Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gunfight at the OK Corral - The Aftermath - Part One

The feud between the Earps and the Clantons and McLaurys came to a head at the OK Corral.

It wasn't a feud that extended over just a few days, but instead took place over a period of the years. It started in late 1879, came to a head at the shootout in 1881, and lasted well into 1882.

The actual gunfight was at very close range where the shooters were just a few feet away from each other. Many assume it was some sort of running battle across streets, or from one building to the next, or maybe at one end of the street while their opponents stood at the other end just like in the movies.

It was actually more like an arrest being made today. It was up close and personal with all of the risks and unexpected dangers that go along with law enforcement.

Also its interesting to note that the gunfight at the OK Corral might have gone down as pretty much just another fairly unknown skirmish in the Old West, if it weren't for the 1931 publication Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal written by Wyatt's biographer Stuart Lake.

Yes, after 50 years of obscurity to everyone other than to locals in Arizona, Wyatt Earp's biography - which was published two years after Wyatt died at the age of 80 in 1928 - made that little known shootout world famous.

Through books, movies, television, magazines, and today the Internet, that very short gunfight and what followed afterwards has caught the fascination of the public ever sense the 1930s.

Now before going into the particulars of what happened after the famous shootout, let's recap a bit.

On Wednesday, October 26, 1881, at around 3pm, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral - which was actually at vacant Lot #2 on Fremont Street near the rear of the OK Corral livery stable  - took place, and in fact lasted all of 30 seconds.

It is estimated that as many as 30 shots were fired. Black powder smoke filled the dead air and created a fog that was probably thick as can be. If you've ever shot black powder or been around it at all, you know real well that black powder lingers in the still air.

Shooting Cowboy Action Shooting as I do, I can tell you honestly that just a few shots of black powder and the shooter can barely see what he's shooting at.

In the end, Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded, Billy Clanton along with Tom and Frank McLaury were dead. Billy Claiborne and Ike Clanton ran off as the fight was starting.

Remember Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight, both unharmed. Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed; Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded and survived. Wyatt Earp went untouched. This is important since Ike Clanton started the whole thing in the first place.

Tom McLaury was found to be unarmed, which is really tough to explain when someone on your side has shot him.

To get an idea of what took place right after the shootout, let's start as the smoke cleared and Cochise County Sheriff John Behan walks up to Wyatt who was by them one of the few there still standing.

Believe it or not, John Behan actually attempts to arrest Wyatt who had been deputized by his older brother Virgil just before walking down to the lot where everything would take place..

In a line that has become famous with the telling of the OK Corral story, Wyatt supposedly responds, "I won't be arrested today. You threw us, Johnny!"  This apparently meant that Behan had set them up by telling them earlier that he had disarmed the cowboys himself.

Wyatt then sees to it that Virgil and Morgan are get medical care and taken to their homes.

Immediately Virgil Earp is suspended as City Marshal pending a full investigation can take place.

The shoot-out becomes the talk of the town. The Tombstone Nugget ran a story noting that "The 26th of October, 1881, will always be marked as one of the crimson days in the annals of Tombstone, a day when blood flowed as water, and human life was held as a shuttlecock."

The town is devided on whether Virgil Earp acted appropriately in firing so quickly. Many residents asked why Doc Holliday, a hothead with an ax to grind, was deputized by City Marshal Virgil Earp to assist in the disarming of the Clantons and McLaurys.

A funeral for the slain men showed deep sympathy for the slain men, with three hundred people joining a procession to Boot Hill. An estimated crowd of more than 2,000 others watched the procession form Tombstone's dusty sidewalks.


A couple of days later, Ike Clanton files murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday with Judge Wells Spicer. Spicer was reportedly a good friend of Virgil Earp.

While this is taking place, the Earps are being moved into the Cosmopolitan Hotel because they fear for their lives. The hotel turns into an armed fort.

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

Although Virgil and Morgan were excused because of their injuries, a little more than a week later on November 4th, 1881, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are arrested by Deputy Sheriff Harry Woods and taken to jail.

Bail was set at $10,000.00 each for Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. They were initially released after posting said bail. Soon after their release on bail, William McLaury, the brother of the dead men, came into town.

