by lyle e davis
The wild, wild west is a fascination that most of us have had since childhood. As adults, many of us carried that curiousity and fascination with us to the point of thoroughly enjoying probing into the dusty archives of the past, reading contemporaneous accounts of what was happening while our nation was experiencing the pangs of giving birth.
Probably no more interesting nor more colorful source exists than the frontier newspapers. Often a daily, sometimes a weekly, and sometimes a monthly, depending upon advertiser support and available news, the frontier papers chronicled the lives (and deaths) of the pioneer, both good guy and bad guy.
The bad guys, however, usually made for more interesting copy.
One such source is the Tombstone Epitaph, “the old west’s most famous newspaper.” The newspaper was estblished in 1880, and is still being published, monthly. The Epitaph's extraordinary founder was Tombstone's first elected Mayor and Postmaster, and good friend to Wyatt Earp, John P. Clum. He was also the only man to ever capture the Apache Geronimo.
Someone once said that because Tombstone had such an incredibly violent and interesting past, it has a present. Were it not so, it would be just like so many other ghost mining towns in the American Southwest, abandoned and forgotten. But this is the site of the most famous gun battle in the history of the west - the shootout at OK Corral. It is the place of the first Bootheel Graveyard, the infamous Birdcage Theatre, and The Epitaph, one of Arizona's first newspapers, still being published after more than 120 years. This is the legendary Tombstone: the town too tough to die.
The West's wildest mining town owes its beginning to Ed Schieffelin, who prospected the nearby hills in 1877. Friends warned him that all he would ever find would be his own tombstone. But he found silver - ledges of it - and the rush was on. Miners soon built a shantytown on the closest level space to the mines, then known as Goose Flats. Remembering the grim prophecy given to Schieffelin, and with tongue in cheek, they changed the name to Tombstone.
Ed Schieffelin, found the silver ledges that caused Tombstone to become a town.
The mother lode was found in 1877, and in 1879 1,000 people had shown up. By 1881 10,000 people called Tombstone home. Enter John P. Clum, a former indian agent and new editor and publisher of the Tombstone Epitaph. It is largely through his editorials that Wyatt Earp and his kinfolk emerged with as much respectability as they did.
The power struggle within town revolved around the position of sheriff, always a lucrative job in the old west. The sheriff collected taxes under Arizona territory charter and by law kept ten percent of what he raised. Historians estimate that the position of Sheriff of Tombstone was worth between thirty to forty thousand a year.
John Clum, on May 1, 1880, put out the first edition of what was to become the country’s most historically famous newspaper, The Tombstone Epitaph.
There were a couple of other, less famous newspapers, the Arizona Daily Star, home based today in Tucson, and the Tombstone Nugget.
Looking at some of the more famous frontier stories, in chronological order:
December 14, 1879, Arizona Daily Star
"Last Tuesday night a shooting affair took place at Safford in which Louis Hancock was shot by John Ringo. It appears Ringo wanted Hancock to take a drink of whiskey, and he refused saying he would prefer beer. Ringo struck him over the head with his pistol and then fired, the ball taking effect in the lower end of the left ear, and passing through the fleshy part of the neck, half inch more in the neck, would have killed him. Ringo is under arrest. …. Moral -- when you drink with a man that is on a shoot, and he says 'whiskey,' don't you say 'beer.'"
July 25, 1880, A Fatal Garment, Tombstone Epitaph
"About 7 o'clock last evening the pistol was used with fatal effect on Allen Street, resulting in the death of T.J. Waters from gunshot wounds from a weapon in the hand of E.L. Bradshaw.
The causes which led to this unfortunate tragedy are brief. Waters was what is considered a sporting man, and has been in Tombstone several months. He was about forty years of age, powerful build, stood over six feet in height and weighed about 190 pounds. When sober he was a clever sort of man but quite the opposite when under the influence of liquor. Yesterday he won considerable money and had been drinking a great deal, hence was in a mood to be easily irritated. Bradshaw was an intimate friend of Waters but a very different character, being a man of medium size, over fifty years of age and very reserved and peaceable in his disposition. We understand that these two men had prospected together and when Waters first came to Tombstone he lived in Bradshaw's cabin. Yesterday morning Waters purchased a blue and black plaid shirt, little dreaming that the fated garment would hurl his soul into eternity before the sun had set. It so happened that several good natured remarks were made about the new shirt during the day until Waters had taken sufficient liquor to make the joking obnoxious to him, and he began to show an ugly resentment and was very abusive, concluding with, "Now, if anyone don't like what I've said let him get up, G-d d-n him. I'm chief. I'm boss. I'll knock the first s--- of a b--- down that says anything about my shirt again." This happened in the back room at Corrigan's saloon and as Waters stepped into the front room Bradshaw happened in, and seeing what his friend was wearing made some pleasant remark about it, whereupon Waters, without a word, struck Bradshaw a powerful blow over the left eye which sent him senseless to the floor. Waters then walked over to Vogan & Flynn's, to see, as he said, "if any s--- of a b--- there didn't like this shirt." He had just entered the street when Ed Ferris made some remark about the new shirt, which Waters promptly resented in his pugilistic style. After some more rowing Waters went back to Corrigan's Saloon. As soon as Bradshaw recovered from the knockdown he went into the back room, washed off the blood, went down to his cabin, put a bandage on his eye and his pistol in his pocket. He then came up to Allen Street and took his seat in front of Vogan & Flynn's saloon. Seeing Waters in Corrigan's door, Bradshaw crossed towards the Eagle Brewery, and walking down the sidewalk until within a few feet of Waters, said: "Why did you do that?" Waters said something whereupon Bradshaw drew his pistol and fired four shots, all taking effect, one under the left arm probably pierced the heart, two entered above the center of the back between the shoulders and one in the top of the head ranged downward toward the neck, any one of which would probably have resulted fatally. Waters fell at the second shot and soon expired. Bradshaw was promptly arrested and examination will be had in the morning before Justice Gray."
