Most towns in the old west owed their existence to the railroads, trail herds, army forts or mining strikes. As one researcher od the west stated Tombstone’s midwife was silver. The mother lode was found in 1877, and in 1879 1,000 people had shown up. By 1881 10,000 people called Tombstone home.
With the mine running full blast, and lots of money flowing through the streets, Tombstone attracted more than it’s share of trouble makers. With its reputation as the town to tough to die, and the influx of the rowdy lot that is drawn to a place like that, only a small amount of it’s citizenry actually got into trouble. Most were sixty hours a week underground miners, who wandered into town on payday to gamble, drink and blow of steam. They for the most part were burly foreign born labors with poor english, little inclined to the heavy gambling or shootouts. their diffrences were settled with fists , broken heads and a return to work the next day.
Living outside of town, but the largest cause of trouble in town, were the Cowboys. a group of rustlers and gunmen opperating south of Tombstone near the Sonora line. They harrased Mexican ranchers with swift and devastating rades. rustling vast hersd for sale in Arazona.
A old, roughish outlaw know as Old Man Clanton led the cowboys. Clanton originaly from Texas has gone to Calironnia to the gold feilds during the gold rush eventually drifted into Arizona, accompanied by his three sons, Ike, Phineas andWilliam. He established a ranch ten or five-teen miles south of Tombstone. Outside of the army at Fort Hunchuca, these cowboys were probably the strongest power in the region.
In August of 1881, the Cowboys ambushed a pack train of Mexican smugglers killing several and stealing coins, silver bullion, cattle, horses and liquor. Less than ten days later Old man Clanton drove a herd of stolen cattle out of Mexico and he, himself was ambushed and killed along with five of the Cowboys.
Curly Bill Brocius, a fun loving, rip snorting, deadly killer took rein of the coeboys. all the gang stuck with him including the Clanton boys, the two McLowery brothers, Frank and Tom, plus the most dangerious and possiably strangest gunman who ever handeled a six shooter, Jonny Ringo.
Back in tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his brothers orginized ” the Law and Order League”. A faction stoutly supported by John P, Clum, a fourmer indian agent and editor of the Tombstone Epitah. It is largly through his editorials that the Earp’s emererged with as much respectabilty as they did.
The power strugel with in town revolved around the position of sheriff, always a lucetrave job in the old west. The sheriff collected taxes under Arazona territorie charter and by law kept ten percent of what he raised. Historians estimate that the positioon of sheriff of tombstone was worth between thirty to forty thousand a year.
The Earp’s had trouble finding sutiable law enforcement work in Tombstone. Wyatt hired as a deputy to Sheriff Charles Shibell. It did not work out well and Shibell dismissed Wyatt and placed John Behan on the payroll. a angry Wyatt went to work as a shotgun guard for Wells fargo.
towm marshal Fred White asked Virgil Earp for help in quelling a Cowboy disturbance. A scuffle occured and the pistol of Curly Bill went of while pointed at White. White died later, and Curly Bill was aquitted by the jury. They found that White should not have gotten the way of Bills pistol.
Virgil became marshal then lost the next election to a man named Ben Sipy.
Event were outrunning people . John Clum ran for and was elected Mayor. Over in the State house the legistators sliced up Pima county and Roumbstone became the county seat. People expected the govonor to appoint Wyatt sheriff but he selected Behan instead.
the Benson stage underwent a attempted robbery and the driver and a passanger were killed, the guard got the stage away. Three individuals were identified and doc Holliday was accused as being the third. This was hard on the Earps as doc’s alliance with them was well known. To make mattters worse Doc and his woman Kate had had a big fight. Kate got drunk and John Behan plied her with sympthay and more drink and in a drunken haze she signed a document stating dock had participated in the holdup. the Earps got hold of her and locked herup untill she sobered up and she testified she did not even remember signing the paper and doc had never told her anything like that. Eventually the other three were killed in other hold ups and Doc was forgoten.
Doc retalliated by swearing out a arrest warent for Kate charging her with threating his life. She was arrested and fined $12.50. Upon paying her fine she swore off doc and left town never to see doc again.
The ill feelings continued to stew between the Earps and sheriff Behan and came to a head when Behan brought a actress named Josephine Sara (Sadie) Marcus to town with intentions of setting up house with her. After a few weeks she met Wyatt a much more charming and better spender than Behan. Of course this did not go over well with Wyatt’s livin mistress Mattie. (see earlier chapters).
