Edward Lawrence Schieffelin was born in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania in 1847. Ed’s father moved to Rogue Valley, Oregon in the mid 1850s. When Ed was 17 he set off to prospect for gold and silver in his home State of Oregon. From Oregon he moved to Coeur d’Alene in Idaho and subsequently prospected in Nevada and Colorado ending up in New Mexico.

In 1877 Ed was prospecting for gold and silver east of the San Pedro Valley in the southeastern corner of Arizona (1). Ed was down to his last three dollars, and he looked the part being described at the time by James McClintock “ about the queerest specimen of humanity ever seen in Tucson. His clothing was worn and covered with patches of deerskins, corduroy and flannel, and his old slouch hat too, was so pieced with rabbit skin that very little of the original felt remained. Although only 29 years of age he looked at least forty. His black hair hung down below his shoulders, and his full beard, a tangle of knots, was almost as long and he appeared to be a fur-bearing animal.”

Ed Schieffelin Circa 1880

When news leaked out that Ed was prospecting only ten miles from the Dragoon Mountains, then the stronghold of Apache Chief Cochise, the famous army scout Al Sieber reportedly told him “The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.” Other friends said to him, “Better take your coffin with you; you will find your tombstone there, and nothing else!

Ed Schieffelin made his first major find in a dry wash on a high plateau called Goose Flats. It was several months before he found the source, so filed his first mining claim on September 21st 1877. With humorous irony Ed named his claim ‘Tombstone’.

Ed was made of stern stuff so with only 30 cents in his pocket he set out to find his brother whom he had not seen in four years. He found his brother in February 1878 after a journey of 480 miles. Brother Al was living and working in Signal City (2)  for the McCracken Mine. Al asked the foreman to look at his brother’s samples only to be told that he thought it was mostly lead. Ed was so upset he threw most of his samples away but at the last minute held on to three of them. Ed ended up working alongside his brother at the mine for a month wielding a pick and shovel.

Around this time the McCracken Mine had a new assayer on site by the name of Richard Gird who had a reputation as an expert, but more than that he also had a reputation for being honest. He took three days to carry out his assessment of Ed’s rocks. He assessed the best of the samples at $2,000 a ton, a truly staggering claim. Richard suggested they formed a three-way partnership but more than that he offered his expertise, connections and a grubstake. The three men Al, Ed and Richard shook hands on a gentleman’s agreement, which was never put down on paper, but all three partners went on to become millionaires.

The partners formed the Tombstone Gold and Silver mining Company and went on to register two more mines as well as the original ‘Tombstone’ mine. The new claims were named ‘Lucky Cuss’ and ‘Tough Nut’.

Tombstone Grows

When the first claims were filed, the initial settlement of tents and cabins was located near the Lucky Cuss mine. Around March 1879 former Territorial Governor Anson Safford offered financial backing for a cut of the men’s mining claims, so Ed, Al and Richard formed the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company. On March 5th 1879, U.S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor Solon Allis finished laying out a new town site on the Goose Flat. The Town was named ‘Tombstone’ after Ed’s initial mining claim. The new Town quickly had a small scattering of cabins and tents built to house about 100 residents.

As news got out about the finds of gold, prospectors and business people started arriving in a steady stream. In 1879 Tombstone was awarded a post office that meant in effect, Tombstone was now the pre-eminent town in the San Pedro Valley settlements. Tombstone was already beginning to be compared with Virginia City in Nevada Territory where the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859 and rumours were beginning to circulate that history was about to repeat itself. People started to flock into the area.

The first hotel was built in April 1879 and was named ‘The Mohave’ and soon after the first house was erected. Tombstone was on ‘The Up’ but as more and more business people and their wives arrived there was a great demand for houses, shops, restaurants and bigger and better hotels so the building of Tombstone started in earnest. The town shortly changed its image from a rough and ready mining town into the most sophisticated place in the Southwest.

Tombstone circa 1881

The Earps Arrive in Tombstone

On December 1st 1879, three wagons arrived in Tombstone bringing three more families hoping to make their fortune in the rapidly growing boomtown. The Earps arrived without any fanfare. The three Earp brothers Virgil, Wyatt and James along with their wives Allie, Mattie and Bessie, started to settle in, and with them was Hattie, the daughter of James and Bessie.

James Earp

Wyatt Earp

Virgil Earp

The name of Wyatt Earp would have caused very little excitement in Tombstone as he would have been virtually unknown (3). Both Virgil and Wyatt had experience as lawmen. Wyatt had spent some time as a Deputy Marshal in Wichita and Dodge City, Kansas. When Virgil moved to Prescott, Arizona he first held the post of night watchman but later became town constable. Just before the Earps moved to Tombstone Virgil was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Eastern part of Pima County. Before he left Prescott U.S. Marshal Crawley Drake gave Virgil instructions to move to Tombstone and help resolve the ongoing problems with the outlaw ‘Cow-boys’.

When Tombstone was first founded on March 5th 1879 it had about 100 people living mainly in tents but by the time the Earps arrived the populace had grown to almost 1000. Firstly, the Earps all moved into a one-roomed shack with a dirt floor but very soon after arriving they had three cabins built. Wyatt, who all his life had wanted to move in the upper class and moneyed circles, arrived with idea of starting a stagecoach line. However his first setback was discovering there were two established stagecoach lines up and running.

Virgil was readily accepted into the business class of people because of his status as a Deputy Marshal. Jim became a barkeeper, which was quite a respectable job in those days. Wyatt, try as hard as he could, found none of his ideas worked. In the end the only job he could get was as a shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they were carrying Wells Fargo strongboxes (4). In the summer of 1880 Morgan and Warren, the younger brothers to Virgil and Wyatt, also arrived in Tombstone.

Morgan Earp

Warren Earp

The Clantons of Arizona

The Clanton family arrived in Arizona around 1873 and started ranching in the Gila River area 100 miles north of Tucson. ‘Old man’ Newton Haynes Clanton with his three sons Phin, Ike and Billy tried to start a town called Clantonville. After three years they had no takers so packed up and moved down to the San Pedro Valley. They built a new ranch and started with a small herd near a hamlet called Millville where Ike opened a restaurant, however the restaurant did not last very long. The Clanton’s were not too upset; if one thing didn’t work they would try something else, so they went back to ranching.

Ike Clanton 1881

As Virgil had been made Deputy Marshal and been tasked to help resolve the problem of the ‘Cow-boys’ in Tombstone I would like to take some time here to explain the background to the problems which led to the OK Corral shootout. The term ‘Cow-boy’ as we know it today only came into general use in the 1870’s. If you made a living by herding before 1870 you would be a stockman, drover or cowhand. In most areas of the West cowhands were held in high respect but in Cochise County, and the Tombstone area in particular, it became almost an insult to call a legitimate cattleman a ‘Cow-boy’. Tombstone resident George Parsons wrote at the time in his diary, ‘A ‘Cow-boy’ is a rustler at times, and a rustler is a synonym for desperado, bandit, outlaw, and horse thief.’

The main reasons for all the ‘Cow-boys’ in and around Tombstone were cattle, stagecoaches and rustling. Tombstone was booming and people wanted beef to eat so rustling cattle became an easy way to make a living. Butchers in Tombstone were not too worried where the cattle came from so long as the price was right. Rustling from honest ranches became quite a lucrative pastime for ‘Cow-boys’. The other reason for ‘Cow-boys’ to be around Tombstone was big money. The mines were booming and all ore and money had to be moved by stagecoaches and wagons to the nearest railhead, which left many opportunities for robberies. The other easy place to rustle cattle was old Mexico just thirty miles south of Tombstone. In the border area of Arizona there was only one possible route from Arizona to Mexico called Guadalupe Canyon. It was used by the ‘Cow-boys’ to bring rustled cattle back to the Tombstone area and they also used the canyon for smuggling alcohol and cigarettes. In August 1881 several Mexicans were ambushed and killed in a part of the route from Mexico called Skeleton Canyon for their gold and bullion. In reprisal the Mexicans sent troops to the area and they killed five ‘Cow-boys’ including ‘Old Man’ Newman Clanton. After this incident the Clanton ranch became the de facto headquarters for the ‘Cow-Boys’.

The notoriety of ‘Cow-boys’ and their collective powerbase made good reading in most of the main newspapers coast to coast. Their names gradually became known throughout America as this was really the last frontier and people ‘back East’ were fascinated with the ‘goings on out West’. Many of the ‘Cow-boys’ became quite well known back east for their shenanigans out on the last frontier. The more celebrated bandits were ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius and Johnny Ringo.

‘Curly’ Bill Brocious

Johnny Ringo

Also names that would pass into history were Phin, Billy and Ike Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. Most of the ‘Cow-boys’ came from Texas after the Texas Rangers made that area quite unhealthy for bad men. It was estimated there were as many as 200 to 300 outlaws living in and around the Tombstone area. When they couldn’t find cattle to steal the ‘Cow-boys’ robbed stages and engaged ‘in similar enterprises’. As soon as they had money to spend, they roared into Tombstone to spend it freely in the saloons, dance houses, and brothels. Very few of the ‘Cow-boys’ lived in Tombstone but rather frequented smaller outlying towns like Charleston, Galeyville, Benson, Millville and Contention City that welcomed the ‘Cow-boys’ with their free spending habits so overlooked their short comings!

