Gunfight At The O.K Corral

Wyatt Earp

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a 30-second gunfight between outlaw Cowboys and lawmen 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 26th, 1881, in Tombstone, 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.

After silver was discovered in the area, Tombstone grew extremely rapidly. At its founding in March 1879, it had a population of just 100, and only two years later in late 1881 it had more than 7,000 citizens. Tombstone quickly grew into one of the richest mining towns in the Southwest.

Wyatt Earp, a former Kansas police officer was working as a bank security guard, and his brothers, Morgan and Virgil, the town marshal, represented “law and order” in Tombstone, though they also had reputations as being power-hungry and ruthless. The Clantons and McLaurys were cowboys who lived on a ranch outside of town and sidelined as cattle rustlers, thieves and murderers. In October 1881, the struggle between these two groups for control of Tombstone and Cochise County ended in a blaze of gunfire at the OK Corral.

On the morning of October 25th, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury came into Tombstone for supplies. Over the next 24 hours, the two men had several violent run-ins with the Earps and their friend Doc Holliday. Around 1:30 p.m. on October 26th, Ike’s brother Billy rode into town to join them, along with Frank McLaury and Billy Claiborne. The first person they met in the local saloon was Holliday, who was delighted to inform them that their brothers had both been pistol-whipped by the Earps. Frank and Billy immediately left the saloon, vowing revenge.

Around 3 p.m. the Earps and Holliday spotted the five members of the Clanton-McLaury gang in a vacant lot behind the OK

Corral, at the end of Fremont Street. The famous gunfight that ensued lasted all of 30 seconds, and around 30 shots were fired. Though it’s still debated who fired the first shot, most reports say that the shootout began when Virgil Earp pulled out his revolver and shot Billy Clanton point-blank in the chest, while Doc Holliday fired a shotgun blast at Tom McLaury’s chest. Though Wyatt Earp wounded Frank McLaury with a shot in the stomach, Frank managed to get off a few shots before collapsing, as did Billy Clanton. When the dust cleared, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead, and Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were wounded. Ike Clanton and Claiborne had run for the hills.

As the wounded lawmen were carried to their homes, they passed in front of the Sheriff's Office, and Johnny Behan told Wyatt Earp he was under arrest. Wyatt paused two or three seconds and replied very forcibly: "I won't be arrested today. I am right here and am not going away." Dr. George Goodfellow treated the Earps' wounds. Sheriff John Behan of Cochise County, charged the Earps and Holliday with murder. A month later, however, a Tombstone judge found the men not guilty, ruling that they were “fully justified in committing these homicides.” The bodies of the three dead Cowboys were displayed in a window at Ritter and Reams undertakers with a sign: "Murdered in the Streets of Tombstone."

The funerals for Billy Clanton (age 19), Tom McLaury (age 28) and his older brother Frank (age 33) were well attended. About 300 people joined in the procession to Boot Hill and as many as two thousand watched from the sidewalks. Both McLaureys were buried in the same grave, and Billy Clanton was buried nearby.

The famous shoot out has been immortalised in many movies, including Frontier Marshal (1939), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994).

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