Relative Enchantment While Kicking Up Dust in Tombstone
Heading into the pre-dawn darkness out of Tuscon,Arizona I was coughing and hacking up my third lung from the congestion and stomach aliment that had taken hold of my internals and wrecked havoc on my incredible Mexican fiesta the night before. I learned later that same day the hotel had experienced a similar bout of employee infected moments really similar to my own symptoms.
It all kind of made sense now as I was staying just a room to the right of the main hotel storage room and possibly a few stray germs had decided to overstay their welcome and did not officially check out until I laid my head on the pillow and watched a recorded programming of the Wednesday night “American Idol” show.
It was actually kind of fitting in an eerie way that I was going to be battling a congestive respiratory system aliment on the way to my next stop. For I was going to veer a bit off the beaten path of I-10 and wander a bit South to pay homage to a great-great Uncle who some view as a cad, a drunkard or even a man who did not fear death. I was heading to Tombstone, Arizona to visit the place the set my relative John Henry “Doc” Holliday on the map.
Uncle John had begun his exodus towards Tombstone back in 1873, making stops in Dallas where he discovered his dental tools made meager funds compared to a deck of cards. After a few run ins over gambling and a shooting of an innkeeper, he made his way across the painted desert hoping it would ease his suffering or hasten his retreat from life.
At this point of his life at the young age of 30, Uncle John had a “dead man’s” mindset. Not afraid to live, but also not afraid to pull a gun, knife or razor sharp bottle edge to defend his honor, life or his meager winnings.
Some called him a cold hearted man, but when death has you by the lungs and squeezes you, I can understand the need for no monkey business.By the way, Uncle John and I are also distant cousins of Margaret Mitchell, who our friend Jane Heller will tell you wrote a pretty awesome book on the South.
I arrived in the dusty trail town about High Noon, which just seemed fitting. I got out of the car coughing up a storm and went into the General Store for a liquid libation to quench the parch lips and bring me back to earth. Walking around that town got me to thinking if I could survive in a town with law, but fought with iron, steel and gunpowder. I also got a sense I was right at home here..eerily right at home.
Wandered down the side of the dirt street towards the O K Corral possibly the same path Uncle John took with Wyatt Earp and his brothers’ that faithful day. I learned later that day that he was also a southpaw shooter like myself expect with a rifle. That fact sent shivers through me as I am also a better shot with a rifle or shotgun on my right shoulder. More and more I was feeling this place grow on me.
I sat in the corral for about 5 minutes just taking the place in from corner to corner. I then said a prayer for Uncle John and proceeded to the Birdcage. It was weird, but I felt like I had a traveler with me walking right along beside me. A sense of someone guiding me to this watering hole, and by my side as I walked through looking at the exhibits, pondering the lower card rooms and “women’s quarters”.
I could almost feel the pressure and smell of angst in the stale lower room’s air, but I felt comforted at the same time. Again, this place began to take a grip of me. Might have found my own “Big Nose Kate”, but she is a more petite flowing mane damsel named Josie.
I almost stayed for the rest of the day, but I was feeling a bit flushed and needed to get rest and some serious shuteye. I sprinted towards the Texas border like a felon bandito trying out outrun the approaching posse’. I must have gotten to the place my magic, because I do not remember driving for long, or over the extended portion of the “Land of Enchantment” that is New Mexico. I had somehow traveled through 3 states and only remembered Tombstone by nightfall. It was 5 pm and my head hit the pillow for a moment’s rest.
I awoke again at 6 am clutching a hat I had bought in Tombstone. My uncle John might not have been as handsome as the guys who played him such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Val Kilmer or even Dennis Quaid, but he was a educated man, a person of astute knowledge and a gambler in more than the game of cards.
As sick as I was that day, there was no keeping me from going to Tombstone. I had to fulfill a quest within myself to see the place that propelled my uncle to legend status. One local even commented how ironic it was that a relative of Doc Holliday would be coughing and wearing a cap with a “TB” on it in the town of Tombstone. Not sure why, but I was proud of that back-handed compliment.
I had to go see and feel for myself what Tombstone was all about. What I came away with was a new found respect for the men of that era and a confirmation that Uncle John, no matter what you think of him ethically will always be a legend and hero in my mind.