Many love him, many hate him and the ones who dislike Tombstone Mayor Dustin Escapule don’t talk about him because they fear him.
The man known as Dusty has made the “town too tough to die” his town. His strong local support and service over five terms in 10 years delivers the last name Escapule as immense authority in Tombstone.
He’s a fourth-generation native. His great grandfather settled in Tombstone in 1877, two years before the town was established. Because of similar facial features, his grandfather, John Henry Escapule, was often mistaken as Doc Holliday from the O.K. Corral gunfight.
The Escapule roots are deep in Tombstone, but Dusty is a different breed considering his political prowess.
Escapule is a good ole’ country boy who looks out for his own. Occasionally he’ll be seen driving his truck around Allen Street sporting a 10-gallon hat and a thick white mustache. For some, his presence is comforting and to others, it rubs off as big brother watching every move.
His family history, grasp of the town’s social circle and political status gives him a reputation as the face of Tombstone. However, in a small town like Tombstone that loves its politics, there’s another group who give him no respect.
“It’s very divided in this town and that’s why I’m hesitant to say he’s the face of Tombstone,” City Councilman Bill Barlow said.
Not only is Escapule the mayor, but he also owns the Tombstone News, where he serves as the co-editor in chief. Former 2016 Tombstone mayoral candidate Kevin Rudd finds Escapule’s stories more promotional than factual.
“A lot of it is pure, fabricated, out of thin air B.S,” Rudd said. “It’s a way for him to pump his own propaganda in his own words.”
In the 2016 mayoral election, Escapule stood accused of exchanging emails with the city attorney and conspiring to keep long-time adversary Mike Carrafa’s name off the ballot. No conspiracy was ever proved, but Carrafa never made the ballot.
Carrafa started his own newspaper the Tombstone Gazette, so his side of the story was told.
“There’s people to this day that don’t like me, because of what his newspaper said about me—not if they know me or not, but just because of what his newspaper said,” Carrafa said.
Escapule first agreed to an interview for this article, but ended it after learning Carrafa was being questioned, too.
His critics say he’s all about using substantial amounts of money to improve the town, and he’s going to do it regardless of the repercussions.
“Dusty gets stuff done,” former Tombstone councilman Jim Doherty said. “Don’t show me the labor pains, show me the baby.”
Those labor pains Doherty talked about is the deficit the town acquired after taking out a $700,000 loan to purchase police units, fire department equipment equipment and Public Works Department equipment, which costs the town $8,000 per month.
“It’s just money we don’t have and he could’ve spent in other things that could generate money,” Rudd said.
Tombstone has roughly 1,400 residents, which seems it could cost $6-7 each, but instead is a part of the operational budget with no taxation. Carrafa believes Tombstone is receiving property taxes and is convinced that it’s not what the town needs, because of its small size.
“That may not seem like a lot in a big city, but a city like Tombstone, that’s a lot,” Carrafa said.
Rudd’s bad history with Escapule began when he was hired to repair the waterline from the Huachuca Mountains to the reservoir. Escapule, shortly after coming back into office, shut down the operation, sent back the materials and fired Rudd.
His critics say he surrounds himself with loyalists and holds intense resentment for those who challenge his authority.
“Dusty appoints the city attorney, he appoints the marshal … he appoints everybody so all of those people have jobs. If they don’t do what he wants, what happens to their jobs? They’re gone,” Carrafa said.
Former marshal Billy Cloud started work under former mayor Jack Henderson in 2010 and received flak from Escapule in the Tombstone News. Cloud said it was rough at first, but he and Escapule worked out the kinks in their relationship.
“We never had any contentious issues,” Cloud said. “When I was the marshal, he was the business man in town… There’s no long-term animus, obviously, because I’m back here even though I don’t work here.”
Cloud said that Escapule puts his people above tourism on the pecking order. Many residents don’t approve, because tourism is the top money producer.
Escapule has haters. Locals say they are afraid to speak out about him.
“It’s toxic—people are afraid to stand up,” Rudd said. “They’re afraid of him. He’ll cause problems.”
Barlow takes a kinder tone.
“Is he forceful? Yes. He’s very opinionated and will always tell you where he stands on something,” Barlow said.
“Has he made mistakes? Sure. You’re not going to please everybody and he hasn’t pleased everybody. Obviously he pleases the majority or else he wouldn’t be elected.”
Justin Spears is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org