Commercializing the American West: Tombstone versus Montezuma Castle in Online Reviews

The city of Tombstone, Arizona has been lauded as a tourist town with a Western history — one of the last standing remnants of the American Wild West. Of course, I have visited Tombstone on many occasions, usually to escape the brutal Phoenix heat of summer. It offers plenty of attractions for tourists including: gunfight shows, ghost tours, regular walking tours, underground mine tours, old-time photo studios, and more. While Tombstone has a rich history as a silver mining hub during the mid to late 1800s, its population has hovered around 150 people or less since the 1930s, leaving tourism the main focus of the town.

Courtesy of Jessica Spengler on Flickr

Almost 300 miles north of Tombstone, another popular attraction (and summer escape) is the Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, Arizona. This structure was created by the Singua people between 1100 and 1425 AD. It is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings on the continent, and is a magical sight to see. The American Antiquities Act of 1906 declared it a national monument, seizing it for the federal government. As a site of the National Park Service, there are plenty of opportunities for grade school field trips and education about the plants, animals, and archaeological finds at Montezuma Castle.

Courtesy of user AP07 on Flickr

For the project, I am proposing that I would examine reviews for each site on Google Reviews and Yelp. With one site being marketed as a tourist attraction with fun and a little bit of history, and the other being owned and operated by the National Park Service, I want to explore the differences between the reviews of both of them. Tombstone has been heavily commercialized and visitors are expected to have an “experience” and to get lost in its spectacle. How would this compare to the reviews of a formal historical site? Would there be a large difference? What does the general audience for both take into account? I think examining these would answer some important questions about the commercialization of the Wild West in comparing a mostly white-settled town like Tombstone with a historic site that was created by indigenous people of Arizona over 600 hundred years ago.

3 Replies to “Commercializing the American West: Tombstone versus Montezuma Castle in Online Reviews”

  1. Ellie, I think this project is really interesting and I like your approach to compare very different historic sites, both in how they are marketed to their audiences and their history they are representing. I am not a big Wild West history person, but I was intrigued to see that you will be looking into Tombstone because I am a big Buzzfeed Unsolved fan (if you don’t know what I am talking about, it’s a YouTube show where they do true crime and supernatural videos, it’s actually really good haha) and they did an episode on the haunted stories of Tombstone. Perhaps that could be a part of the marketing strategy that you talk about for Tombstone?

    1. Claudia, thank you for this response! Although I love true crime/supernatural podcasts and shows, I’m surprised I’ve never actually gotten into Buzzfeed Unsolved, but I would definitely take that into account. Especially with Tombstone focusing on ghost tours and the town’s “spooky” history. I greatly appreciate the suggestion!

  2. This is a really fantastic concept. I have no doubt that looking at reviews of these over time will produce a rich set of material for you to do research and analysis on.

    The idea to do a compare and contrast on two different sites is great. As you get into it, it might end up that either of the two is potentially more interesting or could stand on it’s own as a subject so you could always consider focusing in on either of the two sites as well.

    There is a great body of historical research on mythology of the west so that will be a good resource for you to draw from. Along with that, given how critical it is to draw on and center indigenous perspectives in reinterpreting the history of the west I imagine that will also be a really key issue to look for as you use these sources to look at how people are responding to parts of those historical stories.

    As a point of reference/resource you could refer to, I wrote a paper about public response to the Einstein statue on Yelp and Trip Advisor (the open access version is up here ).

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