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Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a thirty-second shootout between lawmen led by Virgil Earp and members of a loosely organized group of outlaws called the Cowboys that occurred at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, United States. It is generally regarded as the most famous shootout in the history of the American Old West.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The gunfight was the result of a long-simmering feud, with Cowboys Billy Claiborne, brothers Ike and Billy Clanton, and brothers Tom and Frank McLaury on one side; and Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Special Policemen and Earp's two younger brothers Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and temporary policeman Doc Holliday on the other side. Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Wes Fuller ran from the fight. Virgil, Morgan, and Holliday were wounded, but Wyatt was unharmed. Wyatt is often erroneously regarded as the central figure in the shootout, although his brother Virgil was Tombstone's town marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal that day and had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, marshal, and soldier in combat.[1]

Despite its name, the gunfight did not take place within or next to the O.K. Corral, which fronted Allen Street and had a rear entrance lined with horse stalls on Fremont Street. The shootout actually took place in a narrow lot on the side of C. S. Fly's photography studio on Fremont Street, six doors west of the O.K. Corral's rear entrance. Some members of the two opposing parties were initially only about 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. About thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds.[3] Ike Clanton subsequently filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. After a thirty-day preliminary hearing and a brief stint in jail, the defendants were shown to have acted lawfully.

The gunfight was not the end of the conflict. On December 28, 1881, Virgil was ambushed and maimed in a murder attempt by the Cowboys. On March 18, 1882, a Cowboy fired from a dark alley through the glass door of Campbell & Hatch's saloon and billiard parlor, killing Morgan. The suspects in both incidents furnished alibis supplied by other Cowboys and were not indicted. Wyatt, newly appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshal in Cochise County, then took matters into his own hands in a personal vendetta. He was pursued by county sheriff Johnny Behan, who had received a warrant from Tucson for Wyatt's killing of Frank Stilwell.

Many of the sources describing the events leading up to the gunfight, and details of the gunfight itself, conflict with each other. Newspapers of the day were not above taking sides, and news reporting often editorialized on issues to reflect the publisher's interests.[8] John Clum, publisher of The Tombstone Epitaph, had helped organize a "Committee of Safety" (a vigilance committee) in Tombstone in late September 1881.[9] He was elected as Tombstone's first mayor under the new city charter that year. Clum and his newspaper tended to side with the interests of local business owners and supported Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp. Harry Woods, the publisher of the other major newspaper, The Daily Nugget, was an undersheriff to Behan. He and his newspaper tended to side with Behan, the Cowboys (some of whom were part-time ranchers and landowners) and the rural interests of the ranchers.[10]

The interpersonal conflicts and feuds leading to the gunfight were complex. Each side had strong family ties. The brothers James, Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, and Warren Earp were a tight-knit family, working together as lawmen, pimps, and saloon owners in several frontier towns, among other occupations, and had moved together from one town to another. Virgil served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and in 1877 became a police officer in Prescott, Arizona Territory. He followed that with a job as a night watchman before he became a constable. Wyatt had held jobs as either a guard or police officer in the cattle-drive towns of Wichita and Dodge City, Kansas.[18]

Morgan Earp had been a police officer in Montana, but had no known experience with gunfighting prior to their arrival in Tombstone. While Wyatt was Pima County Deputy Sheriff on July 27, 1880, Morgan Earp took over his job as shotgun messenger for Wells Fargo. Morgan also occasionally assisted Virgil and at the time of the gunfight was a special deputy policeman and drawing pay.[36]

Wyatt Earp testified after the gunfight that five or six weeks prior he had met Ike Clanton outside the Alhambra Hotel. Ike told Wyatt that Doc Holliday had told him he knew of Ike's meetings with Wyatt and about Ike providing information on Head, Leonard, and Crane, as well as their attempted robbery of the stage. Ike now accused Earp of telling Holliday about these conversations. Earp testified that he told Ike he had not told Holliday anything. Wyatt Earp offered to prove this when Holliday and the Clantons next returned to town.[49]

