Today is the anniversary (1881) of what has come to be known as The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a 30-second gunfight between outlaw Cowboys and lawmen that is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. The gunfight took place at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, in Tombstone in the Arizona Territory. It was the result of a long-simmering feud between Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, and opposing lawmen: Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran from the fight unharmed, but Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Virgil, Morgan, and Doc Holliday were wounded, but Wyatt Earp was unharmed. The fight has come to represent a period in American Old West when the frontier was virtually an open range for outlaws, largely unopposed by law enforcement who were spread thin over vast territories, leaving some areas unprotected.
The gunfight was not well known to the U.S. public until 1931, when author Stuart Lake published a largely fictionalized biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, two years after Earp’s death. Published during the Great Depression, the book captured the public imagination. It was also the basis for the 1946 film, My Darling Clementine, by director John Ford. After the film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was released in 1957, the shootout became known by that name. Since then, the conflict has been portrayed with varying degrees of accuracy in numerous Western films and books. I’m rather fond of Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday even though the portrayal of these two shows them in a better light than is warranted by historic documents of the period. There is a great tendency to portray the lawmen as the “good guys” and the Cowboys as the “bad guys” because traditionally Wild West fiction likes white hats and black hats. The primary sources tell a much greyer tale.
Despite its name, the historic gunfight did not take place within or next to the O.K. Corral, but in a narrow lot next to Fly’s Photographic Studio, six doors west of the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street. The two opposing parties were initially only about 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. About thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds. Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday, but they were eventually exonerated by a local judge after a 30-day preliminary hearing, and then by a local grand jury.
The gunfight was not the end of the conflict, and on December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed in a murder attempt by the outlaw Cowboys. On March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was shot through the glass door of a saloon and killed by the Cowboys. The suspects in both incidents furnished solid alibis and were not indicted. Wyatt Earp, newly appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshal in the territory, took matters into his own hands in a personal vendetta. He was pursued by county Sheriff Johnny Behan, who had a warrant for his arrest.
It’s well worth reading the transcripts of the inquest to get the viewpoints of both sides. Ike Clanton’s can be found here:
Here’s a brief excerpt:
Our crowd did not expect an attack until some one told us; at the time they made the attack I had no arms; the Earp brothers had my arms [Editor’s note: The arms had been left earlier that day at the Fountain Saloon, in the Grand Hotel, by Virgil Earp.]; Virg Earp had them; it was a six shooter; It was two days prior since I saw Billy or Frank McLowry until that morning; had never had a word of conversation with either of them in my life; I don’t know whether the party had a shotgun; Virgil Earp was about six feet from me; they were three or four feet distant when, they fired; I did not see my brother or either of the McLowrys fire a shot. There were four or five shots fired before I left the ground; at the time the Sheriff was talking to us; Billy Clanton and Billy Claiborne were standing together; the McLowrys and myself were standing five or six feet to the left; the Clantons came up from Antelope Springs for a load of freight, that is, the McLowrys; I don’t know how near Claiborne was to me at the time of the shooting; I don’t know whether Morgan Earp or Doc Holliday fired first; It was a nickel-plated pistol by one of them; their weapons were down when they came up; the Sheriff, after he had orderred us to give up our srms I did not think we were under arrest; he said it was all right if we left town; Behan had a conversation with Frank McLowry; I know where the Sheriff’s office is, we could not have gone up to the Sheriff’s office after he left us before the Earps came up; the Sheriff told us to stay where we were until he came back; I would not have staid there had I not orders from the Sheriff; after I saw the Earps armed; the Sheriff was with us about four, five or six minutes.
Wyatt Earp’s testimony can be found here:
We came up on them close-Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry and Billy Clanton standing all in a row against the east side of the building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly`s photography gallery. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I did not know were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west. I saw that Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry and Tom McLowry had their hands by their sides and Frank McLowry’s and Billy Clanton’s six shooters were in plain sight. Virgil said, “Throw up your hands. I have come to disarm you.” Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry had their hands on their six shooters. Virgil said, “Hold I don’t mean that; I have come to disarm you.” They—–Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry—commenced to draw their pistols, at the same time Tom McLowry threw his hand to his right hip and jumped behind a horse. I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket where I had put it when Behan told us 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 that Frank McLowry had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLowrv. The two first shots which were fired were fired by Billy Clanton and myself he; shot at me, and I shot at Frank McLowry. I do not know which shot was first; we fired almost together. The fight then became general. After about four shots were fired Ike Clanton ran up and grabbed my arm. I could see no weapon in his hand and thought at the time he had none, and so I said to him, “The fight has now commenced go to fighting or get away.” At the same time I pushed him off with my left hand. He started and ran down the side of the building and disappeared between the lodging house and the photograph gallery. My first shot struck Frank McLowry in the belly. He staggered off on the sidewalk but first fired one shot at me. When we told them to throw up their hands Claiborne held up his left hand, and then broke and ran. I never saw him afterwards until later in the afternoon, after the fight. I never drew my pistol or made a motion to shoot until after Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols. If Tom McLowry was unarmed I did not know it. I believe he was armed and that he fired two shots at our party before Holliday who had the shotgun, fired at and killed him. If he was unarmed there was nothing to the circumstances or in what had been communicated to me, or in his acts or threats, that would have led me even to suspect his being unarmed. I never fired at Ike Clanton, even after the shooting commenced, because I thought he was unarmed and I believed then, and believe now, from the acts I have stated, and the threats I have related, and other threats communicated to me by different persons, as having been made by Tom McLowry, Frank McLowry and Isaac Clanton, that these men, last named, had formed a conspiracy to murder my brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holliday and myself. I believe I would have been legally and morally justified in shooting any of them on sight, but I did not do so or attempt to do so; I sought no advantage. When I went as deputy marshal to help disarm them and arrest them, I went as a part of my duty and under the direction of my brother the marshal. I did not intend to fight unless it became necessary in self defense, and in the performance of official duty. When Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols. I knew it was a fight for life, and I drew and fired in defense of my own life and the lives of my brothers and Doc Holliday.
I’d love to get hold of this book for a recipe du jour: http://www.amazon.com/Treasured-West-Recipes-Longhorn-Restaurant/dp/B002F8TB32 Instead here is a recipe from this site:
The recipe shows, like the U.S. southwest in general, a strong mix of influences from indigenous peoples, Spain, and Mexico. The recipe seems incomplete, however. I imagine the cheese is added on top of the corn mix before it is baked.
3 cups raw tender corn (cut off the ear)
2 cups tomato puree
1 onion (minced fine)
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoon Chili powder
1 tablespoon lard
1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
¼ cup grated cheese
salt and pepper
Fry the minced onion in the lard, then add puree, celery, Chili powder, melted butter, salt and pepper and corn. Mix well and pour in baking-dish. Cook 1 hour in moderate oven.”
The National Cookbook: A Kitchen Americana, Sheila Hibben [Harper, New York] 1932 (p. 189)