Gunfight at the OK Corral
On Tuesday, October 25th, Ike Clanton spent the day getting drunk, moving from one saloon to the next, and making threats against the Earps and Holliday to any who would listen. That night, he made his way to the Occidental Saloon for a card game with Tom McLaury.
An angry Doc Holliday, who had heard of the boasts, confronted him. “I heard you’re going to kill me, Ike,” he said. “Get out your gun and commence.” Virgil, a U.S. Deputy Marshal, Wyatt, and an appointed an acting city marshal by Virgil, and Morgan, also a sworn officer, were present during this confrontation. Virgil told Doc and Ike that he would arrest both of them if they continued the argument.
Though boasting violence throughout the day, Clanton was unarmed and finally, Virgil drew Holliday away. But Clanton followed, promising “to kill you tomorrow when the others come to town.”
Spotting Wyatt on the streets, the fired-up Clanton continued. “Tell your consumptive friend, your Arizona nightin’gale, he’s a dead man tomorrow!” To which, Wyatt just turned and replied: “Don’t you tangle with Doc Holliday — he’ll kill you before you’ve begun.”
Ike’s parting shot was “Get ready for a showdown!”
Wednesday, October 26, 1881, was an overcast windy day. The Earps, in anticipation of trouble, woke early. As Virgil watched from his hotel window, he saw Billy Clanton ride into town, accompanied by friend Billy Claiborne. They met the McLaurybrothers and Ike Clanton on Allen Street. Ike was looking for Holliday but before he could find him, Virgil and Morgan confronted him. Ike, bracing a shotgun, exchanged words with the two but when Clanton raised his rifle. Virgil subdued him, impounded his rifle, and dragged him before Justice of the Peace Wallace, who fined Ike $27.50 for carrying firearms in the city.
Wyatt and Tom McLaury, both hearing what had happened, met at the judge’s door at the same time, literally bumping into each other. Though Wyatt apologized, McLaury insulted him and, in return, Wyatt brought his gun down on McLaury’s head.
Later that morning, the cowboys met at Spangenbergs, a gunsmith shop. Then Frank McLaury rode his horse onto the boardwalk, frightening pedestrians off its path outside the gunsmith shop. Wyatt grabbed the reins of the horse, leading it to the streets as McLaury yelled profanities. After this latest confrontation, the outlaws retreated in a group around the corner off Allen Street. With all of the tension, there was bound to be a fight. Several members of the town’s Citizens’ Committee offered their assistance to the Earp brothers, but thanking them, Wyatt said it was his and his brothers’ responsibility as law officers.
Then John Behan, the County Sheriff, appeared pronouncing, “Ike Clanton and his crew are on Fremont Street talking gun-talk.” Evidently, Ike Clanton, the two McLaurys, Billy Clanton and Billy Claiborne were meeting in a vacant lot planning to bushwhack Doc Holliday, who passed that way every morning.
Virgil, as Chief Marshal, agreed to go down there to break them up, but contended that Behan should accompany him. Behan only laughed. “Hell, this is your fight, not mine.”
However, the cowboys were surprised when the Earps showed up and Doc was with them. As they made their way to the OK Corral, witnesses said that the three Earp brothers were all dressed in black with firm, mean grimaces on their faces while Doc was nattily clad in grey and was whistling. Where the two forces finally met was actually 90 yards down an alley from the OK Corral. The actual gunfight took place off Fremont Street between Fly’s Photo Gallery and Jersey’s Livery Stable. The Earps passed by the OK Corral, but cut through the alley where they found the troublemakers waiting at the other end.
“You are under arrest for attempting to disturb the peace,” Virgil announced. As senior officer, he displayed only a non-threatening walking stick, having given his shotgun to Doc to carry. The rustlers tightened and Morgan and Doc simultaneously braced for action. “Hold on, I don’t want that!” cried Virgil.
What happened next was a blur, occurring in about 30 seconds. The shooting started when Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury cocked their pistols. 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. Billy Clanton fired at Virgil, but his shot also went astray when he was hit with Morgan’s shot through his rib cage.
Billy Claiborne ran as soon as shots were fired and was already out of sight. Ike Clanton, too, panicked and threw his gun down, pleading for his life. “Fight or get out like Claiborne!” Wyatt yelled and watched Ike desert his brother Billy, as he ran towards the door of the photography shop. But, Ike then withdrew a hidden gun firing one more round towards Wyatt before disappearing. The sound distracted Morgan, enough so that Tom McLaury sent a bullet into Morgan’s shoulder. Doc instantly countered, blowing Tom away with blasts from both barrels of his shotgun. Desperately, wounded and dying, Billy Clanton fired blindly into the gun smoke encircling him, striking Virgil’s leg. Wyatt responded by sending several rounds into Billy.
Then it was silent and the townspeople ran from their homes and shops, wagons were to convey wounded Morgan and Virgil to their respective homes, and doctors followed.
The 30-second shootout left Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury dead. Virgil took a shot to the leg and Morgan suffered a shoulder wound. As Wyatt stood, still stunned, Sheriff Behan appeared advising him he was under arrest. The Earps and Doc Holliday were tried for murder but it was determined that the Earps acted within the law. Virgil was later terminated as marshal for his role in the homicides.
On March 18, 1882, the cowboy gang struck again while Morgan Earp was playing pool at Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon. A shot was fired from the darkness of the alley striking Morgan in the back. Morgan’s body was dressed in one of Doc Holliday’s suits and shipped to the parents in Colton, California for burial.
The entire Earp party, including Mattie, accompanied Morgan’s body. However, in Tucson, Wyatt, Warren and Doc Holliday hopped off the train in search of Frank Stillwell, who supposedly worked in the railroad yards. The train went on to California without them.
Spotting Stillwell, Wyatt chased him down the track, filling him full of bullet holes. A Coroner’s Jury named Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and two other men named “Texas Jack” Johnson and Sherman McMasters, as those men who had killed Stillwell and warrants were issued for their arrest.
Earp sought vengeance on the men who shot Virgil and killed Morgan. Killing Stillwell was just his first step. Along with Doc Holliday, and others, Wyatt began what is known as the Earp Vendetta Ride. Wyatt heard that Pete Spence was at his wood camp in the Dragoons and on March 11, 1882, he and his men quickly headed out, finding not Pete Spence, but Florentino Cruz. The frightened Cruz named all the men who had murdered Morgan, himself included. Earp and his men filled Cruz with bullet holes. The Earp “posse” rode out once again and on March 24, 1882, they ran into Curly Bill Brocius and eight of his men near Iron Springs. A gunfight ensued where Curly Bill was killed and Johnny Barnes received a wound from which he eventually died.