Original OK Corral gunfight papers discovered

OK CorralWe have all probably watched the film version of the shootout at the OK Corral, but now original testimony from eyewitnesses who were in Tombstone Arizona on that famous day in 1881 has been found.

Historians say missing handwritten transcripts from the coroner's inquiry into the gunfight were lost until now. The document had been missing for decades - last seen when it was photocopied in the 1960s.

Time has turned the handwritten documents a pale yellow, and for decades, they had been gathering dust in the Cochise County courthouse. Then, on March 31, clerks Bonnie Cook and Michelle Garcia on a spring-cleaning assignment found an envelope in a storage closet. Stuffed in a corner they found an old box marked “juvenile”. Inside the box was a manila envelope, and inside the envelope were the handwritten transcripts of eyewitness testimony from the famous shootout.

"It was buried in a corner," Cook said. “We dug it out. It was dirty.”

Inside were 36 pages of firsthand accounts of the legendary shootout on October 26th 1881, between the Earp brothers and a band of cattle rustlers. In movie-script fashion, one witness recalls the moments just before the gunfire broke out.

On 26 October 1881, Wyatt Earp, together with his brothers Virgil and Morgan, joined by John (Doc) Holliday confronted Ike and Billy Clanton and their associates, Frank and Tom McLaury. After the 30-second shootout, Billy Clanton and both McLaury’s were dead. Ike survived and, within days, testified at the inquest ordered by County Coroner Henry Matthews. Other witnesses included a housekeeper who was in town shopping and William Claiborn a friend of the dead men. No charges were filed.

The recent Cochise County spring-cleaning assignment resulted in the documents being seen for the first time in nearly 50 years. Last touched in approximately 1960, thermofax copies were made of the 36 pages at the time. The 1960 copies are difficult to read and margin notes in those copies are illegible.

Cochise County Superior Court Clerk Denise Lundin says she did have an old photocopy of these documents from the 1960s, but the replicas were hard to read. She says they failed to capture the intimacy of the court reporter's hand. The real thing is held precariously together by an old version of Scotch tape - thick, beer-coloured strips.

“They certainly weren't put together in any kind of way that anyone would want to properly preserve them,” Lundin said.

Court officials have turned the document over to state archivists. Experts will immediately begin peeling away tape, restoring the paper and ink, and digitising the pages.