The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The city of Tombstone in 1881

At about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Old West took place. The gunfight, believed to have lasted only about thirty seconds, was fought between the outlaw Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, and the opposing town Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Assistant Town Marshal Morgan and temporary lawman Wyatt, aided by Doc Holliday designated as a temporary marshal by Virgil.

Tombstone is located not far from the Mexican border, it was a very young town that consisted mostly of tents and just a few houses. Still, it was growing rapidly and Virgil Earp was hired as Deputy U.S. Marshal, who was not really liked by the citizens. The origins of the conflicts are not very clear until this day, since newspapers were not very objective. Clear is however, that the Earps invested in a few mining claims and water rights, which was not really favored by everyone else. Therefore, the Cowboys, who counted more as Democrats came into conflict with the Earps, Republicans. Both side’s families were very tied and proud, wherefore the conflicts got worse with every incident. In the media, it is often demonstrated how much the people were afraid of the cowboys in general, but not in Tombstone. The citizens liked the family, even though they were known as heavy drinkers.

However, the cowboys indeed kept threatening the Earps and on October 26, 1881, the thread became reality. It is unclear on this day, what the real setting looked like. It is assumed that Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne stood in the middle of the street and wore their revolvers on their belts, which was forbidden in the city. As Virgil Earp did not plan on a fight, he pointed his weapon at the men and shouted: “Throw up your hands, I want your guns!”. But the men drew their weapons and the shooting began. It is also unclear, who shot first and the hearing afterwards could not solve this puzzle either. Three men died during the battle and several others were wounded.

The men’s funerals were well attended, even though the overall public reaction was mostly favorable to the Earps. Later on, rumors started circulating that some of the cowboys were unarmed, wherefore some people switched to the cowboy side.

The event became one of the most important in American history. It displays the back then common image of the cowboys and was kept in mind as a symbolic act between cowboys and lawmen. Modern media had re-enacted the gunfight numerous times in movies, historical shows and scientific sows attempting to clear off the puzzle.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Ann Kirschner. She talks about Josephine Marcus Earp, who was the common-law wife of Wyatt Earp and explores the life of this frontier femme, a flamboyant Jewish girl with a persistent New York accent whose life is a spirited and colorful tale of ambition, adventure, self-invention, and romance.

References and Further Reading:

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