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The Most Famous Of 'Em All
The Gunfight At The O.K. Corral

The initials in the "O.K." Corral don't stand for okay, they stand for "Old Kinderhook."

Tomstone
click image to enlarge
The O.K. Corral, where the notorious gunfight between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday versus the Clanton gang took place October 26, 1881, is shown (between 3rd and 4th Streets, bounded by Fremont on the north and Allen on the south) in this 1886 fire insurance map of Tombstone, Arizona.

Exactly What Happened Is Hard To Say

The citizens of Tombstone, Territory of Arizona, were accustomed to hearing gunfire in the streets. Casual murder was routine in the half civilized, half lawless mining camp of the 1880s. But the roaring fusillade that echoed briefly through the cool October air one afternoon in 1881 sounded more like a battle than the incidental meeting of a couple of irascible gun fighters, and concerned residents rushed to the source of the frightening sounds once the shooting had stopped. Word of what happened soon spread back through the ranks of the curious and on through the apprehensive town. Repeated and repeated was the terse description of the frightening event: Shootout at the O.K. Corral!

Three men, their bodies torn by revolver and shotgun slugs, lay fatally' wounded on the ground, their drying blood adding a tragic tint to their gaily colored vests. Two others, badly wounded, were being carried to their homes.

Thirty seconds. That's all it Look to end violently the lives of three men, trigger a bloodbath that would bring the threat of martial law to Tombstone Territory, and start a bitter controversy that continues to this day. The raging debate over what actually happened at that narrow Corral entrance at Third and Fremont streets started even as the bodies were being carried to a small cabin across the street for a hastily called Coroner's inquest. What exactly happened always will be the subject of some conjecture. Why it happened, no one questions.

James Earp

The Earp brothers and the Clanton gang had had their inevitable, unavoidable, long feared showdown. The O.K. Corral gun battle, which gave Tombstone a secure if unenviable place in the history of the wild old West, was fated almost from the day when Wyatt Berry Stamp Earp rode into Tombstone, soon followed by his brothers, Virgil, James and Morgan, and their close friends, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and John Holliday. Because he had studied dentistry when a youth in his native Georgia, and even practiced some, Holliday universally was known as 'Doc.' Boredom, tubercular lungs and a penchant for shooting scrapes had made Doc a drifter through the West. The Earps, the sure shooting Short, the urbane Masterson and the morose, unpredictable Holliday came to Tombstone from Dodge City, where Wyatt had been City Marshal for three years. To the businessmen of Dodge City, Wyatt had been a tough but fair lawman; to others, he was ruthless and officious. The contrasting reputations preceded the tall, somber Earp to his new town.

When Wyatt Earp his brothers and his friends arrived in Tombstone in December, 1879, lured by the reports of a great silver strike, the town was a sprawling collection of huts, rude cabins, tents and jerrybuilt saloons, a jumbled mass of construction dominated even then by the nearly completed, pretentious two storied Golden Eagle Brewery, soon to be renamed the Crystal Palace. Only a few months earlier had the miners, mine officials, saloonkeepers, gamblers and camp followers moved from a rustic settlement crowded around a valley spring to the more spacious plateau town named Tombstone. The name choice was obvious; Tombstone was the name given the first mining claim filed by Ed Schieffelin, the bearded, eccentric, fearless prospector who discovered silver in Southeastern Arizona. Ed Schieffelin's name for his first claim was an ironic reply to the soldiers of nearby Camp Huachuca, who grimly jested with the prospector every time he set off alone to search for riches in the Apache infested brown hills. "All you'll find out there is your tombstone," was the oft-repeated warning that Ed Schieffelin remembered when his miner's pick finally uncovered a rich lode of silver bearing rock.

Tombstone's population was little more than two thousand when the Earp party slowly rode down Fremont street But new settlers were arriving daily by ox cart, stage coach and horseback, daring the still present threat of bloody Apache ambush to follow the silver trail to boomtown. Many who came to find their fortunes were willing to work for them, as prospectors or miners, or in the restaurants, saloons, gambling house, laundries, water companies and other supporting businesses being established every day. There were others, too many others, who galloped to Tombstone in quest of easy, illegal riches; the highwaymen, rustlers, card sharks and gunmen who kept the town in constant turmoil, and made every trip outside a hazardous adventure. In this lawless land, a man with Wyatt Earp's reputation quickly found employment.

