Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Last Gun Fight -- The Death of Ordinance Number 9 (Chapter One)

Written by Terry McGahey

Chapter One: Basic Understanding

The year was 1880 in a fledgling mining town located on a small mesa in the southeastern part of the Arizona Territory. Tombstone, the town too tough to die, was a community in which the law was nothing more than a guideline at best.

Virgil Earp was already a federal deputy marshal upon his arrival in Tombstone and he had become the chief of police. He was the first law enforcement officer in Tombstone to enforce an ordinance which was drafted by a town council member by the name of Mr. Gray.

 This was Ordinance Number Nine which disallowed the carrying of firearms within the town limits. Little did anyone know that this ordinance would become the legal vehicle for which the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would take place on October 26th, 1881.

There were several reasons that the fight between the Earps and the cowboy faction which included the McLaury and Clanton brothers had taken place. In my opinion the hard feelings between the two factions had more to do with who would control the town, but Ordinance Number Nine had actually sealed the cowboys’ fates.

The ordinance had clearly given the Earp brothers the upper hand because no more could the cowboys legally carry guns in town. The Earps on the other hand, as representatives of law enforcement, were armed at all times.

This infuriated the cowboys and this issue, along with several others, finally came to a head at an empty lot between Fly’s Photo Studio and the Harwood House on Freemont Street near the O.K. Corral on that fateful day in October.

 With the deaths of Frank and Tom McLaury along with Billy Clanton the town of Tombstone was vaulted into history for all time, and to this day Tombstone still thrives because of that thirty-second gunfight which took place all those many years ago.

 If the gunfight at the O.K. Corral had not happened, Tombstone might well have fallen into the ghost town category as many of the mining towns did in the old west.

In 1912 the Arizona Territory was granted statehood and its state constitution had been drafted. I believe it was at that time that Tombstone’s Ordinance Number Nine had become illegal.

Arizona had become an open carry state, meaning that the open carrying of firearms had become legal and no city, town or principality could supersede the state law as written in the new state constitution. However, Tombstone refused to give up its old historic document and was still enforcing it when I moved there in nineteen ninety.

They had changed the ordinance from number nine to Ordinance Number 5-5-1 as to make it fit in with the modern times, but make no mistake; this was nothing more than a ruse so Tombstone could still enforce the old historic non-carrying of weapons ordinance within the city limits and both carried the same wording.

Little did I know that one day the old Earp ordinance would have an affect on me? After all! This fight had taken place one hundred and nine years previous to my moving to Tombstone and who would have believed that this issue was still unresolved?

I retired at an early age due to injuries I received as an iron-worker putting up high rise buildings. Ironically, I moved to Tombstone to live a quiet simple life away from the hustle and bustle of California because I had been raised in a small community back in the fifties and sixties by the name of Glen Avon, which was a small ranching community located about ten miles west of Riverside, and I wanted to live in a small community once more.

For the first year or so Tombstone was exactly what I had hoped for. It was quiet with no traffic to speak of and very little crime. I lived on the Old Guthrie Place. This was a one hundred and twenty acre parcel of land and it had three old adobe houses on it, one of which I had rented.

It lay in a small valley setting about one mile west of Tombstone down a private road and couldn't be seen unless you entered the property itself or parked along the main dirt road which led to Ed Schieffelin’s Monument who was the founder of Tombstone. 

From there you could walk a short distance to the top of a hill and look down upon the houses. The property had many old, large mesquite trees and a tree and brush lined wash which was about thirty feet across and approximately one hundred and fifty feet from the houses. At times, during the monsoon season, this wash, would run water at speeds of about thirty miles an hour plus over its entire width.

With no lighting other than the small porch lights from the three houses, nights were very dark and the stars seemed as cities in the heavens, but during the full moon you could see as though it were only twilight.

Jack and John were the names of the other two fellows I shared this property with. Jack was also retired due to some sort of injuries to his knees and in his spare time he painted signs for some of the business in town. He was also a member of the Tombstone Vigilantes, a group which re-enacted gunfights on the streets of Tombstone for the tourists and donated money to a children’s cancer facility.

John was about sixty-five years old and also retired. He was truly a desert rat. He loved roaming around the desert looking for artifacts and just enjoying life. He drove a fully restored green and black 1927 Franklin car and wasn't afraid to take it most anywhere.

The three of us became friends in a fairly short time period time because we were alike in the fact that we just wanted to live a quiet, peaceful life.

 In the beginning I enjoyed going into the desert with John, hunting artifacts and learning the lay of the land all around the Tombstone area. He taught me what to look for and how to recognize natural landscapes from man made mounds and such.

 It was at that time I decided to buy a horse so I could go places where a car or even a four wheel drive truck couldn't. I had been raised with guns and horses, so for me neither one was anything new.

