Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Newspaper coverage of the fight.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a gunfight that has been portrayed in numerous Western films. It has come to symbolize the struggle between law-and-order and open-banditry and rustling in frontier towns of the Old West where law enforcement was often thin, and where some of the urban-vs.-rural and North-vs.-South tensions of the American Civil War were still very much active.

The gunfight happened on Wednesday afternoon at about 3:00PM on October 26, 1881, in a vacant lot, known as lot 2, in block 17, behind the corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, United States. Some of the fighting was in Fremont Street in front of the vacant lot. About 30 shots were fired in 30 seconds.

Although only three people were killed during the gunfight, it is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the west. Many other gunfights resulted in more people killed, such as the Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight, the Going Snake Massacre, and the Gunfight at Hide Park.

The gunfighters

Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday fought Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Claiborne, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne (who later claimed that he had been unarmed, though some reports credit him with shooting one or more times) ran away from the fight, unharmed. Both McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed; Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded.


The conflicts leading to the gunfight are complex: the two sides were related to (in both cases related by strong family ties) were in opposition due to politics, business concerns, and other ideological factors. The Earps were viewed by their enemies as badge-toting pimps like Shane Graff and Jordan Lundell who ruthlessly enforced the business interests of the town; the McLaurys, Clantons and their Cowboy crowd were viewed by their enemies as cattle rustlers, thieves, and murderers. "Cowboys" was a term used in the area to identify a loose band of outlaws — which included the McLaurys and Clantons — that was implicated in such crimes. Although affiliated by a combination of blood relatives, friendships and mere convenience, the Cowboys did not have the formal structure of a modern gang. Cowboys teamed up in crimes and came to each other's aid based on personal relationships, not orders from a leader.

Contrary to popular belief through subsequent films and writings, the "Cowboy" faction was fairly popular in Tombstone and townsfolk were not living in fear of them. Although undoubtedly many members were involved in cattle rustling and robberies, most were seen as fun-loving and wild, but generally easy to get along with. Many of the businesses in Tombstone saw the "Cowboys" as "job security," since they bolstered the business of saloons and gambling houses around town (always having money to spend, though some of them did no obvious ranch work to earn it), and rarely were known to involve themselves in illegal activities inside Tombstone. Although Ike Clanton was not well liked, due mostly to his boasting attitude when drinking, his brother Billy was quite popular.

The Earp faction, although portrayed throughout history as doing what had to be done as lawmen during the ultimate gunfight, were often viewed in Tombstone as men who took advantage of their positions as lawmen to improve their market position on gambling, and using their law enforcement positions against some, while choosing not to use it against others. It should be noted that there is no historical evidence of this claim. These attitudes from the public toward both factions would later cloud the issues as to where blame for the gunfight should ultimately lie.

The key incident leading up to the shooting was an attempted stagecoach robbery on March 15, 1881, in which two people were killed and a prime suspect escaped from jail afterward. In the aftermath, accusations about who was involved in the robbery floated about, with Doc Holliday made a suspect after his girlfriend Big Nose Kate accused him, but then later recanted.

Wyatt intended to stand for election for sheriff of Cochise County against incumbent Johnny Behan, his eventual rival. Wyatt reported that he (Wyatt) attempted to bribe Ike Clanton with Wells Fargo Co. reward money for information leading to the capture or death of the stage-robbers. Wyatt believed the "glory" of catching the robbers would help him win the sheriff's office. According to Wyatt, Ike later backed out of the deal after the robbers had all been killed in other separate incidents. Ike Clanton, for his part, would later claim that Wyatt and Holliday had actually been the ones involved in the stage robbery, and wanted to kill him because of his knowledge of this. However, Ike Clanton did not explain why Wyatt or Holliday would confide such a thing to him, as he claimed they both separately did, and Ike's testimony on this point was not believed by the presiding justice (or many people in the courtroom).