Prime targets for highwaymen were the shipments of Wells Fargo & Company, frequently containing silver bullion. Wyatt was hired to ride shotgun with the rich shipments - the armed protector charged with the safety of the cargo. Whether because of his reputation, or pure luck, no shipment guarded by the dour Earp was ever attacked. Several months later, in October, 1880, he was appointed a Deputy Sheriff and quit his job with Wells Fargo; within a week he came into direct confrontation with the ringleader of the gang that interspersed rustling and highway robbery with tumultuous roistering on the streets and in the bars of Tombstone. Most feared outlaw in Arizona was William Brocius, known throughout the Territory as "Curly Bill." Legend has it that the gunman once amused himself by riding into a church in nearby Charleston, and forcing the minister to improvise a repertoire of tricks, to the occasional accompaniment of shots from Curly Bill's six-shooter.

Curly Bill ran afoul of Deputy Sheriff Earp one night when the outlaw and some of his buddies, Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury among them, were having their idea of fun by shooting at the moon and awakening irate citizens. City Marshal Fred White hurried to the scene, closely followed by Wyatt Earp. Marshal White demanded Curly Bill's gun, which he seemed to meekly surrender. Suddenly the gun roared, and the Marshal keeled over, fatally wounded. Some - including the Marshal, who made a deathbed statement - said the gun was discharged accidentally when the lawman reached for it. Others hinted that tricky Curly Bill pretended to surrender the weapon, barrel first, but kept his finger on the trigger. In any event, the enraged deputy, Wyatt Earp, "buffaloed" Curly Bill slugging the outlaw alongside the head with the length of his revolver. This method of submission was the supreme insult to men quick to anger, and Curly Bill and the Clanton and McLaury brothers, cowed by Earp the same way, would not forget his manhandling.

Wyatt Wasn't a Deputy Sheriff for long, though. When the Territorial Government at Prescott organized a new county, named Cochise after the now dead war chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, a friend of the Clantons and McLaurys, John Behan, was appointed Sheriff, with headquarters at Tombstone, the new County Seat. Wyatt Earp, who said he had been asked to seek the appointment, maintained that he withdrew his name from consideration after Behan promised him a post as Deputy Sheriff. The appointment was never made, and the developing enmity between Earp and Behan would be another important reason why there soon would be a rendezvous with death near the O.K. Corral. Wyatt wasn't interested in the fulltime job as the county's top law enforcement officer, because he had other demands on his time - principally, his part ownership in the Oriental Saloon and gambling parlors, where he often took his turn dealing faro. Occasionally, he'd fill in at a faro table at the Crystal Palace. Because of the great popularity of the richly appointed Palace, Wyatt had more chance to see his friends there - and keep his eye on his enemies.

John Clum

But he was quite willing to serve part-time as a Sheriff's Deputy, because a principal job of these officers in those days was collecting taxes - and the collector could keep a percentage of the levy. Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil, named City Marshal upon the death of Fred White, were strongly supported by the Tombstone Epitaph, the weekly newspaper founded May 1, 1880, by John Clum, who also served as Tombstone's Mayor and Postmaster. John Behan named as his Undersheriff the publisher of the Tombstone Nugget, Harry M. Woods. From that time on, the Epitaph always pictured the Earps as honest defenders of justice, and characterized the Clanton and McLaury brothers and their associates as ruthless outlaws bent on destroying the town. Just as consistently, the Nugget maintained the Clantons, McLaurys et al were harmless cowboys mercilessly hounded by the ruffian Earps.

Small solace to Wyatt, who wanted a lucrative job as Deputy Sheriff, was his Federal appointment as a Deputy Marshal. It was a job that soon was to again bring him into direct conflict with John Behan and "the cowboys," as the Epitaph> referred to all outlaws or suspected outlaws.