July 29, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"The appointment of Wyatt Earp as Deputy Sheriff, by Sheriff Shibell, is an eminently proper one, and we, in common with the citizens generally, congratulate the latter on his election. Wyatt has filled various positions in which bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place. He is at present filling the position of shotgun messenger for Wells, Fargo & Co., which he will resign to accept the later appointment."
July 29, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"Morgan Earp succeeds his brother Wyatt as shotgun messenger for Wells, Fargo & Co."
August 6, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"From New Mexico: From Mr. I. Clanton, who arrived in Tombstone yesterday from New Mexico, we learn that emigrants from Colorado, Texas, and Kansas are rapidly coming into the territory. The mines in the Victorio District are looking exceedingly well. A short time since a new camp, known as San Simon, was opened and from present indications, will soon eclipse any other in the territory. The leads are large, averaging 125 ounces to the ton. The camp is located about eighty miles east of Tombstone. While at Fort Bowie, Mr. Clanton was informed, on what he considered reliable authority, that a portion of Victorio’s band had returned to New Mexico and were at present in the Black Range. He brought through with him fifty head of cattle for the Tombstone market, being five days on the road from San Simon."
October 12, 1880, Tombstone Nugget
"A dispute arose in the Oriental Saloon between John Tyler and Doc Holliday. Mutual friends disarmed both, and Tyler went away, Holliday remaining [and later] being bodily fired out by Joyce. Holliday returned and turned loose with a self-cocker. Joyce jumped his assailant and struck him over the head with a six-shooter, felling him to the floor and lighting on top of him. Officers White and Bennett were near at hand and separated them, taking the pistols from each. Joyce was found to be shot through the hand, his partner, Mr. Parker, who was behind the bar, shot through the big toe of the left foot, and Holliday with a blow of the pistol in Joyce's hands."
Wyatt expects to become a candidate for sheriff of Cochise county this fall, and as he stands very near to the Governor and all the good citizens of Tombstone and other camps in Cochise county he will without doubt be elected. The office is said to be worth $25,000 per annum and will not be bad to take."
The Killing of Marshal Fred White: October 28, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"About 12:30 last night a series of pistol shots startled the late goers on the streets, and visions of funerals, etc., flitted through the brain of the Epitaph local, and the result proved that his surmises were correct. The result in a few words is as follows:
A lot of Texas cowboys, as they are called, began firing at the moon and stars on Allen street near Sixth. City Marshal White, who happened to be in the neighborhood, interfered to prevent violation of the city ordinance, and was ruthlessly shot by one of the number. Deputy Sheriff Earp, who is ever to the front when duty calls, arrived just in the nick of time.
Seeing the Marshal fall, he promptly knocked his assailant down with a six shooter and as promptly locked him up; and with the assistance of his brothers Virgil and Morgan went in pursuit of the others. That he found them, an inventory of the City Prison this mourning will testify. Marshal White was shot in the left groin, the ball passing nearly through, and being cut from the buttock by Dr. Matthews. The wound is a serious, though not fatal one. Too much praise cannot be given to the Marshal for his gallant attempt to arrest the violators of the ordinance, nor to Deputy Sheriff Earp and his brothers for the energy displayed in bringing in the malefactors to arrest. At last accounts, 3 p.m., Marshal White was sleeping, and strong hopes of his ultimate recovery were expected."
October 28, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"Edward Collins, A. Ames, R. Loyd, Frank Patterson and James Johnson were brought before Judge Gray yesterday morning on charge of violating city ordinances. A. Ames plead guilty to carrying concealed weapons and discharging the same on public streets. He was fined $40, which he paid. Edward Collins, R.Loyd and James Johnson plead guilty to carrying concealed weapons, and were fined $10 each, which was paid. Frank Patterson was discharged, it being made apparent to his Honor that he had used every effort to prevent the disturbance by his companions."
October 29, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"The party who shot Marshal White was brought before Judge Gray on a warrant charging him with assault to murder. The complaint was made by Deputy Sheriff Earp. The prisoner, in company with his counsel, Judge Haynes, of Tucson, and waiving examination, was committed to jail to await the next meeting of the Grand Jury. He gave the name William Brocius and claimed to hail from San Simon country. [A] Vigilance committee was organizing to hang the prisoner, [when] it was deemed best to take him at once to Tucson. Deputy Sheriff Earp, accompanied by George Collins, guarded for several miles out of town by Messrs. Virgil and Morgan Earp, and others."