William McLaury is someone that is hardly heard of in the story of the OK Corral, probably because he wasn't a cowboy part of the gang. Fact is the William McLaury was an attorney and became outraged when he learned Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were free on bail.

After meeting with Judge Spicer on November 7th, William McLaury succeeded in getting Wyatt and Doc put back on jail.

Wyatt and Doc were arrested again, and were this time jailed pending a preliminary hearing. And yes, believe it or not, Wyatt and Doc were forced to pay out a huge sum of money in legal fees and court costs during this time. No, it wasn't much different than today where money buys you better legal defense.

During the trial, everyone was questioned from Wyatt Earp to witnesses on the street. But Wyatt caused a prosecution objection when he asked to tell the events that transpired the day of the shooting.

Why would this cause a problem? Well, it was because Wyatt pulled out a prepared statement written by his lawyer - not himself.

When he commenced to read from it, the prosecution immediately objected. Judge Spicer overruled the objection.

Wyatt read his statement just as his attorney wrote it. This is that statement, and please understand that the spelling of names and such are exactly as recorded the day of his testimony:

The difficulty between deceased and myself originated first when I followed Tom McLowry and Frank McLowry, with Virgil and Morgan Earp and Captain Hearst and four soldiers to look for six government mules which were stolen.

A man named Estes told us at Charleston, that we would find the mules at McLowry's ranch, that the McLowrys were branding "D. S." over "U. S." We tracked the mules to McLowry's ranch, where we also found the brand.

Afterwards some of those mules were found with the same brand.

After we arrived at McLowry's ranch there was a man named Frank Patterson who made some kind of a compromise with Captain Hearst.

Captain Hearst came to us boys and told us he had made this compromise and by so doing he would get the mules back. We insisted on following them up.

Hearst prevailed upon us to go back to Tombstone, and so we came back. Hearst told us two or three weeks afterwards that they would not give up the mules to him after we left, saying they only wanted to get us away: that they could stand the soldiers off. Captain Hearst cautioned me and Virgil and Morgan to look out for those men; that they had made some hard threats against the lives.

About one month after that, after those mules had been taken, I met Frank and Tom McLowrv in Charleston. They tried to pick a fuss out of me, and told me that if I ever followed them up again as close as I did before that they would kill me.

Shortly after the time Budd Philpot was killed by those men who tried to rob the Benson stage, as a detective I helped trace the matter up, and I was satisfied that three men, named Billy Leonard, Harry Head and Jim Crane were in that robbery.

I know that Leonard, Head and Crane were friends and associates of the Clantons and McLowrys and often stopped at their ranches. It was generally understood among officers, and those who have information about criminals, that Ike Clanton was a sort of chief among the cowboys; that the Clantons and McLowrys were cattle thieves, and generally in the secrets of the stage robbers; and that the Clanton and McLowrvs ranches were the meeting place, and place of shelter for the gang.

I had an ambition to be sheriff of this county next election, and I thought it would be a great help to me with the people and the business men if I could capture the men who killed Philpot.

There were rewards offered of about $1,200 each for the robbers. Altogether there was about $3,600 offered for their capture. I thought that this amount might tempt Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry to give away Leonard, Head and Crane; so I went to Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry, when they came in town.

I had an interview with them in the back yard of the Oriental saloon. I told them what I wanted. I told them I wanted the glory of capturing Leonard, Head and Crane; if I could do so, it would help me make the race for sheriff next election.

I told them if they would put on the track of Leonard, Head and Crane - tell me where those men were hid - I would give them all the reward, and would never let anybody know where I got the information.

Ike Clanton said that he would be glad to have Leonard captured, that Leonard claimed a ranch that he claimed, and if he could gel him out of the way he would have no opposition about the ranch. Ike Clanton said that Leonard, Head and Crane would make a fight, that they would never be taken alive, and that I must first find out if the reward would be paid for the capture of the robbers dead or alive.

I then went to Marshall Williams, the agent of Wells, Fargo & Co., in this town, and at my request he telegraphed to the agent of Wells, Fargo & Co., at San Francisco to find out if the reward would be paid for the robbers dead or alive.

He received in June, 1881 a telegram which he gave me, promising that the reward should be paid dead or alive. I showed this telegram soon after I got it to Ike Clanton in front of the Alhambra and afterwards told Frank McLowry of its contents.