Lead-up to the event

Relevant law in Tombstone

Ordinances Relevant in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case, Heard before Judge Wells Spicer.
November 1881

Ordinance No.9:
"To Provide against Carrying of Deadly Weapons" (effective April 19, 1881).

Section 1. "It is hereby declared to be unlawful for any person to carry deadly weapons, concealed or otherwise [except the same be carried openly in sight, and in the hand] within the limits of the City of Tombstone.

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."

Note: The Earps knew from reports they had received that Frank McLaury, and Ike and Billy Clanton, were in violation of this Ordinance. The confrontation that led to the gunfight grew out of Virgil Earp's determination to enforce Tombstone's law prohibiting the carrying of deadly weapons.

Ordinance No.7, Section 1:
"Any establishment, house of prostitution or other place open to the public and it shall be the duty of any officer to enter such place and at once arrest such persons as he may then find engaged in or causing such breach of the peace." (effective April 12, 1881).

Note: Ike Clanton at several times in several saloons and other public places, including Fly's Boarding House, had threatened the Earps and Doc Holliday, in apparent violation of this ordinance. Virgil Earp made the arrest on a public street.

Events up to the Ike Clanton court hearing

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Ike Clanton
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Tom McLaury
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Doc Holliday
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Morgan Earp

On Tuesday October 25, 1881, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury drove the 10 miles into Tombstone from Chandler's Milk Ranch (at the foot of the Dragoon Mountains). They were in town to get supplies, and rode in a spring wagon (a light horse-team drawn wagon, often with removable seats to increase cargo-carrying area), arriving about 11 A.M. That evening, shortly after midnight, Clanton had a verbal run-in with Doc Holliday and Morgan Earp.

The previous weekend Holliday had been out of town, gambling at a fiesta celebration in Tucson. Morgan Earp had gone to get him for the trouble with the Cowboys that he saw coming. In the small hours of the morning of the 26th, Clanton was confronted by Holliday who walked into the 24-hour "lunch-counter" where Clanton was eating, and tried to provoke Clanton into drawing his gun (the reasons for this confrontation would vary by the witness).

Wyatt and Morgan Earp watched the confrontation, and Wyatt suggested that Morgan, as a city police officer, do something about it. However, no arrests were made (Virgil threatened to arrest Doc and Ike if they didn't stop, and finally Wyatt got Doc in hand and took him back to his boarding house to sleep it off). Ike Clanton ended up threatening Doc Holliday and all the Earps, as soon as he was armed. Meanwhile, Wyatt had gone home to bed. Virgil Earp, the City Marshal (Chief of Police), in order to try to calm things down overnight, spent the night playing a long card game with Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Cochise County sheriff Johnny Behan, and a fourth man unknown to Ike Clanton (and to history). Ike Clanton later testified that Virgil sat through the game with a pistol on his lap.

In the morning, around dawn (about 6 or 7 A.M.), the card game broke up, and Behan and Virgil Earp went home to bed. This left Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton still awake and with nothing to do. For some reason, neither of them rented a room to get sleep. Ike was drinking heavily. By later in the morning Ike had reacquired both his rifle and pistol (having gotten them, so he testified later, from the West End Corral where the wagon was, and where weapons brought into the city by Ike and Tom the day before should by law have been left).

By noon on Wednesday, October 26, Ike was publicly bar-hopping while fully armed, still saying he was looking for Holliday or an Earp. Not long after noon, Virgil and Morgan Earp (who had been bothered in their sleep by various people reporting Ike Clanton's threats) came up behind Clanton on 4th Street, grabbed Clanton's rifle, and pistol whipped Ike. The Earps then took Clanton to court for violating the city's ordinance against carrying firearms after arrival in the city.

