Like many of us, I was brought up on westerns, both movies and television. As many of you know, while I love them for their entertainment value, I've stated time and time again how they were not very historically accurate.
For example, a lot of films portray Wyatt Earp as younger than John Henry "Doc" Holliday. In fact, the real Wyatt Earp was three years older than Holliday. That age difference my be why Doc was in real life known to be closer with Morgan Earp than Wyatt. Morgan and Doc were known to socialize together a lot more than Wyatt and Doc.
Another example of Hollywood getting things wrong is the age of Ike Clanton. Many movies depict him as an older man when in fact he was only 34 years-old in 1881.
Some films depict Virgil Earp as getting to Tombstone with Wyatt and Morgan. Yet, in fact, Virgil was there first and wired his brothers to let them know about the opportunities there. Another thing, Virgil Earp was actually dispatched to Tombstone as a Deputy U.S. Marshal because of the rustling problem on the border. The Mexican government complained to Washington D.C. about Americans raiding ranches in Mexico. Thus, Virgil, who was already a Deputy U.S. Marshal out of Prescott, was sent to Tombstone to investigate what was taking place down there.
While the Clanton gang was in fact stealing cattle from Mexico, sort of like Captain Woodrow Call and Gus McCrea did in the movie Lonesome Dove, Mexicans were also stealing cattle from Americans on this side of the river. The Mexican government is believed to have turned a blind eye to their people raiding American ranches.
As for the historical "Vendetta Ride" which many films have looked at, it was in fact a murderous rampage which was carried out with no legal authority. While the justice system worked fine for the Earps previously, after Morgan was ambushed and those who he suspected of killing Morgan were exonerated, Wyatt decided to take the law into his own hands. Wyatt held the office of Deputy US Marshal at the time to enable the arrest of the cowboys, but warrants were issued against him and his deputies for extra-judicial murder. Yes, for the murder of Frank Stilwell who the autopsy showed was shot dead with 5 different caliber weapons and not just a shotgun as Wyatt Earp stated later.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Earp Vendetta Posse fleeing Arizona to evade murder charges is how Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul rode to Colorado with extradition papers for Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and the others, in 1882. Paul was supposed to bring them back to Arizona for trial. It's interesting that Paul served the warrant to Doc, but he did not serve the warrants to the Earp brothers or the others because of his friendship with them. Of course, later Colorado Governor Pitkin refused to honor Arizona's extradition request on the basis of Bat Masterson's fake charges. Bat fabricated charges to keep the Earps in Colorado. That stopped the Earps and the others involved in the killing of Frank Stilwell from ever leaving Colorado. That's how they evaded justice.
In all, there were 34 shots fired. Since only 7 men were involved in the actual gun battle, that means not everyone got all of their shots off. That is presuming that all had 6 and not the customary 5 loaded in their pistols. Since there were seven six-guns and a double-barrel shotgun there, that comes out to 44 rounds on hand. Someone was left with rounds left. If we watch some films, it seems like a lot more rounds were fired.
In the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, there are a number of inaccuracies. But to only cover a few of the worse, let's start with the actual gunfight. It took place on October 26th, 1881, and in reality only lasted thirty seconds. In the end, Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury died in the exchange.
The fictional OK Corral gunfight in that movie was a long drawn-out rolling firefight that lasted all of five minutes. It included a wagon on fire, a bridge, shooting from a ditch, Wyatt Earp chasing a Billy Clanton to a general store to shoot him through a window. In that film, Doc Holliday, played by Kirk Douglas, shoots Johnny Ringo in a stable. Of course, we know that Ringo was not shot dead at the gunfight near the OK Corral. But then again, let's presume no one told Hollywood. And if someone did, they probably didn't care.
One of the tidbits of trivia on that film is that there was word in Hollywood at the time that Hal Wallis wanted to cast Humphrey Bogart as Doc Holliday. John Sturges wanted Robert Mitchum to play Holliday. Instead, the film's stars were actor Kirk Douglas who played Doc Holliday and actor Burt Lancaster who played Wyatt Earp minus a mustache.
It's said that Lancaster studied old newspapers to get a feel for who Wyatt Earp was and found him to be a lot less of the boy-scout than the movie wanted to portray him. Lancaster is said to have argued with Sturges about Earp's character in that Lancaster saw Wyatt Earp as being a lot more seedy.
At one point in the film, a scene called for an unarmed Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) to be confronted by Shanghai Pierce and more than a dozen of his Texas cowboys in a saloon. Yes, including Johnny Ringo who somehow found his way there. In the film, Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday comes to the rescue by stealing another man's pistol and tossing it to Lancaster to save the day. Together they stand off the whole crew. It's said that Lancaster fought with Director John Sturges over that scene since there is no record anywhere, in any newspaper or journal, other than in Stuart Lake's fictional Earp biography, of that ever taking place.
Wyatt Earp’s authorized biography is full of tall tales. One of the stories out of his memoirs, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal is about arresting Shanghai Pierce. That how is ended up a scene in the movie.
The story goes that Earp disarmed Shanghai Pierce because he was in violation of the no carry law in Wichita, Kansas. Supposed, in early summer 1874, Wyatt Earp was a Wichita police officer when he was called to assist fellow officer Bill Potts. In his book, Potts is identified as Samuel Botts.
Botts was confronting a drunken Shanghai Pierce who had a 1873 Colt Peacemaker on his hip and tied to his leg ready for a gunfight. Pierce was supposedly in violation of the no-firearms law, and causing a disturbance right there in the middle of Main Street. So much so, that traffic on Main Street came to a halt.
