Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Gunfight At The OK Corral

Black Powder and Close Quarters
A friend once told me that he thought the whole gunfight was simply an arrest gone bad, but I've always thought it was more like two gangs going to war and having at it. After all, they had a history of dealings and double-dealings, swindles, and so on.

After all of the built up animosity and double-crossing going on, what do we know about the gunfight? Well, we know that nine men were involved in the gunfight. They were Billy and Ike Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne on one side - and Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday on the other.

The Clantons and the McLaurys, along with Claiborne were all part of a local criminal faction known as the "Cowboys". They were called "The Cowboys" because they were local cattle rustlers who stole cattle from across the border in Mexico and truly did have a blatant disregard for the law.

John Harris Behan was the Cochise County Sheriff. He did little to nothing to curtail their activities. Some say it was because he was involved with their criminal enterprise by giving them cover.

After the murder of Marshal John White by Cowboy William "Curly Bill" Brocious in October of 1880, Virgil Earp who was the assistant City Marshal and part time U.S. Deputy Marshal became the City Marshal of Tombstone.

In April of 1881, to dry to stop the rise in violence in the streets, Virgil signed an ordinance which prohibited the carrying of weapons within the city limits of Tombstone. Actually, this wasn't new to the West as more and more towns were adopting such regulations.

All of the Earp brothers were in Tombstone by this time, and were working in different aspects of the town.

While James Earp was a Saloon Keeper and bartender, Virgil of course was City Marshal and U.S. Deputy Marshal, a position he held before he arrived in Tombstone. And we should also remember that Virgil, as a Deputy U.S. Marshal was actually ordered to Tombstone from Prescott. He was supposed to be there looking into the cattle rustling problems that were going on on the Mexican-U.S. border. While in Tombstone, he did try his hand at silver prospecting -- but only part time.

While the movies show Wyatt going to Tombstone and the other brothers following him, that isn't accurate. In fact, it was only after Virgil was ordered to Tombstone that Wyatt and the other brothers decided to go to Tombstone.

While there, Wyatt's was a saloon keeper, a bartender, faro dealer, gambler, a part time shotgun guard for Wells Fargo, a silver prospector, and twice helped his brother Virgil as a city "special deputy."

Morgan was a Faro Dealer and was a city policeman under Virgil. As for Warren, it has been disputed as to whether he was even in town when the shootout near the OK Corral took place. It is believed that he arrived at Virgil was wounded and before Morgan was killed by ambush.

Bad blood already existed between the two factions early on. In the 1870s and 1880s, there was considerable tension between the rural residents who were for the most part Democrats from the agrarian Confederate States and town residents and business owners who were largely Republicans from the industrial Union States. And yes, many of the Yankees were seen as Carpetbaggers.

"Carpetbagger" was a pejorative term referring to the carpet bags, a form of cheap luggage at the time, which many of the Yankee newcomers carried. Carpetbaggers were Northerners who moved to the South after the Civil War. Southerners saw them as lowlives there to loot and plunder the defeated South.

The term came to be associated with opportunism and exploitation by outsiders. Today, the term is still used when referring to a "parachute candidate." Those who are an outsider who runs for public office in an area where they do not have deep community ties, or have lived only for a short time.

While that was true on the overall, Frank and Tom McLaury were Yankees who relocated from Iowa. In fact, Frank McLaury was said to have been a decorated Union soldier by the end of the war.

The tension culminated into what has been called the Cochise County feud, or the Earp-Clanton feud.

Adding to things was the fact that as soon as Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone, he took an interest in running for the job of Cochise Country Sheriff. His reason was purely monetary. Fact is that the Country Sheriff in those days was assigned the job of collecting the County Taxes.

So yes, as soon as Wyatt Earp arrived, he was at odds with John Behan who sought the new position of Cochise County Sheriff. The Cochise County Sheriff's position was a lucrative job, far beyond its salary.

Fact is the County Sheriff was not only responsible for enforcing the law but was also county assessor, tax collector, and responsible for collecting prostitution, gambling, liquor, and theater fees. The county supervisors allowed the sheriff to keep 10% of all money collected and including fines paid. And yes, in 1879, this made the county sheriff's job worth more than $40,000 a year -- or let's say about $963,310 in today's money.

John Behan made a deal with Wyatt Earp promising Wyatt a position as his under-sheriff if he was appointed over Wyatt. Earp agreed to the deal and withdrew his name from the political contest. Behan used the influence he had gained while serving two terms in the territorial legislature.

After getting information that Wyatt Earp was spreading lies and attempting to pit Ike Clanton against Behan, Behan reneged on his deal with Earp and appointed prominent Democrat Harry Woods instead.

Later that year, Behan gave the explanation of his actions during the hearings after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Behan said he broke his promise to appoint Earp because of an incident shortly before his appointment.

The incident took place when searching for a horse stolen in late 1879. Wyatt learned about a year later that the horse was in nearby Charleston. Wyatt spotted Billy Clanton attempting to remove the horse from a corral and retrieved it without trouble.