October 31, 1880, Tombstone Epitaph
"From Deputy Sheriff Earp we learn that the man who killed Marshal White is an old offender against the law. Within the past few years he stopped a stage in El Paso County, Texas, killing one man and dangerously wounding another. He was tried and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary, but managed to make his escape shortly after being incarcerated. The facts leaked out in this way: On the road to Tucson, Brocius asked Earp where he could get a good lawyer. Earp suggested that Hereford & Zabriske were considered a good firm. Brocius said that he didn't want Zabriske, as he had prosecuted him once in Texas. Inquiry on the part of Earp developed the above state of facts."
November 13, 1880, Arizona Daily Star
"Our special election to fill the vacancy for City Marshal, caused by the death of Fred White, is over and has been hotly contested. Virgil Earp made a desperate fight, but his opponent, Ben Sippy, has beaten him by 52 majority. The 'Earp' family flopped for 'Paul' on election day, thinking that he was a dead winner, and went against 'little Charlie'" but they failed to connect. Their ingratitude to one who had always been their friend has been marked by his many friends in Tombstone, and retribution politically has already reached one. Honest Abe Lincoln was right. 'Never swap horses crossing a stream.' Yours, Hawkeye."
December 27, 1880, Arizona Daily Citizen
"Wyatt S. Earp, was called for the territory, testified: On the 27th of last October [I] was Deputy Sheriff; resided at Tombstone; saw defendant that night at the time Marshal White was shot; was present at the time the fatal shot fired; saw Mr. Johnson there at that time; my brother came up immediately after; this affair occurred back of a building in a vacant lot between Allen and Tough Nut streets; I was in Billy Owen’s saloon and heard three or four shots fired; upon hearing the first shot I ran out in the street and I saw the flash of a pistol up the street about a block from where I was; several shots were fired in quick succession; ran up as quick as I could, and when I got there I met my brother, Morgan Earp, and a man by the name of [Fred] Dodge; I asked my brother who it was that did the shooting; he said he didn’t know - some fellows who run behind that building; I asked him for his six shooter and he sent me to Dodge; after I got the pistol, I run around the building, and as I turned the corner I ran past this man Johnson, who was standing near the corner of the building; I ran between him and the corner of the building; but before I got there I heard White say: “I am an officer; give me your pistol;” and just as I was almost there I saw the defendant pull his pistol out of his scabbard and Marshal White grabbed hold of the barrel of it; the parties were not more than two feet apart facing each other; both had hold of the pistol, and just then I threw my arms around the defendant, to see if he had any other weapons, and looked over his shoulder, and White saw me and said: “Now, you G- d- d- son of a bitch give up that pistol;” and he gave a quick jerk and the pistol went off; White had it in his hands, and when he fell to the ground, shot, the pistol dropped and I picked it up; as he fell, he said, “I am shot.” The defendant stood still from the time I first saw him until the pistol went off; when I took defendant in charge he said, “what have I done? I have not done anything to be arrested for.” When the pistol exploded I knocked defendant down with my six-shooter; he did not get up until I stepped over and picked up the pistol, which had fallen out of White’s hands as he fell. I then walked up to defendant, caught him by the collar and told him to get up. I did not notice that he was drunk; if he was I did not notice it. When I turned the corner he was in the act of taking his pistol out of his scabbard. I examined the pistol afterwards and found only one cartridge discharged, five remaining. The pistol was a Colt’s 45 calibre."
December 7, 1880, Arizona Daily Star
"The rumor reaches us that the 'cow boy' friends of 'Curly' the 'cow boy,' who shot and killed Marshal White, at Tombstone, some time ago, say, in case he is tried and not acquitted they will come to Tucson in force and take him from the jail."
1881 - Wells Spicer, District Attorney, in a letter
"Tombstone has two dance halls, a dozen gambling places and more than 20 saloons. Still, there is hope, for I know of two Bibles in town."
January 17, 1881, Tombstone Epitaph
"Brutal Murder of an Upright Citizen at Charleston By a Desperado: Again, the bloody hand of a murderer has been raised against a peaceable citizen; again the law is scoffed at and Justice derided. Yesterday's sun rose bright and cheerful over our neighboring village of Charleston, mellowing the crisp night air with its rays. Once more her toilers began their daily avocations with renewed energy, little dreaming of the damnable deed that, in the glowing light of noonday, was to await one of their number.
Sometime since the cabin of Mr. W.P. Schneider, chief engineer of the Corbin Mill, was entered and robbed of several articles including some clothing. Circumstances pointed very strongly to two parties, one of whom is so well known by the cognomen of "Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce" that we were unable last night to obtain his real name, but direct proof not being sufficient, no arrest was made. Yesterday at noon Mr. Schneider left his duties and went to a restaurant where he was accustomed to taking his meals, and on entering approached the stove and, noticing a friend standing by, entered into conversation. Having just left the heated engine room the air without felt cool which brought from Mr. S. a remark to that effect. "Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce" who was also in the room, then said, "I thought you never got cold." Not desiring to have anything to do with one of his character, Mr. Schneider turned and said, "I was not talking to you, sir." This raised the lurking devil in the diminutive heart of "J-B-the-D," who blurted out, "G-d d-n you I'll shoot you when you come out," and left the room. After eating his dinner Mr. Schneider passed out the door, and was proceeding to the mill, when, true to his promise, the lurking fiend, who had secreted himself with hell in his heart and death in his mind, drew deadly aim and dropped his victim dead in his tracks.
Immediately after the shooting the following telegrams were sent to Mr. Richard Gird, the superintendent, who was in the mine here at the time:
Charleston, Jan. 14, 1:30 p.m.
