It All Happened in Tombstone by John P. ClumIf there is one enduring legend of the American west it is that of the gunfighter. The image of two steely-eyed men facing each other in a dusty western street, their hands hovering above holstered Colt .45 pistols has been a mainstay of Hollywood ever since movies have been made. Did it happen in real life? Yes, but probably not as much as we've been led to believe and probably not quite as portrayed in the movies. However one place it did happen was in Tombstone, Arizona territory on a crisp October afternoon in 1881 when the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday fought it out with members of the Clanton and McLaury clan at the OK Corral.
First, some background is in order. The Earp family consisted of brothers Virgil, Wyatt, James, Morgan, and Warren. They had all worked in various towns as lawmen, saloon owners, and gamblers and tended to travel around together. Wyatt, Virgil, and James arrived in Tombstone in 1880 with Morgan and Warren arriving shortly thereafter. Virgil had been given the job of Deputy U.S. Marshal for the region around Tombstone only days before arriving and was appointed Tombstone Chief of Police in June of 1881. Wyatt and his other brothers tried to make a living as gamblers and also invested in mining claims and water rights. When the Earp's efforts to invest in local businesses didn't pan out Wyatt took a job as a shotgun messenger with Wells Fargo and was later appointed Pima County Deputy Sheriff on July 28, 1880.
The Clantons and McLaurys were part of a loose-knit group of smugglers and horse-thieves known as "Cowboys." At that time the term "cowboy" denoted an outlaw while legitimate cowmen were called ranchers. The Cowboys viewed the Earps as badge-toting tyrants who ruthlessly enforced the business interests of the town. Ike Clanton, in particular, had regularly threatened to kill various of the Earp brothers.
It was probably inevitable that there would be a confrontation between the two groups but why did it occur where and when it did? That is what the book, which are the recollections of the author, covers.
The author of the book, John P. Clum, was the editor of the Tombstone Epitaph and was an eyewitness to the gunfight. Clum was also Tombstone's first mayor and was well aware of the concerns of its citizens over the "lawless cowboy element," Wells-Fargo hold-ups and all-night poker games which contributed to the tension between the law-abiding elements of the town and the outlaws. These tensions, and other incidents, eventually culminated in the showdown at the OK Corral with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday representing the forces of law-and-order and Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Claiborne representing the outlaw element.
The book chronicles the immediate events leading up to the gunfight and its aftermath which included the arrest and trial of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday for murder, the ambush and wounding of Virgil Earp in December of 1881 and the murder of Morgan Earp in 1882. The gunfight is said to have only lasted about 30 seconds but in that short time it resulted in the deaths of Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury and the wounding of Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp.
These recollections were written some thirty years after that fateful October day and they were first published in the Arizona Historical Quarterly of 1929. Clum was a friend of Wyatt Earp and his account was written as a tribute to his friend after Wyatt's death in January of 1929 at his home in Los Angeles. And even though this account was written almost 30 years after the fact, and even though it was written as a tribute to his friend and shows its bias, it has the immediacy of an account from someone who was there. Clum was a trained newspaperman, and more importantly he stood in that dusty street in Tombstone on that October afternoon and heard the gunfire which makes his account well worth reading.