Concord Coach: Tombstone, Territory of Arizona

On March 15, 1880 the stage outbound to Benson, twenty-five miles to the north, slowly was creaking along, through the moonlit night. Driver Bud Philpot was urging his horses along as guard Bob Paul, a former Sheriff, searched the bushy roadside for signs of crouching bandits. Suddenly a masked man leaped into the road, shouting the highwayman's warning, "Hold!" In almost the same instant, as other men joined their confederate, a shot rang out and Bud Philpot, one of the most popular drivers on the line, fell between the horses, dead when he hit the ground. Bob Paul grabbed for the reins and it was almost a mile before he could stop the frightened, runaway horses. But as the horses galloped away from the holdup scene, a senseless shot fired after the swiftly moving stage took the life of a passenger, Pete Roerig, riding on the rear. News of the attempted holdup, with its two needless, cold-blooded killings, electrified Tombstone. United States mail had been aboard the stage, which put the crime in Deputy Marshal Earp's jurisdiction.

Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Virgil and Morgan, set off with Bat Masterson and Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams in pursuit of the bandits. They were trailed by a posse formed by Sheriff Behan; one of Behan's own deputies later said the group did nothing but follow the Earps until the leading posse captured a drifter named Luther King, who confessed to holding the bandits horses. Sheriff Behan then demanded custody of the prisoner, and the Earps finally and reluctantly let the Sheriff escort the suspect back to Tombstone. Things then took a turn bizarre even for the frontier town where strange actions and events were not considered strange at all. The prisoner King walked into the front door of the jail and a few minutes later walked right on out the hack. The excuse? King had been riding an excellent horse, which he arranged, through Undersheriff Woods, to sell to John Dunbar, partner of Sheriff Behan in a livery stable; the suspect escaped while Dunbar and Woods were making out the bill-of-sale!

When the trail weary Earps returned to Tombstone, their further search fruitless, it was bad enough to find their prisoner had so casually escaped. But what infuriated the close knit Earp group even more were the inferences by the Nugget that Doc Holliday had been a member of the holdup gang. The Nugget boldly stated further that King's escape from jail had been engineered by the Earps because he could identify Holliday as a bandit; Sheriff Behan proclaimed he had an affidavit from Kate Fisher, Doc's girl friend known in legend as Big Nose Kate, to the effect she knew Doc had been a member of the gang. But Kate renounced the affidavit, proclaiming she had quarreled with Doc, gone on a drinking spree, and when the Sheriff got her to sign a piece of paper, she was so drunk she didn't know what she was signing, or why.

Except for rumor fanned whenever possible by the Earp hating Curly Bill Brocius crowd, the intimations of Doc Holliday's involvement in the double murder died down. Curly Bill had assumed leadership of the gang when the father of the Clanton brothers, known always as "N.H." was gunned down in ambush reprisal for a raid on a gang of silver smugglers. Some say he always had been the real leader. Almost always seen with Curly Bill were Ike Clanton, a loudmouth braggart; his tough, more silent younger brother Billy, and the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom. The Clantons had a ranch in the San Pedro Valley, the McLaurys one at Sulphur Springs. More than one Tombstone pioneer claimed the cattle collected on the two spreads bore many more brands than those registered by the two families.

But although the Earp and Clanton, or Brocius, factions hated each other with deep-rooted and unyielding passion, Tombstone was a small town, a strange town, and a tolerant town. Lawmen and outlaws rubbed shoulders as they crowded along the Crystal Palace's long mahogany bar, in unspoken truce until there was real reason for one to go for the other. Sworn enemies idled away the time until the appropriate day of reckoning by playing cards with each other. Professional men and mine officials exchanged drinks with the most notorious desperados. Doc Holliday, although staunchly loyal to the Earps and their willing ally in any crisis, consorted with whatever outlaws who struck his fancy. So it was not at all unusual, in this Tombstone of contrasts, for Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton to have a business meeting. Wyatt suspected that three Clanton friends, Bill Leonard, Jim Crane and Harry Head, had been the associates of Luther King in the Benson stage holdup attempt.