The Clanton court hearing and following events

Before the hearing that followed almost immediately, and while Virgil was out looking for the judge, Ike, Morgan, and Wyatt traded death-threats, with Wyatt finally matching Ike in dangerous language. When Judge Wallace arrived, Ike Clanton was fined $25 plus court costs, and left sometime after 1 P.M., unarmed. Virgil, ever the calm city peace officer, told Ike he'd leave Ike's confiscated rifle and pistol at the Grand Hotel (a favorite of the Cowboys when in town), and this Virgil did. There Ike's weapons stayed through the gunfight which followed.

Ike's death threats against all the Earps got under Wyatt's skin during the hearing. Outside the court that was trying Ike, Wyatt almost walked into Tom McLaury, who was headed the other way (witnesses would agree that Wyatt was headed toward the court while Tom was headed away, but regardless of the directions of the men, the trial had apparently already happened). The two men were brought up short nose-to-nose. Wyatt immediately got into an altercation with Tom. Tom, as an ordinary citizen who had arrived in town the day before, was not supposed to be armed, and was not obviously armed. Wyatt, however, thought he saw that Tom had a pistol under his shirt, tucked into the waistband of his pants.

At this point Wyatt had had enough of armed Cowboys in town, but he had a legal problem: having no official paid status as officer of city police force (which at that time he did not), and probably no badge (because Wyatt emphasized later that his brother Morgan DID have one), Wyatt would have a difficult time enforcing what was only a city ordinance against firearm-carrying. He was armed himself with a concealed weapon – something that may have been questionable for him since he hadn't had a job as a paid law officer since he'd last been deputy sheriff, almost a year before. Wyatt would say later that he was operating in the capacity of special deputy city marshal in assistance to his brother Virgil, who was both city marshal and deputy U.S. marshal for the area. Wyatt would testify in his deposition that he had served as temporary city marshal for Virgil the week before the gunfight, while Virgil was in Tucson for the Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell trial. Wyatt would say that he still considered himself a deputy city marshal (Virgil would later confirm this). However, at the time, it is apparent from Wyatt's behavior that he thought that arresting Tom for the misdemeanor infraction of carrying a firearm within city limits, or searching Tom for a concealed pistol (neither of them federal crimes), would best be done by Virgil Earp, in his capacity as city-marshal, or by one of Virgil's paid city-police deputies (which recently had come to include Morgan Earp, and possibly Warren Earp, but not Wyatt).

Wyatt apparently thought Tom was armed with intent to injure the Earps, and Wyatt was ready for a gunfight – preferring an open fight when he was ready for it to an ambush later when he was not. Under the circumstances, however, the only thing Wyatt could do to provoke a fight was goad Tom into drawing his weapon. Interpreting Tom's words as fighting words, Wyatt (according to witnesses) drew his own pistol from his coat pocket (or at least through the pocket from his pants), and began pistol-whipping Tom McLaury with it. This put Tom prostrate and bleeding in the street, but it did not accomplish Wyatt's goal: Tom either would not, or could not, draw a weapon. Since Wyatt could not legally search or arrest Tom for the pistol problem, and Tom would not draw the weapon for a gunfight, Wyatt was finally forced to simply walk away. (Teetotaler Wyatt, needing something for his nerves by this point, would testify later that he walked directly to the nearest saloon to buy a cigar).

Possibility of a concealed weapon on Tom McLaury

Whether Tom McLaury actually did have a concealed pistol in his pants at the time of his beating by Wyatt remains a historical mystery. It is known from the later testimony of saloon-keeper Andrew Mehan at the Spicer Hearing that at this same time (between 1 and 2 P.M.), Tom McLaury did deposit his pistol at the nearby Capital Saloon (on the southwest corner of Fremont and 4th Street). Further, one of the witnesses to Tom's beating (A. Bauer) would testify that he saw Tom AFTER the beating, at the Capital Saloon. Thus, unless Tom visited the Capital Saloon both before and after his beating by Earp, he left the pistol there after the beating, and was therefore armed during the beating by Wyatt, just as Wyatt believed him to be.

