Wednesday, October 24, 2007
October 26, 1881
The trouble had been building for a while. Part of the trouble was political. Most of the in-town power structure was Republican and Union. In the countryside they were mostly southern and Democrat. One of the main people, though was southern and apolitical, John Henry Holiday. Doc, as he was known, was only involved because of his friendship with Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp. Now it is hard to say at this date it but it is often said that Earp wasn't just Doc's friend, he was his only friend.
Doc, you see, was not a particularly friendly sort. Some say he was just born mean, others say that the Tuberculosis made him that way. In those days, before antibiotics a case of TB was a long, slow death sentence. Doc drank to control the pain and, being a walking dead man, was abnormally prone to get into disagreements, sometimes leading to the knife or the gun. When you know you are in for a slow and painful death, why avoid danger? Since coughing blood and phlegm all over your customers was not really considered good dental practice, even back then, Doc had taken down his dental shingle and taken up the profession of gambler. Please note that in 1881 gambler was a respected profession.
Now, Doc wasn't the only gambler, Wyatt had the Faro table at the Oriental Saloon. His brother Virgil was the town Marshall, read Chief of Police, his brother Morgan was a Deputy Marshall and his brother James was a saloon keeper. Virgil was also a Deputy US Marshall. Morgan and Wyatt also worked off and on as "shotgun messengers" for the stage company. A shotgun messenger was that feller sitting beside the stage driver armed with an 1878 Colt double barrel shotgun. Truth be told, many shotgun messengers preferred the 1873 Winchester .44-40 for the same reason many modern bluesuits like an AR-15 clone over the pump shotgun, the added range.
Much of the argument over the gunfight in the Harwood's vacant lot/part time lumberyard between Fly's Boarding House and Harwood's boarding house, some 80 yards from the OK Corral (what a mouthful, no wonder it's called by the false name "Gunfight at OK Corral".) is just like the arguments over today's events. Today there are only a few facts known for sure.
The cow-boys as they were then known were not ranchers, or cowhands as we know them today but men who made their living going across the border to Mexican ranches and rustling their cattle. Nor were they above the attacking of smuggling caravans. Google the Skeleton Canyon Massacre. Old Man Clanton, the father of Ike and Billy, was the leader of the cow-boys until he was killed, probably by a Mexican posse in revenge for his raids.
Leadership of the cow-boys fell not to Ike but to Curly Bill Brocius. Seems that everyone but Ike knew that he was a not very brave blowhard. The only time he seems to have any courage is when he was full of whiskey.
Now the gunfight had been brewing for some time but it really began the night of October 25, 1881. Ike and Doc exchanged words in a saloon. Doc was a "special deputy" in a saloon, sort of a cross between a bouncer and a rentacop. This job allowed him to go heeled, as they said. He was allowed to carry weapons in town, unlike most people.
At any rate Doc was rather unhappy with some of the things Ike had been saying and was ready to fight. Ike had no gun on him so he retreated. He then kept drinking and got madder and madder. By the time Doc had gone to bed, in Fly's boarding house, Ike had worked himself into a rage, wandering the saloons and sporting houses, telling everyone of the awful fate awaiting Doc and the Earps. Sometime during the night Ike had gathered up his shootin' irons and seems to have gone everywhere but Fly's, "looking for Doc". Since it was common knowledge where Doc lived most people will wonder just how Ike could have missed him.
Meanwhile the townspeople reported Ike's parading around, drunk and armed with revolver and Winchester, to Virgil. Somewhat grumpy about being awakened early Virgil dressed and went looking for Ike.
Now comes the part that proves the Democrat/Clanton version of the events is a lie. Virgil Earp found Ike Clanton. Now the Democrat/cow thief (but I repeat myself) version of this fight says that the cow-boys had their hands up and were surrendering and the Earps and Holliday just cut loose on them. We know this is a lie simply because Earp did not shoot Ike while Ike was armed. Instead he "buffaloed" him, went upside his head with the side of his Colt. It is an interesting aside that the Colt Single Action Army revolver was far more popular with western lawmen than the big Smith and Wesson or Merwin, Hulbert& Company revolvers because those guns tended to bend in odd places while the Colt lasted just fine. Now television and the movies have given us a bad description of how to buffalo a bad guy. In the movies you see the Sheriff use the barrel of the gun. False. That way is a good way to make the gun point in odd directions. One example I know of, a feller bopped a bad guy wrestling with another Officer over the top of the head, his double action revolver then shot over a foot high at 25 yards.
Anyhow, down went Ike, then Virgil hauled him to the courthouse where, once the judge was found, he was fined $25.00 and $2.50 court costs. Virgil took Ike's guns to the hotel and saloon that was the main cow-boy headquarters in town. Ike could pick them up on his way out of town.
During this, more cow-boys got into Tombstone. One of them, Frank McLaury (or McLowry or Maclowry) bumped into Wyatt. Wyatt showed how he was known as one of "The Fighting Earps" by buffaloing him.
Soon after all that the cow-boys were in Spangleberger's Gun Shop and Wyatt moved a McLaury horse off the sidewalk. Words were exchanged. Meanwhile someone finally told Doc that Ike was looking for mim, and armed. Doc is reported as saying "If God will let me live long enough to get some clothes on, he shall find me."
Now comes three PM on the 26th of October. The cow-boys are gathered in a lot near Fly's boarding house. This lot was often used as a lumber yard, it was empty of lumber at the time, the lumber having been sold during one of Tombstone's building booms.
This lot is some 70 to 90 yards from the OK Corral, between Fly's photography Studio and boarding house and Harwood's boarding house. Harwood owned the lot and also sold lumber. The cow-boys there were Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom Mclaury and Billy Clairborne. Another cow-boy that was either there at the beginning or right near was Billy Allen.