Six Mules That Started a Vendetta

In late July 1880 Captain Joseph Hurst along with four soldiers arrived in Tombstone to ask Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp to help him track down six army mules stolen from Camp Rucker. This was a Federal matter as the mules were U.S. property so Virgil deputised Wyatt, Morgan and Wells Fargo agent Marshal Williams and they left with the captain and his four troopers. The posse tracked the stolen mules to the McLaury ranch, which was located north west of Tombstone on Babacomari Creek. At the ranch they also discovered a branding iron that was used to change the ‘US’ brand to ‘D8’.

When confronted with this evidence ‘Cow-boy’ Frank Patterson, who was in charge while the McLaury brothers were absent, said he would return the mules to the captain in the nearby township of Charleston. Much against Virgil’s better judgment Captain Hurst said he would agree to this so as to avoid any bloodshed. However, when the ‘Cow-boys’ arrived two days later in Charleston without the mules, they just laughed at Hurst and the rest of the posse. Subsequently, Captain Hurst had a handbill printed in which he stated that Frank McLaury ‘specifically assisted with the hiding of the mules’. The handbills were posted around Tombstone and also reprinted in The Tombstone Epitaph on the 30th July 1880. Not long after this incident Frank McLaury came to Tombstone and accosted Virgil and asked if he had posted the handbills. When Virgil replied that he had nothing to do with the handbills Frank said that if he ever found out it had been Virgil it was his intention to kill him. Frank was also reported as saying, ‘If you ever again follow us as close as you did, then you will have to fight anyway.’ This was the first confrontation between the Clantons and McLaurys and the Earps. It was not to be the last.

Killing of Marshal Fred White

On 27th July 1880, Pima County Sheriff Charles Shibell whose office was in the county seat of Tucson appointed Wyatt as Deputy Sheriff and this appointment did offer Wyatt a little more influence in Tombstone. Three months after his appointment Wyatt got a chance to increase his standing and influence with the good folks of Tombstone.

On 28th October, two miners along with two ‘Cow-boys’ thought it would be a good idea to liven up Tombstone by ‘shooting up the sky.’ Town Marshal Fred White rushed to disarm the late night revellers. However, when he grabbed the gun barrel of ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius the pistol discharged and the bullet hit Fred White in the stomach. At that point Wyatt arrived just in time to see Fred White fall to the ground so Wyatt pistol-whipped Brocius knocking him unconscious.

Marshal Fred White

It’s worth saying here that Wyatt Earp’s way of diffusing a problem with guns was to pistol-whip or ‘Buffalo’ the culprit rather than shoot him. This was a habit he honed when working in the cow towns of Kansas. Wyatt was a big man standing 6 feet tall and weighing 14 stones (198 pounds) being quite fearless. When confronted with trouble his instinct was always to incapacitate rather than kill.

Now that Wyatt, and the Earps had a little more status the distrust between the ‘Cow-boys’ and the Earps came to boiling point fuelled by resentment and politics. Nearly all the ‘Cow-boys’ were Democrats and some had fought on the Confederate side in the late Civil War. However, many of the town’s residents and business people had Republican leanings. In effect there were fundamental differences between the ‘Cow-boys’ and the residents that heightened tensions between the two camps.

Cochise County Marshal Johnny Behan certainly was sympathetic towards the ‘Cow-boys’ and the claims of the rural ranchers. Johnny Behan certainly would have turned a blind eye to many of the complaints about the McLaurys, Clantons and other ‘Cow-boys’ he received from the Earps who represented the Town’s people. But on the other hand the Earps were known to ‘bend’ the law in their favour when complaints were made about gambling and saloons in Tombstone in which the Earps had interests(5). There was not a lot of love lost between the ‘Cow-boys’ and the Earps.

The Arrival of Doc Holliday

In late September 1880 Tombstone saw the arrival of Doc Holliday and his common-lawwife Big Nose Kate’(6). Doc Holliday was 30 years old in 1880 but was dying of consumption (tuberculosis) and would be dead by the age of 36. Wyatt always said on one occasion Doc had saved his life while he was working as a lawman in Dodge City in 1878. Wyatt worked on the maxim ‘once a friend always a friend’ so welcomed Doc and Kate to Tombstone. Holliday was not universally welcomed in Tombstone as he had a reputation for being a gun toting, drunken troublemaker.

Doc Holiday

‘Big Nose Kate’

His reputation as a crack shot was more hearsay than truth, which was borne out when he had a confrontation with two gamblers while in Tombstone and managed to shoot one in the hand and the other in the big toe at a range of about six feet!

Doc Holliday’s main problem was his drinking habit. He had been brought up as a Southern Gentleman and when not drinking he had impeccable manners and was extremely courteous. However, his consumption gave him severe pain so he drank copiously and when drunk he could be a very dangerous man to face. He had the title of a ‘Sporting Man’, which meant he was a gambler as indeed was Wyatt Earp. They were not frowned on as most gambling men did play a ‘straight’ game and gambling was recognised as an occupation in the frontier towns. The gamblers mostly came away winning because they knew ‘when to hold or when to fold’. Or to put it another way they had more experience than the miners, cowboys or others they used to play against.

Background to the Johnny Behan & Wyatt Earp Dispute Over The Office of County Sheriff

On the 1st of January 1881, the eastern part of Pima County was hived off and became known as Cochise County. A new sheriff for the area had to be appointed so an election was set in motion. Both Johnny Behan and Wyatt Earp wanted the position not only for the prestige but also for the money.

Whoever was appointed to the position of sheriff also became County Assessor, which meant the sheriff could keep ten percent of all taxes collected, which worked out as a lot of money for whoever got the appointment. Both Wyatt and Johnny started to canvas for votes among the locals but Wyatt and Johnny were very different people. Johnny had quite a bit of experience in rallying votes and he was the sort of guy who bought drinks all round and gave people a slap on the back and always remembered their names.

Johnny Behan 1871

Wyatt was tall strong and good looking and had steely blue eyes and a reputation for having a short fuse. If he were your friend he would be a friend for life, if not he was very aloof and not one for long conversations. Johnny offered Wyatt a deal and said if he, Wyatt dropped out of the race, which would mean that Johnny would definitely get the job, Johnny would give Wyatt the job of Under Sheriff. Wyatt pulled out of the race and sure enough Behan was appointed Sheriff on the 10th February 1881. The problem was that Johnny reneged on his part of the deal and Wyatt was not very pleased. Johnny had made a very dangerous enemy.

Guns & Knives in Tombstone

By April 1881 Tombstone was having what would now be called a crime wave. Most men carried a handgun and most carried a knife as well. Killings were happening on a regular basis and Tombstone got a name as ‘A town that had a man for breakfast everyday’. To try and combat this state of affairs the city fathers passed city ordinance number 9.

Effective April 19th, 1881, Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 states: ‘To Provide against Carrying of Deadly Weapons’

Section 1. It is hereby declared unlawful to carry in the hand or upon the person or otherwise, any deadly weapon within the limits of said city of Tombstone, without first obtaining a permit in writing.

Section 2: This prohibition does not extend to persons immediately leaving or entering the city, who, with good faith, and within reasonable time are proceeding to deposit, or take from the place of deposit such deadly weapon.

Section 3: All fire-arms of every description, and bowie knives and dirks, are included within the prohibition of this ordinance.”

As it turned out it was this ordinance that lead directly to the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Attempted Benson Stagecoach Robbery

On March 15th 1881 an attempt was made to hold up the stagecoach running from Tombstone to Benson, which was the nearest freight terminal to Tombstone. The well known and popular stage driver ‘Budd’ Philpot was not feeling too well so asked Bob Paul, the shotgun messenger at the time to take the reins. Bob Paul was known as a pretty hard man so when the would be robbers called on him to ‘Hold’ he replied by letting loose with his shotgun and then emptying his revolver and managing to shoot and injure one of the would be hold-up men. At this point the stagecoach horses were spooked and set off at a run so Bob Paul had his hands full trying to control the stage. When, after a mile, Paul finally got the horses under control it was discovered that ‘Budd’ Philpot, who was riding ‘shotgun,’ and a passenger Pete Roerig riding in the rear dickey seat had both been shot and killed. The citizens of Tombstone were enraged and upset as ‘Budd’ Philpot was very well thought of and was almost a local legend. The death of Pete Roerig was also more bad news for the reputation of Tombstone. The three ’Cow-boys’ were later identified at as Bill Leonard, Harry ‘The Kid’ Head and Jim Crane who were known ‘Cow-boys’.

When the news of the attempted robbery circulated in Tombstone a posse was raised consisting of Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt, Bob Paul and Marshall Williams the Wells Fargo agent in Tombstone along with Johnny Behan. After a long pursuit they all came away with nothing to show. Behan put in a claim for almost $800 to cover expenses incurred in the chase but did not give the Earps anything. In the end Wells Fargo paid off the Earps but this became another flash point between Behan and the Earps. A reward was offered of $3000 for Leonard, Head and Crain dead or alive.

