Friday, March 20, 2015

The Tombstone Gunfight

by Jack Le Moine

Time: October 26, 1881, 3 pm
Place: Tombstone, Arizona

City map showing site of gunfight in green; 
O.K. Corral in yellow.
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Wyatt Earp drew his .44 cal 1869 Smith and Wesson single action revolver, cocked it, and fired. At the same time, Billy Clanton fired his pistol. He missed Wyatt; Wyatt’s shot hit Frank McLaury’s stomach. Wyatt Earp’s brothers, Virgil and Morgan opened fire. Their friend Doc Holliday pulled his short, double-barreled shotgun from beneath his coat, stepped around McLaury’s horse and shot Frank’s brother Tom in the chest. Ike Clanton and Billy Clairborne ran from the fight but Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury continued shooting. Tom McLaury grabbed the horse, struggled out into the street, then collapsed to ground next to a telegraph pole.

Just 30 seconds before, the two groups of men had stood facing one another in the ally off Fremont Street beside C.S. Fly’s Boarding House. Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday stood just 6 to 10 feet from the Clancy Gang, Ike and Billy, the McLaurys, Tom and Frank, and Billy Clairborne. The O.K. Corral was elsewhere (see map).

The Earp brothers had come to town some months earlier, drawn by the riches flowing from the mining in the area. Virgil became town marshal, Wyatt Pima County deputy sheriff. Morgan was deputy city marshal. Cattle rustlers such as the Clanton and the McLaury brothers viewed the Earps as tyrants, especially as the Earps were happy to bend law enforcement in their favor when their saloon and gambling interests were involved.

After the gunfight, the Clanton faction accused the Earp faction of murder. There was a coroner’s jury, a preliminary hearing to a murder trial, and a grand jury hearing (in that order). The outcome of these three proceedings failed to indict the Earps. The remaining Clantons vowed revenge.

On December 14th, Tombstone Mayor John Clum was ambushed but got away. On December 28th. Virgil Earp was shot. He survived but had to have an arm in a sling for the rest of his life. On March 18, 1882 Morgan Earp was shot and killed while playing billiards. Wyatt took Morgan’s body to the Tuscon train station along with his brother James and the wounded Virgil to relocate to California. Wyatt saw one of the gang lying in ambush and killed him. The Tuscon sheriff issued arrest warrants on the Earps for this killing. Wyatt Earp decided that his family and him could get no safety in the law and launched his own campaign against the gang, killing 3 more.

Thus ended the saga of “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” which was never at the O.K. Corral.

More information from Wikipedia about the Gunfight and from about the O.K. Corral.

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