To Richard Gird: Schneider has just been killed by a gambler; no provocation. Cowboys are preparing to take him out of custody. We need fifty well armed men.
Charleston, Jan. 14, 1:35 p.m.
To Richard Gird: Prisoner has just gone to Tombstone. Try and head him off and bring him back.
Charleston, Jan. 14, 1:50 p.m.
To Richard Gird: Burnett has telegraphed to the officers who have the murderer in charge to bring him back to appear at inquest. See that he is brought back.
Considerable delay occurred in getting these dispatches to Mr. Gird, who at the time was in the mine, and just where was not known; but as soon as he received it, prompt action was taken, and a number of the miners were ordered to report to the officers, to resist any attempted rescue of the prisoner. Owing to some delay in delivery at the office of the company, and during this time the murderer was flying over the road toward the city, reaching the corner of Fifth and Allen a few minutes after the dispatches had been read. It is asserted that the officers, fearing pursuit, sent the murderer, who was on horseback, on ahead. However, this may be, it is certain that he came in ahead, his horse reeking with sweat, and, dismounting in front of Vogan's saloon asked for protection, acknowledging that he had killed his man. In a few minutes Allen street was jammed with an excited crowd, rapidly augmented by scores from all directions. By this time Marshal Sippy, realizing the situation at once, in the light of the repeated murders that have been committed and the ultimate liberty of the offenders, had attempt on the part of the crowd to lynch the prisoner; but feeling that no guard would be strong enough to resist a justly enraged public long, procured a light wagon in which the prisoner was placed, guarded by himself, Virgil Earp and Deputy Sheriff Behan, assisted by a strong posse will armed. Moved down the street, closely followed by the throng, a halt was made and rifles leveled on the advancing citizens, several of whom were armed with rifles and shotguns. At this juncture, a well know individual with more avoirdupois than brains, called to the officers to turn loose and fire in the crowd. But Marshal Sippy's sound judgment prevented any such outbreak as would have been the certain result, and cool as an iceberg he held the crowd in check. No one who was a witness of yesterday's proceedings can doubt that but for his presence, blood would have flown freely. The posse following would not have been considered; but, bowing to the majesty of the law, the crowd subsided and the wagon proceeded on its way to Benson with the prisoner, who by daylight this morning was lodged in the Tucson jail."
May 26, 1881, Arizona Daily Star
"Desperado Gets it in the Neck at Galeyville: The notorious Curly Bill, the man who murdered Marshal White at Tombstone last fall and who has been concerned in several other desperate and lawless affrays in South Eastern Arizona, has at last been brought to grief and there is likely to be a vacancy in the ranks of our border desperados. The affair occurred at Galeyville Thursday. A party of 8 or 9 cowboys, Curly Bill and his partner Jim Wallace among the number, were enjoying themselves in their usual manner, when deputy Sheriff Breakenridge of Tombstone, who was at Galeyville on business, happened along.
Wallace made some insulting remark to the deputy at the same time flourishing his revolver in an aggressive manner. Breakenridge did not pay much attention to this "break" of Wallace but quietly turned around and left the party. Shortly after this, Curly Bill, who it would seem had a friendly feeling for Breakenridge, insisted that Wallace should go and find him and apologize for the insult given. This Wallace was induced to do after finding Breakenridge he made the apology and the latter accompanied him back to the saloon where the cowboys were drinking. By this time Curly Bill who had drank just enough to make him quarrelsome, was in one of his most dangerous moods and evidently desirous of increasing his record as a man killer. He commenced to abuse Wallace, who, by the way, had some pretensions himself as a desperado and bad man generally and finally said, "You d-d Lincoln county s-of a b---, I'll kill you anyhow." Wallace immediately went outside the door of the saloon, Curly Bill following close behind him. Just as the latter stepped outside, Wallace, who had meanwhile drawn his revolver, fired, the ball entering penetrating the left side of Curly Bill's neck and passing through, came out the right cheek, not breaking the jawbone. A scene of the wildest excitement ensued in the town.
The other members of the cowboy party surrounded Wallace and threats of lynching him were made. The law abiding citizens were in doubt what course to pursue. They did not wish any more blood shed but were in favor of allowing the lawless element to "have it out" among themselves. But Deputy Breakenridge decided to arrest Wallace, which he succeeded in doing without meeting any resistance. The prisoner was taken before Justice Ellinwood and after examination into the facts of the shooting he was discharged.
The wounded and apparently dying desperado was taken into an adjoining building, and a doctor summoned to dress his wounds. After examining the course of the bullet, the doctor pronounced the wound dangerous but not necessarily fatal, the chances for and against recovery being about equal. Wallace and Curly Bill have been Partners and fast friends for the past 4 or 6 months and so far is known, there was no cause for the quarrel, it being simply a drunken brawl."
Sheriff Bill Breakenridge
June 9, 1881, Tombstone Epitaph
"What came very near being a serious shooting affray was prevented yesterday morning by the coolness and intrepidity of Virgil Earp, acting City Marshal. Ike Clanton, well-known in the San Simon and San Pedro valleys, and "Denny" McCann, a sporting man, had a difficulty in an Allen street saloon, when the latter slapped the face of the former. Clanton went out and heeled himself, and "Denny" did the same. They met in front of Wells, Fargo's office about 9 o'clock and both drew their guns about the same time, when Earp stepped between them and spoiled a good local item. They are both determined men, and but for the interference of the officer, there would doubtless have been a funeral, perhaps two."