Wyatt Offers Ike Clanton The Reward Money for Information on the Attempted Stagecoach Robbery

Wyatt was still very bitter about the double-cross Johnny Behan had played on him when he reneged on his promise to appoint Wyatt as his undersheriff. The next election for the post was to be held in late 1882 so Wyatt thought his best chance of victory this time around was to bring to justice the killers of popular stage driver ‘Budd’ Philpot and passenger Pete Roerig. Wyatt arranged to see Ike Clanton on 2nd June 1881, and offered to give Ike all the $3000 reward money from Wells, Fargo & Co if Ike would pass on information as to where the three outlaws might be found. Ike showed great interest to begin with but the deal was never completed because Leonard, Head and Crain were all shot and killed in unrelated incidents.

Having had time to think about the deal Ike had second thoughts about the wisdom of trying to cut a deal with the hated Earps. He also suspected that Doc Holliday knew about the proposed deal so started to threaten Wyatt and Doc. He also knew if the ‘Cow-boys’ heard about the proposed deal his standing with the other outlaws would become very precarious indeed.

Doc Holliday & Big Nose Kate’s Relationship

Doc and Kate met while she was working as a prostitute in Fort Griffin, Texas in 1877 and they had an on/off relationship until Doc’s death in Colorado in November 1887. Their lives were defined by living on the frontier with its free and easy life style. Both drank heavily and argued a lot but on the whole they got on with each other’s life style. After one of Doc and Kate’s particularly nasty fights Sheriff Johnny Behan and Milt Joyce, owner of the Oriental Saloon, and no friend of Holliday, plied Kate with alcohol. They told her they could help her to find a way to get even with Doc by signing an affidavit to the effect Doc was implicated in the stagecoach robbery and the killing of ‘Budd’ Philpot.

As it turned out Doc happened to be a very good friend of Bill Leonard from many years back when Leonard had worked as a watchmaker in New York. As ever with Doc a friend was always a friend and he was never judgmental about how people made a living in the west as long as it didn’t impinge on him. So, as it turned out, it was easy for Behan and Joyce to convince Kate to sign the affidavit, as everybody knew Bill Leonard was implicated in the attempted stage robbery. Judge Wells Spicer issued an arrest warrant for Holliday but the whole thing was thrown out of court when the evidence was heard. When he was released Doc gave Kate some money and put her on a stagecoach and sent her to Globe for a cooling off period.

Tombstone’s Night Life

By early 1881 the population of Tombstone had risen to around 10,000 and the town boasted 4 churches, 3 newspapers, 2 banks, together with the Schieffelin Hall Opera House, Vogan’s Bowling Alley, Chinese, French, Italian and Mexican restaurants and ‘Nelly Cashman’s’ famous Rush House restaurant serving ‘home cooking’. There were also 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls and a large number of brothels, and, I think rather incongruously, the town also had an ice cream parlour. Allen Street was the commercial center of Tombstone open 24 hours a day.

The Birdcage Theatre

The Bird Cage Theatre opened on Allen Street on 25th December 1881, offering the miners and ‘Cow-boys’ their kind of bawdy entertainment. In 1882 The New York Times reported, ‘The Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast’. The Theatre also acted as a brothel with a ladder up to the ‘girls’ cribs’ should any patrons find the entertainment downstairs not to their liking! The Bird Cage finally closed in 1889.

Tombstone also boasted a very much more genteel side with the influx of rich clientele from all over the USA who had to be catered for. Allen Street became the ‘deadline’ between the working people and the more ‘well-to-do folks’. While all this was happening in Tombstone the ‘Cow-boys’ were still up to their old tricks of robbing, rustling and holding up stagecoaches and killing the odd person here and there.

On June 6th 1881 Virgil Earp was appointed Tombstone Town Marshal. In effect, he was the chief of police after Ben Sippy left ‘under a cloud’. However Virgil, at the same time, hung on to his position as Deputy U.S. Marshal that gave him the license to pursue the robbers anywhere in the territory of Arizona.

Sandy Bob Line Stage Holdup

One of the things missing in the Tombstone area in the 1880 was a railway link with the outside world. The nearest railway depot was in Benson 25 miles north so this led to the number of stagecoach lines growing exponentially. There was The Pioneer Tombstone Stage Line, Tucson and Tombstone Mail and Express, National Mail and Transportation Company, The Overland Mail Company and The Sandy Bob Line to name just a few. All this competition brought the journey time to Tucson from 24 hours to 17 hours. This was all good news for the ‘Cow-boys’ as they saw stagecoaches as legitimate targets and now they were fairly easy pickings.

On September 8th 1881, one of the ‘Sandy Bob Line’ coaches was stopped and all the passengers were robbed at gunpoint whilst on their trip south to Bisbee. The passengers were robbed because there was not a strongbox on board the coach and the bad guys did not want to go home empty handed. During the robbery one of the robbers was heard to refer to money as ‘sugar’ and it was commonly known that Frank Stillwell, one of Johnny Behan’s former deputies used that term for money. Stillwell had been working as deputy for Johnny Behan up until a month before the holdup but had been dismissed for ‘accounting irregularities’.

A Kinnear Express stagecoach operating from Tombstone to Bisbee in the 1880s

Virgil and Wyatt rode with a sheriff’s posse to try to catch the stage robbers and at the scene of the robbery found an unusual boot print left by someone wearing a custom-repaired boot heel. After checking a shoe repair shop in Bisbee who specialised in widening boot heels it was easy to link the footprint with Frank Stilwell. Stilwell had just arrived in Bisbee along with his livery stable partner Pete Spence when Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp arrested both of them for the robbery of the ‘Sandy Bob Line’ passengers. As it turned out Stilwell and Spence were friends of Ike Clanton and the McLaury brothers so at the preliminary hearing Judge Spicer had to drop the charges about the stage holdup after several witnesses supported Stilwell and Spence’s alibis, so Judge Spicer released them on bail.

On October 23th both men were re-arrested by Virgil for the holdup but this time Virgil arrested them on federal charges of interfering with a mail carrier. As it turned out this was for a different stage robbery on 8th October near Contention City. Again the two men were released on ‘insufficient evidence’.

Ike Clanton and other ‘Cow-boys’ felt that the Earps were persecuting them and the Earps should expect retaliation. While Virgil and Wyatt were in Tucson for the federal hearing of Spence and Stillwell Frank McLaury accosted Morgan Earp in Tombstone and told him that if the Earps tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell or the McLaurys again they would kill them.

The Influence of Newspapers in Tombstone

Tombstone had two newspapers that greatly influenced the perceptions of the town’s population. There was The Tombstone Epitaph owned and run by Mayor John P. Clum(7) who supported the town’s police force, i.e. the Earps. Mayor Clum also organised a ‘Committee of Safety’ ostensibly to keep the city safe from marauding Apaches but whose secondary task was intended to keep the city safe from the ‘Cow-boys’. In effect what Clum organized was a group of vigilante armed to the teeth.

The other newspaper was The Daily Nugget published by Harry Woods who was an undersheriff to Johnny Behan. The Daily Nugget nearly always took the side of the ranchers and the ‘Cow-boys’. The other dividing line was politics and whereas the small ranchers were mostly Democrats the townsfolk were overwhelmingly Republicans. This division harked back to the recent Civil War and it was no secret that most of the ‘Cow-boys’, and most probably most of the ranchers had sided with the Confederacy.

The Day Before To The Gunfight

On the morning of Tuesday, October 25th the day before the gunfight Ike Clanton arrived back in Tombstone after a ten-mile trip in a wagon with Tom McLaury. They had come to sell a large number of cattle that McLaury mostly owned. However, Ike had a small share in the herd. After they had concluded the sale they went separate ways to drink and have fun.

Ike had it into his head that Wyatt had told Doc about the proposition that he had put to Ike for information about Head, Leonard and Crane’s attempted stage robbery. Wyatt had offered all the $3,000 reward money to Ike but had not talked with anyone else, especially Doc about the deal. Around midnight Doc came across Ike Clanton in the Alhambra Saloon and accused Ike of lying regarding a conversation about the attempted Benson Stage robbery and Ike’s deal with Wyatt. A very loud argument started and went on for some time until Wyatt, who was not wearing a badge, requested that his brother Morgan acting in his capacity as Deputy City Marshal, escort Doc out into the street. Ike, who had been drinking very heavily followed and the argument continued. At this point Town Marshal Virgil arrived and threatened to arrest both Doc and Ike if they did not stop arguing. A short time after this Ike started to talk with Wyatt again and told him “the fighting talk had lasted too long.” Wyatt went to the Oriental Saloon and Ike followed him and said “I will be ready for you in the morning.” Ike called for another drink. At this point Ike’s pistol was in plain sight and he said to Wyatt “you must not think I won’t be after you all in the morning.”

The Oriental Saloon as it is today

After the confrontation between Doc and Ike in the Alhambra saloon Wyatt walked Doc back to his lodgings at Camillus Sidney ‘Buck’ Fly’s Lodging House on Fremont Street and then Wyatt went home to bed. Ike, not having booked a room in town, resumed his bar crawl again and ended up at the Occidental Saloon. When Ike arrived at the Occidental Tom McLaury, Johnny Behan and Virgil Earp along with one other man whose name was lost to history were playing poker so Virgil asked Ike to join the game. It was pure coincidence they were all in the same saloon but Virgil was working on the assumption that a few hands of poker would help clear the air.