Behan was in the area to serve a subpoena on Ike Clanton. Ike was hopping mad when Behan finally found him, Wyatt Earp had told Clanton that Behan "had taken a posse of nine men down there to arrest him."

Behan took offense at Wyatt's tactics of playing one against the other and changed his mind about appointing Wyatt. Wyatt from then on out had it in for Behan.  And for John Behan, from that experience, he believed that Wyatt Earp couldn't be trusted to watch his back.

Later Doc Holliday attested to the bad blood in an interview in 1882, when he said "from that time, a coolness grew up between the two men."

Many of the ranchers and Cowboys who lived in the Cochise County countryside were resentful of the growing power of the business owners and townspeople who increasingly influenced local politics and law in the county.

A "cowboy" in that time, in that region of the country, was generally regarded as an outlaw. Legitimate cowmen and cowhands were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers.

The ranchers largely maintained control of the country around Tombstone, due in large part to the sympathetic support of Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan who favored the Cowboys and rural ranchers - and of course his growing intense dislike for the Earps helped as well.

Behan tended to ignore the Earp's complaints about the McLaury's and Clanton's horse thieving and cattle rustling. And of course, yes that made the matter worse.

The townspeople and business owners welcomed the Cowboys who had money to spend in the numerous bordellos, gambling halls, and drinking establishments. When lawlessness got out of hand, they enacted ordinances to control the disruptive revelry and shootings.

As officers of the law, the Earp brothers held authority at times on the federal and local level. They were resented by the Cowboys for their tactics as when Wyatt Earp buffaloed Curly Bill when he accidentally shot Marshal Fred White.

The Earps were also known to bend the law in their favor when it affected their gambling and saloon interests, which earned them further enmity with the Cowboy faction.

Under the surface were other tensions aggravating the simmering distrust. Most of the leading cattlemen and Cowboys teamed up to fight the pressure they were feeling from the mine and business owners, miners, townspeople and city lawmen including the Earps.

There was also the fundamental conflict over resources and land, of traditional, Southern-style, “small government” agrarianism of the rural Cowboys contrasted to Northern-style industrialism.

During the rapid growth of Cochise County in the 1880s at they peak of the silver mining boom, outlaws derisively called "Cow-boys", frequently robbed stagecoaches and brazenly stole cattle in broad daylight, though mainly from across the border in Mexico and scaring off the legitimate cowboys watching the herds in the process.

The lines between the outlaw element and law enforcement were not always distinct. Wyatt Earp had his troubles with the law to the extent of being fired and run out of town while he was a lawman.

It's said that the Earps ran a lot of the gambling and prostitution in Tombstone and they ran with Doc Holliday who had a reputation as a killer - though modern research has only identified three individuals he shot.

Before The Shootout

On October 25, 1881, whilst Ike Clanton was in Tombstone, drunk and very loud, Doc Holliday accused him of lying about the Benson stagecoach robbery. Tombstone City Marshal Virgil Earp intervened and threatened to arrest both Doc and Ike if they did not stop arguing.

With Wyatt's help, Doc Holliday went home.

Fact is that after the confrontation with Ike Clanton, Wyatt Earp took Holliday back to his boarding house at Camillus Sidney "Buck" Fly's Lodging House to sleep off his drinking, then went home and to bed.

Virgil played cards with Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan and a fifth man (unknown to Ike and to history), until morning.

At about dawn on October 26, the card game broke up and Behan and Virgil Earp went home to bed.

Ike Clanton later testified later that he saw Virgil take his six-shooter out of his lap and stick it in his pants when the game ended.

Shortly after 8:00 am, bartender E. F. Boyle spoke to Ike Clanton in front of the Telegraph Office. Ike had been drinking all night.

Boyle encouraged him to get some sleep, but Ike insisted he would not go to bed. Boyle later testified he noticed Ike was armed and covered his gun for him, recalling that Ike told him "'As soon as the Earps and Doc Holliday showed themselves on the street, the ball would open—that they would have to fight'... I went down to Wyatt Earp's house and told him that Ike Clanton had threatened that when him and his brothers and Doc Holliday showed themselves on the street that the ball would open."

Ike said in his testimony afterward that he remembered neither meeting Boyle nor making any such statements that day.

Later in the morning, Ike picked up his rifle and revolver from the West End Corral, where he had stabled his wagon and team and deposited his weapons after entering town.

By noon that day, Ike, drinking again and armed, told others he was looking for Holliday or an Earp.

At about 1:00 pm, Virgil and Morgan Earp surprised Ike on 4th Street where Virgil buffaloed (pistol-whipped) him from behind. Disarming him, the Earps took Ike to appear before Judge Wallace for violating the city's ordinance against carrying firearms in the city. Virgil went to find Judge Wallace so the court hearing could be held.."

Ike reported in his testimony afterward that Wyatt Earp cursed him.

He said Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan offered him his rifle and to fight him right there in the courthouse, which Ike declined. Ike also denied ever threatening the Earps.