It was then agreed between us that they should have all the $3.600 reward outside of necessary expenses for horses in going after them and Joe Hill should go to where Leonard, Head, and Crane were hid, over near Eureka, in New Mexico, and lure them in near Frank and Tom McLowry's ranch near Soldier Holes, 30 miles from here, and I would be on hand with a posse and capture them.

I asked Joe Hill, Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry what tale they would make to them to get them over here. They said they had agreed upon a plan to tell them that there would be a pay master going from Tombstone to Bisbee shortly to pay off the miners, and that they wanted them to come in and take them; Ike Clanton then sent Joe Hill to bring them in; before starting Joe Hill took on his watch and chain and between two and three hundred dollars in money, and gave it to Virgil Earp to keep for him until he got back.

He was gone about ten days and returned with the word that he had got there a day too late; that Leonard and Harry Head had been killed the day before he got there by horse thieves. I learned afterward that the thieves had been killed subsequently by members of the Clanton and McLowry gang.

After that Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry said I had given them away to Marshal Williams and Doc Holliday, and when they came in town they shunned us, and Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday and myself began to hear of their threats against us.

I am a friend of Doc Holliday, because when I was city marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, he came to my rescue and saved my life, when I was surrounded by desperadoes.

A month or so ago Morgan and I assisted to arrest Stillwell and Spence on the charge of robbing the Bisbee stage. The McLowrys and Clantons have always been friendly with Spence and Stillwell, and they laid the whole blame of their arrest on us, though the fact is, we only went as a sheriff's posse.

After we got in town with Spence and Stillwell, Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry came in. Frank McLowry took Morgan into the middle of the street, where John Ringgold, Ike Clanton and the Hicks boys were standing, and commenced to abuse Morgan Earp for going after Spence and Stillwell. Frank McLowry said he would never speak to Spence again for being arrested by us.

He said to Morgan, "If ever you come after me you will never take me."

Morgan replied that if he ever had occasion to go after him he would arrest him.

Frank McLowry then said to him, "I have threatened you boys' lives, and a few days ago I had taken it back, but since this arrest it now goes."

Morgan made no reply, and walked off.

Before this and after this, Marshal Williams and Farmer Daly, and Ed. Burns and three or four others, told us at different times of threats made to kill us, by Ike Clanton, Frank McLowry: Tom McLowry, Joe Hill and John Ringgold.

I knew that all these men were desperate and dangerous, cattle thieves, robbers and murderers. I knew of the Clantons and McLowrys stealing six government mules. I heard of Ringgold shooting a man down in cold blood near Camp Thomas.

I was satisfied that Frank and Tom McLowry killed and robbed Mexican in the Skeleton canyon two or three months ago, and I naturally keep my eyes open, and I did not intend that any of the gang should get the drop on me if I could help it.

Three or four weeks ago Ike Clanton met me at the Alhambra, and told me that I had told Holliday about this transaction, concerning the capture of Head and Leonard.

I told him I never told Holliday anything. I told him when Holliday came up from Tucson I would prove it.

Ike Clanton said that Holliday had told him so; when Holliday came I asked him and he said no; I told him that Ike Clanton had said so.

On the 25"' of October Holliday met Ike Clanton in the Alhambra saloon and asked him about it. Clanton denied it, and they quarreled for three or four minutes.

Holliday told Ike Clanton he was a d-d liar, if he said so. I was sitting eating lunch at the time.

They got up and walked out on the street. I got through and walked out, and they were still talking about it.

I then went to Holliday, who was pretty tight, and took him away. Then I came back alone and met Ike Clanton.

He called me outside and said his gun was on the other side of the street at the hotel. I told him to leave it there.

He said he would make a fight with Holliday any time he wanted to. I told him Holliday did not want to fight, but only to satisfy him this talk had not been made.

I then went away and went to the Oriental, and in a few minutes Ike Clanton came over with his six shooter on.

He said he was not fixed right; that in the morning he would have man for man that this fighting talk had been going on for a long time, and it was about time to fetch it to a close.

I told him that I wouldn't fight no one if I could get away from it.

He walked off and left me, saying, "I will be ready for all of you in the morning."

He followed me into the Oriental, having his six shooter in plain sight. He said, "You musn't think I won't be after you all in the morning."