According to Earp's memoir, Botts didn't have what it took to handle the situation -- so he had to step in to take care of things. All in a single stroke, Wyatt Earp grabbed Pierce's gunhand while at the same time relieving the Texas cattleman of his pistol. He then, according to Earp, picked up the 6-foot-4 Shanghai by the seat of his trousers and got him off the street and into a packed saloon where he was going to deal with the unruly Texan. But to his surprise, the saloon was packed with anywhere from 40 to 80 of Shanghai's men. Yes, 40 to 80!
The Texas cowboys didn't like the way Earp was treating their boss, so all pulled their pistols on Earp. This is when supposedly Doc Holliday comes to the rescue and stands off all 40 to 80 of the Texans while tossing a pistol to Wyatt Earp. According to the film, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster get the drop on the cowboys and they hauled them all to a judge where they were fined a total of $1000 and told to get out of town. This is from Earp's book.
Wow! Was that exciting or what! Too bad it didn't happen.
The closes thing that we know took place, which was in a local newspaper in July of 1874, involved Wichita police officer Bill Potts who came across a man carrying a gun within the city limits. Potts did in fact disarm him. But while leading him to jail, seven of the man's friends started to crowd Potts with the intention of preventing him from making the arrest. When that happened, a citizen saw what was taking place and used the iron triangle outside of the courthouse, which was used as a police alarm, to call for help. The triangle outside the courthouse at First and Main clanged away and soon brought police officer Wyatt Earp to backup officer Bill Potts.
But also, it's said that about 50 armed citizens also showed up to backup officer Potts. So no, Earp was not alone. And while some refer to them as Wichita's "secret police," they were in fact the local vigilance committee and they responded armed with shotguns and rifles. The citizens outnumbered those up against Potts and all were soon taken into custody. The judge's report does identify the men who were tried and fined. It does not say they were Texas cowboys. As for Shanghai Pierce, the name of Abel Pierce is not among those listed in the judge's report.
In 1873, Shanghai Pierce was hired to act on behalf of Wichita in secure herds. He was paid $2000 by the city of Wichita to do just that. In the summer of 1874, Pierce was in Ellsworth on a similar arrangement. Ellsworth hired him because a lot of trail-bosses were sick and tired of how business was being conducted in Wichita.
By 1874, Wichita had gained a bad reputation of buffaloing cowboys for no reason, cheating cowboys at the gambling houses, rolling them for their wages or their winnings, and the police either turned a blind eye to what was going on -- or arrested the cowboys on trumped up charges for the fines that the city would collect. Also, a police officer in Wichita got an extra $4 a head for every cowboy they arrested. Bashing cowboys was a very lucrative proposition -- guilty or not.
Because of those things, and more, including some merchants in Wichita not wanting to serve black cowboys, Ellsworth was one of the towns that trail-bosses looked at as an alternative shipping point. Many a herd was steered clear of Wichita because of crooked cops, price gouging from the merchants, because their hands were treated like second class citizens, and more.
There is something else. While it sounds like it could have been a few cowboys defending one of their own, the incident is believed to have had nothing to do with Texas cowboys. Those arrested were believed to be part of a small outlaw gang ran by an hombre known as Hurricane Bill Martin. The fines levied against them were only $17 a piece for seven of them, and the figure of $1,000 is believed to refer to the amount of the bond set for Hurricane Bill's release.
Hurricane Bill Martin's real name was William A. Martin. He is said to have been a stocky, 200 pound, 6 foot tall, horse thief and desperado. According to him, he was an Indian fighter, buffalo hunter, and gunfighter.
By the way, did you notice that I said "according to him"? That's the reason that he was given the name "Hurricane." It's because he was known to tell tall tales. He was pretty "windy." It seemed to be the thing to do back in the day if you wanted to inflate your reputation. You simply did it yourself.
According to reports, he was confronted by the Wichita police and the local vigilantes in 1874 in Wichita for disturbing the peace. As for Wyatt Earp, he was not a police officer in Wichita until April of 1875. Subsequently, in 1874 when that incident took place, Earp was only acting as a low paid city patrolman. Earp hadn't even been officially sworn in as an officer. As I said, that didn't happen until 1875.
As for Hurricane Bill, by 1875, he was supposedly an Army scout while still out stealing horses and being a badman. He was known to be in Dallas early that year and was arrested with a couple of ladies for running a "disorderly house." Yes, for running an unlawful whorehouse. It is interesting that he and Doc Holliday, who was arrested at the same time for "illegal gaming in a saloon," were both told to leave Dallas at the same time.
Hurricane Bill showed up at Ft. Griffin, Texas, and feel in with a prostitute that everyone called "Hurricane Minnie." She had the same problem of being "windy." Bill was arrested there for gambling, pimping, public drunkenness, and being involved in two shootings where no one was injured. Believe it or not, the Hurricane couple got married in May of 1876.
There was a report that Hurricane Bill Martin was killed during an argument in Dodge City, Kansas. On September 8th, 1879, a man by the name of A.H. Webb hit Bill in the head with a Winchester rifle when Bill threatened to kill him. It was obvious that Bill met someone that took him by his word and killed him first. A rifle his across the head was enough to kill him.
When I was much younger, I really thought Shanghai Pierce was a badman in real life. Little did I know back then how Hollywood lies while trying to get us to believe things that they simply make up. Fact is, the real Shanghai Pierce really was nothing like actor Ted de Corsia's character in the film Gunfight at the OK Corral.
In fact, he was completely opposite of the character which Hollywood portrayed him to be. And that story, the story of Shanghai Pierce, will be coming up very soon. I'm working on that right now!