 I always wore a gun while going into the desert because lets face it; you never knew when it might come in handy for a snake or as a signaling device for help. If you get into some kind of trouble you fire three shots off in succession and anyone within earshot will know there is a problem and come to your aid, three shots in succession being the known signal for distress in the west.

As time passed, I grew to know the area in and around Tombstone very well. I truly enjoyed my solitude while on horse back in the desert. One might be surprised at how beautiful the desert can be once you learn how to appreciate it.

I loved to ride out, set up camp, and just become part of the wonders which surrounded me. Setting next to the fire drinking coffee while star gazing and listening to nature. The coyotes singing, the rustling of small creatures in the brush, the crackle of the camp fire itself and the peaceful alone time with which one can clear one’s mind of life’s every day problems.

Jack had a small but comfortable shop on the back side of his house where he did his sign work. He was talented enough to not only paint signs but he also built and designed them. One evening, while drinking coffee with Jack as he was building a sign for one of the business in town, he asked me if I would be interested in joining the Vigilantes, the group I mentioned earlier that put on the gunfight shows for the tourists in Tombstone.

Being retired, I thought it might be fun and it would also give me something to do from time to time. I also liked the idea of helping to raise money for children with cancer. Little did I know that buying a horse and joining the Vigilantes would be two of the three things that would put me on a trail of destination into a head long collision with the old Earp ordinance from over one hundred years ago?

At that time there were two gunfighter groups putting on shows in Tombstone. The Vigilantes and another called the Wild Bunch. It’s my understanding that the owner or head of the latter was once a Vigilante, but through a heated argument of some type he split off and started his own group.

 The Vigilantes did their shows on the streets of Tombstone every first, third and fifth Sunday, when there was a fifth Sunday, and the Wild Bunch did theirs inside of the O.K. Corral every second and fourth Sunday.

As time went on I came to realize that the two groups could not get along. I don’t know what it’s like today, but at that time they acted like a bunch of kids from different blocks in a neighborhood, thinking their group was better than the other one. In reality, none of them were professionals or they would have been in Hollywood.

It turned my stomach to watch some of these grown adults acting like kids. A few of them even began to believe, or wanted to believe, that they were the reincarnation of the old west characters which they portrayed on the streets. A few of these folks even reached the point of wanting to be called by those names. For some reason, Tombstone has a way to create lunacy in certain people.

Now understand, this childish behavior was not exclusive to the Vigilantes and the Wild Bunch, but it also spread its way like a disease throughout a good part of the community.

One side, who wanted the old west flavor and feeling, which consisted mainly of the Vigilantes, some members of the Wild Bunch and folks who just enjoyed the history of Tombstone. 

The other side consisted mainly of the merchants and city government officials and many members of the Wild Bunch who wanted to basically sell their wares and control the city by being perceived as the leaders of the community. 

There was always some source of friction between these two groups just as in 1881 when the Earp faction and the cowboy faction collided over the old ordinance.

Once again in 1991 this friction would put these two groups of people at each others throats just as it did in 1880 and '81.

Another thing to understand about the people of Tombstone is that many of them were not actually from the western part of our country, nor did they understand western values. 

A good portion of the residents were from places like New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago, California and many other parts of the United States, just as it had been back in the 1800s. 

The major difference being, in this day and age most of the people who came from those regions were accustomed to stringent gun laws and therefore were in agreement with the old Earp ordinance as it stood and did not truly understand our western culture or way of life. 

In Tombstone there are not many real cowboys, even though everyone dresses the part, but there was a small hand full of real cowhands.

I happened to fall in with that group and began working cows as a day wage cowboy for a few of the local ranches. This would become the third and final element which would lead me down the path to collision with the Tombstone hierarchy and the old Earp ordinance.

I would like to make one more point before going on with this story. The marshal’s office in Tombstone was controlled by the mayor’s office. The position of city marshal was an appointed one and not an elected one as it should have been, and the mayor appointed the city marshal.

In other words if you had a problem with the marshal’s department, it would do you no good whatsoever to go to the mayor or city council because he was backed by the good old boy system which had controlled Tombstone for many years.

-- end Chapter One.

For Chapter 2 of one man's fight against the City of Tombstone and the historic Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 -- America's most famous gun-control law, please click on the link below:

The Last Gun Fight -- The Death of Ordinance Number 9 (Chapter Two)


  1. Terry McGahey does a great job of laying the groundwork for upcoming chapters of "The Last Gunfight -- the Death of Ordinance Number 9. I look forward to the next installment.

  2. This might make for an interesting movie. I was thinking about calling it, "Terry, Jack, And John". It will tell the story of Terry McGahey's troubles with Tombstone's city ordinance and the many people who were involved. I will make a cameo appearance as myself and hopefully the film will win an award of some kind. Because you see, I'm a visionary. And I think this can be done. I just hope Hollywood doesn't steal my idea. The trailer will go like this. "The city of Tombstone told us we can't carry guns. The Hell we can't!" And that's basically it. I hope you will enjoy. Wish me luck.


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