Ike was fined $25 plus court costs and after paying the fine left unarmed.

Virgil told Ike he would leave Ike's confiscated rifle and revolver at the Grand Hotel which was favored by Cowboys when in town. Ike testified that he picked up the weapons from William Soule, the jailer, a couple of days late

So on the morning of October 26th, 1881, a loud-mouthed Ike Clanton was boasting about what he was going to do to the Earps "one of these days." He was fully armed, and shouting threats against the Earps.

Virgil testified later that "the first man who spoke to me about any threats was Officer Bronk. I was down home in bed when he called. He came down after [a] commitment I had for a party that was in jail. It was about 9 o'clock I should think, on the 26th of October.

While he was getting the commitment, he said, "You had better get up. There is liable to be hell!"

He said, "Ike Clanton has threatened to kill Holliday as soon as he gets up." And he said, "He's counting you fellows in too," meaning me and my brothers. I told him I would get up after a while, and he went off.

The next man was Lynch; I've stated what he said. The next I met, was Morgan and James Earp. One of them asked me if I had seen Ike Clanton. I told them I had not.

One of them said, "He has got a Winchester rifle and six-shooter on, and threatens to kill us on sight." I asked Morgan if he had any idea where we could find him. He said he did not. I told him then to come and go with me, and we could go and arrest him, and disarm him.

So at this point, we know that Ike Clanton and Doc Holliday had argued the day before, an arguement that ended with threats from both men.

Shortly before noon on the 26th, Wyatt Earp was awakened and told Ike Clanton, armed with a rifle and revolver, was visiting the Allen street bars, threatening Doc Holiday. Carrying weapons inside the town limits was a violation.

Virgil later testified that he "found Ike Clanton on Fourth Street between Fremont and Allen with a Winchester rifle in his hand and a six-shooter stuck down in his breeches. I walked up and grabbed the rifle in my left hand.

He let loose and started to draw his six-shooter. I hit him over the head with mine and knocked him to his knees and took his six-shooter from him.

I ask him if he was hunting for me. He said he was, and if he had seen me a second sooner he would have killed me. I arrested Ike for carrying firearms, I believe was the charge, inside the city limits.

When I took him to the courtroom, Judge Wallace was not there. I left him in charge of Special Officer Morgan Earp while I went out to look for the Judge. After the examination I asked him where he wanted his arms left, and he said, "Anywhere I can get them, for you hit me over the head with your six-shooter.

I told him I would leave them at the Grand Hotel bar, and done so. I did not hear, at that time, any quarrel between Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton. The next I saw them, they were, all four; Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury in the gun shop on Fourth Street.

Supposedly someone stated that Virgil's six-shooter made a dull thudding sound as it smacked up against Ike's head, before he was said to be whimpering and threatening the whole way as he was being dragged to Police Court.

Ike was fined $25, and his weapons confiscated.

Wyatt and Ike exchanged bitter words during the brief court hearing, each threatening the other.

An angry Wyatt Earp stalked out of the courtroom and came face-to-face with Tom McLaury.

Another argument started - and quickly ended when Wyatt "buffaloed" his enemy and walked away.

Another town ordinance violation was to bring the Earps and the Clanton crowd to one more face-to-face meeting before that fateful thirty seconds.

A few minutes after the anger vented inside and outside the courtroom, Virgil and Wyatt Earp saw four of the cowboys - the two McLaurys, Billy Clanton and a friend, Billy Claiborne, a gunslinging youngster who liked to be called Billy the Kid - walking into Spangenberg's Gun Shop, on Fourth street. Soon they were joined by Ike.

Virgil testified that "Several men came on Allen Street between Fourth and Fifth; miners whose names I do not know. This was after Ike Clanton's arrest and before the fight. There was one man in particular who came and said, "Ain't you liable to have trouble?"

I told him I didn't know, it looks kind of that way, but couldn't tell. He said, "I seen two more of them just rode in," and he said, "Ike walked up to them and was telling them about you hitting him over the head with a six-shooter."

He said that one of them rode in on a horse [and] said, "Now is our time to make a fight." This was after the arms of Ike Clanton were returned to the Grand Hotel.

Just about the time the man was telling me this, Bob Hatch came and beckoned to me, as though he wanted to speak to me, and said, "For God's sake, hurry down there to the gun shop, for they are all down there, and Wyatt is all alone!"

He said, "They are liable to kill him before you get there!" The other man told me to be careful, and not turn my back on them or I would be killed, that they meant mischief. Lynch remarked­ [paragraph not completed.

There was a man named W. B. Murray and a man named J. L. Fonck came at separate times and said, "I know you are going to have trouble, and we have got plenty of men and arms to assist you."

Murray was the first man to approach me, on the afternoon of the 26th. I was talking to Behan at the time in Hafford's Saloon, trying to get him to go down and help me disarm them.

Murray took me to one side and said, "I have been looking into this matter and know you are going to have trouble. I can get 25 armed men at a minutes notice."