Depositing his pistol at the saloon was an act that, according to city ordinance, Tom should have performed the previous day, when he first arrived in town. The fact that Tom left his pistol at the Capital Saloon on the 26th, and not at the West End Corral on the 25th when he arrived in town more than 24 hours earlier, shows that Tom McLaury did indeed carry his pistol as a concealed weapon into town for some time, contrary to city ordinance which required weapons to be deposited immediately upon arrival. Tom's reason for leaving his pistol at the saloon after being beaten by Wyatt would appear clear also – he did not wish to give Wyatt another excuse to treat him in the same way.

In any event, Tom's pistol, like Ike Clanton's arms, remained at a nearby saloon during the O.K. Corral gunfight.

By the time Ike and Tom had seen doctors for their head wounds, it was getting into the early afternoon. The day was chilly, with snow still on the ground in some places. Neither Tom nor Ike had slept, but had spent the night gambling. Now, they were both out-of-doors, both wounded from head beatings, and at least Ike was still drunk. It is likely that both men were in very poor mental shape.

More Cowboys enter town

About this time (1:30 to 2:30 pm or so – but after the pistol-whipping of Tom), fresher men with more willingness to fight arrived in town. Ike's younger brother Billy Clanton (aged 19) and Tom's older brother Frank McLaury had heard from Ed "old man" Frink that Ike had been stirring up trouble in town overnight, and they had ridden into town on horseback, to back up their brothers. They had come from Antelope Springs 13 miles east of Tombstone, where they had been rounding up stock with their brothers (they had breakfast with their brothers Ike and Tom the day before). Both Frank and Billy were armed with pistol and rifle as was the custom for lone riders in the wild country outside Tombstone. (Apache warriors had fought with the U.S. Army near Tombstone just three weeks before the O.K. Corral gunfight, so the southwest Arizona Territory country was far from tame).

Billy and Frank stopped first at the Grand Hotel on Allen Street (being greeted there warmly by practical joker Doc Holliday), where almost immediately (before they'd even had time to taste their drinks) they were told of the beatings of both of their brothers by Earps within the previous two hours – an item which was the big news in town. Immediately, Frank and Billy left the saloon without drinking.

By law and custom, both Frank and Billy also should have left their firearms at the first corral or hotel they stopped at in town (in this case the Grand Hotel). Instead of doing that, they loitered fully-armed about the Western part (or "horse end") of town. At some point, they even ventured up to the gun and hardware store (Spangenberger's) on 4th Street, to buy ammunition, where they were observed by Wyatt Earp, who was smoking his cigar outside Hafford's saloon nearby.

Wyatt and Virgil Earp’s reactions

Wyatt still had the problem that he had no obvious legal authority to question their holding of weapons, and so did nothing but move Frank McLaury's horse off the sidewalk, where it had strayed (Earp gave the excuse for handling the horse that he still considered himself a city police deputy, but he was still overplaying his role). Earp's handling of his horse provoked Frank to come out of the store, but not to draw his pistol from its holster. Again, things were at a draw.

Wyatt Earp thought that the Cowboys, including Ike, were arming themselves in the store (Ike would testify that Tom wasn't in the store, but Wyatt could not tell who was and who wasn't there). Ike would later testify that indeed he had actually tried to buy a new pistol in the store, but the owner, observing his head bandages (and possibly his drunken state) refused to sell him one. If Ike did indeed try to buy a pistol, it would have meant that ironically he had not heard (or believed) Virgil Earp, who had put Ike's weapons exactly where he'd said he would, for recovery by Ike any time Ike wanted to pick them up on leaving town.