September, 1881 - John Gosper, U.S. Secretary of State
"The cowboy element at times very fully predominates, and the officers of the law are either unable or unwilling to control this class of outlaws, sometimes being governed by fear, at other times by a hope of reward. At Tombstone, the county seat of Cochise County, I conferred with the Sheriff upon the subject of breaking up these bands of outlaws, and I am sorry to say he gave me but little hope of being able in his department to cope with the power of the Cowboys. He represented to me that the Deputy U.S. Marshal, resident of Tombstone, and the city Marshal for the same, seemed unwilling to heartily cooperate with him in capturing and bringing to justice these outlaws.
In conversation with the Deputy US Marshal, Mr. Earp, I found precisely the same spirit of complaint existing against Mr. Behan and his deputies. Many of the very best law-abiding and peace-loving citizens have no confidence in the willingness of the civil officers to pursue and bring to justice that element of outlawry so largely disturbing the sense of security, and so often committing highway robbery and smaller thefts. The opinion in Tombstone and elsewhere in that part of the Territory is quite prevalent that the civil officers are quite largely in league with the leaders of this disturbing and dangerous element.
Something must be done, and that right early, or very grave results will follow. If is an open disgrace to American liberty and the peace and security of her citizens, that such a slate of affairs should exist."
October, 1881 - Tombstone Nugget
"We live mostly in canvas houses up here and when lunatics like those who fired so promiscuously the other night are on the rampage, it ain't safe, anyhow!"
Aftermath of the O.K. Corral Gunfight
October 25, 1881, Coroner's Inquest on the bodies of William Clanton, Frank McLaury and Thomas McLaury, deceased.
"Document 48: C.H. Light
I heard two shots as quick as I could count, "One, Two," I jumped to the window on Third Street, looked up Fremont Street, I saw several men in the act of shooting. At the instant I saw a man [Tom McLaury] reel and fall on the corner of Fremont and Third Streets on the South side, right directly on the corner of the house. I do not know who that man was. I looked up the street again [and] I saw three men standing at an angle about 10 or 15 feet apart [Wyatt and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday,] about the center of the street, facing Fly's gallery and the house below. I saw another man standing, leaning, against a building joining the vacant lot [Billy Clanton]. There appeared to be two men firing at the man standing beside the house [Wyatt and Virgil Earp.]
That man appeared to be struck from the motions he made. Then he fired one shot at the lower man, at the northwesterly man, which I afterwards understood was Holliday. The shot appeared to take effect, which was fired by the man with the horse, for the other man turned partly around. I then looked at the man against the house expecting every moment to see some on of them fall, and he was in the act of sliding down on the ground, apparently wounded. At that instant the horse vanished. I do not know where he went to. This lower man was firing apparently up the street. He fired one or two shots. I then saw the man who slid down the side of the house lying with his head and shoulders against the house, place a pistol on his leg and fired two shots. He tried to fire a third shot but he apparently was too weak. The shot went into the air. At the same time there was a tall man with gray clothes [Doc Holliday] and a broad hat standing about the middle of the street, [who] fired two [shots] apparently in the direction of the man who had been leaning against the house. Then there appeared to be one party in the middle of the street firing down the street. This man who laid on the ground near the corner of the house never fired but three shots. He appeared to be disabled. Then there was a few more shots fired by parties on the north side of the street [who] had passed from my view and I was not able to see them. The next thing I observed was two men standing beside the man that slid down on the south side of the street near the corner of the building. A tall man dressed in black appeared on the scene with a rifle in his hand and said, "Take that pistol away from that man or he will kill him!" At this time the shooting was all over, and I do not think the whole of it occupied over 10 or 15 seconds. The tall man dressed in black was not a participant in the affray.
There seemed to be six parties firing, four in the middle of the street and one on the south side of the street, and the one with the horse. Afterwards, I recognized the man with the gray clothes to be Doc Holliday. I think there were about 25 or 30 shots fired altogether. I did not see any of the parties have a shotgun. The fight occurred about 130 or 140 feet away from where I was. I think, from the report, that the first two were pistol shots. I think that there was one report from a shotgun.
I saw the man who fell at the corner of the street lying there all the time of the fight, I did not see him shoot. He seemed to me to be the first man shot. There was not time enough for a man to draw a pistol to fire a shot, between the first two shots. They must have been from two pistols. The man who fired the second shot must have been prepared to fire when the first shot was fired. These two shots I heard were fired before I went to the window, but it did not take me a second to get there."
October 27, 1881, Yesterday's Tragedy, Tombstone Epitaph
"Three Men Hurled Into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment
Stormy as were the early days of Tombstone nothing ever occurred equal to the event of yesterday. Since the retirement of Ben Sippy as marshal and the appointment of V.W. Earp to fill the vacancy the town has been noted for its quietness and good order. The fractious and much dreaded cowboys when they came to town were upon their good behavior and no unseemly brawls were indulged in, and it was hoped by our citizens that no more such deeds would occur as led to the killing of Marshal White one year ago. It seems that this quiet state of affairs was but the calm that precedes the storm that burst in all its fury yesterday, with this difference in results, that the lightning bolt struck in a different quarter from the one that fell a year ago. This time it struck with its full and awful force upon those who, heretofore, have made the good name of this county a byword and a reproach, instead of upon some officer in discharge of his duty or a peaceable and unoffending citizen.