He said, "If you want them, say so." I told him, as long as they stayed in the corral, the O.K. Corral, I would not go down to disarm them; if they came out on the street, I would take their arms off and arrest them. He said, "You can count on me if there is any danger."

I walked from the comer of Fourth and Allen Streets, west, just across the street. J. L. Fonck met me there, and he said, "The cowboys are making threats against you." And he said, "If you want any help, I can furnish ten men to assist."

I told him I would not bother them as long as they were in the corral; if they showed up on the street, I would disarm them.

"Why," he said, "they are all down on Fremont Street there now. Then I called on Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday to go with me and help disarm them.

I saw Wyatt Earp shooing a horse off the sidewalk and went down and saw them all in the gun shop, filling up their belts with cartridges and looking at the pistols and guns."

The visit of their enemies to a gun shop might have given the Earps pause to consider what lay ahead. Of more immediate concern, however, was Frank McLaury's horse, standing on the sidewalk, a legal violation.

Wyatt grabbed the bridle, started to back the horse into the street. Frank dashed out, grabbed the bridle, too.

There was a moment of silence; it soon might become the Battle of Spangenberg's Gun Shop. But, silently, Frank finished backing his horse off the wooden sidewalk.

Tom McLaury was in town at this time and he got into an argument with Wyatt Earp earlier which ended with Wyatt publicly striking him.

Tom and Ike gathered together the other Cowboys who were in town and they all holed up at vacant lot near the rear of the O.K. Corral.

Earp supporters like to say that the Frank and Tom McLaury were in town as part of the gang of Cowboys - just there to break the law and intimidate the public.

Fact is, Frank and Tom McLaury were not in Tombstone the day of the gunfight to have it out with the Earps - that story is nothing else but fiction built up by people who think the mundane is too mundane.

No, fact is, Frank and Tom McLaury were not there in Tombstone that fatal day because they belong to some gang called the "Cowboys".

Unknown to the Earps, the McLaury brothers were simply in town to get cash before leaving to travel across country back to their hometown in Iowa to attend their sister's wedding.

Virgil said later, "There was a committee waiting on me then and called me away to one side. I turned to Wyatt Earp and told him to keep peace and order until I came back and to move the crowd off the sidewalk and not let them obstruct it. When I saw them again, all four of them were going in Dunbar's Corral. They did not remain long there. They came out and went into the O.K. Corral. 

I called on Johnny Behan who refused to go with me, to go help disarm these parties. He said if he went along with me, there would be a fight sure; that they would not give up their arms to me.

He said, "They won't hurt me," and, "I will go down alone and see if I can disarm them." I told him that was all I wanted them to do; to layoff their arms while they were in town.

Shortly after he left, I was notified that they were on Fremont Street, and I called on Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday to go and help me disarm the Clan tons and McLaurys.

We started down Fourth Street to Fremont, turned down Fremont west, towards Fly's lodging house. When we got about somewhere by Bauer's butcher shop, I saw the parties before we got there, in a vacant lot between the photograph gallery and the house west of it.

The parties were Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, Johnny Behan, and the Kid. "

Sheriff John Behan, of course, did nothing and the Earps with Doc Holiday walked down Allen Street with the intention of disarming the Cowboys.

Although Virgil was still carrying his pistol, he had given his Wells Fargo shotgun to Holiday and told him to stick it under his coat so as to appear peaceful.

What exactly happened when the lawmen reached the corral is mostly taken from what the survivors had to say.
Gun-Control is a tricky business. Folks might not go along without a fight. Look how enforcing a Gun-Control City Ordinance went wrong at the OK Corral!


We know that the Earp brothers gathered in front of Hafford's Saloon, on the corner of Fourth and Allen streets, wondering what the day would bring. They were joined by Doc Holiday, carrying a cane as he usually did when his tuberculosis particularly was bothering him.

They hadn't long to wait. A man named Coleman, whether acting as a concerned public-spirited citizen or just hopeful of seeing a good fight, came up to them and said the Clantons and McLaurys had gathered at the rear entrance of the O.K. Corral, and were plotting trouble.

Down Fourth Street marched the Earps with Doc Holliday. They confronted five Cowboys on Fremont Street in an alley between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio, the two parties were initially only about 6 to 8 feet apart.

When asked later, Virgil said he was in the lead and the other 3 were behind him and not along side as the movies depict. He said, regarding Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc, "They were right behind me. We were all in a bunch. I think he was also right behind me."

Doc had traded his cane for Virgil Earp's shotgun. He pulled his arm from one sleeve of his coat and held the shotgun between his coat and his body.

Virgil later said, "When I called Morgan Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday to go and help me disarm the McLaurys and Clantons, Holliday had a large overcoat on, and I told him to let me have his cane, and he take the shotgun, that I did not want to create any excitement going down the street with a shotgun in .my hand. When we made the exchange, I said, "Come along," and we all went along.
As they neared the corner of Third and Fremont, they saw the Clanton brothers, the McLaury brothers and Billy Claiborne, ranged along the wall of a small assay office that flanked the west side of the Corral entrance.