Myself and Holliday walked away and went to our rooms.

I got up next day, October 26, about noon. Before I got up, Ned Bolye came to me and told me that he met Ike Clanton on Allen street, near the telegraph office that morning; that Ike was armed; that he said "As soon as those d-d Earps make their appearance on the street to day the battle will open,"

That Ike said, "We are here to make a fight, we are looking for the sons of b--s."

Jones came to me after I got up and went to the saloon, and said, "What does all this mean?"

I asked what he meant. He says, "Ike Clanton is hunting you Earp boys with a Winchester rifle and a six shooter. "I said, I will go down and find him and see what he wants."

I went out, and on the corner of Fourth and Allen streets I met Virgil Earp, the marshal. He told me how he had heard that Ike Clanton was hunting us. I went up Allen street, and Virgil went down Fifth street and then Fremont street. Virgil found Ike Clanton on Fourth street in an alley.

He walked up to him and said, "I hear you are hunting for some of us."

Ike Clanton then threw his Winchester rifle around towards Virgil. Virgil grabbed it and hit Clanton with his six shooter and knocked him down. Clanton had his rifle, and his six shooter was exposed in his pants.

By that time I came up, and Virgil and Morgan took his rifle and six shooter away and took them to the Grand Hotel after the examination, and took Ike Clanton before Justice Wallace.

Before the investigation Morgan Earp had Ike Clanton in charge, as Virgil Earp was out. A short time after I went into Wallace's court and sat down on a bench.

Ike Clanton looked over to me and says, "I will get even with all of you for this. If I had a six shooter I would make a fight with all of you."

Morgan then said to him, "If you want to make a fight right bad I will give you this one." At the same time offering Ike Clanton his (Ike's) own six shooter.

Ike Clanton started to get up to take it, when Campbell, the deputy sheriff, pushed him back on his seat, saying he wouldn't allow any fuse. I never had Ike Clanton's arms at any time as he has stated.

I would like to describe the position we occupied in the courtroom at that time.

Ike Clanton sat down on a bench, with his face fronting to the north wall of the building. I myself sat down on a bench that was against the north wall right in front of Ike.

Morgan Earp stood up against the north wall with his back against the north wall, two or three feet to my right. Morgan Earp had Ike Clanton's Winchester in his left hand and his six shooter in his right hand, one end of the rifle was on the floor.

Virgil Earp was not in the court room any of the time, and Virgil Earp came there after I walked out.

I was tired of being threatened by Ike Clanton and his gang. I believed from what they had said to others and to me, and from their movements, that they intended to assassinate me the first chance they had, and I thought if I had to fight for my life against them, I had better make them face me in an open fight.

So I said to Ike Clanton, who was then sitting about eight feet away from me, "you d--d dirty cur thief, you have been threatening our lives, and I know it. I think I should be justified shooting you down any place I should meet you, but if you are anxious to make a fight, I will go anywhere on earth to make a fight with you, even over to the San Simon among your own crowd."

He replied, "all right, I will see you after I get through here. I only want four feet of ground to fight on."

I walked out and just then outside the court room, near the justice's office, I met Tom McLowry.

He came up to me and said to me, "If you want to make a fight I will make a fight with you anywhere."

I supposed at the time he had heard what had first transpired between Ike Clanton and me. I knew of his having threatened me and I felt just as I did about Ike Clanton, that if the fight had to come, I had better have it come when I had an even show to defend myself, so I said to him all right "make a fight right here," and at the same time I slapped him in the face with my left hand, and drew my pistol with my right.

He had a pistol in plain sight on his right hip, but made no move to draw it.

I said to him, "Jerk your gun use it."

He made no reply and I hit him on the head with my six shooter and walked away down to Hafford's corner.

I went into Hafford's and got a cigar, and came out and stood by the door. Pretty soon after I saw Tom McLowry, Frank McLowry and William Clanton. They passed me and went down Fourth street to the gunsmith shop. I followed down to see what they were going to do.

When I got there Frank McLowry's horse was standing on the sidewalk with his head in the door of the gun shop. I took the horse by the bit, as I was deputy city marshal, and commenced to back him off the sidewalk.