Things slowly began to come to a head, with the town chosing up sides. Throwing in with the Earp’s were Buckskin Frank Leslie, Bat Masterson, Luke Short and Doc Holliday. (Materson and Short left town before the showdown came). Of course Mayor John clum and his Tombstone epitath sided with them. On the other side of the street were Behan, the Clanton Cowboys and a competing newspaper The Tombstone nugget.
A big break came for the Earps on June , 1881, when the city marshal Ben Sippy, misteriously left town. John Clum immeaditklly appointed Virgil Earp as city marshal and his brothers and Doc Holliday as deputies. Now Tombstone was divided by to distent law enforcment fractions. the Earps inTown and Behan and , supposeedly the Cowboys in the county.
Stage robbries and theiverys florshied, and both newspapers railed against eachother and both fractions were at each others throats. clearly something was coming to ahead. Ike clanton appeared on the streets of Tombstone armed and Virgil attempted to arrest him for carrying a firearm in the city. Ike protested claming he needed it to keep the Earps from killing him. Virgil pistol whipped him and placed hinm under arrest and fined him $25.
Less than a hour late Wyatt approached Tom McLowery who placed his hand in his pocket. Wyatt struck him saying are you armed. The youth removed his empty hand and said “no I’m not armed” . Wyatt still pistol whipped him, until a frind helped the youth down the street. Later Frank McLowery’s horse was observed half way on the sidewalk . Wyatt grabbed the horses bridle and was yanking it off the walk when Frank and bill clanton came and came and removed the animal to the OK corral down the street.
Soon all the Clanton’s and McLowerys were at the OK Corral talking. Word was soon sent to the Earp’s that the Gang was out to get them. By 1:30 events to be imortalized in old west history was unfolding.
THE O K CORRAL
What happned next has been discussed, agaured and analized for more than 120 years. There are as many stories and reports as there were watchers and participants, plus two very diffrent newspaper reports.
John Behan was in the barber chair awaiting his regular shave, when someone burst in and shouted that the Earp”s were heading to the OK corral to brace the cowboys. Rushing down the street he met the Clantons and McLowerys along with Billy Claiborne in a lot behind the O K Corral and demanded they surrender their guns. He later said they refused saying they were ready to leave town and were waiting for a wagon to come around for Ike, as his head was hurting too bad to ride a horse to the ranch, besides only Frank McLowery and Billy Clanton had sidearms and had their horses saddled and at hand. Claiborne had no sidearm but there was a rifle on his saddle , and said he was there only as a friend trying to talk the others into leaving town.
At this time Behan saw the Earps appraching down the street and rushed to intersept them. Cautioning the Cowboys to remain where they were he rushed to meet the Earp’s telling them that the cowboys were leaving town and would be gone in a second. He also claimed to tell them that the Clanton’s and McLowery’s were unarmed. the Earps brushed on past him not stopping untill only five feet seperated the two parties.
According to theEarp story, they called upon the other party to surrender their arms and were rebuffed. If one believes the Clanton’s story the Earp’s opened fire with out warning. What ever happened within seconds gunfire erupted alongside Fremont Street, not in the OK Corral as legend goes, and soon after blood was flowing.
According to Wyatt Earp, it began like this. “They-Billy Clanton and Frank McLowery- commenced to draw their pistols; at the same time Tom McLowery threw his hand to his hip and jumped behind his horse. I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket, where I had put it when Behan had tolm he had disarmed the other party. when I saw Billy and Frank draw their pistols, I drew my pistol, Billy Clanton leveled his pistol at me, but I did not aim at him. I knew Frank McLowery had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerious man and I aimed at him. The first two shots fired were fired by Billy Clanton and myself; he shot at me and I shot at Frank McLowery. The fight became general”.
Both Ike clanton and Billy Claiborne ran for cover excapeing the melee. Wyatt said later Ike grabbed him by the left arm begging for his life, Earp brushed him off and told him to run or fight.
Frank McLowery took a Earp slug in the belly, a ugly, painfull wound. Staggering around he tried to pull a Winchester from the saddle failing that he snapped off sever more shots with his six-shooter. One bullet grazed Doc’s holster and skinned his back. Finally his plunging horse drug him out in to the stree sixty feet away where he fell over onto his head dead.
Holliday keps the action brisk after firing several shots with his nickle plated pistol, he pulled a short barrled shotgun from under his coat and began to boom.