To the east of the narrow strip of open land was the boarding house and gallery of Camillas S. Fly, frontier photographer who ranged through Tombstone and around the wide countryside recording the sights and the events and the people of that fabulous time.

Talking with the men, while the horses of Frank and Tom McLaury stamped their feet impatiently in the cool air, was Cochise County Sheriff John Behan. When he saw the Earps approaching, with the maneuvering Doc Holliday swinging wide into the street, Sheriff Behan hurried back to them, told them to stop.

Virgil asked if the cowboys were under arrest, and, not getting a reply to his satisfaction, pushed on past, leading his brothers to the O.K. Corral.

Virgil later testified that "Johnny Behan seen myself and party coming down towards them. He left the Clanton and McLaury party and came on a fast walk towards us, and once in a while he would look behind at the party he left, as though expecting danger of some kind. He met us somewhere close to the butcher shop.

He threw up both hands, like this and said, "For God's sake, don't go there or they will murder you!"

I said, "Johnny, I am going down to disarm them." By this time I had passed him a step and heard him say, "I have disarmed them all."

When he said that, I had a walking stick in my left hand, and my right hand was on my six-shooter in my waist pants, and when he said he had disarmed them, I shoved it clean around to my left hip and changed my walking stick to my right hand.

As soon as Behan left them, they moved in between the two buildings, out of sight of me. We could not see them. All we could [see] was about half a horse. They were all standing in a row.

Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury had their hands on their six-shooters. I don't hardly know how Ike Clanton was standing, but I think he had his hands in an attitude where I supposed he had a gun. Tom McLaury had his hand on a Winchester rifle on a horse."

Raising Doc's cane, Virgil called to the men to drop their arms.

Supposedly Virgil Earp was not planning on a fight. He had given Doc a short, double-barreled shotgun and carried Holliday's cane in his right hand.

When finally confronting the Cowboys, he immediately commanded the Cowboys to "Throw up your hands, I want your guns!"

But, as in many situations of the sort that law enforcement faces every day, that didn't work and the Cowboys reached to draw their guns.

Virgil and Wyatt testified they saw Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton draw and cock their six-shooters. Virgil  testified later that he heard the "click click" of the pistol hammers and yelled: "Hold! I don't mean that!" or "Hold on, I don't want that!"

Virgil later testified, "As soon as I saw them, I said, "Boys, throw up your hands, I want your guns," or "arms." With that, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton drew their six-shooters and commenced to cock them, and I heard them go "click-click."

Ike Clanton threw his hand in his breast. At that, I said, throwing both hands up, with the cane in my right hand, "Hold on, I don't want that!"

As I said that, Billy Clanton threw his six-shooter down, full cocked. I was standing to the left of my party, and he was standing on the right of Frank and Tom McLaury. He was not aiming at me, but his pistol was kind of past me.

Two shots went off right together. Billy Clanton's was one of them. At that time I changed my cane to my left hand, and went to shooting; it was general then, and everybody went to fighting.

At the crack of the first two pistols, the horse jumped to one side, and Tom McLaury failed to get the Winchester. He threw his hand back this way [shows the motion]. He followed the movement of the horse around, making him a kind of breastwork, and fired once, if not twice, over the horse's back."

Some believe that the fight started after Doc Holiday cocked his concealed shotgun. Shotguns of the period, like single-action revolvers carried by both groups, had to be cocked before firing.

According to one witness, Holliday drew a "large bronze pistol" - this is interpreted by some as Virgil's coach gun - from under his long coat and shoved it into Frank McLaury's belly, then took a couple of steps back. Yes, they were that close.

It is not known who started shooting first; accounts by both participants and eyewitnesses are contradictory. Those loyal to one side or the other told conflicting stories, and independent eyewitnesses who did not know the participants by sight were unable to say for certain who shot first.

Virgil Earp reported afterward, "Two shots went off right together. Billy Clanton's was one of them."

Billy Clanton
All witnesses generally agreed that two shots were fired first, almost indistinguishable from each other. General firing immediately broke out.

Wyatt testified, "Billy Clanton leveled his pistol at me, but I did not aim at him. I knew that Frank McLaury had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLaury."

Wyatt Earp testified that he shot Frank McLaury after both he and Billy Clanton went for their revolvers.

Virgil and Wyatt thought Tom was armed. When shooting started, the horse that Tom McLaury held jumped to one side.

Wyatt said he also saw Tom McLaury throw his hand to his right hip. Virgil said Tom followed the horse's movement, hiding behind it, and he believed that he fired once, if not twice, from over the horse's back.

At some point in the first few seconds, Holliday stepped around Tom McLaury's horse and shot him with the short, double-barreled shotgun in the chest at close range.