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City Marshal Virgil Earp.
Meanwhile, Virgil Earp, in charge of enforcing city law, was trying to avoid a confrontation with Frank and Billy by not going to where Virgil thought Frank and Billy were. These armed men, newly arrived in the city, were pushing at two fuzzy borders in the city law. One question was how far east into town a newly arrived traveler might go while carrying a firearm (the three main Tombstone corrals were all at the west end of town, a block or two away from where the Cowboys were buying ammunition). It was generally understood that newly-arrived travelers could pass through town while armed, if immediately on their way to a hotel or saloon. The other question was how long, after arriving in town, might a traveler legally keep his firearms, if he still had his horse with him. The latter would mean he was still in the process of "arriving," while surrendering a horse or wagon at a corral/livery stable automatically meant surrendering firearms with it.

The Earps apparently thought that Tom and Ike had arrived the previous day at the Dunbar Corral on Allen Street, where they were known friends of the owners (which included Sheriff Behan). They naturally assumed that newly arrived "reinforcements" Frank and Billy would leave their horses and arms there also, if they meant peace. Thus, when Virgil heard that the Cowboys had gone to the O.K. Corral (across from Dunbar's, but still close to it) he made the decision, stated in the presences of witnesses, that he would seek to disarm the Cowboys only if they left the vicinity of the corrals while still armed, meaning they clearly meant to openly violate town law against weapons carrying after arrival, or not while preparing to leave town. Unfortunately, unknown to the Earps, Ike and Tom had actually left their horse and wagon at the West End Corral on Fremont street, a block north of the O.K. Corral. If they prepared to leave town, it would be from a place a block north of where the Earps assumed it would (and should) be.

Actions near Fremont Street directly before the fatal fight

When Frank and Billy began to gather on Fremont Street, while still saddled and armed, Virgil felt they were getting too far from the corrals he assumed they and their brothers had arrived at.

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Sheriff Johnny Behan.
Johnny Behan, Cochise County Sheriff and friend of the Cowboys, testified later that he learned of the trouble while he was being shaved at the barbershop sometime after 1:30 P.M., the time he'd risen after his late night game. Behan stated he immediately went to Fremont Street, where he found Frank McLaury still with horse and arms, on Fremont and 4th Street (this would now have been about 2:30 P.M.). Down the street to the west, he saw that Ike, Tom, and Billy had all gathered off the street in a vacant lot, which was immediately west of Fly's photography gallery and boarding house. This was about half a block east of the West End Corral, which the Cowboys may have been intending to use as a jumping-off point to get out of town, as soon as Frank finished doing business (it was also about half a block west of the Capitol Saloon where Tom's pistol was).

Unfortunately for them, the Cowboys gathered at a spot a block away from the O.K. Corral entrance on Allen Street. It was unluckily also next to Fly's, which was Doc Holliday's rooming house, and also between the position of the Earps and their homes just two blocks further west on Fremont Street. All of this constituted a physical threat which the Earps and Holliday could hardly ignore, especially in light of Ike Clanton's verbal threats.

On Fremont and 4th Street, Behan tried to disarm Frank McLaury, and here Frank made the fatal error of resisting disarmament by Behan (who was the sheriff), insisting that Virgil Earp (the chief of police) and his brothers disarm first. Instead of leaving town, as Ike now planned to do, Frank insisted on staying in town to do some business. He further insisted on doing this business while armed, in violation of city ordinance.

Meanwhile, having heard that the newly arrived Cowboys were now on Fremont Street, bearing weapons, and now a block away from the entrance of the O.K. Corral where they were legally entitled to hold weapons, Virgil decided to act. While Wyatt was confronting Frank McLaury at Spangenberg's, Virgil had collected a shotgun from the Wells Fargo office around the corner on Allen street, in case of trouble. This would have been a short shotgun messenger type weapon, double-barrelled and likely 12-gauge (though possibly 10-gauge), loaded with buckshot. Returning to Hafford's, and not wanting to alarm the citizenry of Tombstone by carrying the shotgun through the streets, Virgil gave the shotgun to Doc Holliday to hide under his longer overcoat. (The Earps carried pistols in their coat pockets, or in their waistbands; there is some evidence that Holliday was using his longer coat that morning to conceal a pistol holster). Virgil took Holliday's walking-stick in return, to use for emphasis, and then the Earps and Holliday walked down the south side of Fremont street toward the Cowboys' last known position, keeping out of sight of the Cowboys.