Again townspeople told Virgil about the cow-boys. He went by the Wells Fargo Office and got a double barreled shotgun, loaded, of course, with buckshot. He then gathered up two of his brothers, Morgan and Wyatt. Earp brother James was not handy. The three Earps were headed to the vacant lot when they met Doc Holliday. Virgil told him he didn't need to be involved and Doc said "That is a Hell of a thing to say to me". Virgil, knowing that he could not keep Doc out of this affair decided to give Doc the shotgun and took Doc's walking stick. Doc had a longer coat that the Earp brothers and the shotgun was neatly concealed.
Now they were four, walking through this town, on their way to one of the most famous attempt at a misdemeanor arrest in history. It was then that Sheriff Johnny Behan showed up, trying to stop Virgil from going the rest of the way down to the lot. Behan, a Democrat, was very friendly to the cow-boys, many still say in league with them. Imagine! A Democrat allied with criminals. Who could say such a thing? Anyway, Behan claimed that he'd solved the problem, the Earps and Hollidaycould see no sign that Behan had collected all the revolvers, Winchesters and other assorted hardware so they kept walking. Oddly, though, they must have half believed Behan as Wyatt and company put their guns in various pockets.
Note that few western lawmen and townspeople wore gunbelts. Wyatt, for instance, lined a pocket of his coats with leather so his gun wouldn't snag and to keep it less visible. He wasn't nearly alone. Men did not walk around in their shirtsleeves much, either. All of the Earp brothers and Holliday were dressed in frock coats with vests. Doc was the only one in the party with a holsted gun.
Now the Earps and Doc arrive, the only one of them that had a hand on a gun was Doc Holliday, that a shotgun reached through a slit pocket on his long coat. Meanwhile there were five cow-boys there, plus Behan and Billy Allen, both close by, and an unknown number of other cow-boys and sympathisers around. Virgil, having nothing in his hands but Doc's walking stick, said "Throw up your hands, I want your guns!" This is when things got confusing to researchers. The Democrats say that the cow-boys lifted their hands and the Earp party then started firing. Now I discount this as if that were true then it is extremely unlikely that there would have been two survivors from the cow-boy side, nor would Virgil and Morgan been pretty badly wounded, plus the scratch hit on Doc.
Nonetheless things got hairy, quickly. Virgil, still holdning the walking stick cried "hold it" I don't want that!"
Too late, the dance had started. Doc struggled to get the shotgun out from under his coat, Ike ran up and started grappling with Wyatt, Virgil still had that darned stick in his hand, Morgan drew. Wyatt threw Ike off and yelled "get to fighting or get away", Ike ran. So did Billy Clairborne. Meanwhile Wyatt shot at Frank Mclaury, Doc is known to have filled Tom with buckshot, Virgil got hit in the leg and kept fighting, Morgan was shot through one shoulder, across the back, and into the other shoulder. This shot chipped a vertebrae.
Meanwhile, after Doc had emptied the shotgun and before he had his revolver aimed Frank hollered, "I've got you now!" to Doc. Doc replied "you're a good one if you do". Frank then shot Doc right through his now empty holster, tearing a nice gouge of meat out while he was at it. Doc then hollered that "I'm shot, through and through!" Doc then answered the shot with another bullet through Frank. Frank died shortly after. Meanwhile poor Billy Clanton was a regular lead magnet, shot through both sides of the chest, his right (gun) hand and the gut.
The fight was over. Bystanders had to keep Doc from shooting Frank some more, he was rather angry. They convinced him to stop, mainly because Frank had already been shot through the head and Doc, with his fine training in dentistry, knew that Frank was as dead as he was going to get. The only cow-boy left on the scene still living, was Billy. Still having his gun in his left hand, he was begging for more bullets. Soon, however, the adrenalin wore off and Billy spent the next fifteen minutes or so screaming and dying. His last intelligable words were something like clear these people out of here so I can get some air. There was plenty of air, he couldn't use it because his lungs were full of blood.
Now, to this day there are those who claim that Tom Mclaury was completely unarmed. He was standing behind a horse with a Winchester in the scabberd, though, and some witnesses claim to have seen him shooting a revolver under the horses neck. At any rate Tom's main guns were still at the hotel where he'd checked them. No handguns were found near Tom's body. I am conflicted. I am hesitent to place too mach faith in the witness who saw Tom shoot, remember, there were a lot of heavy caliber guns going off with Black Powder loads, the smoke would have been very thick.
At the same time, the drawings I've seen that claim to know where everyone was puts Tom, or someone unknown, as the only one that could have fired that shot across Morgan Earp's back. So, either Tom fired that shot and someone picked up his gun and spirited it away. We know that Tom had just collected money from a butcher for a bunch of (stolen Mexican?) beef he'd sold him, over three thousand 1881 dollars. Could that butcher have given, or lent him a gun? Sure. And the only other explanation is that one of the folks in Fly's pegged that shot. Now, Behan, Ike and Big Nosed Kate, Doc's on again, off again lover were all in Fly's, plus Fly, of course. As a matter of fact Fly himself came out with a rifle and he is the one that disarmed Billy Clanton.
This is why I believe that Tom had a gun. Had anyone in Fly's pegged that shot at Morgan that telltale black powder smoke would have told too many people the truth.
As soon as the shooting was completely over, staunch Democrat Behan came out to arrest the lawmen. Some things never change.
Those citizens that kept Doc from shooting Frank a little more may have kept the Earp brothers and Doc from getting their necks stretched, they were cleared in an examinging trial that is still sometimes quoted in law today.
Then came the bloodbath. It became open war.