Frank and Tom McLowry and Billy Clanton came to the door, Billy Clanton had his hand on his six shooter. Frank McLowry took hold of the horse's bridle.

I said "you will have to get this horse off the sidewalk."

He backed him off on the street Ike Clanton came up about that time and they all walked into the gunsmith's shop. I saw them in the shop changing cartridges into their belts.

They came out of the shop and walked along Fourth street to the corner of Allen street. I followed them as far as the corner of Fourth and Allen streets, and then they went down Allen street and over to Dunbar's corral. Virgil Earp was then city marshal; Morgan Earp was a special policeman for six weeks, wore a badge and drew pay.

I had been sworn in Virgil's place to act for him while Virgil was gone to Tucson on Stillwell and Spence, on the charge of robbing the Bisbee stage trial. Virgil had been back several days, but I was still acting.

I know it was Virgil's duty to disarm those men. He suspected he would have trouble in doing so; and I followed up to give assistance if necessary, especially as they had been threatening us, as I have already stated.

About ten minutes afterwards, and while Virgil, Morgan, Doc Holliday and myself were standing in the center of Fourth and Allen streets several persons said, "there is going to be trouble with those fellows," and one man named Coleman said to Virgil Earp, "they mean trouble. They have just gone from Dunbar's corral into the 0. K. corral, all armed. I think you had better go and disarm them."

Virgil turned around to Doc Holliday, Morgan Earp and myself and told us to come and assist him in disarming them.

Morgan Earp said to me, "they have horses; had we not better get some horses ourselves, so that if they make a running fight we can catch them?"

I said, "No, if they try to make a running fight we can kill their horses, and then capture them."

We four then started through Fourth to Fremont street. When we turned the corner of Fourth and Fremont streets we could see them standing near or about the vacant space between Fly's photograph gallery and the next building west.

I first saw Frank McLowry, Torn McLowry, Billy Clanton and Sheriff Behan standing there. We went down the left hand side of Fremont street. When I got within about 150 feet of them I saw Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne and another party.

We had walked a few steps further when I saw Behan leave the party and come towards us, every few steps he would look back as if he apprehended danger.

I heard Behan say to Virgil Earp, "For God's sake don't go down there or you will get murdered."

Virgil replied, "I am going to disarm them" - he, Virgil Earp, being in the lead.

When I and Morgan came up to Behan he said, "I have disarmed them."

When he said this I took my pistol, which I had in my hand, under my coat, and put it in my overcoat pocket.

Behan then passed up the street, and we walked on down.

We came up on them close - Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry and Billy Clanton standing all in a row against the east side of the building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly`s photography gallery.

Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I did not know were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west. I saw that Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry and Tom McLowry had their hands by their sides and Frank McLowry's and Billy Clanton's six shooters were in plain sight.

Virgil said, "Throw up your hands. I have come to disarm you."

Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry had their hands on their six shooters.

Virgil said, "Hold I don't mean that; I have come to disarm you."

They - Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry - commenced to draw their pistols, at the same time Tom McLowry threw his hand to his right hip and jumped behind a horse.

I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket where I had put it when Behan told us he had disarmed the other party.

When I saw Billy and Frank draw their pistols I drew my pistol.

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

The two first shots which were fired were fired by Billy Clanton and myself he; shot at me, and I shot at Frank McLowry.

I do not know which shot was first; we fired almost together.

The fight then became general. After about four shots were fired Ike Clanton ran up and grabbed my arm.

I could see no weapon in his hand and thought at the time he had none, and so I said to him, "The fight has now commenced go to fighting or get away." At the same time I pushed him off with my left hand.

He started and ran down the side of the building and disappeared between the lodging house and the photograph gallery.

My first shot struck Frank McLowry in the belly. He staggered off on the sidewalk but first fired one shot at me.

When we told them to throw up their hands Claiborne held up his left hand, and then broke and ran. I never saw him afterwards until later in the afternoon, after the fight. I never drew my pistol or made a motion to shoot until after Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols.

If Tom McLowry was unarmed I did not know it. I believe he was armed and that he fired two shots at our party before Holliday who had the shotgun, fired at and killed him.

If he was unarmed there was nothing to the circumstances or in what had been communicated to me, or in his acts or threats, that would have led me even to suspect his being unarmed.