Witness C. H. "Ham" Light saw Tom running or stumbling westward on Fremont Street towards Third Street, away from the gunfight, while Frank and Billy were still standing and shooting.
Ike Clanton

Light testified that Tom fell at the foot of a telegraph pole on the corner of Fremont and 3rd Street and lay there, without moving, through the duration of the fight.

After shooting Tom, Holliday tossed the shotgun aside, pulled out his nickel-plated revolver, and continued to fire at Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton.

Despite having bragged that he would kill the Earps or Doc Holliday at his first opportunity, once the shooting broke out, Wyatt told the court afterward that Ike Clanton ran forward and grabbed Wyatt, exclaiming that he was unarmed and did not want a fight.

To this protest Wyatt said he responded, "Go to fighting or get away!"

Clanton ran through the front door of Fly's boarding house and escaped, unwounded. Billy Claiborne also ran from the fight.

According to the chief newspaper of the town, The Tombstone Epitaph, "Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit."

Morgan Earp fired almost immediately as Billy drew his gun right-handed, hitting Billy Clanton in the right wrist.

This shot disabled Billy's gun hand and forced him to shift the revolver to his left hand. He continued firing until he emptied it.

Virgil and Wyatt were now firing. Morgan Earp tripped over a newly buried waterline and fired from the ground.

Frank McLaury was shot in the abdomen. And taking his horse by its reins, struggled into the street, it's said Frank tried to grab his rifle from its scabbard on his horse.

It's also claimed that while he was doing this that he fired his revolver over the horse's head, but the horse got away before he could withdraw the rifle from the scabbard.

A number of witnesses observed a man leading a horse into the street and firing near it, and Wyatt in his testimony thought this was Tom McLaury.

But it is believe that that couldn't have been the case, and that it was indeed Frank McLaury.

Claiborne said only one man had a horse in the fight, and that this man was Frank, holding his own horse by the reins, then losing it and its cover, in the middle of the street.

Frank McLaury
Wes Fuller also identified Frank as the man in the street leading the horse.

Though wounded, Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury kept shooting. One of them, perhaps Billy, shot Morgan Earp across the back in a wound that struck both shoulder blades and a vertebra. Morgan went down for a minute before picking himself up.

Either Frank or Billy shot Virgil Earp in the calf - Virgil thought it was Billy. Virgil, though hit, fired his next shot at Billy Clanton.

Frank and Holliday exchanged shots as Frank moved into Fremont street with Holliday following, and Frank hit Holliday in his pistol pocket, grazing his skin.

Frank lost control of his horse and, firing his weapon, crossed Fremont Street to the sidewalk on the east side.

Holliday followed Frank across Fremont Street, exclaiming, "That son of a bitch has shot me, and I am going to kill him."

Morgan Earp picked himself up and also fired at Frank.

The smoke from the black powder used in the weapons added to the confusion of the gunfight in the narrow space.

Frank, now entirely across Fremont street and still walking at a good pace according to Claiborne's testimony, fired twice more before he was shot in the head under his right ear.

 Both Morgan and Holliday apparently thought they had fired the shot that killed Frank, but since neither of them testified at the hearing, this information is only from second-hand accounts.

A passerby testified to having stopped to help Frank, and saw Frank try to speak, but he died where he fell, before he could be moved.

Billy Clanton was shot in the chest and abdomen, and after a minute or two slumped to a sitting position near his original position at the corner of the MacDonald house in the alley between the house and Fly's Lodging House.

Claiborne said Billy Clanton was supported by a window initially after he was shot, and fired some shots after sitting, with the pistol supported on his leg.

After he ran out of ammunition, he called for more cartridges, but C. S. Fly took his pistol at about the time the general shooting ended.

A few moments later, Tom was carried from the corner of Fremont and Third into the Harwood house on that corner, where he died without speaking.
Morgan Earp

Passersby carried Billy to the Harwood house, where Tom had been taken.

Billy was in considerable pain and asked for a doctor and some morphine.

He told those near him, "They have murdered me. I have been murdered. Chase the crowd away and from the door and give me air."

Billy gasped for air, and someone else heard him say, "Go away and let me die."

Ike Clanton, who had repeatedly threatened the Earps with death, was still running.

William Cuddy testified that Ike passed him on Allen Street and Johnny Behan saw him a few minutes later on Tough Nut Street.

In that split second when the firing started all of the pent-up scores were going to be settled as the first bullets tore through the air.

The boastful Ike Clanton, the man who was going to kill all the Earps single-handily and drop Doc Holliday for good measure, ran screaming toward Wyatt Earp, ducked behind him and streaked toward Fly's photograph gallery, where Sheriff Behan quickly had taken refuge.

Close behind Ike was Billy the Kid Claiborne, recently released from jail after killing a man who "bothered" Billy. But the events at the O.K. Corral were a different kind of bother to Billy, and he quickly decided this really wasn't his fight after all.

Frank McLaury was the first to drop, a gaping wound in his stomach from Wyatt Earp's pistol fired at almost pointblank range.