Since the arrest of Stillwell and Spence for the robbery of the Bisbee stage, there have been oft repeated threats conveyed to the Earp brothers -- Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt -- that the friends of the accused, or in other words the cowboys, would get even with them for the part they had taken in the pursuit and arrest of Stillwell and Spence. The active part of the Earps in going after stage robbers, beginning with the one last spring where Budd Philpot lost his life, and the more recent one near Contention, has made them exceedingly obnoxious to the bad element of this county and put their lives in jeopardy every month.
Sometime Tuesday Ike Clanton came into town and during the evening had some little talk with Doc Holliday and Marshal Earp but nothing to cause either to suspect, further than their general knowledge of the man and the threats that had previously been conveyed to the Marshal, that the gang intended to clean out the Earps, that he was thirsting for blood at this time with one exception and that was that Clanton told the Marshal, in answer to a question, that the McLaurys were in Sonora. Shortly after this occurrence someone came to the Marshal and told him that the McLaurys had been seen a short time before just below town. Marshal Earp, now knowing what might happen and feeling his responsibility for the peace and order of the city, stayed on duty all night and added to the police force his brother Morgan and Holliday. The night passed without any disturbance whatever and at sunrise he went home to rest and sleep. A short time afterwards one of his brothers came to his house and told him that Clanton was hunting him with threats of shooting him on sight. He discredited the report and did not get out of bed. It was not long before another of his brothers came down, and told him the same thing, whereupon he got up, dressed and went with his brother Morgan uptown. They walked up Allen Street to Fifth, crossed over to Fremont and down to Fourth, where, upon turning up Fourth toward Allen, they came upon Clanton with a Winchester rifle in his hand and a revolver on his hip. The Marshal walked up to him, grabbed the rifle and hit him a blow on the head at the same time, stunning him so that he was able to disarm him without further trouble. He marched Clanton off to the police court where he entered a complaint against him for carrying deadly weapons, and the court fined Clanton $25 and costs, making $27.50 altogether. This occurrence must have been about 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
Close upon the heels of this came the finale, which is best told in the words of R.F. Coleman who was an eye-witness from the beginning to the end. Mr. Coleman says: I was in the O.K. Corral at 2:30 p.m., when I saw the two Clantons and the two McLaurys in an earnest conversation across the street in Dunbar's corral. I went up the street and notified Sheriff Behan and told him it was my opinion they meant trouble, and it was his duty, as sheriff, to go and disarm them. I told him they had gone to the West End Corral. I then went and saw Marshal Virgil Earp and notified him to the same effect. I then met Billy Allen and we walked through the O.K. Corral, about fifty yards behind the sheriff. On reaching Fremont street I saw Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday, in the center of the street, all armed. I had reached Bauer's meat market. Johnny Behan had just left the cowboys, after having a conversation with them. I went along to Fly's photograph gallery, when I heard Virg Earp say, "Give up your arms or throw up your arms." There was some reply made by Frank McLaury, when firing became general, over thirty shots being fired. Tom McLaury fell first, but raised and fired again before he died. Bill Clanton fell next, and raised to fire again when Mr. Fly took his revolver from him. Frank McLaury ran a few rods and fell. Morgan Earp was shot through and fell. Doc Holliday was hit in the left hip but kept on firing. Virgil Earp was hit in the third or fourth fire, in the leg which staggered him but he kept up his effective work. Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit. Doc Holliday was as calm as though at target practice and fired rapidly. After the firing was over, Sheriff Behan went up to Wyatt Earp and said, 'I'll have to arrest you.' Wyatt replied: 'I won't be arrested today. I am right here and am not going away. You have deceived me. You told me these men were disarmed; I went to disarm them.'
This ends Mr. Coleman's story which in the most essential particulars has been confirmed by others. Marshal Earp says that he and his party met the Clantons and the McLaurys in the alleyway by the McDonald place; he called to them to throw up their hands, that he had come to disarm them. Instantaneously Bill Clanton and one of the McLaurys fired, and then it became general. Mr. Earp says it was the first shot from Frank McLaury that hit him. In other particulars his statement does not materially differ from the statement above given. Ike Clanton was not armed and ran across to Allen street and took refuge in the dance hall there. The two McLaurys and Bill Clanton all died within a few minutes after being shot. The Marshal was shot through the calf of the right leg, the ball going clear through. His brother, Morgan, was shot through the shoulders, the ball entering the point of the right shoulder blade, following across the back, shattering off a piece of one vertebrae and passing out the left shoulder in about the same position that it entered the right. The wound is dangerous but not necessarily fatal, and Virgil's is far more painful than dangerous. Doc Holliday was hit upon the scabbard of his pistol, the leather breaking the force of the ball so that no material damage was done other than to make him limp a little in his walk.
Dr. Matthews impaneled a coroner's jury, who went and viewed the bodies as they lay in the cabin in the rear of Dunbar's stables on Fifth street, and then adjourned until 10 o'clock this morning.
The Alarm Given
The moment the word of the shooting reached the Vizina and Tough Nut mines the whistles blew a shrill signal, and the miners came to the surface, armed themselves, and poured into the town like an invading army. A few moments served to bring out all the better portions of the citizens, thoroughly armed and ready for any emergency. Precautions were immediately taken to preserve law and order, even if they had to fight for it. A guard of ten men were stationed around the county jail, and extra policemen put on for the night.