Virgil initially avoided a confrontation with the newly arrived Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, who had not yet deposited their weapons at a hotel or stable as the law required. The statute was not specific about how far a recently arrived visitor might "with good faith, and within reasonable time" travel into town while carrying a firearm. This permitted a traveler to keep his firearms if he was proceeding directly to a livery, hotel or saloon. The three main Tombstone corrals were all west of 4th Street between Allen and Fremont, a block or two from where Wyatt saw the Cowboys buying cartridges. Miner Ruben F. Coleman later told The Tombstone Epitaph:[88][89][90]

I was in the O.K. Corral at 2:30 p.m. when I saw the two Clantons and the two McLaurys in an earnest conversation across the street at Dunbar's corral. I went up the street and notified Sheriff Behan and told them it was my opinion that they meant trouble, and it was his duty, as sheriff, to go and disarm them. I told him they had gone to the West End Corral. I then went and saw Marshal Virgil Earp and notified him to the same effect.[90]

In testimony given by witnesses afterward, they disagreed about the precise location of the men before, during and after the gunfight.[103] The coroner's inquest and the Spicer hearing produced a sketch showing the Cowboys standing, from left to right facing Fremont Street, with Billy Clanton and then Frank McLaury near the Harwood house and Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton roughly in the middle of the lot. Opposite them and initially only about 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) away, Virgil Earp was on the left end of the Earp party, standing a few feet inside the vacant lot and nearest Ike Clanton. Behind him a few feet near the corner of C. S. Fly's boarding house was Wyatt. Morgan Earp was standing on Fremont Street to Wyatt's right, and Doc Holliday anchored the end of their line in Fremont Street, a few feet to Morgan's right.[103]

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. 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.[108] Fallehy also saw Tom stagger across the street until he fell on his back.[99] After shooting Tom, Holliday tossed the empty shotgun aside, pulled out his nickel-plated revolver, and continued to fire at Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton.[94]

Both Wyatt and Virgil believed Tom McLaury was armed and testified that he had fired at least one shot over the back of a horse.[49][88] Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury exchanged gunfire with the lawmen. During the gunfight, Doc Holliday was bruised by a bullet fired by Frank that struck his holster and grazed his hip. Virgil Earp was shot through the calf, he thought by Billy Clanton. Morgan Earp was struck across both shoulder blades by a bullet that Morgan thought Frank McLaury had fired. Wyatt Earp was unhurt. Tom McLaury, his brother Frank, and Billy Clanton were killed.

Dr. Henry M. Mathews examined the dead Cowboys late that night. He found Frank McLaury had two wounds: a gunshot beneath the right ear that horizontally penetrated his head, and a second entering his abdomen one inch (2.5 cm) to the left of his navel. Mathews stated that the wound beneath the ear was at the base of the brain and caused instant death.[113] Sheriff Behan testified that he had heard Morgan Earp yell "I got him" after Frank was shot.[94] However, during the gunfight, Frank moved across Fremont street, putting Holliday on Frank's right and Morgan on his left. This makes it much more likely that Holliday shot the fatal round that killed Frank.[113][115]

Frank McLaury was also armed with a Colt Frontier 1873 revolver in .44-40 caliber, which was recovered by laundryman Fallehy on the street about 5 feet (1.5 m) from his body with two rounds remaining in it. Fallehy placed it next to Frank's body before he was moved to the Harwood house. Dr. Mathews laid Frank's revolver on the floor while he examined Billy and Tom. Cowboy witness Wes Fuller said he saw Frank in the middle of the street shooting a revolver and trying to remove a Winchester rifle from the scabbard on his horse. The two Model 1873 rifles were still in the scabbards on Frank and Tom McLaury's horses when they were found after the gunfight.[12] If, as was customary, Frank carried only five rounds, then he had fired only three shots.[62]

Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday believed that Tom had a revolver at the time of the gunfight. Wyatt thought Tom fired a revolver under the horse's neck and believed until he died that Tom's revolver had been removed from the scene by Wesley Fuller.[119] Witness Fallehy wrote that he saw Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday shooting at a man who was using a horse to barricade himself, and once shot the man fell. In his statement, Fallehy wrote that the man still held his pistol in his hand. Although he did not see him shoot, he thought Tom McLaury was armed.[99][120] 041b061a72


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