Morgan Earp took a bullet across his shoulder as young Billy Clanton, his right wrist shattered, shifted his gun to his left hand.

Billy kept firing as two more bullets tore through his body, and one shot hit Virgil Earp in the calf.

Billy weakly tried to keep firing as he lay on the hard packed sand, but he couldn't muster the strength to pull the trigger.

It's said that Tom McLaury made a lunge for the rifle in the saddle scabbard of brother Frank's horse, but the frightened horse reared - exposing Tom to Doc Holiday's shotgun blast.

Tom stumbled a few feet into Fremont Street, where now there were two dead McLaurys.

Billy Clanton died a few minutes later, his pistol taken from his hand by Camillas Fly as he was lifted and carried into Fly's boarding house.

It was over. There were a few awful moments of silence, then there was a new sound - the whistles of the Vizina and Tough Nut mines shrilled in the air, calling the members of the Citizens' Safety Committee to form against what many feared might now he a general insurrection on the part of the outlaw elements.

Sheriff Behan told Wyatt Earp he was under arrest; Wyatt replied: "I won't be arrested today. I am right here and am not going away. You deceived me. You told me these men were disarmed; I went to disarm them."

Wyatt wasn't arrested that day, and outlaw violence didn't break out yet.

But within a few days, the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were charged with murder. And yes, because Morgan and Virgil still were recovering from their wounds, Judge Wells Spicer decided to proceed to trial without them.

Sheriff Behan testified the Clanton party made no effort to begin shooting when the Earp party stalked to the Corral and, according to him, told them to throw up their hands.

He said the Earps already had their guns at the ready.

He did admit however, that Frank McLaury had told him a short time before the shooting that he would not give up his weapons until the Earps were disarmed.

The movies usually show the shooters firing across expansive corrals and courtyards, as well as in and out of barns and other buildings.

In fact, all the participants were no more than a few feet from one another until Frank McLaury went for a horse on the street, trying to pull a rifle from its scabbard.

Tom McLaury was unarmed.

Tom McLaury
No weapon was ever found in Tom’s possession, or near his body. But that didn't matter because going for your rifle when a gunfight starts is one of the easiest ways to get yourself killed.

Wyatt Earp later testified that he thought that Tom had been carrying a concealed weapon, but no weapon was ever found.

Indeed, earlier in the day Wyatt had confronted Tom about that very issue.

One report says that Tom went for his rifle on his horse, but even Wyatt testified that Tom threw open his coat to show that he was unarmed before being shot.

It is possible that he did go for a rifle and his horse and got killed while doing so. It is very possible that he died as many have - for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when shooting starts. 

About 30 shots were fired in 30 seconds in Black Powder fog.

Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight, unharmed. Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed;

Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back that nicked both shoulder blades and a vertebra, although he was able to continue to fire his weapon.

Virgil was shot through the calf and Holliday was grazed by a bullet that actually hit his belt. Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded and survived. Wyatt Earp went untouched.

It was roughly a 30-second gunfight that took place at about 3:00 p.m. on October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona Territory of the United States. Although only three men were killed during the gunfight, it is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the Old West.

Despite its name, the gunfight began in a 15–20 feet wide empty lot or alley designated Lot 2 on Block 17 on Fremont Street, between C. S. Fly's lodging house and photographic studio and the MacDonald assay house.

The lot was six doors East of an alleyway that served as the O.K. Corral's rear entrance. The two opposing parties were initially only about 6 feet apart.

12 days after the gunfight, as a result of charges of murder from Ike Clanton, Wyatt and Doc were arrested and jailed pending a preliminary hearing. Virgil Earp was suspended from his police duties at the same time.

Ike Clanton filed murder charges against Doc Holliday and the Earps and after a month-long preliminary hearing they were exonerated.

The Earps and Doc Holliday were charged by Billy Clanton's brother, Ike Clanton, with murder.

After a 30-day preliminary hearing and then again by a local grand jury, at the conclusion of an exhaustive inquest, Judge Spicer ruled that the Earps and Holliday did nothing illegal and the charges were dismissed.

Doc and Wyatt spent 16 days in jail during the hearing.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted for less than one minute. It is estimated that as many as 30 shots were fired. Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded, Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury were killed. Billy Claiborne and Ike Clanton escaped. Charges were later brought against the Earps and Doc Holiday.

Although Virgil and Morgan were excused because of their injuries, Wyatt and Doc were forced to pay out an inordinate sum of money.

But as most know, the animosity and bloodshed didn’t end with the gunfight at the OK Corral.

After the Earps were exonerated, the Cowboy faction extracted their revenge by ambushing and shooting Virgil Earp - who recovered but lost the use of one arm for the rest of his life.

Then in a separate incident, Morgan Earp died as a result of being shot with a shotgun at close range from ambush while near a window while playing pool.

These attacks on his brothers sent Wyatt on what has come to be known as the Earp vendetta ride. Accompanied by Doc Holliday, Warren Earp, and others, Wyatt tracked down and killed some of the men he felt were responsible for killing Morgan and maiming Virgil.