Earp brothers Justified
The feeling among the best class of our citizens is that the Marshal was entirely justified in his efforts to disarm these men, and that being fired upon they had to defend themselves, which they did most bravely. So long as our peace officers make an effort to preserve the peace and put down highway robbery -- which the Earp brothers have done, having engaged in the pursuit and capture, where captures have been made of every gang of stage robbers in the county -- they will have the support of all good citizens. If the present lesson is not sufficient to teach the cow-boy element that they cannot come into the streets of Tombstone, in broad daylight, armed with six-shooters and Henry rifles to hunt down their victims, then the citizens will most assuredly take such steps to preserve the peace as will be forever a bar to such raids."
October 28, 1881, Tombstone Epitaph
"The funeral of the McLaury brothers and Clanton yesterday was numerically one of the largest ever witnessed in Tombstone. It took place at 3:30 from the undertaking rooms of Messrs. Ritter and Eyan. The procession headed by the Tombstone brass band, moved down Allen street and thence to the cemetery. The sidewalks were densely packed for three or four blocks. The body of Clanton was in the first hearse and those of the two McLaury brothers in the second, side by side, and were interred in the same grave. It was a most impressive and saddening sight and such a one as it is to be hoped may never occur again in this community."
October 29, 1881, Coroner's Inquest, Testimony of Sheriff Behan, published in the Tombstone Epitaph
"Investigation into the Cause of the Recent Killing
Following is a verbatim copy of the testimony given before the Coroner's Jury in relation to the killing of the McLaury brothers and Clanton, up to the time of adjournment, last evening. At the rate of progress made yesterday, the investigation is liable to last for a week.
The Coroner's Jury was composed of the following: T.P. Hudson, D. Calisher, M. Garrett, S.B. Comstock, J.C. Davis, Thomas Moses, C.D. Reppy, F. Hafford, George H. Haskell, M. S. Goodrich.
John H. Behan
'John H. Behan, being sworn says; I am Sheriff, and reside in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona; I know the defendants Wyatt Earp, and John H. Holliday; I know Virg and Morg Earp; I knew Thomas McLaury, Frank McLaury, and William Clanton; I was in Tombstone October 26, when a difficulty, or shooting affray took place between the parties named. The first I knew that there was likely to be any trouble, I was sitting in a chair getting shaved in a barber shop; it was about half past one or two, it may have been later, but not much; saw a crowd gathering on the corner of Fourth and Allen Streets; someone in the shop said there was liable to be trouble between Clantons and the Earps; there was considerable said about it in the shop and I asked the barber to hurry up and get through, as I intended to go out and disarm and arrest the parties; after I had finished in the barber shop I crossed over to Hafford's corner; saw Marshal Earp standing there and asked what was the excitement; Marshal Earp is Virgil Earp; he said there [were] a lot of s---s of b---s in town looking for a fight; he did not mention any names; I said to Earp you had better disarm the crowd; he said he would not, he would give them a chance to make the fight; I said to him: It is your duty as a Peace Officer to disarm them rather than encourage the fight; don't remember what reply he gave me, but I said I was going down to disarm the boys
I meant any parties connected with the cowboys who had arms; Marshal Earp at that time was standing in Hafford's door; several people were around him; I don't know who; Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were then standing out near the middle of the street, at or near the intersection of Allen and Fourth Streets; I saw none other of the defendants there; Virgil Earp had a shotgun; with the muzzle touching the door-sill, down at his side; I did not see arms on the others at the time; I then went down Fourth Street to the corner of Fremont, and I met there Frank McLaury holding a horse and talking to somebody; I greeted him; I said to him: I told McLaury that I would have to disarm him, as there was likely to be trouble in town and I propose to disarm everybody in town that had arms. He said he would not give up his arms as he did not intend to have trouble; I told him that he would have to give up his pistol, all the same; I may have said gun, as gun and pistol are synonymous terms; about that time I saw Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury down the street below Fly's Photography Gallery; I said to Frank, 'Come with me;' we went down to where Ike Clanton and Tom were standing; I said to the boys, 'You must give up your arms!' Billy Clanton and Will Claiborne; I said to them, 'Boys you have got to give up your arms.' Frank McLaury demurred; I don't know exact language; he did not seem inclined, at first, to give up his arms. Ike told me he did not have any arms.
I put my arm around his waist to see if he was armed, and found he was not; Tom McLaury showed me by pulling his coat open, that he was not armed, I saw five standing there and asked them how many there were of them; they said four of us; this young man, Claiborne said he was not one of the party; he wanted them to leave town; I said boys you must go up to the Sheriff's office and take off your arms and stay there until I get back; I told them I was going to disarm the other party; at that time I saw [the] Earps and Holliday coming down the sidewalk, on the south side of Fremont Street; they were a little below the post office; Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were the ones; I said to the Clantons wait there for awhile, I see them coming down, I will go and stop them; I walked up the street twenty-two or twenty-three steps and met them at Bauer's Butcher Shop, under the awning, in front, and told them not to go any farther, that I was down there for the purpose of arresting and disarming the McLaurys and Clantons; they did not heed me and I threw up my hands and said go back, I'm the Sheriff of this county and am not going to allow any trouble if I can help it; they brushed past me and I turned and went with them, or followed them two steps or so in the rear as they went down the street, expostulating with them all the time; when they arrived within a very few feet of the Clantons and McLaurys I heard one of them say I think it was Wyatt Earp.