The game went on until 6.00 a.m(8). so the participants must have got on reasonably well. By this time Ike had been drinking for about twelve hours and was still very belligerent. Ike, even when sober, was always making violent threats but Virgil chose to ignore them. Being very tired Virgil just ambled back home to bed.

The Morning of the Gunfight

At 8.00am Wednesday 26th October Ike Clanton ran into Ned Boyle. Ned was a bartender at the Oriental Saloon and had just finished a night shift. It was a cold and dreary morning when Ned saw Ike near the Grand Hotel. Ike was very drunk and had a pistol on view tucked into his waistband. This was in direct violation of Tombstone firearms policy. Ned pulled Ike’s coat shut to cover the pistol and told him to go to bed. Ike said he was waiting for the Earps and Doc Holliday then the ‘the ball would open’. Ned went to Wyatt’s house and told him what Ike had said. Wyatt thanked Ned then went back to sleep.

Ike went to Kelly’s Wine House and started drinking with his friend Joe Stump. By this time Ike was also carrying his Winchester rifle as well as his pistol. Most of the early morning people of Tombstone were getting the message. Ike was drunk and armed and would fight with the Earps and Doc Holliday the moment he saw them.

Ike was telling everyone he met what had happened the night before. His story was the Earps and Doc had insulted him and there was nothing he could about it as he wasn’t heeled(9), but now he was and he would take them all on.

Ike had been drinking for about 24 hours when he turned up at yet another saloon on Hafords Corner. He started to bend the owner’s ear with the story of how the Earps and Doc had insulted him when he wasn’t heeled, but now he was, and the balloon would go up as soon as he saw them. By now Ike had thrown all caution to the wind.

Virgil came out onto the street shortly after noon. Daniel Lynch accosted Virgil and told him Ike was drunk and spoiling for a fight. Virgil met his brothers Morgan and James who told him that Ike now had a rifle as well as a pistol. After this James, who always left policing to his brothers, went on to work while Virgil and Morgan went to find Ike.

Wyatt was now up and about and went to the Oriental Saloon and was accosted by Harry Jones who said, “what does all this mean?” Wyatt said he had no idea what Harry was talking about. Harry said “Ike Clanton is hunting you boys with a Winchester rifle and a six-shooter”. Wyatt said ‘I will go down and find him and see what he wants’

The three Earp brothers met and had a talk. All three were carrying six-shooters, which they were entitled to, all being lawmen. The three brothers were wearing overcoats, as it was a very cold morning with a sprinkle of early snow on the ground. Wyatt was wearing a new overcoat made especially for him with a canvas pocket to carry a pistol. The pocket was designed not to catch the hammer or barrel if Wyatt wanted to draw the gun quickly. The brothers set out to find Ike so Wyatt started to look on Allen Street and Virgil and Morgan went to look on Fremont Street. However, the problem Virgil now had was that Ike had run into Tombstone’s Mayor, John Clum. With his newspaperman hat on Clum was looking for a good story so started to talk with Ike. Mayor Clum said “Good morning” to Ike then added “Any new wars on today?” At that moment Mayor Clum saw Virgil walking up the street. Virgil knew that Clum would expect him to arrest Ike.

Virgil could have merely walked up to Ike on the sidewalk and shot him dead. Ike had told several witnesses that he intended to kill the Earps and Doc Holliday on sight. If Virgil had killed Ike and the case had come to court, with the number of people who had heard Ike issue the threats, Virgil would be guaranteed that no action would be taken against the Earps. All they would have been doing was protecting themselves. However, instead of shooting Ike, Virgil and Morgan drew their pistols and walked up behind Ike who was holding his rifle in his hand with his pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants.

John and Mary Clum

Virgil grabbed the rifle and, as Ike tried to pull out his pistol, Virgil hit him on the head with the butt of his pistol and Ike went sprawling onto the sidewalk. Virgil had ‘buffaloed’(10) Ike as it was called in those days. As Mayor Clum remembered it ‘Ike stretched his length on the sidewalk.’

Virgil asked Ike, “Were you hunting for me?” Ike replied, “If I had seen you a second sooner I would have killed you.” As Mayor Clum was still watching what Virgil was going to do for the sake of peace and quiet in Tombstone. Virgil chose to arrest Ike for unlawfully carrying firearms within the town limits and took him to the courthouse. Virgil then went off to find the judge and left Ike in the care of Wyatt and Morgan, not a good move!

Battered and bleeding as he was Ike threw down a challenge. “You did not give me any show at all.” Then went on to say “If I had a six shooter I would make a fight with all of you.” Morgan rose to the bait and offered Ike his six-shooter back saying “Here take this and you can have all the show you want. Fortunately a court official grabbed Ike and stopped him taking the offered pistol. Ike was pushed back into his chair but his pride was somewhat repaired by his actions and showed he was not afraid of the Earps. Honour was satisfied even after his beating on the sidewalk.

Wyatt was on the point of blowing up and he turned on Ike Clanton and said, “You damn dirty cow thief, you have been threatening our lives and I know it. I think I would be justified in shooting you any place I would meet you, but if you are anxious to make a fight I will go anywhere on earth to make a fight with you, even over in San Simon among your own crowd”. Ike replied, “Fighting is my racket and all I want is four feet of ground.”

It was just about this time in the proceedings that Virgil arrived back at the Court House with Judge Wallace. In a very short time Ike was found guilty of violating Tombstone’s City Ordinance Number 9 and was fined $25 plus court costs of $2.50 for carrying a firearm within the Town limits.

After being found guilty and paying his fine Ike walked free from the recorder’s office. Virgil told Ike he would deposit his pistol and rifle at the Grand Hotel and he could pick them up when his visit was over. Wyatt was beside himself with fury that nothing had been achieved. Ike had not been censured for spending the last 24 hours telling anyone who would listen that he was going to kill the Earps and Doc Holliday on sight. All that had happened was that Ike had been given a small fine and censured for a misdemeanor. As far as Wyatt was concerned nothing had been finalised, Ike was once again walking free on the streets of Tombstone and in all probability would be talking about killing Doc and the Earps again. As Wyatt stalked away form the Court House he ran into Tom McLaury.

Tom was setting out to finalise a few accounts with Tombstone butchers for the cattle he had brought in the day before. As far as Tom knew, all the foolishness from Ike the night before had been resolved by the all-night poker game. Tom retrieved his six-shooter from the Grand Hotel. Now all he wanted was to settle a few bills, have a couple of drinks with his brother Frank, Billy Claibourne and maybe Ike Clanton, before setting off for home. The city firearms rules said you could only carry a gun when entering or leaving the town. Technically, Tom was starting the process of leaving Town. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse.

As Tom approached the recorder’s court he ran into Wyatt who was still in a very bad mood. Wyatt started berating Tom in a very loud voice. Tom responded that he had never done anything to Wyatt, but he was ready if Wyatt wanted to fight. “Are you heeled?” asked Wyatt to which Tom did not reply. Wyatt lost all control of himself, he slapped Tom with his left hand then he ‘buffaloed’ Tom twice with the barrel of his pistol. Wyatt lost all control as he punched Tom several times, then walked away saying ‘I could kill the son of a bitch.’ Wyatt’s loss of control would reflect in his actions later in the day.

The Early Afternoon of the Gunfight

Tombstone Courthouse

When Ike left the courthouse he met his friend Billy Claiborne who took Ike to have his head wound bandaged. After the trip to the doctors Ike and Billy walked down to Fourth Street and then went their separate ways. Ike went into Spangenberg’s gun shop with the intention of buying another pistol. However, George Spangenberg, having heard about Ike’s confrontation with Wyatt refused to sell him one. A short time later, again on Fourth Street, Billy Claibourne ran into Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, who were leading their horse, and told them that Ike was nearby. Billy Clanton replied that he only wanted his big brother ‘to go back home.’

As they walked a little further up Fourth Street, Billy and Frank saw Ike in Spangenberg’s gun shop so went inside to talk to him. While Frank and Billy were in the shop they bought some ammunition and started putting the bullets into empty loops on their gun belts. There is some supposition that the McLaurys and Clantons were buying ammunition as part of their trip to Tombstone. Apaches had carried out some depredations in the area around Tombstone in the two previous weeks, so stocking up with shells would have made sense. However, when Wyatt saw Billy and Frank putting bullets in their gun belts he could, and probably did, make the assumption that the ‘Cow-boys’ were looking for a showdown.

Virgil was aware that things seemed to be going from bad to worse and that a confrontation with the ‘Cow-boys’ seemed inevitable. As he walked down Allen Street several of the townspeople were reporting what they had heard the ‘Cow-boys’ saying. One report was particularly ominous as a ‘Cow-boy’ was heard to remark, ‘now is our time to make a fight’. Virgil was still hoping that it might all be resolved without any bloodshed. However, as a precaution, Virgil decided to borrow a shotgun from the Wells Fargo office. There was a very good reason for him to acquire a shotgun; pistols were known to be very inaccurate even at close range but a shotgun gave a wide spread of pellets. Virgil might have thought that seeing a shotgun in a confined area might just be enough to make the ‘Cow-boys’ think twice before bringing on a fight.

