Boot Hill

Paul Conradt
Paul Conradt / Paul Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Welcome to Lowell, Nebraska, population 207. Believe it or not, the place was once a boom town, a major shipping point on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad. As is the case with many once-bustling towns, Lowell hit the skids when the railroad continued building 20 miles west to the town of Kearney, making it the new trading center. When a wagon bridge was built across the Platte River at Kearney, it was basically the final nail in the coffin for Lowell.

Speaking of coffins, let’s get to one of the only attractions still remaining in Lowell—Boot Hill. During the Lowell heyday, it’s said that 25 men and one woman were killed in the crossfire of a fight between cowboys and the homesteaders. That’s what the stone says, obviously.

But according to local lore, the men and woman who reside under the hill were actually just victims of a violent era in Nebraska’s history. Two of the men were killed in a robbery attempt, one was murdered during an adulterous incident, and two were killed by their neighbors because their horses had wandered over property lines to eat corn that didn’t belong to them. Legend also has it that a saloon shootout in 1873 left 14 people dead, and all of those souls are buried at Boot Hill as well.

Whatever the truth is in Lowell, it’s probably long gone. But the folks who knew what really happened, all 26 of them, are still there, waiting for you to come say hello. The next time you’re driving through Nebraska, it’s worth a roadside stop if you have a few extra minutes to spare—and a sturdy car. The “road” that leads to Boot Hill is more of a rut in the ground than a real road, and things get pretty bumpy.

Lowell isn’t the first Boot Hill, by the way (that honor goes to Dodge City, Kansas), and it’s certainly not the only one. The most famous Boot Hill is probably in Tombstone, Arizona, where you’ll find the graves of the men killed in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.