The fight at the OK Corral in Tombstone – the town too tough to die!

The blogger and the Earp brothers

Whether you’re a fan or not, you will have heard of the Wild West – that time in American history that looms large in the psyche of the classic movie fan. It was an exciting time, characterising the forward wave of American westward expansion that began with English colonial settlements in the early 17th century and ended with the admission of the last mainland territories as states in the early 20th century.

Frontier humour

 

Arizona was one of those states and Tombstone was one of those towns. Tombstone was founded and named in 1879 by Ed Schiefflin when he finally struck a rich seam of silver on his last day of mining. It was an ironic nod to his friends who had taunted him ‘Ed you gotta be crazy – the only rock you’re gonna find there is your Tombstone!’ Obviously, I can’t verify this as the exact phrase spoken. Photographs of Ed in Tombstone exist and show him as a rather handsome young man who looks quite happy with himself (not surprisingly) and sporting a luxuriant dark beard.

Know your limits Curly Bill!
 

 The demon drink seemed to be involved in many of the gunfights that happened, although I doubt it improved anyone’s aim, and it was also responsible for one of the great fires in Tombstone when it slipped the mind of a saloon employee that barrels of whiskey and a lit cigar do not mix. Sixty six buildings burned that night.

 

Promises to be a good night out!

The news was reported in the Tombstone Epitaph which is still in circulation today. But Tombstone is most famous for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. It has been immortalised by Hollywood in the movies several times and some of our most iconic actors have taken on the roles of those infamous characters. If you go to Tombstone today you can take a bone crushing stage coach ride around the town and hear about the history of the place from your stage coach driver. Our stage coach was pulled by two beautiful large black Percheron horses called Larry and Paul but there were several other fine pairs of equines you could equally have chosen for the extremely bumpy and uncomfortable jolt around the dusty streets in the historically accurate replica of an 1800’s taxi.

Larry and Paul

There is a choice of daily gunfights in Tombstone today. Some claim to be more historically accurate than others (I’m not sure how they know this) but the best known gunfight of all is the Gunfight at the OK corral. I went to the OK corral and watched the actors re enact this famous fracas, which they do three times a day. I asked them afterwards if they were trained actors (Doc Holliday was the narrator and he was pretty convincing) Apparently some of them are trained actors and of course this gig is going to look good on your resume (or CV as we call it in the UK) but some of them were just locals who’d fallen into fake gun fighting as a perfectly respectable career option around these parts.

Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp keep their hands on their weapons

Central to this story are the Earp brothers and in particular the extraordinary character of Wyatt Earp. It is maybe no coincidence that Earp was tee total, and one of the only gunfighters who never got shot in a showdown. Although he did shoot a hole in his own coat accidentally once.

Wyatt Earp impressive man – impressive moustache

It was actually Wyatt’s brother Virgil who was the Marshall in town and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan were his temporary deputies. The Earps tended to protect the interests of the town’s businesses and other residents. The term ‘cowboy’ at the time really meant an outlaw, a term we still understand when we call a rogue trader a ‘cowboy’ today. The people that worked with cows were ranchers or cattlemen.

Tombstone’s Hats ‘R’ us

In 1881 three cowboys tried to rob a Kinnear and Company stagecoach carrying silver bullion and in the process shot and killed its popular driver and a passenger. This set off a chain of events and a feud which ultimately led to the gunfight at the OK corral.

Tombstone transport

Although in the 1990’s film Tombstone the gunfight lasted 9 ½ minutes this is Hollywood history and in reality, it only lasted about 30 seconds, and there were about 30 shots fired. It was about 3pm on Wednesday October 26th 1881 when things came to a head between Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton and brothers Tom and Frank Mclaury and the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Ike and Billy ran off unharmed, but Billy and the McLaury’s were killed. Virgil, Morgan and Doc were wounded but Wyatt remained unscathed.

Cowboy conflict

 

Virgil was later ambushed and maimed, and Morgan Earp was shot and killed by the cowboys through the glass door of a saloon. Wyatt Earp however survived into his sixties and lived to have many more adventures. He was at different times in his life a constable, city policeman, county sheriff, buffalo hunter, bouncer, saloon-keeper gambler, pimp, miner and boxing referee. He later moved to Los Angeles and became an unpaid film consultant for several silent cowboy movies in the early 1920’s. It is said he made friends with a young actor named Marion Morrison who later became one John Wayne. It is also said that Mr Wayne based many of his roles on Wyatt and the characters he told him about from those old Wild West Days…Watch this bad video of a bit of the fight..