According to his story, he felt his single-handed apprehension of the men would enhance his election as Sheriff, a post for which he now had ambitions. He said he promised Ike he could have all the $6,000 reward money if he would play the Judas part and lure his friends to a spot where Wyatt could capture them. Wyatt said Ike was so interested he even asked for proof the reward would be paid "dead or alive." Ike's story, told at the murder trial after the O.K. Corral battle, agreed that a meeting had been held and that the stage holdup had been discussed. But, he swore, Wyatt had admitted to complicity in the holdup murders, and wanted Leonard, Crane and Head out of the way before they could testify against him. The question of the whereabouts of these three men quickly became academic. All were killed in various illegal escapades. But the rumor got around town that Ike Clanton had been willing to betray his friends, and the cowboy bitterly accused Wyatt of talking - and threatened to get even.

The Next-To-Final act in the O.K. Corral drama was played on the road to Bisbee, early in September 1881. Again a Wells Fargo treasure box was sought by two holdup men. The box was tossed down, and the bandits rode away. News of the robbery did not reach Tombstone until the following morning, and a cold trail was followed by Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Marshal Williams and one of Sheriff Behan's Deputies, William Breakenridge. But they soon rode back, bringing with them in securely tied custody two friends of the Clantons and Sheriff Behan Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell. Stilwell was particularly close to Behan; he was one of the sheriff's deputies.

The showdown was near at hand. The outlaw menace around the town was so great that peace-loving citizens formed a Citizens' Safety Committee - a vigilance group of a hundred men on call to support City Marshal Virgil Earp. Loud-mouthed Ike Clanton was fulsome in his boasts about what he was going to do to the Earps "one of these days." The day chosen - by fate or by design - was Wednesday, October 26, 1881. Ike Clanton and Doc Holliday had quarreled bitterly the day before, a quarrel that ended with threats from both. Shortly before noon on the 26th, Wyatt Earp was awakened and told Ike Clanton, armed with a rifle and revolver, was visiting the Allen street bars, threatening Doc Holiday. Carrying weapons inside the town limits was a violation, and the three Earp brothers went looking for Ike. It was Virgil and Morgan who found him, tramping down Fourth Street. Virgil's six-shooter made a dull thudding sound as it crashed against Ike's head, and the braggart, alternately whimpering and threatening, was dragged to Police Court, fined $25, and his weapons confiscated. Wyatt and Ike exchanged bitter words during the brief court hearing, each threatening the other. An angry Wyatt Earp stalked from the courtroom and came face-to-face with Tom McLaury. Another argument started - and quickly ended when Wyatt "buffaloed" his enemy and walked away.

Another town ordinance violation was to bring the Earps and the Clanton crowd to one more face-to-face meeting before that fateful thirty seconds. A few minutes after the anger vented inside and outside the courtroom, Virgil and Wyatt Earp saw four of the cowboys - the two McLaurys, Billy Clanton and a friend, Billy Claiborne, a gunslinging youngster who liked to be called Billy the Kid - walking into Spangenberg's Gun Shop, on Fourth street. Soon they were joined by Ike. The visit of their enemies to a gun shop might have given the Earps pause to consider what lay ahead. Of more immediate concern, however, was Frank McLaury's horse, standing on the sidewalk, a legal violation. Wyatt grabbed the bridle, started to back the horse into the street. Frank dashed out, grabbed the bridle, too. There was a moment of silence; it soon might become the Battle of Spangenberg's Gun Shop. But, silently, Frank finished backing his horse off the wooden sidewalk.

An ominous report on Cochise County

In September 1881, just a month before the shootout at the O.K. Corral, the lawless conditions that led to that paroxysm of gunplay were lengthily reported to the U.S. Secretary of State by John Gosper, acting as governor of the Arizona Territory in the absence of John C. Fremont. Gosper had found that cowboys were running rampant in Cochise County - robbing stages, rustling cattle, and rarely getting caught. His outraged account of the situation, excerpted below, was based on personal interviews; it laid the blame on the suspicious inactivity of local peace officers.