Johnny Behan Meets Virgil at Hafford’s Corner

Johnny Behan had been involved in the all night poker game with Virgil and Ike. He awoke about 1.30pm and had no idea about the growing tensions between the Earps and the Clantons and McLaurys. He took himself down to Barron’s Barbers Shop for his usual morning shave. One of the other patrons told him about the growing unrest between the Earps and the Clantons and the McLaurys. Emerging from the barbers shop Johnny met Charlie Shibell the former Pima County Sheriff. Both Johnny and Charlie decided to find Virgil and find out what actions the Earps intended in the light of what was happening. Johnny and Charlie found Virgil accompanied by Doc Holliday, who was wearing a long grey overcoat to keep off the winter chill, standing outside of Haffords on the corner of Fourth and Allen Streets. “What is all this excitement about?” Johnny asked. “Some sons of bitches are in town looking for a fight.” came back the answer from Virgil. Johnny suggested that they went into Haffords Bar, which was inside Brown’s Hotel on the corner of Allen and Fourth Streets, so they could have a drink and talk over what to do next. While Johnny and Virgil were talking, William Murray, one of the leaders of the Citizens Safety Committee, asked Virgil if he could have a quiet word in the corner of the bar. Murray said he could bring twenty-five armed men to help Virgil arrest the ‘Cow-boys’ However, what Murray was implying was that the townspeople expected Virgil, as chief of police, to do something immediately to arrest the ‘Cow-boys’ for carrying firearms within the city limits. This put Virgil in a tight corner so he tried to stall for a bit more time. Virgil told Murray that if the ‘Cow-boys’ stayed in the O.K. Corral there was not a problem with them being armed. They might just be getting ready to leave town or at least staying off the street. Virgil assured Murray that if they did come back onto the Tombstone streets he would disarm them. Although Murray was not too happy with Virgil’s plan he said he would back off but if Virgil needed help all he had to do was ask.

While all this was happening in Haffords bar Frank, Tom, Ike, Billy Clanton and Billy Claibourne were making their way to the West End Corral to collect the buckboard and team in preparation to leave Tombstone. However, they stopped off on their way to let off some steam at the O.K. Corral.

There they all started talking very loudly about what they would do to the Earps and Doc Holliday if they met again that day. This was pure bravado on the part of the ‘Cow-boys’ but they could not be seen, or heard to be afraid of the Earps. They talk about what they would do if they ran into the Earps again on the streets of Tombstone.

OK Corral after the fire of 1882

They said they would kill them all on sight. While all this boasting was going on in the O.K. Corral it was overheard by several local people including a Mr. H.F. Sills a railway man who was on furlough and had turned up in Tombstone just the day before. He did not know anyone in Tombstone but was so appalled by what he heard that he asked another bystander to tell him where he could locate Marshal Earp. Sills finally tracked down Virgil in Haffords bar and told him what he had heard just a few moments before. He also added ‘The one with the bloody bandaged head was making the most violent comments.’ It sounded as if Ike had still not sobered up!

After his conversation with Engineer Sills Virgil again talked with Johnny Behan and it was decided between them that Johnny would try to persuade the ‘Cow-boys’ to surrender their weapons. If he could calm everyone down and avoid a gunfight on the streets of Tombstone it would bring quite a lot of kudos to Johnny Behan. The problem was when Johnny arrived at the O.K. Corral the ‘Cow-boys’ had moved on!

Virgil Decides To Disarm the ‘Cow-boys’

Around 2:15pm Virgil had an offer of help from another member of the Citizens Safety Committee with arresting the Clantons and McLaurys. This time it was John Fonck, a Tombstone shop owner, who offered to bring ten armed men to help detain the ‘Cow-boys’. Patiently, Virgil told him as long as the ‘Cow-boys’ stayed in the O.K. Corral he would leave them alone. Virgil had quite a shock when Fonck replied “Why? They are all on Fremont Street.” The Clantons and McLaurys along with Billy Claibourne had left the O.K. Corral and had ended up on Fremont Street in an empty lot between the Harwood House and Camillus Sidney ‘Buck’ Fly’s Lodging House and Photo Gallery on Fremont Street. The ‘Cow-boys’ were back on the Streets of Tombstone and armed. Virgil now had to make a move to confront the ‘Cow-boys’. All he had to decide was whom he should take with him to make the arrest. He did have two city police officers, A.G. Bronk and Jim Flynn but both were off duty, having done the night shift, so would probably have been asleep at this time. Virgil felt, quite understandably, he could not make the arrests without some sort of back up. The choice was very easy to make as Wyatt and Morgan were in Haffords bar with him and he knew he could trust them both no matter what the outcome. As they started to leave the bar Doc Holliday said he would accompany them as he always liked a fight! Virgil gave Doc the shotgun but told him to keep it under his long coat, as he did not want to alarm any bystanders by carrying a shotgun openly on the streets. Having given Doc the shotgun he asked if he could carry Doc’s silver-headed cane. Besides having the shotgun Doc also had a pistol in a holster under his coat.

The Earps & Docc Meet Johnny Behan

Virgil and his two brothers along with Doc Holliday set out from Haffords corner around 2:45pm with the intention of disarming the ‘Cow-boys’, having heard nothing from Johnny Behan. They started to walk four abreast up Fourth Street north towards Fremont where they turned left and started west up Fremont Street on the sidewalk. As the main street was so muddy they walked up the sidewalk two by two with Virgil and Wyatt taking the lead. All the ‘Cow-boys’ were in, or close to, a narrow 15-20 feet lot on Fremont Street. As Virgil was leading his posse up Fremont Street to disarm the ‘Cow-boys’ he could see Johnny Behan walking down to meet them. Johnny was aware that both Morgan and Wyatt had their guns in their hands so he had told the ‘Cow-boys’ to stay where they were and said he would go and talk to Virgil.

Johnny could be very formal when it suited him and he readily made speeches. As he walked up to the Earps and Doc his opening words were, “Gentlemen, I am sheriff of this county, and I am not going to allow any trouble if I can help it.” However, as the brothers and Doc had made up their minds to confront the ‘Cow-boys’ they were not going to stand around and listen to Johnny Behan make a speech. They just pushed past him, and as they did Johnny called out ‘if you keep going you might be murdered’. Virgil answered, ‘we are going to disarm them.’ Johnny called back, ‘I am in the process of disarming them’. It was far too late for Johnny to make any impact on the Earps and Doc. After the gunfight Wyatt and Virgil testified that they thought Johnny told them that he had already disarmed the ‘Cow-boys’. At that point Virgil pushed his pistol from his right hip to his left hip and transferred Doc’s cane to his right hand and at the same time Wyatt and Morgan put their pistols out of sight. For a few seconds it looked as if a gunfight might just be averted. However as the Earps and Doc came to the edge of the vacant lot they could see that Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury were wearing gun belts with pistols on plain view. Frank was standing almost at the opening of the vacant lot holding the reins of his horse and next to him was his brother Tom also holding his horse’s reins. Both the horses had rifles in scabbards hanging on the saddle that were a further violation of Tombstone’s gun laws. Next to Tom McLaury, on his right side, stood eighteen-year-old Billy Clanton who was known to be handy with a gun. They could also see a little further back in the lot were Billy Claibourne and Ike Clanton. It looked as if four lawmen were facing five ‘Cow-boys’. But just at that point Johnny Behan pushed past the Earps and got hold of Billy Claibourne’s shoulders and steered him into the alley between Fly’s boarding house and the photographic Gallery. As well as looking after Billy Claibourne it also gave Johnny a reason for getting out of sight of the potential gunfight to come. Fighting was not one of Johnny’s strong points!

The Gunfight in Tombstone

Once in the area of the empty lot Virgil walked about five steps inside with Wyatt who was about two-steps back and to Virgil’s right. Morgan stood a little bit further back from Wyatt and to his right on the edge of the sidewalk. Doc was standing almost in the middle of Fremont Street and slightly back from Morgan so he could watch out for any more ‘Cow-boys’ who might have wanted to join the fight. So they were standing at an angle across the lot with their backs towards Fly’s boarding house and facing the Harwood House.

Virgil was still holding Doc’s silver-headed cane in his right hand when Tom McLaury made a move towards his horse with the rifle in its scabbard. Doc pulled out the shotgun from under his long coat, which caused Tom to reconsider what he was doing. For a few seconds nothing was said. Raising both his hands in the air while still holding Doc’s silver headed cane in his right hand, Virgil called out, “Throw up your hands, boys. I intend to disarm you.” Frank McLaury shouted, “We will not” and those three words precipitated the gunfight. When you realise that two of the ‘Cow-boys’ had already been pistol-whipped that day without any retaliation by them, it is not surprising that they felt they had to defend themselves. When you add in the pressure the Earps were under to keep the peace on the streets of Tombstone the gunfight became inevitable. The first sounds in that moment of silence was of double action pistols being cocked before pulling the trigger to fire. In that second Virgil shouted, “Hold! I don’t mean that”. But by his time what Virgil meant did not mean a thing.

Wyatt, who had never been in an actual street gunfight before, drew his pistol and cocked it in one smooth movement and beat Frank to the draw. It is highly probable that Wyatt fired the first shot in the iconic gun battle and that shot hit Frank McLaury in the stomach just to the left of his navel. Billy Clanton fired at Wyatt but missed his mark. Virgil, who now had no option but to fight, transferred Doc’s cane into his left hand and tried to reach for his pistol that was on the left side of his waistband and underneath his overcoat. Virgil now joined the gunfight that he had tried all day to avoid. As he struggled to draw his gun, Frank, who was mortally wounded, fired at Virgil and hit him in the right calf and Virgil dropped to the floor with a very painful wound. Although shot as he was, Frank staggered into Fremont Street but let go of his horse’s reins. Gone was his horse as cover and his rifle.

