The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was one of the most famous shootouts in the American West. The 30-second gunfight occurred in Tombstone, Arizona between lawmen and members of the Clanton Gang, who were better known as the “Cowboys.”
When the Earp brothers arrived in Tombstone, Arizona in 1880, they were almost immediately at odds with the Clanton family and their ranch hands who had been “lording” it over Tombstone and the surrounding area without interference before the Earps arrived in town. Virgil Earp, who soon became Tombstone’s marshal, immediately suspected the “Cowboys” of rustling cattle on a large scale and set out to stop their criminal endeavors.
After a number of run-ins between the two factions, it came to a head on October 26, 1881, when Virgil arrested Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury for carrying firearms in the city limits. After the pair were released, they joined up with Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, who had just arrived in town. Gathered near the OK Corral on Fremont Street, Virgil then decided to disarm Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, as well. Marshal Virgil Earp recruited his brothers Wyatt and Morgan to help him in this dangerous task. Doc Holliday also insisted upon joining them. When the four men approached the “Cowboys,” demanding their guns, all hell broke loose.
In what has since forever been known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton made the mistake of cocking their pistols when approached by the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. It is not really known who fired the first shot, but Doc’s bullet was the first to hit home, tearing through Frank McLaury’s belly and sending McLaury’s own shot wild through Wyatt’s coat-tail. The 30-second shootout left Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury dead. Virgil Earp took a shot to the leg and Morgan suffered a shoulder wound. Sheriff John Behan arrested Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp, as well as Doc Holliday for the murder of Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. However, Judge Wells Spicer, who was related to the Earps, decided that the defendants had been justified in their actions.
Over the next few months, while the Earps struggled to retain control over Tombstone, Virgil Earp was seriously wounded by an assassination attempt and Morgan Earp was killed when he was playing pool on March 18, 1882. Eyewitnesses claimed that Frank Stilwell was seen running from the scene of the crime and three days later Stilwell was found dead. A Mexican who was also implicated in the crime was also found murdered in a lumber camp. It is believed that Wyatt Earp was responsible for killing both men.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.
Clanton Gang (aka The Cowboys)