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History Files: The Gunfight At the OK Corral: Tombstone AZ October 26, 1881

Tom MacLaurie, Frank MacLaurie and Billy Clanton displayed in the Tombstone Funeral Parlor after the gunfight. A sign posted close to the open caskets declared, "Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone, October 26, 1881."

Tom MacLaurie, Frank MacLaurie and Billy Clanton displayed in the Tombstone Funeral Parlor after the gunfight. A sign posted close to the open caskets declared, "Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone, October 26, 1881."

The Beginnings

Tombstone was incorporated as a town in the late 1870's in what was the Arizona Territory. The reason for its founding was silver.

The Hills of South-West Arizona were filled with rich deposits of silver which prospectors hoped would bring the rich rewards that had blessed the prospectors of neighboring Nevada and the new town of Tombstone was hoped to be an equal to Virginia City NV, with the riches of its Comstock Lode.

Sadly for the populace of late 19th Century Tombstone, the silver was to play out within a decade.

Tombstone would burn brightly for a few years as a boom town and then fade into history and fable for one particular event, the Gunfight at the OK Corral. On a cold afternoon in late October a long standing argument would explode into gunfire. Three men would lie dead, three others would be wounded. But the gunfight at the OK Corral would provide future generations with dreams and myths of the Old West, how lawmen stood up to viscious desperados and how right and goodness always won the day.

Tombstone's greatest legacy was to be the birthplace of the Western Myth.

Immediate causes

Ike Clanton, had arrived in Tombstone sometime on the day before the gunfight. He had spent the day doing business in town and then a long night playing cards with several other men including Virgil Earp. All the time he drank heavily and in the early morning at about 6 AM the card game ended as the men retired to bed.

Virgil made his way to his office where he kept a bed, telling his deputy not to wake him until at least noon. Ike Clanton returned to his hotel where he collected his guns and made his way out onto the streets of Tombstone.

There he paraded up-and-down MainStreet calling for the Earp's to come out and fight him.

For most of the morning Ike's behavior went ignored. But by late morning word had spread around town about Ike's behavior and he was arrested and taken to court where he was fined and released to the care of the McLaury brothers. Two other cowboys, friends of the Clantons and also in town on business.

Leaving the court the McLaury brothers went on their way to collect payments for cattle, Ike Clanton made his way to join his brother Billy and another young man named Billy Claibourne near Fly's Hotel.

. But as the day wore on

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The presence of the drunken Clanton in town still threatening the Earps reached the ears of Wyatt and Morgan Earp who began to make their way downtown. Along Fremont Street they met with Virgil now awake and "Doc" Holiday. a consumptive dentist , gambler and gunfighter. Together the four men made their way through town towards the Fly's Hotel and photographic studio.

Townspeople gathered in the streets and The town Sherriff "Johnny" Beyan made an attempt to intervene telling the Earps to go back as he was handling the matter and the Clanton's and McLauries were not armed. At about this time Virgil Earp swapped guns with Doc Holiday, the Doc usually carried a revolver and Virgil handed Doc a shotgun taking Doc's revolver.

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Walking down Fremont Street the Earp's and Clanton's saw each other on an empty lot near the Fly photographic store, a couple of blocks down the street from the OK Corral.

Beyan ran ahead of the Earps and tried to intervene, as the Earps drew up Ike Clanton ran forward towards Wyatt Earp, now pleading to let things settle and promising to leave. Beyan grabbed at Billy Claibourne and pulled him behind Fly's Hotel. Someone it is unclear who, then pulled a gun and fired.

Billy Clanton was hit soon after the shooting started. The McLaurie's were said to have opened their coats to show themselves unarmed. Then Tom McLaurie grabbed at his horses saddle holster only to be shot by Holiday with his shotgun. Frank McLaurie was also hit by several bullets as each of the Earps received minor wounds amidst the confusion.

In less than thirty seconds the gunfight was over, the McLaurie brothers were dead in the street, Billy Clanton was mortally wounded and would die in minutes. The Earps had minor wounds, only Doc Holiday, Johnny Beyan and Billy Claibourne and Ike Clanton escaped unscathed.

The McLauries and Billy Clanton were photographed later as their bodies were displayed beside a notice proclaiming "Murdered on the streets of Tombstone."

Hollywood's Version

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steve on September 24, 2013:

would be nice to know what really happened

William Elliott (author) from California USA on January 02, 2012:

For a great book on the background on the gunfight, I would recommend the Last Gunfight. It covers the rivalries of the Earps and Johnny Beyan over the County Sherriff's office and also the seeming double standeards of the day, where both lawmen and cowboys come out both as more rounded figures rather than the Hollywood stereotypes.

James Allder on January 02, 2012:

I spent a lot of time researching this mess for a book I wrote called Western Legend, and came away with a mountain of respect for those who wade into the "entire" history of it. I merely focused on the gunfight itself, and that pretty much took the wind out of me for 4 years.

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