In that moment, the most bizarre incident in the whole gunfight took place. Ike Clanton, who almost single handedly had brought on this gunfight with his talk about killing the Earps and Doc, ran up to Wyatt and grabbed his right arm. No one knows what, or if, Ike said anything to Wyatt, but he made it clear that he was not carrying a gun. When Ike grabbed Wyatt’s right arm his gun was accidently discharged again. Wyatt was heard to say to Ike, “the fight has commenced. Go to fighting or get away”. Ike got away and did not stop running until he got to Tough Nut Street two blocks away. He was arrested later in the day.

While Wyatt was struggling with Ike Clanton it seems that Billy Clanton could not get a clear shot at Wyatt because Ike was shielding him. While Billy was waiting for a clear shot Morgan aimed at Billy and fired, slamming the young man into the side of the Harwood House. He had taking a bullet in the chest. Almost as he fired Morgan cried out ‘I am hit’ as a bullet passed through his left shoulder and took off part of one vertebra before exiting from his right shoulder. There has been much discussion about where the bullet that wounded Morgan came from, but I think the most probable answer is that it was the one that came from Wyatt’s gun accidentally when Ike grabbed his arm. Morgan tried to get up but fell again tripping over water pipes being installed in the street. While all this was going on Tom McLaury was trying to reach over the back of his horse and was trying to pull his rifle from its scabbard without much luck. However as the horse was excited by the gunfire and jumping around, the Earps could not get a clean shot at Tom. When Wyatt threw off Ike he fired a shot at Tom’s horse and nicked it. When the horse was hit it jerked free from Tom’s hand and ran off leaving him exposed. Doc moved towards Tom and fired the shotgun hitting him under his right armpit with a fatal charge of pellets. Mortally wounded, Tom staggered east down Fremont Street collapsing against a telegraph pole. Tom was out of the fight.

With Tom and Frank being almost out of the gun battle Virgil and Wyatt turned their attention to young Billy Clanton who was lying in front of the Harwood house and still gamely fighting. They both shot at Billy, one shot hitting him in the abdomen and another hitting him in the right wrist. Billy was a very game young man and transferred his revolver to his left hand and continued to shoot, balancing the revolver on his knees and continued shooting until his gun was empty.

Over on Fremont Street Frank was very badly shot up and now was the only cowboy able to fight. Morgan was taking a bead on Frank but Frank’s attention was on Doc who now had his revolver out. Proud Frank McLaury pulled himself up when he saw Doc walking towards him. Frank raised his pistol and said to Doc. “I’ve got you now”, to which Doc was said to have replied, “Blaze away! You’re a daisy if you have!” and Frank shot at Doc. The bullet hit Doc, creasing his hip and Doc screamed. “I’m shot right through.” Both Morgan and Doc appeared to have fired simultaneously. Doc missed but Morgan hit Frank just under his right ear killing him instantly. Frank fell to the floor and Doc walked up to the body and shouted. “The son of a bitch has shot me and I mean to kill him.” But Morgan had already done the job for him.

The gunfight lasted no longer than 30 seconds with about 31 shots being fired in that time. It was so short that none of the participants could be quite certain what had happened. The last act of the gunfight was when Camillus Fly and Bob Hatch walked over to where Billy Clanton was lying badly hurt but still trying to eject the empty cartridges from his pistol.

Billy Clanton

As Camillus pulled the gun from Billy’s hand Billy begged him for more bullets to which Camillus demurred. Billy was picked up by several men and taken down Fremont Street and into a house where they laid him on the floor. Frank was dead, but when Thomas Keefe went over to where Tom was lying he found that he was still breathing. Keefe and Billy Allen carried Frank into the same house where Billy was laid, and Frank’s body was dragged into the same house.

A silence seemed to follow the end of the gunfight for a few seconds as onlookers waited for the dark cloud of smoke made by the pistols using black powder began to fade away. All of a sudden the silence was broken by the scream of a steam whistle from a nearby mine.

This was a prearranged signal for the Citizens Safety Committee to take up their rifles and pistols and come out onto the street to defend Tombstone from attack. This signal was really meant to defend the City from attack by Apaches(11) who were thought to be an ever-present threat. However, when the vigilantes arrived on the scene and saw the carnage most of them were taken aback by the bloody panorama in front of them. However most of them would have applauded the Earps and Doc for defending the Streets of Tombstone. After a short while Virgil and Morgan were taken back to Virgil’s home and put to bed. Doc had made his way back to Fly’s Boarding House where he and Big Nose Kate were staying while in Tombstone. After making sure that he had only a very superficial wound he went back to Virgil’s home to be sure that the two wounded brothers were not left unprotected.

The following day the Earps and Doc began to realise that they were not going to get overwhelming support from the citizens of Tombstone. After restoring the two McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton to some sort of human appearance the undertakers dressed them in their finery and the bodies were put on display in their coffins.

In the funeral parlour window there was a sign that read ‘MURDERED IN THE STREETS OF TOMBSTONE’. This was followed by the biggest funeral that had happened in Tombstone’s short history. The day was summed up well by Mrs. Clara Brown who wrote dispatches for one of the San Diego newspapers and put it this way.

The McLaury Brothers and Billy Clanton in their coffins

Boot Hill

‘You may meet one man who will support the Earps and declare that no other course was possible to save their own lives, and the next man is just as likely to assert that there was no occasion whatsoever for blood-shed, and that this will be ‘a warm place’ for the Earps hereafter.’ As time went on, she was proved to be very prophetic.

The Wells Spicer Hearing

Four days after the gunfight Ike Clanton filed murder charges against Doc Holliday and the Earps. Doc and Wyatt were arrested and brought before Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer but Virgil and Morgan were still recovering at home so did not appear in court.

The hearing was called to ascertain if there was enough evidence for a trial of murder to take place. For the duration of the hearing Virgil was suspended as Town Marshal and both Virgil and Morgan were still convalescing from injuries sustained in the gunfight. Wyatt and Doc had been set bail at $10,000 each, but that amount was easily raised from eight local businessmen. The hearing lasted from October 31st until November 30th in which time thirty witnesses were called. In his summing up Justice Spicer stated, ‘As Virgil was the lawman in charge that day he had acted within his office and so there was not enough evidence to indict him. However, Spicer went on to say that he did not condone Virgil’s actions in his use of Wyatt and Doc as deputies. However, he did say that both of them had been properly deputised.

Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer 1875

Spicer’s ruling was not universally applauded in Tombstone or the surrounding area and, as could be expected, there were two factions after an incident like this. The Earps had many people congratulate them in keeping the town ‘Cow-boy’ free but lots of other citizens wanted the ‘Cow-boys’ to go on spending money in Tombstone. It seemed half the townsfolk backed the Earps in what they had done to keep the Tombstone streets safe. In spite of this support the Earps knew they would be marked men from now on. Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan moved their families into the Cosmopolitan Hotel on Allen Street for safety while the ‘Cow-boys’ set up their base in the Grand Hotel directly across the street. Only Doc Holliday carried on as usual and was not intimidated one bit by the ‘Cow-boys’. In fact good old Doc appeared to thrive on tension.

The Ambushing of Virgil

The Earp brothers had to go on making some sort of living, which meant overseeing their gambling concessions and doing a little playing themselves. On the evening of December 28th 1881, just two months after the gunfight, Virgil and Wyatt walked over to the Oriental Hotel to oversee their gambling concession and for Virgil to play a hand or two. Just before midnight Virgil told Wyatt he would make his way back home to the Cosmopolitan hotel. Wyatt remained at the Oriental to keep a watchful eye on their gambling concession. As Virgil reached the northwest corner of Allen and Fifth Streets several shotgun blasts were fired from a building site on the southeast corner. The shots hit Virgil in the back, thigh and left arm. He tried to struggle back to the Oriental Hotel to get help. When Wyatt heard the gunshots he ran out into the street followed by several other men and with their help Virgil was carried to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. When the town doctor was sent for he arrived very quickly and told Virgil he would have to amputate his arm. When Allie, Virgil’s wife arrived Virgil tried to comfort her by saying. “Never mind, I’ve got one good arm left to hug you with”. After some more discussion Virgil said he did not want the arm amputated so in the end the doctor removed about five inches of shattered bone from his left arm. The ‘Cow-boys’ had not killed Virgil in their cowardly attack but they left him crippled for the rest of his life. After the attack on Virgil he could no longer carry out the duties of Town Marshal. Wyatt telegraphed Crawley Dake who held the position of U.S. Marshal for Arizona Territory and was based in Tucson and he requested authority to form a posse. Crawley sent permission by return so Wyatt was now the de facto Town Marshal.

