Coming back from a gospel meeting in Neosho, Missouri, with my two oldest sons (and our dog, Clover), we decided to take a state road route that brought us into Dodge City, Kansas. This is perhaps the most famous town in that prairie state. The TV show, Gunsmoke, brought it greater fame, though it was in the county whose leading lawmen were Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. The discovery of gold and later cattle drives from Texas made it a boom town that introduced every type of vice and lawlessness nearly overnight. Not surprisingly, then, one of the most prominent places in Dodge City was the cemetery, located up on Boot Hill. From 1873-1878, its dirt was turned frequently as six-foot holes were dug to accommodate those unfortunate enough to need to relocate there.
There is a plaque outside a building which faces the small cemetery (grave markers litter each side of that building that sits above the restored version of the original town that includes a general store, a couple of saloons, a church building, a livery stable, a large house, etc.). It contains historical information about the “residents” in Boot Hill Cemetery, drawn from state newspaper accounts. J.M. Essington, part owner of the hotel, was shot by the cook. John Wagner died of wounds incurred in a shoot out with Masterson. “Texas” Hill and Ed Williams were both killed in a dance hall by Dodge City’s “vigilance committee.” Five buffalo hunters froze to death in a blizzard north of town. Jack Reynolds, a railroad track layer, was shot six times. Alice Chambers was reported to be the only woman buried at Boot Hill, and she was supposedly the last person buried there.
A couple of interesting things struck me about all of this. First, many of these deaths would have been avoided if the victims had avoided sinful activities or places where sinful activities occur (dance halls, saloons, gambling parlors). Righteous living often serves to preserve our lives, in the short-term and long-term. Second, the dead were of varying occupations, different genders, different ages, and from different places of origin. The common denominator is that they lived and they died. Whether “immortalized” in a famous town like Dodge City or unmarked in obscurity, every grave is a reminder that man is born to die (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:12ff). Most, if not all, of these lawless ones, vagabonds, drifters, and townspeople, likely died outside of Christ. That is what makes these (and most other) grave markers so sad. Most who die, die lost (Matt. 7:13-14). But, because Christ did not remain in His grave (Ps. 16:10; Ac. 2:29-31), we can overcome death and the grave (1 Cor. 15:55-57). Wherever our earthly journey ends, let us be sure that our spiritual journey ends in heaven.