The cow-boy element at times very fully predominates, and the officers of the law are either unable or unwilling to control this class of out-laws, sometimes being governed by fear, at other times by a hope of reward. At Tombstone, the county seat of Cochise County, I conferred with the Sheriff upon the subject of breaking up these bands of out-laws, and I am sorry to say he gave me but little hope of being able in his department to cope with the power of the cowboys. He represented to me that the Deputy U.S. Marshal, resident of Tombstone, and the city Marshal for the same, seemed unwilling to heartily cooperate with him in capturing and bringing to justice these out-laws.

In conversation with the Deputy U.S. Marshal, Mr. Earp, I found precisely the same spirit of complaint existing against Mr. Behan (the Sheriff) and his deputies. Many of the very best law-abiding and peace-loving citizens have no confidence in the willingness of the civil officers to pursue and bring to justice that element of out-lawry so largely disturbing the sense of security, and so often committing highway robbery and smaller thefts. The opinion in Tombstone and elsewhere in that part of the Territory is quite prevalent that the civil officers are quite largely in league with the leaders of this disturbing and dangerous element.

Something must be done, and that right early, or very grave results will follow. It is an open disgrace to American liberty and the peace and security of her citizens, that such a state of affairs should exist.

The Earp brothers gathered in front of Hafford's Saloon, on the corner of Fourth and Allen streets, wondering what next this day would bring. They were joined by Doc Holiday, carrying a cane as he usually did when his tuberculosis particularly was bothering him. They hadn't long to wait. A man named Coleman, whether acting as a concerned public-spirited citizen or just hopeful of seeing a good fight, came up to them and said the Clantons and McLaurys had gathered at the rear entrance of the O.K. Corral, and were plotting trouble. Down Fourth Street marched the look-alike Earps, each wearing long black coats, as was Doc Holliday. Doc had traded his cane for Virgil Earp's shotgun. He pulled his arm from one sleeve of his coat and held the shotgun between his coat and his body.

As they neared the corner of Third and Fremont, they saw the Clanton brothers, the McLaury brothers and Billy Claiborne, ranged along the wall of a small assay office that flanked the west side of the Corral entrance. To the east of the narrow strip of open land was the boarding house and gallery of Camillas S. Fly, frontier photographer who ranged through Tombstone and around the wide countryside recording the sights and the events and the people of that fabulous time. Talking with the men, while the horses of Frank and Tom McLaury stamped their feet impatiently in the cool air, was the Sheriff of Cochise County John Behan. When he saw the Earps approaching, with the maneuvering Doc Holliday swinging wide into the street, Sheriff Behan hurried back to them, told them to stop. Virgil asked if the cowboys were under arrest, and, not getting a reply to his satisfaction, pushed on past, leading his brothers to the O.K. Corral.

Raising Doc Holliday's cane, Virgil called to the men to drop their arms. Frank McLaury shouted a reply - whether agreement or insult, no one will ever know.

In a split second, the firing started. There were pent-up scores to be settled As the first bullets tore through the air, the boastful Ike Clanton, the man who was going to kill all the Earps single-handedly and drop Doc Holliday for good measure, ran screaming toward Wyatt Earp, ducked behind him and streaked toward Fly's photograph gallery, Where Sheriff Behan quickly had taken refuge. Close behind Ike was Billy the Kid Claiborne, recently released from jail after killing a man who "bothered" Billy by asking if he could buy a drink. But the events at the O.K. Corral were a different kind of bother to Billy, and he quickly decided this really wasn't his fight after all.

Frank McLaury was the first to drop, a gaping wound in his stomach from Wyatt Earp's pistol fired at almost pointblank range. Morgan Earp took a bullet in the stomach, as game young Billy Clanton, his right wrist shattered, shifted his gun to his left hand He kept firing as two more bullets tore through his body, and one shot hit Virgil Earp in the leg. Billy weakly tried to keep firing as he lay on the hard packed sand, but he couldn't muster the strength to pull the trigger.