I never fired at Ike Clanton, even after the shooting commenced, because I thought he was unarmed and I believed then, and believe now, from the acts I have stated, and the threats I have related, and other threats communicated to me by different persons, as having been made by Tom McLowry, Frank McLowry and Isaac Clanton, that these men, last named, had formed a conspiracy to murder my brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holliday and myself.

I believe I would have been legally and morally justified in shooting any of them on sight, but I did not do so or attempt to do so; I sought no advantage.

When I went as deputy marshal to help disarm them and arrest them, I went as a part of my duty and under the direction of my brother the marshal. I did not intend to fight unless it became necessary in self defense, and in the performance of official duty.

When Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols - I knew it was a fight for life, and I drew and fired in defense of my own life and the lives of my brothers and Doc Holliday.

I have been in Tombstone since December 1, 1879. I came here from Dodge City Kansas, where, against the protest of business men and officials, I resigned the office of City Marshal, which I held from 1876.

I came to Dodge City from Wichita, Kansas. I was on the police force in Wichita, from 1874 until I went to Dodge City.

The testimony of Isaac Clanton that I had anything to do with any stage robbery, or any criminal enterprise, is a tissue of lies from beginning to end. Sheriff Behan made me an offer in his office on Allen street, and in the back room of the cigar store, that if I would withdraw and not try to get appointed sheriff of Cochise county, that we would hire a clerk and divide the profits.

I done so; and he never said another word to me afterward in regard to it. The reasons given by him here for not complying with his contract, are false.

I give here as a part of this statement, a document sent me from Dodge City, since my arrest, and marked Exhibit A, and another document sent me from Wichita, since this arrest, which I wish attached to this statement. and marked Exhibit B.

Myself and Doc Holliday happened to go to Charleston the night that Behan happened to go down to subpoena Ike Clanton. We went there for the purpose of getting a horse that had been stolen from us a few days after I came to Tombstone.

I had heard several times that the Clantons had him. When I got there that night I was told by a friend of mine that the man that carried the dispatch from Charleston to Ike Clanton's ranch had my horse.

At this time I did not know where Ike Clanton's ranch was. A short time afterward I was in the Huachucas, locating some water rights. I had started home to Tombstone, and had got within twelve or fifteen miles of Charleston, when I met a man named McMasters. He told me if I would hurry up I would find my horse in Chaleston.

I drove to Charleston, and saw my horse going through the streets toward the corral. I put up for the night at another corral.

I went to Barnett's office, to get out papers to recover the horse. He was not at home, having gone to Sonora to see some coal fields that had been discovered. I telegraphed to Tombstone, to James Earp, and papers were made out and sent to Charleston, that night.

While I was in town, waiting for the papers, Billy Clanton found out I was there. He went and tried to take the horse out of the corral. I told him that he could not take him out, that it was my horse.

After the papers came he gave the horse up without the papers being served, and asked me "if I had any more horses to lose." I told him I would keep them in the stable after this, and not give him a chance to steal them.

In one of the conversations I had with Ike Clanton about giving away Leonard, Head and Crane, I told him one reason why I wanted to catch them was to prove to the citizens of Tombstone that Doc Holliday had nothing to do with it, as there were some false statements circulated to that effect.

In following the trail of Leonard, Head and Crane, we struck it at the scene of the attempted robbery, and never lost the trail or hardly a footprint from the time that we started from Drew's ranch, on the San Pedro, until we got to Helm's ranch, in the Dragoons.

After following about eight miles down the San Pedro river and capturing one of the men, named King that was supposed to be in with them, we then crossed the Catalina mountains within fifteen miles of Tucson, following their trail around the front of the mountain after they had crossed over to Tres Alamos, on the San Pedro river. We then started out from Helm's ranch and got on their trail.

They had stolen fifteen or twenty head of stock so as to cover their trail. Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, R.H. Paul, Breckenridge, Johnny Behan and one or two others still followed the trail up into New Mexico. Their trail never led south from Helm's ranch, as Ike Clanton has stated.

We used every effort we could to capture these men. I was out ten days. Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp were out sixteen days, and we done all we could to capture these men, and I safely say if it had not been for myself and Morgan Earp, they would not have got King, as he started to run when we rode up to his hiding place, and was making for a big patch of brush on the river, and would have got in it if it had not been for us."