And yes, to this day there is still much controversy over the gunfight and ensuing events. During the vendetta ride, Wyatt was a federal Marshall carrying warrants for the arrest of several people.

Some of these people were riding in an opposing posse led by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, who himself was carrying a warrant for Earp’s and Holliday’s arrests.

The surviving Clantons still insist that the Earps were guilty of murder for their role in the gunfight, and that the vendetta ride was just a murder spree fueled by vengeance.

Others adhere to the belief that the Earps were acting in the best interests of law and order by breaking up the Cowboy gang - who were indeed guilty of cattle rustling, stage robbery, and murder.

What is for certain is that when the Earps and Doc Holliday did finally left Arizona - the Cowboy element was less of a threat from that point forward.


It is interesting to note the picture at the top of this article is very correct in that since all of the shooters were using Black Powder, because Smokeless Powder wasn't invented for another 2 years, that the alley must have looked thick with gun smoke - as thick as the thickest fog of war.

And by the way, it is from the use of Black Powder and the amount of smoke put out by Black Powder rounds on any given battlefield - prior to the introduction of Smokeless Powder in 1883 - that we get the term "Fog Of War."

I've shot some Black Powder in my time, and yes I've experienced the Holy Black Fog. So to me, well I think it's surprising that they could see who they were shooting at all.

As for the "famous" gunfight being famous during its time? No it wasn't, in fact it was really not very "famous" at all because there were a lot bigger gunfights at the time.

It actually took 50 years for the gunfight at Lot 2 in Block 17 near the rear of the OK Corral to become famous.

Fact is that the shootout was relatively unknown to the majority of American public until 1931 when author Stuart Lake published what has since been determined to be a largely fictionalized Wyatt Earp biography entitled Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal which was published two years after Wyatt Earp's death.

Stuart Lake also retold Wyatt's fictional story in a 1946 book that director John Ford developed into the movie My Darling Clementine.

It was only after the movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was released in 1957, that the shootout came to be known by that name - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 

Since that movie starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas hit the big screen, the conflict has been portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in numerous Western films and books.

Kirk Douglas (Doc Holliday), Burt Lancaster (Wyatt Earp),
John Ireland (Morgan Earp), DeForest Kelley (Virgil Earp) with 
Two shotguns and pistols drawn walking down the street
-- too bad it wasn't that way at all.

And by the way, in all of the movies made about the shootout is that none of the Earps wore holsters on their hips. It is possible that Doc Holliday had a shoulder holster, but the others concealed their weapons in their pockets and behind their backs under their coats.

In fact, no guns were showing. Even Doc Holliday, who was holding the sawed off shotgun handed to him by City Marshal Virgil Earp, hid the shotgun under his coat until the shooting started.

Hollywood can't get the simplest details correct, and really hasn't since they first started making movies about what took place at Lot 2 near the rear of the OK Corral Feed & Livery Stable on Fremont Street.

Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday), Sam Elliot (Virgil Earp),
Kurt Russell (Wyatt Earp), and Bill Paxton (Morgan Earp)

But then again, while the 1957 movie starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, didn’t exactly match the original story, it did help to popularize the shootout that was to become the most famous in Old West history.

Some say that the movie Tombstone with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer is the closest to what took place at the OK Corral shootout.

Tombstone was really is a well done film with a lot of attention to detail, so for me it is the closest film made that gets a lot right. Unlike Kevin Costner's horrible film Wyatt Earp, which made the Cowboy faction look like filthy bums, the film Tombstone appears period correct.

And yes, if you're wondering why Hollywood has a hard time getting it right? I don't know why, but it does.

They get many things very close at times, but never completely accurate. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a shame because they have the financial resources to do things correctly.

And besides the things like, types of guns and dress and such, it's as if Hollywood can't let the story speak for itself. Hollywood seems to always want to dramatize an already great drama.

And really, that's too bad - because the story of what lead up to and including what took place at the OK Corral is an American tale of the Old West that pits rustler against lawman, double crossers and those paid off, police corruption, double dealers, and bad men -- all interchangeable except for one.

Whether or not the Gun-Control City Ordinance was used as an end to a means to rid the town of a rival gang or not, it was a drama with at least one Old West hero.

City Marshal Virgil Earp who was all in all the real hero at the gunfight at the OK Corral. He was the lawman that made the best out of a bad situation.

It is a shame that his brother Wyatt got all the recognition when in fact Virgil, the consummate Old West lawman, should have.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa


1 comment:

  1. Well done, Tom. This was a great read - as is your whole blog.
    We've been to Tombstone probably six times in all - and stayed there on three occasions.
    While it's not the largest of towns to explore but somehow it still manages to give the 'old town' feel - especially early in the morning as the sun's coming up before the streets begin to fill.
    The only other place which gets close IMHO is Lincoln NM - but that's a little more off our 'beaten track'.
    It's always great to get that bit more background info on the goings on in Tombstone. Cheers..........

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