- " Marty read it [the wording on the tombstone] all again. It was all there, carved in stone: / HERE LIES / EMMETT BROWN / Date of Birth - Unknown / Died - September 7, 1885 / And then in smaller letters, farther down the stone: / Shot in the back by Buford Tannen / over a matter of 80 dollars / Then, at the very bottom of the marker: / Erected in eternal memory / by his beloved Clara / Marty swore under his breath. Shot in the back by Buford Tannen? In 1885? But the date on the tombstone was only a few days after that on the letter Doc had sent him! / That meant, when Doc thought he was just about to settle down in the Old West, he was really about to die! / Marty looked back toward the waiting tow truck. Should he tell Doc? After all, the inventor had warned him about this sort of thing — all that paradox business. / But Doc was his friend, in 1985, 1955, or 1885. He had to tell him! / "Doc!" he yelled "Hurry!" "
- —From Back to the Future Part III by Craig Shaw Gardner (quote, pages 25 and 26)
- "What is it, Marty? You look like you've seen a ghost."
- —Doc's response to Marty's sudden outburst
- " 'Shot in the back by Buford Tannen over a matter of eighty dollars?' What kind of a future do you call that?!"
- —Doc Brown to Marty McFly about the tombstone
Dr. Emmett Brown's tombstone became a reality after Doc was shot in the back with a single-shot derringer by Buford Tannen on September 5, 1885 over a matter of eighty dollars, seventy-five dollars of which involved Tannen's stolen horse that threw a shoe — and which Tannen subsequently shot, forcing him to steal another — and the remaining five dollars for a bottle of fine Kentucky Red Eye whiskey which got smashed in Tannen's fall from his steed.
The tombstone was erected in memory by his love Clara Clayton who took care of him for two days while the bullet that entered Doc killed him slowly. After he died on September 7, he was laid to rest in Boot Hill Cemetery, and the tombstone was engraved with Shot in the back by Buford Tannen over a matter of 80 dollars and Erected in eternal memory by his beloved Clara.
It remained there for seventy years, ironically close to the DeLorean time machine he hid in the Delgado Mine, until Marty McFly and his 1955 self stumbled across it in horror. Marty took a photograph of the tombstone using Doc's camera and took it with him to 1885. On the night of the Hill Valley Festival where Doc was shot in the first timeline, Marty prevented it from occurring by intercepting the shot with a Frisbie pie tin thrown in the style of a frisbee. The bullet that was fired only managed to hit the hat that Doc was wearing at the time and send it flying off his head. This prompted Tannen to challenge Marty to a duel on Monday morning at 8:00 a.m.
From this point on, the inscription on the photograph began to vanish. Although Marty thought that this meant things were fine, Doc pointed out that the tombstone was still in the photo, so it may be Marty's name (or rather, CLINT EASTWOOD) on the tombstone instead with this change of circumstances. By the time of the duel, his alias appeared on the tombstone. Marty had then made the decision not to face Tannen. But he changed his mind only to save Doc, who had been taken hostage by Buford's gang. Tannen shot Marty down, but Marty survived the gunshot by wearing an iron stove door on his chest as a makeshift bulletproof vest. Marty then knocked Tannen headfirst into the tombstone, breaking it in half, before knocking Tannen into a cart of manure.
With Tannen defeated, and the tombstone destroyed, Marty saw it vanish completely from the photograph before his eyes.
Behind the scenes
- The 'Date of Birth - Unknown' line on Doc's tombstone (see first Quote above) appears only in the novelization. It is not present on the grave marker seen on-screen.