On February 2nd 1882 Ike was brought before Judge Stilwell in Charlestown, which was about ten miles northwest of Tombstone. Sherman McMasters, who had been a Texas Ranger at one time in his career, testified that he had heard Ike talking about the attack on Virgil in Tombstone on the night of the attempted assassination. It was also pointed out that Ike’s hat had been found in the building where the shots came from. As ever, there were several ‘Cow-boy’ witnesses to repudiate all the charges against Ike. Later, after Ike had been set free for lack of evidence Judge Stillwell told Wyatt. “You’ll never clean up this crowd this way; next time you’d better leave your prisoners in the brush where alibis don’t count”.

The Assassination of Morgan

On Saturday, March 18th March 1882 just two and a half months after Virgil had been shot, it was now Morgan’s turn to become the target for the ‘Cow-boys’. There was a show in Tombstone at The Scheifflin Hall called ‘Stolen Kisses’ and Morgan was determined to see it.

Scheifflin Hall

Wyatt was not convinced that it was the right thing to do, as it would mean walking back after dark to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Morgan always was ‘the good time boy’ so insisted on seeing the show. Wyatt walked back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel to turn in for the night. However, after a short while he changed his mind and walked back to The Scheifflin Hall where he spotted Morgan coming out and again tried to convince him to come back to the Cosmopolitan.

Morgan insisted that he wanted just one game of pool before retiring. As Wyatt had picked up with Dan Tipton and Sherman McMasters he felt it would safe enough for just one game so the four of them went to Hatch’s Saloon and Billiard Parlor. Around 10.45pm Morgan was getting down to line up a shot on the billiard table with his back to the glass door. With the light on in the room anyone in the Alley had an unmissable target. Just as Morgan was leaning across the table a rifle shot crashed through the glass door into the billiard room knocking Morgan against the table. The bullet passed right through Morgan’s body and hit the leg of George Berry who was watching the game. Immediately another shot was fired from the alley and that hit the wall just above Wyatt’s head while Morgan slid off the table onto the floor. The shot that hit Morgan shattered his spine then passed through his right kidney and he died in great pain about an hour later.

The next day, Sunday March 19th, which was Wyatt’s 34th birthday, he and James along with some friends took Morgan’s body to the railway station in Contention City(12). James and a few friends went all the way to Colton, California to deliver Morgan’s body to his wife Louisa.

While Wyatt was on his way to Contention with Morgan’s body there was an inquest into the killing of Morgan in which Marietta Duarte, Pete Spence’s common law wife, gave evidence to the inquest Coroner which implicated Pete Spence Fredrick Bode, Hank Swilling and Florentino Cruz also known as ‘Indian Charley’ in the shooting of Morgan. Despite Marietta’s evidence no further action was taken. When Wyatt heard that no charges were to be made he decided, for right or wrong, to take things into his own hands.

Morgan and Louisa Earp

The Killing of Pete Spence in Tucson

Wyatt decided it was time for Virgil and Allie to get out of Tombstone and return to California where they would be safe. After seeing Virgil and Allie off he could put all his efforts into tracking down the killers of Morgan. On Monday March 20th Wyatt with some friends were escorting Virgil and his wife Allie, who were riding in a wagon as Virgil was still too injured to ride a horse, into Contention City where they stabled their horses and hired an extra wagon to make the trip to Benson. From Benson the Earp party took the next train to Tucson. Wyatt had been informed that Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell and three or four ‘Cow-boys’ had been seen in Tucson and were watching the passenger trains arrive and depart. Wyatt felt he would need extra help to be sure that Virgil, who was still incapacitated, and Allie would get the train to California. Wyatt enlisted his brother Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster and ‘Turkey Creek’ Jack Johnson to come with him to Tucson.

When the Earp party arrived in Tucson Deputy U.S. Marshal J. W. Evans met them at the station. He informed them that Frank Stilwell, Ike Clanton and several ‘Cow-boys’ had been seen hanging around the railway station. However, when the ‘Cow-boys’ saw how well Virgil and Allie were guarded they beat a hasty retreat from the station. When Stilwell and the gang departed the first thing that Doc did was deposit two shotguns at the railroad station office. Then all seven of the Earp party went to the nearby Porters Hotel for dinner before the train was due to depart for California. On the way back to the station Doc went and retrieved the two shotguns from the station office and gave one to Wyatt and the other to Warren. While the two brothers were escorting Virgil and Allie onto the train one of the other passengers remarked to Virgil that he had seen two men lying on the flatcar next to the engine.

This statue of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday marks the spot at the Tucson train depot where Earp killed Frank Stilwell

It seems that Wyatt had seen them as well so made his way to the flatcar accompanied by some of the bodyguards. As the train started to slowly pull out of the station at 7:15 p.m. six or seven gunshots rang out. No one is quite sure about what happened that evening but the next day Frank Stilwell’s body was found by the railroad tracks. Stilwell had been shot six times(13): Wyatt’s Vendetta had started.

Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride

Upon arriving back in Tombstone on the morning of Tuesday, 21st March, the men went back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. They found that they were now wanted men. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer had issued an arrest warrant for the five men for the killing of Frank Stilwell. Tucson was under the jurisdiction of Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul, who was a friend of Wyatt, but Paul and District Attorney Alex Campbell sent a telegram to Sheriff Behan asking him to arrest Wyatt’s party on charges of murder.

As it turned out, the telegraph office manager happened to be a supporter of Wyatt’s so agreed to delay getting the message to Sheriff Behan. However, as it turned out Behan had got the telegram early in the evening. Behan, the new Tombstone City Marshal, Dave Neagle and some deputies were ready to try and arrest Wyatt’s party before they left.

County Sheriff Bob Paul circa 1890

As Wyatt and his friends came down into the lobby of The Cosmopolitan Hotel Johnny Behan said, “Wyatt I want to see you”. Wyatt just walked on and replied, “Johnny, if you are not careful you will see me once too often.” And with that Wyatt and his friends left Tombstone to start what would become known as ‘The Vendetta Ride’.

After the confrontation with Johnny Behan in Tombstone Wyatt rode out of town with ten men. ‘Texas Jack’ Vermillion, Daniel ‘Tip’ Tipton, Charlie Smith, Fred Dodge, Johnny Green and Louis Cooley now joined Warren, Doc Holliday, Johnson, and McMasters. These men now formed a Federal posse under the authority of Wyatt Earp as Deputy US Marshal for Cochise County. The following morning Sheriff Behan rounded up his own posse of twenty-four men, mostly deputised ‘Cow-boys’ under his authority as Sheriff of Cochise County. Now the hunt for Wyatt’s posse by Behan’s posse took on the nature of a farce. Behan’s posse never came near Wyatt’s posse but spent most of its time racking up a bill for just being there. The total bill the Cochise County taxpayers had to pay in the end was $2,070.70 (14) for the non-pursuit of Wyatt’s posse.

On the morning of Wednesday, 22nd March Wyatt accompanied by four other posse members rode from their camp about 10 miles east and arrived at Pete Spencer’s ranch and woodcutting camp. They arrived around 11.00 a.m. and asked for Pete only to be told that he was in prison so they asked if Florentino Cruz, also known as ‘Indian’ was around and were told he was cutting wood nearby. It seems that when Florentino saw Wyatt and his men approaching he tried to run for it. As he tried to run one of the posse shot him and he fell to the ground mortally wounded. When questioned by Wyatt, Cruz identified the killers of Morgan as Hank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, ‘Curly’ Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo. After admitting that he was in the party that killed Morgan the legend goes that Wyatt, after the confession, allowed Florentino to draw his gun in a fair fight. Wyatt stated that he killed Cruz with one shot. However when his body was discovered in the woodcutting camp the next day it was found that Cruz had been shot several times. Florentino Cruz, who was also known as Indian, had become the first casualty of Wyatt’s Vendetta ride.

The day after killing Cruz Wyatt needed money to offset the posse’s expenses. He sent Dan Tipton and Charlie Smith to ride to Tombstone and meet with E. B. Gage to ask him to let Wyatt have a lone of $1,000 to cover his posses expenses. On arriving in Tombstone Tipton and Smith were taken into custody by Johnny Behan for resisting arrest on the Tuesday night when Wyatt’s party rode out of town. The charges were never pursued and both men were released immediately. The problem was that Tipton and Smith did not start back to find Wyatt until a day later than planned, so early in the morning of Thursday, 23rd March, Wyatt sent Warren towards Tombstone with the hope that he might intercept Tipton and Smith with the money from Mr. Gage to pay the posse’s expenses.

