choice, and the time to choose has come.
Take steps to save the past now and Tombstone’s future. Encourage the traveling Old West re-enactors, trick gunfighters, the folks from Virginia City, Nevada and Lincoln, New Mexico, western bands, beer gardens, let the old west wash over you, drink deep and quench your thirst.