Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In the lore of the Old West, Boot Hill described a cemetery for ruffians with slow trigger fingers who "died with their boots on" or others who succumbed to violent deaths. This distinguished them from decent folk who were put to rest in "hallowed ground" after dying of natural causes. Boot Hill cemeteries can be found throughout the Great Plains and are depicted in gunfighter fiction.

In the modern Great Plains, entrepreneurs have used the Boot Hill concept to lure Old West aficionados to places that depict the mythical West. Tourists can visit Boot Hill graveyards at Dodge City and Hays, Kansas; Ogallala, Nebraska; and Deadwood, South Dakota. Although many places lay claim to the original Boot Hill, debate persists as to which was really the first. Typical tours at such sites include visits to the graves of the most noteworthy local villains, discussions of interesting headstones and other sepulchral monuments, stagecoach rides, and re-created mock gunfights. For example, visitors to the Boot Hill cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota, can visit the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

The image of Boot Hill has also been used to peddle a variety of Old West items. Several B-Westerns have used the name in their titles, for example, Ray "Crash" Corrigan's Boot Hill Bandits (1942), the 1958 Charles Bronson flick Showdown at Boot Hill, and the 1969 spaghetti Western Boot Hill. Marketers have also produced Boot Hill western wear, Boot Hill chili sauce, and even Boot Hill motorcycles. Boot Hill remains an enduring icon of the Old West and of the Great Plains.

Michael A. Amundson Northern Arizona University

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