It is interesting to note that Wyatt was never cross-examined after his statement which of course was very favorable to the defense.

In addition to the letter of support that the citizens of Wichita sent to Judge Spicer, the citizens of Dodge City similarly submitted a letter in support of Wyatt Earp:

"We, the undersigned citizens of Dodge City, Ford County, Kansas, and vicinity do by these presents certify that we are personally acquainted with Wyatt Earp, late of this city, that he came here in the year 1876; that during the years 1877, 1878, and 1879, was a Marshal of our city; that he left our place in the fall of 1879; that during his whole stay here he occupied a place of high social position and was regarded and looked upon as a high minded, honorable citizen; that as Marshal of our city he was ever vigilant in the discharge of his duties and while kind and courteous to all, he was brave, unflinching, and on all occasions proved himself the right man in the right place. Hearing that he is now under arrest, charged with complicity in the killing of three men termed cowboys, from our knowledge of him we do not believe that he would wantonly take the life of his fellow man, and that, if he was implicated, he only took life in the discharge of his sacred trust to the people, and earnestly appeal to the Citizens of Tombstone, Arizona, to use all means to secure for him a fair and impartial trial, fully confident that when tried he will be fully vindicated and exonerated of any crime."
(signed by dozens of people, too many to list here) Defense Exhibit "A", Wells Spicer Hearing, 1881.

The prosecution against the Earp party brought a dozen witnesses forward stating that the Earps were murdering, stage robbing, psychopaths who were looking for a reason to kill the Clantons and McLaurys.

The Earps hired an experienced trial lawyer, Thomas Fitch, as defense counsel. Fitch managed to produce testimony from prosecution witnesses during cross-examination that was contradictory and appeared to dodge his questions.

Fitch brought about a dozen witness of their own who claimed the Clantons and McLaurys were rustling, murdering, psychopaths who had been threatening their lives.

No one knew what side to believe and it seemed impossible to find a completely non-partial witness. But then again, there was one witness who is believed to have won the case for the Earps and Holliday.

He was railroad engineer H.F. Sills. As a newcomer to Tomstone, Mr Sills did not know either party and was not from Tombstone. He had only arrived in town one day before the gunfight took place.

Mr Sills would later testify that he heard the cowboy gang members who had gathered in front of the OK Corral state that they were going to "kill Virgil Earp" on sight.

This impartial testimony was from a man who didn't know either faction, and didn't care either way. Yes, his testimony may have been the straw that broke the back of the prosecution.

After a preliminary hearing and then again by a local grand jury, at the conclusion of an exhaustive inquest, Judge Wells Spicer made his decision.

Judge Spicer ruled, on November 30th 1881, that there was not enough evidence to indict the Earps and Doc Holliday.

He noted that the doctor who examined the dead Cowboys established that the wounds they received could not have occurred if their hands and arms had been in the positions that prosecution witnesses described.

He said the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and that Holliday and Wyatt had been deputized temporarily by Virgil.

In his ruling, Judge Spicer noted that Ike Clanton had the night before, while unarmed, publicly declared that the Earp brothers and Holliday had insulted him, and that when he was armed he intended to shoot them or fight them on sight. On the morning of the shooting he was armed with revolver and Winchester rifle.

Judge Spicer noted that:

"Witnesses for the prosecution state unequivocally that William Clanton fell or was shot at the first fire and Claiborne says he was shot when the pistol was only about a foot from his belly. Yet it is clear that there were no powder burns or marks on his clothes. And Judge Lucas says he saw him fire or in the act of firing several times before he was shot, and he thinks two shots afterwards."

He also wrote in his decision that Ike Clanton had claimed the Earps were out to murder him, yet even though unarmed the Earps had allowed him to escape unharmed during the fight.

He wrote, "the great fact, most prominent in the matter, to wit, that Isaac Clanton was not injured at all, and could have been killed first and easiest."

He described Frank McLaury's insistence that he would not give up his weapons unless the marshal and his deputies also gave up their arms as a "proposition both monstrous and startling!"

He noted that the prosecution claimed that the Cowboys' purpose was to leave town, yet Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne did not have their weapons with them.

