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Ritter and Ream Undertakers


 

Business partners Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Ritter and William H. Ream moved to the boomtown of Tombstone around June of 1881 in hopes of becoming successful businesspeople. Little did they know, their names would become associated with one of the most famous gunfights in American history.


 Shortly after Ritter and Ream moved to Tombstone, they opened an art gallery where they would display and sell fine art. Described in the Tombstone Epitaph as “The finest assortment of pictures ever brought to this territory,” they had oil paintings, chromos, crayon drawings, and photographs.


Tombstone Epitaph, March 7, 1882

After establishing the art gallery, they opened an undertaking business at 613 Allen Street. This would eventually lead them to become the city undertakers. On one fateful afternoon of October 26, 1881, Ritter and Ream were summoned for their services after a gunfight between the Cowboys and the Earps with Doc Holliday erupted behind the O.K. Corral.


A.J. Ritter, a dog and an unidentified man, taken at the C.S. Fly Studio in Tombstone. Photo Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society

Even though this gunfight took place behind the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street, the press, to give it a more dramatic name, dubbed it “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” Ritter and Ream were given the task of taking care of the lifeless bodies of the Cowboys who lost their lives in the gunfight. They carefully prepared the bodies for the funeral that was going to take place the following afternoon. The bodies were nicely dressed and placed in caskets. Each casket was heavily trimmed with silver and had a silver plate with the name, age, birthplace, and date of death. Then the caskets were placed in the window of the funeral parlor with a sign hanging over them saying, “Murdered in the Streets of Tombstone.” There, the bodies of Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and young Billy Clanton were displayed for the town to see.



Billy Clanton (right) in his coffin with the McLaury brothers beside him

 

The following day, Ritter and Ream organized the bodies to be taken from their funeral parlor to Boot Hill Cemetery. The procession was led by Tombstone’s brass band as they played sad ballads to the final resting place. It was said to be the biggest funeral held in Tombstone. Over three hundred people attended and followed the caskets by walking, horse-drawn buggies, and people on horseback. The Tombstone Epitaph and Tombstone Daily Nugget, competing newspapers, were both in agreement that it was a sight to see.

 

Backlash from the gunfight came on the night of March 18, 1882, around 10:50 pm, Morgan Earp was playing a game of billiards with Bob Hatch at Campbell and Hatch Billiard Parlor. A few people were present watching the game, including Wyatt Earp. As Morgan was lining up a shot with the cue ball, two gunshots rang out from a four-pane window door. One bullet struck Morgan in the back, severing his spine. Another shot hit the wall right above Wyatt’s head in an obvious attempt to kill them both. Morgan would go on to die from his wound. The Cowboys were quickly suspected in the shooting.



Morgan Earp

 

A.J. Ritter prepared Morgan’s body for the funeral that was held at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the Earp's had moved after the assassination attempt on Virgil. After the funeral, Ritter prepared Morgan’s body to be shipped to Colton, California, where Earp’s parents lived.

 

There was a lesser-known gunfight, but important in Tombstone history, that required the services of Ritter and Ream. This gunfight involved the death of Billy “Billy the Kid” Claiborne at the hands of “Buckskin” Frank Leslie. On November 14, 1882, at the Oriental Saloon on the corner of 5th and Allen Street, a drunk Claiborne started to yell and berate people. Frank Leslie, who was tending bar that day, warned Claiborne that he would have to leave if he continued that kind of behavior. Claiborne did not listen to the warning and was physically escorted out by Leslie.

 

Claiborne, still drunk, felt insulted and came back minutes later with his Winchester. Leslie received word from a couple of people who saw Claiborne coming. Leslie stepped out of the side door of the Oriental on 5th Street. There, he saw Claiborne in front of the saloon. Claiborne saw Leslie and raised his rifle, but Leslie quickly shot Claiborne in the chest. Claiborne died six hours later.

 


Billy Claiborne (Left) Buckskin Frank Leslie (Right)

Ritter prepared Claiborne’s body and arranged a funeral at the parlor. He also oversaw the transportation of the body to Boot Hill. Not too many people attended or accompanied the body to Claiborne’s final resting place.

 

Ritter had few trades. He was also a contractor and participated in the construction of the Tombstone Courthouse and Tombstone City Hall.

 

In 1885, Ritter ran and was elected County Treasurer. He organized town events and seemed to be a prominent citizen of Tombstone.

 

Unfortunately, three years later, Ritter was suspended as County Treasurer and questioned regarding over $6000.00 that was missing in the books. Ritter claimed that was the percentage due to him for collecting taxes. Ritter was charged with embezzlement, but a grand jury ordered that all charges be dismissed against him.

 

A.J. Ritter sold his business in 1889 and moved out of Tombstone.

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