Tom McLaury made a lunge for the rifle in the saddle scabbard of brother Frank's horse, but the frightened horse reared - exposing Tom to the merciless gaze and deadly aim of Doc Holiday. The shotgun roared, and Tom stumbled a few feet into Fremont Street; now there were two dead McLaurys.

Billy Clanton died a few minutes later, his pistol taken from his hand by Camillas Fly as he was lifted and carried into Fly's boarding house. It was over. There were a few awful moments of silence, then there was a new sound; the whistles of the Vizina and Tough Nut mines shrilled in the air, calling the members of the Citizens' Safety Committee to form against what many feared might now he a general insurrection on the part of the outlaw elements.

Sheriff Behan told Wyatt Earp he was under arrest; Wyatt replied: "I won't be arrested today. I am right here and am not going away. You deceived me. You told me these men were disarmed; I went to disarm them." Wyatt wasn't arrested that day, and outlaw violence didn't break out yet. But within a few days, the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were charged with murder; because Morgan and Virgil still were recovering from their wounds, Judge Wells Spicer decided to proceed to trial without them.

Sheriff Behan testified the Clanton party made no effort to begin shooting when the Earp party stalked to the Corral and, according to him, told them to throw up their hands. He said the Earps already had their guns at the ready. He did admit however, that Frank McLaury had told him a short time before the shooting that he would not give up his weapons until the Earps were disarmed.

Ike Clanton swore they all dutifully threw their hands into the air, only to be met by rapid fire from the Earps and Doc Holliday. The whole thing, he said, really was a plot to kill him because of what he knew about the Benson stage holdup. Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, testified he and his brothers knew most, if not all, of the Clanton gang were armed. He said it was Virgil's duty, as town marshal, to disarm anyone carrying firearms within the Tombstone limits (a law not too often enforced or enforceable).

Addie Bourland, owner of a millinery shop who witnessed the whole incident from her window across the way, testified everyone started shooting at once. That's all there was to it. Another witness testified Virgil Earp called upon the Clantons to "give up your arms," and immediately thereafter shooting became general. Dr. George Goodfellow, respected frontier surgeon and former Army doctor, testified that Billy Clanton's arm wound could not possibly have been inflicted from the angle the bullet entered the wrist if Billy's hands had been in the air.

After a thirty-day trial in the old courtroom just across the street from the gun battle site, Judge Spicer ruled in favor of the defendants. Virgil Earp, as Town Marshal, and Morgan, as a special officer on the town's payroll, were doing their duty in seeking to disarm the men, he ruled. In one breath he criticized Virgil for taking along Wyatt and Doc Holliday because of their previous arguments with the deceased; but in the next, he noted the "existence of a law defying element in our midst," and said Virgil needed the "assistance and support of staunch and true friends, upon whose courage, coolness and fidelity he could depend on in case of emergency." That such an emergency existed, he said, "the facts plainly prove." The Judge ridiculed Ike Clanton's claim that the O.K. Corral gun battle was rigged solely to get rid of him, pointing out that Ike made the best target of all as he ran toward Wyatt Earp in his frantic sprint to safety. And he leaned heavily, in his decision, on Sheriff Behan's admission that Frank McLaury refused to give up his weapons until the "chief of police and his assistants should be disarmed." The Earps and Doc Holiday were free men; but neither the Gunbattle at the O.K. Corral nor the murder trial settled anything except that nothing was settled. The Clanton family erected a marker over Billy's grave in Boot Hill cemetery:

Billy Clanton
Murdered on the Streets
of Tombstone.

The Tombstone Epitaph said justice was done. The Nugget, predictably, said it wasn't. Somewhere, however, outlaw Justice was in the planning. A Few Days after Christmas, Virgil Earp was crossing Fifth Street at Allen, right in front of the Crystal Palace. Suddenly, five shots tore through the air from the darkness of the incompleted building of the Huachuca Water Company. Three smashed through a window of the Palace, and lodged in the wall behind the ornate bar. Two bullets smashed into Virgil's arm, leaving him a partial cripple the rest of his life.