Spicer did not condone all of the Earps' actions and criticized Virgil Earp's use of Wyatt and Holliday as deputies, but he concluded that no laws were broken, saying:

"In view of these controversies between Wyatt Earp and Isaac Clanton and Thomas McLaury, and in further view of this quarrel the night before between Isaac Clanton and J. H. Holliday, I am of the opinion that the defendant, Virgil Earp, as chief of police, subsequently calling upon Wyatt Earp, and J. H. Holliday to assist him in arresting and disarming the Clantons and McLaurys - committed an injudicious and censurable act, and although in this he acted incautiously and without due circumspection, yet when we consider the condition of affairs incidental to a frontier country, the lawlessness and disregard for human life; the existence of a law-defying element in our midst; the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed; the supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country, and kept away capital and enterprise, and considering the many threats that have been made against the Earps.

I can attach no criminality to his unwise act. In fact, as the result plainly proves, he needed the assistance and support of staunch and true friends, upon whose courage, coolness and fidelity he could depend, in case of an emergency."

Judge Spicer then invited the grand jury to confirm his findings, and two weeks later, it agreed with his ruling and also refused to indict either Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday.

The Trouble Only Gets Worse

Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols. He detailed the Earps' previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys and explained that they intended to disarm the cowboys. He emphasized that they fired in self-defense.

But even though that was the case and the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputations had been tarnished. And to make matters worse, supporters of the Cowboys in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as murderers and plotted revenge.

On December 14, 1881, Tombstone Mayor and Earp ally John Clum is nearly killed in an assassination attempt while he is riding on the stage from Tombstone.

The horses are spooked and take off on the run, probably sparing Clum and other passengers their lives. Clum, feeling the attempt was made on him, leaves the stage and walks most of the way back to Tombstone.

A few days later on December 17, 1881, Judge Wells Spicer receives a threatening letter from "A Miner," which told him that he should leave Tombstone or lose his life. The letter says among other thing that it is "only a matter of time," before he is not among the living.

Spicer retaliates with a defiant letter published by The Tombstone Epitaph, stating he would not bow to threats from the rabble of the city - stating "The attempt to assassinate Mr. Clum has been made, who will come next?"

Besides Judge Spicer and Mayor Clum, attorney Tom Fitch, Wells Fargo Agent Marshall Williams, and Oriental Saloon owner Lou Rickabaugh, the Earps were also threatened.

In December, Ike Clanton went before Justice of the Peace J.B. Smith in Contention City and again filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday.

A large posse escorted the Earps to Contention, fearing that the cowboys would try to ambush the Earps on
the unprotected road.

The charges were dismissed by Judge Lucas because of Smith's judicial ineptness. The prosecution immediately filed a new warrant for murder charges, issued by Justice Smith, but Judge Lucas quickly dismissed it, writing that new evidence would have to be submitted before a second hearing could be called.

Because the November hearing before Judge Spicer was not a trial, Ike Clanton had the right to continue pushing for prosecution -  but the prosecution would have to come up with new evidence of murder before the case could be considered.

After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the Earps relocated their families to the Cosmopolitan Hotel for mutual support and protection. As stated, they turned the hotel into a fort of sorts.

Contrary to popular belief today, back then Virgil Earp was the real lawman in the Earp family.

Though Wyatt has received a lot more attention than his older brother Virgil, yet it was Virgil who served as a lawman longer and in more ways than Wyatt.

While Wyatt apparently straddled the line when it came to being a lawful upstanding citizen during his lifetime, not all of the Earps were that way.

In fact, Virgil was the City Marshal at the time of the so-called gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.

On October 26, 1881, the day of the shootout at the OK Corral, since Morgan was already Virgil's deputy, Virgil deputized Wyatt and dentist-turned-gambler John "Doc" Holliday that very morning as "special deputy policeman."

It was Virgil who was the real lawman in the Earp family, and by my way of thinking that made him the number one target of what was left of the Clantons and McLaurys.

There is an old saying, cut off the head and the snake will die. Many governments and military units have used this rule for thousands of years.

In 1881, Tombstone Arizona was no different. For the Earps, besides being City Marshal - older brother Virgil was the head of the Earp clan. If reprisals would come, he was the their number one target.


Virgil Earp

Story by Tom Correa

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