"You s---s of b---s you have been looking for a fight and now you can have it,' about that time I heard a voice say 'Throw up your hands;' during this time I saw a nickel-plated pistol pointed at one of the Clanton party - I think Billy - My impression at the time was that Doc Holliday had nickel-plated pistol; I will not say for certain that Holliday had it; these pistols I speak of were in the hands of the Earp party; when the order was given, 'Throw up your hands,' I heard Billy Clanton say, 'Don't shoot me, I don't want to fight,' Tom McLaury at the same time threw open his coat and said, 'I have nothing,' or 'I am not armed;' he made the same remark and the same gesture that he made to me when he first told me he was not armed; I can't tell the position of Billy Clanton's hands at the time he said, ' I don't want to fight,' my attention was directed just at that moment to the nickel-plated pistol; the nickel-plated pistol was the first to fire, and another followed instantly; these two shots were not from the same pistol, they were too nearly instantaneous to be fired from the same pistol; the nickel-plated pistol was fired by the second man from the right; the second shot came from the third man from the right. The fight became general.
Two of the three fired shots were very rapid after the first shop; by whom I Do not Know; the first two shots fired by the Earp party; I could not say by whom; the next three shots I thought at the time came from the Earp party; this was my impression at the time from being on the ground and seeing them; after the party said, 'Throw up your hands;' the nickel-plated pistol went off immediately; I think V.W. Earp said, 'Throw up your hands;' there was a good deal of fighting and shouting going on. I saw Frank McLaury staggering on the street with one hand on his belly and his pistol in his right; I saw him shoot at Morgan Earp, and from the direction of his pistol should judge that the shot went in the ground; he shot twice there in towards Fly's Building at Morgan Earp, and he started across the street; heard a couple of shots from that direction; did not see him after he got about half way across the street; then heard a couple of shots from his direction; looked and saw McLaury running and a shot was fired and he fell on his head; heard Morg say, 'I got him;' there might have been a couple of shots afterwards; but that was about the end of the fight; I can't say I knew the effect of the first two shots; the only parties I saw fall were Morg Earp and Frank McLaury. My impression was that the nickel-plated pistol was pointed at Billy Clanton; the first man that I was certain that was hit was Frank McLaury, as I saw him staggering and bewildered and knew he was hit; this shortly after the first five shots; I never saw any arms in the hands of any of the McLaury party except Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton; saw Frank McLaury on the sidewalk, within a very few feet of the inside line of the street; did not see a pistol in the hands of any of the McLaury party until 8 or 10 shots had been fired; Frank was the first of the party in whose hands I saw a pistol; Ike Clanton broke and ran after the first few shots were fired; Ike, I think, went through Fly's Building; the last I saw of him he was running through the back of Fly's Building towards Allen Street.'
At the conclusion of the above testimony the court adjourned until 9 o'clock this morning.
October 28, 1881 - Tombstone Nugget
"An Imposing Funeral: While it was not entirely expected, the funeral of Billy Clanton and Thomas and Frank McLaury, yesterday, was the largest ever witnessed in Tombstone. It was advertised to take place at 3 o'clock, but it was about 4 o'clock before the cortege moved, yet a large number had gathered at the undertaker's long before the first time mentioned. The bodies of the three men, neatly and tastefully dressed, were placed in handsome caskets with heavy silver trimmings. Upon each was a silver plate bearing the name, age, birthplace and date of the death of each. A short time before the funeral, photographs were taken of the dead. The procession was headed by the Tombstone brass band playing the solemn and touching march of the dead. The first wagon contained the body of Billy Clanton, followed by those of the McLaury Boys. A few carriages came next in which were friends and relatives of the deceased, among whom were Ike and Finn Clanton. After these were about three hundred persons on foot, twenty-two carriages and buggies and one four horse stage, and the horsemen, making a line nearly two blocks in length. The two brothers were buried in one grave, and the young Clanton close by those who were his friends in life and companions in death. The inscription upon the plates of the casket-s stated that Thomas McLaury was 25 years of age, Frank McLaury 29 years of age, both natives of Mississippi, and that William H. Clanton was 19 years of age and a native of Texas. "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep."
October 30, 1881, Tombstone Nugget
"We, the undersigned, a jury of inquest, after viewing the body and hearing such testimony as has been submitted to us, find that the person was Frank McLaury, 29 years of age came to his death in the town of Tombstone on the 26th day of October 1881, from gunshot wounds inflicted by Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, Wyatt Earp and one Holliday commonly known as Doc Holliday. The verdict rendered in the case of Wm. Clanton Thomas McLaury was the same as the above."
The bodies of, from left to right, Tom McLaury (or McLowry), Frank McLaury (or McLowry) and Billy Clanton.
These three members of the 'Clanton Gang' were shot by Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan and Doc Holiday
during the 'Gunfight at OK Corral' on 26th October 1881, Tombstone, Arizona.
Original Artwork - 10 Jan 1881
And so it went . . . a chronicle of the Old West . . . in the colorful language of the pioneer editors, preserving for us the history of a town, of a county, a state, a nation.
We look back on those stories today and no doubt smile or chuckle at how the stories were told . . . but they were told, and preserved.