The Earps were marked men. On March 18, 1882, Morgan and Wyatt Earp attended an evening performance in massive Schieffelin Hall, the new building just completed by Al Schieffelin, Ed's brother and now partner, as a center of clean entertainment for the better class of citizens in the town. The play over, Morgan and Wyatt walked back to Allen street, where Morgan had a date to play pool with Bob Hatch, owner of a billiard parlor between Fourth and Fifth streets. As Morgan bent over the table to line up a pool shot, another kind of shot was heard from outside, and then a second. Morgan fell forward on the table, fatally wounded by a single bullet.

Wyatt suspected Frank Stilwell, the sometime deputy sheriff and part-time stage robber. This was the general suspicion around town, and a coroner's inquest formally fixed the blame on the now departed Stilwell. Wyatt and Virgil Earp, Doc Holiday and an associate, Sherman McMasters, all heavily armed, left Tombstone with Morgan's body, to escort it as far as Tucson. Virgil Earp and his wife were going to continue to Colton, California, where Morgan was to be buried. There was trouble waiting in Tucson. Its name was Frank Stilwell.

Exactly what happened never will be known, any more than the precise events of the O.K. Corral shootout ever can be recorded. Wyatt Earp said he found Stilwell lurking around the train onto which Morgan's body had been carried, that Stilwell rushed him and was killed grabbing for his guns. When the train pulled out, Stilwell's body lay beside the tracks.

A warrant was sworn out for Wyatt's arrest, and Sheriff Behan tried to detain him when Wyatt and Doc Holliday returned to Tombstone. But Wyatt, Doc and four of their friends rode unmolested out of Tombstone, looking for Clanton cronies. Whether it was purely in revenge for the shooting of Virgil and Morgan, or whether they were acting under the authority of the Cochise County District Judge as proclaimed by Tombstone's new mayor, John Carr, still is debated. Perhaps it was a combination of both.

A few days later, the party led by Wyatt Earp exchanged gunfire with a gang of armed riders a few miles south of Tombstone. One passerby, who arrived just after the smoke had cleared and everyone ridden off, said a body lay on the ground - the body of Curly Bill Brocius, the outlaw leader. Later, this story was contradicted by other supposed eye-witnesses. But Curly Bill never was seen or heard of again in Arizona Territory. And Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday left the Territory, too, heading for Colorado and safety from the warrant still awaiting service for the murder of Frank Stilwell. The turbulent Earp era in Tombstone was ended.

Six Years after the O.K. Corral Shootout, Ike Clanton was killed - still running away. A posse chasing him on suspicion of cattle rustling got him in its gun sights, and the man whose loud mouth was matched by his fast legs came to an end at last. Billy Claiborne was killed at Tombstone's Fifth and Allen streets after he made the mistake of challenging the deadly Buckskin Frank Leslie.

Doc Holliday, the fearless gun fighter, surprised everyone - probably himself most of all - by peacefully dying in a sanitarium a dozen years after he helped make Tombstone history. Wyatt Earp lived to the ripe old age of 81, spending his latter years in quiet affluence as a real estate speculator, and recounting his memoirs.

The bloodletting at the O.K. Corral, the tragic events that followed, and other more incidental killings in and around Tombstone, finally spurred a concerned Territorial and Federal government to action. On May 3, 1882, President Cheater Arthur threatened to send troops to Tombstone unless "unlawful proceedings" ended. And Tombstone did settle down, whether because of the threat of invasion by the United States Cavalry, or because the Earps had killed the more daring, the more troublemaking, outlaw leaders.

There are those who say Wyatt Earp was the Lion of Tombstone, the man who saw his unpleasant duty and brought peace to a troubled town. There are others who just as stoutly proclaim that the Earps were no better than the men with whom they fought, and the killings were the outgrowth of outlaw activities in which all were involved.

Still others say Wyatt Earp was really just a hired gun, doing what he was told to do, a man no better and no worse than a horde of like contemporaries throughout the unstable West. Evaluation is difficult, for we judge by present standards the men who lived in a different world, at a hard to imagine time, and under a flexible set of rules.

Harold O. Love. Tombstone Epitaph. March 1979.


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