Wyatt’s posse now only consisted of Doc, Sherman McMasters, ‘Texas Jack’ Vermillion and ‘Turkey Creek’ Jack Johnson. Later on in the morning of Friday 24th March by a water hole called ‘Iron Spring’ in the Whetstone Mountains, about twenty miles west of Tombstone, came the last act in the Vendetta Ride. With Wyatt and Doc in the lead the posse surmounted a small rise, which overlooked what was then called ‘Iron Springs’, and saw nine ‘Cow-boys’ in the act of cooking breakfast. When ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius saw it was Wyatt’s posse he grab his shotgun and fired at Wyatt but missed. Quite by chance there were about nine ‘Cow-boys’ at ‘Iron Springs’ who all opened fire when they saw it was the Earp posse. Wyatt jumped off his horse and started to fire back at the ‘Cow-boys’ but when he turned to see what his posse was doing he found, to his consternation, that they were running back across the trail to find cover. In the first volley from the ‘Cow-boys’ ‘Texas Jacks’ horse was killed. At this point in the gun-battle Wyatt saw it was ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius who fired his shotgun. Wyatt returned fire with his shotgun and killed ‘Curly Bill’ who was one of the more notorious ‘Cow-boys’. The blast from the shotgun left ‘Curly Bill’ with a very large hole in chest and he fell dead into the water on the edge of the spring. Wyatt then drew his pistol and shot (15)Johnny Barnes in the chest and Milt Hicks in the arm. After killing ‘Curly Bill’ and wounding Barnes and Hicks Wyatt tried to remount his horse but found that his gun belt had slipped down around his thighs. He had loosened his gun belt earlier to make riding more comfortable but now he found that he could not lift the gun belt to his waist very easily, which made it difficult to mount his horse. Finally he managed to remount and return to his other posse members where it was noticed that his long riding coat had been shot through several times, one of his boots had the heel shot off and his saddle pommel had also been hit. Wyatt certainly used up all his good luck on that day! The remaining ‘Cow-Boys’ seemed to want to continue the fight but Wyatt realised they had been very lucky up to this point so decided to take his men away to safety. As far as Wyatt was concerned he had revenged his brother Morgan and in the space of five days he had killed four men; but now he was on the wrong side of the law. Wyatt and the rest of his posse were now the hunted.

Johnny Behan swore in yet another posse that mostly consisted of ‘Cow-boys’ but with very little intent of catching the Earp party. It seemed that almost everyone knew where Wyatt’s party was but Behan never confronted them. The only problem Wyatt had was money, or lack of it, so when Dan Tipton finally arrive with $1,000 dollars provided by Mr. Gage and another $1,000 sent by Wells Fargo, Wyatt’s Vendetta Ride came to an end. It was now time to get out of Arizona and go to New Mexico and further pastures green.

So ended the pursuit of Wyatt Earp and his posse. Some time around April 10th Wyatt and his friends turned up at Camp Grant very near the New Mexico State Line. Colonel James Biddle informed Wyatt that warrants had been issued for their arrest then, invited them in for a meal! When Wyatt and the other posse members had finished their meal they found fresh horses ready and saddled for them to cross over the State line into New Mexico where they would be safe from arrest. You might consider whose side Captain Biddle was on. I expect it was on the same side as most of the ‘nice people’ of Tombstone! Wyatt spent the remainder of his life trying to shrug off the history of the gunfight. When he finally died at the age of eighty in Los Angeles he was still the man who fought in ’The last gunfight’.


Wyatt Earp only took part in one street gunfight and it was in Tombstone. Wyatt died on January 13th 1929 at the age of 80, still the man who fought in Tombstone. His wife Josephine Sarah ‘Sadie’ Earp died on December 19th 1944 at the age of 83.

Warren Earp died July 6th 1900 aged 45. On July 9th, 1900 the Tombstone Epitaph reported: ‘Warren Earp, the youngest of the Earp brothers, whose name twenty years ago was synonymous with the gunfight on the Arizona frontier died with his boots on. He was shot through the heart in a saloon by cowboy Johnny Boyett and died almost instantly.’

In 1904 Virgil arrived in the boomtown of Goldfield, Nevada to be reunited with his brother Wyatt. Virgil took the post of deputy sheriff for Esmeralda County in 1904. Virgil lasted for a year as the Deputy but contracted pneumonia and fought it for six months but in the end Virgil died on October 19th 1905

Morgan died March 18th 1882 aged 30 killed in Tombstone.

Doc Holliday died of consumption on November 10th 1887 in Glenwood springs, Colorado. He was aged 36.

In late 1882 the Clanton brothers moved 190 miles north of Tombstone to Springerville, Apache County, Arizona. Ike became the leader of a large gang of outlaws and was wanted for many crimes including cattle rustling and robbery. Deputy Sheriff ‘Rawhide’ Jake Miller, who was one of  Commodore Perry Owens’ (17) deputies, killed Ike with one shot from his rifle while Ike was resisting arrest. Ike Clanton was 39 when he died on June 1st, 1887.


1: Arizona at this time was a Territory and did not become a State until February 1912. However the writ of Federal Law ran in the Territory at the time of this story.

2: Signal City is now a ghost town having been abandoned in 1930. Its site is 16 miles off route 49 and 60 miles south of Kingman on the west side of Arizona.

3: Here might be a good time to dispel some myths about the Earp brothers in general, and Wyatt Earp in particular. When, in 1879 Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would have heard of him. However, if they had, it would have been as a minor law officer only in the Kansas cow towns of Wichita and Dodge City. In fact, Wyatt Earp, despite trying all his life was never very well known until after his death and the release of two movies ‘Oh my Darling Clementine’ and ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’. Wyatt died on January 13th 1929. Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, as he was christened, was a lawman; never a US Marshal but was on occasions a Deputy Marshal. Most of his latter day reputation is based on a highly imaginary and largely fictional book written by Stuart N. Lake entitled ‘Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal’. I’m not trying to denigrate, or belittle the part that Wyatt Earp played in cleaning up the last Frontier Town. I am only trying to point out the truth.

4: Wells Fargo would sometimes pay stage lines to carry their strongboxes rather than run a line themselves. The stage line would be paid very well to transport strongboxes for Wells Fargo. But the understanding was that there would be guards, or shotgun messengers as they were called, to guard their shipments if attacked.

5: A ‘Saddler’ was a man who had no fixed abode and never put down roots. It was usually used to describe travelling outlaw.

6: Big Nose Kate was a real person who got the name ‘Big Nose’ not because she had a big nose but more for always ‘sticking her nose into things she shouldn’t’. Besides being called Katie Elder, she was also known as Kate Fisher, Nosey Kate, Mrs. John H. ‘Doc’ Holliday, Kate Melvin, and Kate Cummings. She was born Mary Katharine Haroney in Hungary on November 7, 1850. She died in November 1940 just five days short of her 90th birthday, and was buried under the name Mary K. Cummings in Prescott Arizona.

7: The Earps, like many of the Old West sheriffs and marshals, could be described as ‘part-time’ lawmen and fulltime gamblers. Other lawmen were also involved in many legitimate businesses such as shop owners, saloon owners, farmers and ranchers. Also many lawmen were involved in running whorehouses. However, in most cases people in the West saw gamblers and pimps as ‘legitimate businessmen’. The other thing to take into account is that the average lawman was not very well paid so another line of business would help make ends meet.

8: Tombstone, along with most frontier boomtowns, had its own nightlife clientele. The ‘action’ only started after dark and the main entertainments were gambling, drinking, eating and occasionally visiting the ladies of the night. Most of the participants, especially the professional gamblers, retired to bed early morning and arose well past midday. Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt, when not being lawmen, fell into that category and used the night economy.

9: The term ‘heeled’ in the old west meant carrying a firearm be it a pistol or rifle.

10: Buffaloing was a way of arresting someone without having to kill them. It could happen in two ways: You could hit them with the butt of your pistol, as Virgil did on this occasion. The other way was to keep hold of your gun butt and strike the offender with the barrel across the side of the head. Buffaloing in those days was used a lot by western police officers. Either way, the offender was usually knocked-out as pistols were quite heavy. Usually, the offender was incapacitated which was still much better than being dead!

11: Although many people in Tombstone expected an attack by the fearsome Apaches it was never going to happen. Tombstone was far too big for the Indians to even consider an attack. By this time in Arizona all the Apaches could contemplate were very small attacks on the ever-growing numbers of white people. The Apaches were one the last tribes to surrender to the American Government. Geronimo was the last to surrender, which he did on September 4th 1886 with only 30 warriors in his band.

12: Contention was only a few miles from Tombstone and only about one mile or so from Charleston. Two prospectors, Ed Williams and Jack Friday found the silver lode but the problem was that Ed Schieffelin, the founder of Tombstone had found it first! In the end the three of them, after some argument, agreed to share the find. They founded Contention in 1880 and with the same irony that Ed Sichieffelin had named his first claim Tombstone so Contention was named after the disputed ownership of the mine. The town was abandoned 1888 when the ore ran out.

13: When the coroner, Dr. Dexter Lyford carried out an autopsy on Stillwell’s body he found a single shot had passed through his body under his armpits; a wound from a rifle in the upper left arm; shot through the liver, abdomen and stomach inflicted by a shotgun; another shotgun wound had fractured his left leg; also he had a wound made by a rifle bullet in his right leg. Either the shot through the upper body or the abdomen were the cause of death. The coroner concluded that Stillwell had been shot with five different weapons.

14: Into today’s money the bill for the pursuit of Wyatt’s posse would cost $47,059 so Johnny Behan knew which side his bread was buttered!

15: E.B. Gage was a prominent entrepreneur and was very much involved in trying to make Tombstone a better place. He supported the Earps in trying to clean up the town and getting rid of the ‘cow-boys’. He was quite happy to give money to Wyatt in his efforts to get rid of the bad men. Gage gave Wyatt $1,000 and Wyatt also received almost as much from Wells Fargo for services rendered in helping to clear out the ‘Cow-boys’. As Wells Fargo never took sides or offered money for someone who would track down the ‘Bad Guys’, very little was said about their support for Wyatt.

16: Johnny Barnes died a few days after the gunfight at ‘Iron Springs’ during the ‘Vendetta’ ride.

17: Please see my article on Commodore Perry Owens.

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