Behind the Scenes of Tombstone: An Interview with Peter Sherayko

Long before The Doc Holliday Series came into existence, I ran a Tombstone fansite called “Some of the Fellas From Tombstone.” In 2000, I interviewed Peter Sherayko who portrayed cowboy Texas Jack Vermillion in Tombstone. He worked as technical advisor for the film and is the head of The Buckaroos, a group of specialised performers with western knowledge. The Buckaroos worked on Tombstone providing horses, guns and equipment for many of the cowboy scenes.

When did you start working in movies and TV? How did the Buckaroos come about?

We really started two years before we did Tombstone. I love Western movies, I’ve enjoyed watching them, but for years I’ve been disgusted with them because the filmmakers never make them right.

Only a few Westerns were made during the 70’s and 80’s so a lot of the people who worked on the props, the costumes, worked as wranglers, stunt people and actors, didn’t have a lot of practice, or a lot of knowledge to know what is really historically correct. What happens in movies is that people may be doing a gangster movie, and then four modern movies and then they’re asked to do a western. Well, it takes a lot of time and effort to research everything. Unfortunately, in the movie business filmmakers don’t get enough time.

I’ve always spent my free time collecting the West, reading about it and practicing it. The Buckaroos came about because I wanted to make a great western, but I couldn’t make it by myself. I needed help. Each of the Buckaroos have very definite skills – saddle makers, gunsmiths, leather crafters, horse trainers. They can do the work that they love to do, and earn some money doing it. The movie benefits because it has the best stuff. Ergo, the audience wins because they get to see just what they want to see.

How did you get involved with Tombstone?

I met Kevin Jarre three years before we did Tombstone. We spent a great deal of time doing what we call the “house of men” ride. Four or five of us, at least one night a week, would each take our horses, a couple of six shooters, about 100 rounds of ammunition a piece, a pocket full of cigars and a bottle of “Who hit John.” We would ride up in the mountains leaving at about 8:00 p.m. and came back at 2 a.m. or when the whiskey and the ammunition was gone. We would talk about westerns and what we liked. It was during that time that Kevin decided he was going to do the story on Tombstone. It took him about a year to write the script and during that time, he swore us all to secrecy. As Kevin was doing his research, he’d allow me to check the script – to put in the saddles and the guns, etc. – I would research every character that he had in the script. If it was possible for me to supply him with the original type of firearm that the actual character had, then that’s what we used. Kevin knew exactly what he wanted in the film, and I tried my darndest to give him what he wanted.

How did you come up with the idea of the shoulder holster for Doc?

That was Kevin Jarre’s idea. The leather man that we had doing most of our gun belts, worked very closely with Kevin. Kevin described what he wanted to him and we fit it on Val Kilmer and kept on adjusting it until we came up with the final design.

Doc’s shoulder rig as designed by Peter Sherayko and Kevin Jarre.

Did you allocate a horse to each actor? How did the actors get used to riding?

We and the Buckaroos supplied about 40 horses, the head wrangler supplied about 40 and we supplied all the saddles and gear. We chose to use five black, Thoroughbred horses, because Kevin wanted thinner, scrawnier horses that looked more like horses from a Frederick Remington painting than the much larger horses that we have today.

All of the actors had their own horse and many like Kurt Russell and Powers Boothe came out for riding lessons. Frank Trigani who worked on the saddles worked with all of the actors so that an actor could pick out a saddle that was comfortable. We’d also sit with the actors to help strengthen their riding. If you look at the posse chase scenes, you’ll see that Buck Taylor and I were riding on the ends. We called ourselves the “bookends”.

There were also stunt riders who brought in falling horses. Most of the stunts were handled by Terry Leonard.

What kind of training did Val Kilmer and Michael Biehn need for the Latin Duel?

Regarding the gun twirling scene, Kevin wanted to express the fact that Doc Holliday was an educated man from Georgia. According to stories on Johnny Ringo, he was also college educated and the Latin duel that Doc and Johnny Ringo had in the movie supposedly did happen.

Both actors were excellent. Michael Biehn was a street juggler when he started acting so he already had the necessary dexterity. He came out to my ranch several times and I taught him the gun twirling tricks that I knew and showed him a tape of Johnny Mack Brown that Kevin wanted him learn tricks from. I would lend Michael real guns so that he could practise the moves. Often as he worked at it, he would break the guns, bring them back to me and I would exchange them. Of course, we had to do this through Kevin’s insistence because the prop man didn’t want Michael to have a real gun, but a real one is the only one that feels the correct way. It give Michael ample opportunity to learn. He practiced for four months before they finally, filmed the Latin scene.

Val and Michael really applied themselves and worked on their tricks and dexterity and the final scene worked well.

Many thanks to Peter Sherayko for doing this interview. If you’d like to know more about the making of Tombstone, check out Tombstone: The Guns and Gear by Peter Sherayko on Amazon or visit Caravan West Productions for more information about what Peter is currently doing.

By Elena Sandidge

Elena Sandidge is a Scottish novelist with a passion for the history of the Old West and the life of the legendary gunfighting dentist, Doc Holliday. "A Gentleman in Hell" chronicles the adventures of Doc Holliday as he travels from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona and on to his final home in the mountains of Colorado

4 replies on “Behind the Scenes of Tombstone: An Interview with Peter Sherayko”

Have the buckaroos stayed together and is there a chance they’ll be in any upcoming movies
Professor Pistolero

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