Sure enough, on the day named Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury rode into Tombstone and put their horses up in one of the city corrals. They were in town some little time before the Earps knew it. They never suspected for a moment that the Clantons and McLaurys had any intention of carrying out their threat when they made it. When Virgil Earp fully realized that they were in town he got very busy. He knew that it meant a fight and was not long in hustling up Wyatt and Morgan and “Doc” Holliday, the latter as desperate a man in a tight place as the West ever knew. This made the Marshal’s party consist of the Marshal himself, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and “Doc” Holliday. Against them were the two Clantons and the two McLaurys, an even thing so far as numbers were concerned. As soon as Virgil Earp got his party together, he started for the corral, where he understood the enemy was entrenched, prepared to resist to the death the anticipated attack of the Earp forces.
The Town Turned out for the Battle
Everybody in Tombstone seemed to realize that a bloody battle was about to be fought right in the very center of the town, and all those who could, hastened to find points of vantage from which the impending battle could be viewed in safety. It took the City Marshal some little time to get his men together, as both Wyatt and Holliday were still sound asleep in bed, and getting word to them and the time it took for them to get up and dress themselves and get to the place where Verge and Morgan were in waiting, necessarily caused some little delay. The invaders, who had been momentarily expecting an attack, could not understand the cause of this delay, and finally concluded that the Earps were afraid and did not intend to attack them, at any rate while they were in the corral. This conclusion caused them to change their plan of battle.
They instantly resolved that if “The mountain would not come to Mahomet-Mahomet would go to the mountain.” If the Earps would not come to the corral, they would go and hunt up the Earps. Their horses were nearby, saddled, bitted and ready for instant use. Each man took his horse by the bridle-line and led him through the corral-gate to the street where they intended to mount.
But, just as they reached the street, and before they had time to mount their horses, the Earp party came round the corner. Both sides were now within ten feet of each other. There were four men on a side, every one of whom had during his career been engaged in other shooting scrapes and were regarded as being the most desperate of desperate men. The horses gave the rustlers quite an advantage in the position. The Earps were in the open street, while the invaders used their horses for breast-works. Virgil Earp, as the City Marshal, ordered the Clantons and McLaurys to throw up their hands and surrender.
This order they replied to with a volley from their pistols. The fight was now on. The Earps pressed in close, shooting as rapidly as they could. The fight was hardly started before it was over, and the result showed that nearly every shot fired by the Earp party went straight home to the mark.
Further Developments of the Feud
As soon as the smoke of battle cleared away sufficiently to permit of an accounting being made, it was seen that the two McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed. They had been hit by no less than a half dozen bullets each and died in their tracks. Morgan Earp was the only one of the Marshal’s force that got hit. It was nothing more; however, than a slight flesh wound in one of his arms. Ike Clanton made his escape, but in doing so stamped himself as a coward of the first magnitude. No sooner had the shooting commenced than he threw down his pistol and with both hands high above his head; he ran to Wyatt Earp and begged him not to kill him. Here again, Wyatt showed the kind of stuff that was in him, for instead of killing Clanton as most any other man would have done under the circumstances, he told him to run and get away, and he did.
The Earp party were all tried for the killing, and after a preliminary examination lasting several weeks, during which more than a hundred witnesses were examined, they were all exonerated. There were at this time two other outlaw bands in the country, who, when they heard of the killing of the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton, swore to wipe out the Earp family and all their friends.
They had no notion; however, of giving the Earps any more battles in the open. In the future, killings would be done from ambush, and the first one to get potted by this guerrilla system of warfare was Virgil Earp, the City Marshal. As he was crossing one of the most prominent corners in Tombstone one night he was fired upon by some one not then known, but who was afterwards learned to be “Curly Bill,” who was concealed behind the walls of a building that was then in course of construction on one of the corners. A shot-gun loaded with buck shot was the weapon used. Most of the charge struck Vergil in the left arm between the shoulder and elbow, shattering the bone in a frightful manner. One or two other shots hit him but caused no serious injury. He was soon able to be about again, but never had any use afterwards of his left arm. As a matter of course the shock he sustained when the buck shot hit him caused him to fall, and the would-be assassin, thinking he had turned the trick successfully, made his escape in the dark to the foot-hills. The next to get murdered was Morgan Earp, who was shot through a window one night while playing a game of pin-pool with a friend.
Wyatt then realized that it was only a question of time until he and all of his friends would be killed in the same manner as his brother, if he remained in town. So he organized a party consisting of himself, “Doc” Holliday, Jack Vermillion. Sherman McMasters and Bill Johnson, and after equipping it with horses, guns and plenty of ammunition, started out on the war-path intending to hunt down and kill everyone he could find who had had any hand in the murder of his brother Morgan and the attempted assassination of Virgil. Wyatt had in the meantime learned that Pete Spence, Frank Stillwell, and a Mexican, by the name of Florentine, were the three who were interested in the killing of Morgan. Pete Spence had a ranch about twenty-five miles from Tombstone near the Dragoon Mountains, which was, in reality, nothing more than a rendezvous for cattle thieves and stage robbers.