Several witness later said Tom Mclowery had his arms raised when Doc shot him, who knows for sure. the blast caught Tom under the right arm and he died instantly.
Nineteen year old Billy Clanton lasted the longest, if twenty to thirty seconds can be considered long. Hit in the chest and the right wrist, slumping against the side of a building he kept firing away. He hit Virgil in the right leg and shot Morgan near the base of the neck. chipping a peice of verterbra. Morgan fell to the ground stunned. Billy dragged himself out into Fremont street trying to cock his weapon. A bystander reached out and plucked his pistol out of his hand. Billy looked at him and gasped “Give me more cartrages”. Bill died screaming in agony ,finally subscuming after two shots of morpine.
The dead were carted off to the undertaker and the wounded went home to recuperate. The whole affair had lasted less than one minute. Three days later the Earp’s and Holliday were charged with premetated murder, arrested and freeded on $10,000 bond each. A week later Wyatt and Holliday were rearested and released on Nov. 20 th on the same bond.
Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer conducted the initial hearing and testimony lasted until Nov. 30 when the Judge freed the Eqarps aand Holliday on the grounds that “the defendants were fully justified on commiting these homicides” that Billy Clanton and Frank McLowery drew their weapons when called upon to surrender them, and the question as to Tom McLowery he had a rifle on the saddle and he had been invloved in the agurment all along.
Also the judge pointed out that Ike Clanton was the one that the Earp’s hated the most and he had been spared when he could have been slain.
The slain Cowboys were treated to a grand funeral and viewed as simi-marrtyrs by many. Their tombstones read ” Murdered on the streets of Tombstone.
Virgil Earp the only one of the Earps in a law enforcement position as a Deputy U S Marshal left the Oriental Saloon on his way to his room was gunned down by assasians with three shotgun blasts. Virgil survived but was crippled in his left arm for life.
On March 18, 1882 Morgan straightned up after a billiard shot and was shot in the back with the bullet breaking his spine. The bullet passed through Morgan’s body and lodged in the thigh of a George Berry who dropped over dead with a heart attact. Morgan died on a nearby couch after saying ” That’s the last game of Pool I’ll ever play”.
The murders fled but were identified by a woman whoes husband had beaten her she identified them as her husband Peter spence, Frank Stilwell and Indian Charlie Cruz (a loafer around town).
The Earps loaded morgans body on a train for California. When the train reached Tuson, all the Earp’s except Virgil, still wounded , jumped and searched the train yard where they had heard frank Stilwell was working. A hour later they found him and broke both legs with shotgun blasts and put four slugs into his body.
The teritory swore out charges of murder against the Earp’s but law enforcement personel were hesitant to prusue the charges. While they dawled the Earps searched for Pere Spence but were unable to find him. they did find Indian Charlie and filled him with lead. Now there were two murder charges against the former lawmen. Spence finally surrendered to Sheriff Behan and begged for protection from the Earp’s.
Wyatt is reputed to have killed Curly Bill Brocius, a claim many dispute. Only Wyatt’s word seems to support this act, and Wyatt was prone to self glorfication. The only fact is Curly Bill did seem to disapear about this time.
The Earp gang split up and fled Arazona to avoid prosicutation. Wyatt and Doc went to Colorado where Sadie awaited Wyatt. Holliday and Earp split up for the last time in Colorado.
Wyatt became a wander never returning to arazona where murder charges still awaited him. He and “Sadie” (Josephine) and brother Jim, traveled the Western United States supporting them selves gambling and working confidence games. He and Jim were found guilty fo claim jumping in Idaho.
Wyatt died of prostate cancer on Jan 3, 1929 and was cremated. He died friends with Actors William H. Heart and Tom Mix, whom Wyatt paticullary liked Tom Mix, as he had been a real cowboy and lawman berofe becoming a actor.
Not everyone thought Wyatt Earp was a tarnished individual. Bat Masterson wrote of him ” That Wyatt Earp was the most selfless, upright individual I have ever had the privilage to know”
I have four other books that cover Wyatt’s life and where many overlap some dispute the facts I have used here. You will have to wade through this mess and make your own opinion. Quite frankly I have personally know a number of law enforcement individuals. And it take a certian kind of person to do these jobs and they do not always measure up to what our ideals are.
This saddle my butt has been sitting in these past number of hours is numbing my rear, so gonna climb down and stand around for awhile.