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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The gunfight actually occurred in a narrow lot six doors west of the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street.  Most of what is known of the fight is based off of a month long preliminary hearing held afterward that became known as the "Spicer Hearings."  Reporters from both newspapers covered the hearings.  The testimony's and reporting of the events differ greatly.  The Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday were charged by Billy Clanton's brother, Ike Clanton, and were later exonerated by a local judge after the preliminary hearing and again later by a local grand jury.
On the evening of October 25, Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton came to Tombstone to sell beef stock to a local butcher.  Later that evening, Ike and Doc Holliday had a confrontation and Morgan Earp intervened.  Ike threatened the Earp's again.  The Earp's and the Clanton's had repeated disagreements about breaking the law, stealing mules, and robbing stagecoaches.  On the morning of the 26th, Virgil "buffaloed" (pistol whipped) Ike and disarmed him after finding Ike illegally carrying a revolver.  At that time it was illegal to carry your firearm within the city limits.
Wyatt Earp buffaloed Tom McLaury for the same reason shortly afterward.  Later that afternoon, alarmed citizens spotted Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury armed in public off Fremont Street.  When both Sheriff Johnny Behan and shortly afterward Marshal Virgil Earp demanded they give up their weapons, as required by a city ordinance, they refused.
The gunfight was a roughly 30-seconds long and took place at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.  Approximately 31 shots were fired within the thirty-second moment.  Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed.  Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled and survived.  Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded and survived.  One reoccurring theme is that Doc Holliday had a shotgun in hand going into the fight when he was well known as being an excellent shot and having lived through numerous gunfights in his past.  There is no mention that Sheriff Johnny Behan was in the fight at all.  Wyatt Earp was the only individual who came through the fight unharmed.  It is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the Old West.
On December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was maimed in an assassination attempt by outlaw Cowboys.  Cowboys were another name for rustlers or outlaws, and it would have been an insult to call respectable Cattlemen a Cowboy.  On March 19, 1882, Cowboy's assassinated Morgan Earp.  This led to a series of further killings and retributions, with federal and county lawmen supporting different sides of the conflict, which became known as the Earp Vendetta Ride.
The gunfight was relatively unknown to the American public until 1931 when author Stuart Lake published a fictionalized biography, "Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal," two years after Wyatt's death.  After the movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was released in 1957, the gunfight became known by that name.  It's amazing the stories and movies that have been made about one thirty-second moment in history.

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.  -  Wyatt Earp
One side note about Thomas Wilson, future New York Times Best Selling Author.
As a child in Idaho we had to Haul Water.  What that means to the Industrialized World is that we had to make several trips, every week, to a natural spring to fill up a 500 gallon water tank.  The tank was chained to the back of an old nineteen fifties something truck and we hauled water to our property to put into another tank in the ground.  Then an electric pump would pump the water into the mobile home trailer that we lived in, out in the woods.
Beside the natural spring was a shooting range set up against the base of the mountain.  While families would wait their turn and waiting for trucks to fill up, everybody would teach their children and wives to shoot.  My mom was the best shot in our family.  I learned to be a crack shot with a rifle and to blow the top off a fence post with a black powder pistol.  I was never allowed by my father to draw the pistol from the holster and shoot it, for fear I might shoot my foot off.  Dad always insisted on safety first.  I did practice all the time drawing a play gun from a holster, as did all kids from that area in my day.
My daughter, years later wondered how her old dad developed such fast hands when we played the hand slap together.  It came from years of Imagining I was Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral.

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