Along the way, the Earps met Sheriff Behan, coming up Fremont street from the Cowboys. Behan told the Earps (or so Wyatt and Virgil heard him say) that he had disarmed the Cowboys and that no trouble was necessary. The Earps brushed by Behan, only slightly put off their guard. But when the Earps moved out into the middle of Fremont street and came into full view of the Cowboys in the vacant lot west of Fly's boarding house, they found two horses with saddles and rifles in the lot, and Frank and Billy still near their horses, wearing their pistol belts and still fully armed. Later, Wyatt would especially blame Behan for telling what he took to be a lie about leaving the Cowboys armed. Behan would testify that he'd only said he'd gone down to the Cowboys "for the purpose of disarming them," not that he'd actually done it.

As the Earps and Holliday came upon Ike Clanton, he was talking to Billy Claiborne in the middle of the lot. Behind them, against a house to the west (the McDonald house), stood Tom and Frank McLaury, Billy Clanton, and both the horses of Billy Clanton and Frank. The precise arrangements of the men and animals would be debated by witnesses, but Billy Clanton seems by all accounts to have been nearest the house, near the building's corner.

The gunfight

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Wyatt Earp 19 months after the gunfight.


The roughly 30-second gunfight that ensued at about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon of October 26 came to be known in the 1950s (after a movie title) as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and arguably the most famous gunfight in the history of the Old West. It has been the subject of many books and movies. Who started the shooting remains a mystery, with partisan factions telling differing stories, and independent eyewitnesses who did not know the participants by sight unable to say for certain.

Of the participants, and contrary to popular belief, none but Virgil Earp had any extensive experience in shooting situations. Virgil's years of service during the Civil War gave him ample combat experience going into the fight, although it was experience of a different sort than street fighting. Virgil had also been involved in a police shooting in Prescott, Arizona Territory (see his biography). Wyatt Earp, despite his reputation and although becoming famous due to the fight and the Earp vendetta ride following it, had only been involved in one shooting before the O. K. Corral, and was not widely known at the time, film portrayals notwithstanding. In that one shooting (in Dodge City, 1878), Wyatt Earp always claimed to have been the one to shoot a retreating horseman named George Hoy, who died later as a result of the gunshot wound to his arm. However, many lawmen, including James Masterson and his brother Bat Masterson, were involved shooting at Hoy. History does not record that Morgan Earp had any experience at gunfighting prior to this incident. Doc Holliday, also despite his reputation, had been mixed up in a few altercations here and there, mostly while drunk, but details of those are sketchy and generally not believed to have been extensive. Holliday had (perhaps) killed one man in a gunfight prior to Tombstone, that having taken place in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and in the presence of gunman and friend John Joshua Webb.

As for the Earp faction's opposition, short of a few minor instances prior, this was believed to have been the first actual shootout for any of them, except for Billy Claiborne, who had been in at least one gunfight, over which he was later arrested for killing a man. However, Claiborne did not fire a shot during the O.K. Corral gunfight, and fled the scene, claiming later he was unarmed at the time. The closest thing to a shootout in which the McLaurys and Clantons are thought to have been involved, was the Skeleton Canyon Massacre.

The fight

Before the fight Virgil was able to say "Throw your hands up, I want your guns", but eyewitness testimony from this point becomes divergent, depending on the bias of the witnesses. Independent non-partisan witnesses, including H.F. Sills and A. Bourland, would later say that the Cowboys did not at any time raise their hands in surrender. This point would be believed by the judge, and would provide the controlling data for his opinion that the Cowboys had not been murdered in the act of trying to surrender.

Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil would state that both Frank and Billy had drawn their pistols from their holsters before any shots were fired, leaving the Earps no choice but to defend themselves. It is probable that at least Holliday fired early in the fight, hitting Tom McLaury with a shotgun blast. Ironically, Tom was probably not (by then) armed – although all evidence indicates the Earps and Holliday believed him to be. In particular, Doc wasted a precious shotgun blast on Tom, which would have been unthinkable in the presence of other men who certainly were armed, unless Doc thought Tom was equally dangerous. Wyatt even thought (as he testified later) that Tom fired shots over his horse, but this was almost certainly Frank, using his own horse. (Tom had no horse, and in any case was hit early in the fight by Doc, and could not possibly have used a pistol after that.) Wyatt would later testify that he and Billy Clanton fired first in the fight, after Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton drew their pistols.

The gunfight was fought in a vacant lot about 18 feet wide, but also in Fremont street in front of the lot. Most of the shooting was done at ranges of about 10 feet or less. The number of shots fired can only be estimated, and depends on who was actually armed. Estimates vary from 20 to 30 shots total.

The various injuries

Wyatt came out of the gunfight unscathed, while Virgil was shot through the right calf, Morgan was shot through the upper back above his shoulder blades (by a single bullet), and Holliday was grazed on the hip.

Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury died from their wounds. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran through the middle of the fight and escaped uninjured (Ike briefly struggling with Wyatt, by both men's accounts, before escaping).

Frank McLaury was shot in the abdomen near the navel, early in the fight (by Wyatt). He stumbled into the street with his horse, firing his pistol, only to lose the frightened horse. He fired twice more before he was felled at the end of the fight by a pistol bullet hitting him at the base of his skull under his right ear, this shot fired by Morgan Earp. The newspaper account mentions a mortal chest (by Doc) wound to Frank which would have to have come at the end of the fight, and which would mean that both Holliday and Morgan fired final fatal shots. However, the coroner's report, made after careful examination of the stripped bodies of all the dead men before they were delivered to the undertaker, did not find any chest wound in Frank, and so this is probably a false report. In any case, Frank died where he fell, on the sidewalk on the opposite side of Fremont street from the vacant lot. A passerby stopped to help and observed him move his mouth, but he died before he could be moved. [1]

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1908 View of Gunfight Site, Left mid photo, marked with a large white patch. The smaller white patch at left marks corner where Tom McLaury fell. Fry's studio is immediately to the viewer right of the large white patch; the O.K. Corral office building is at the near corner, between Fly's and the viewer.
Tom McLaury, already fatally wounded from a double shotgun blast, was seen running or stumbling westward, away from the action, while shooting was still going on, and Frank and Billy were still standing. As he fell, Lake's biography of Earp states that Wyatt shot Tom in the abdomen, but no such wound was found by the coroner. Tom fell at the telegraph pole at the corner of Fremont and 3rd Street (see left-most mark on photo at right). The coroner's report showed that Tom had been hit only with a dozen buckshot, high in the side of his chest near the right armpit (the pattern being so tight that the coroner could cover it with a hand). He died without speaking, a few minutes after being carried into the nearest house on the corner (the Harwood House).

Billy Clanton was shot through the wrist (by Morgan) (Keefe testified the bullet passed through the arm from "inside to outside," entering the arm close to the base of the thumb, and exiting "on the back of the wrist diagonally" with the latter wound larger), in the right chest (through the right lung) (possibly by Morgan), through the right arm (by Virgil), and in the abdomen (under the twelfth rib) (possibly by Virgil). He fell near his original position, near the corner of the McDonald house, in the empty lot. He died last, having put up the greatest fight from the Clanton side, dying after being carried to the same house at the corner (the Harwood residence) where Tom had been taken (it probably didn't make sense to the onlookers to take both men to different adjacent houses, and the corner house was chosen for both. Also the McDonald house was possibly also being used as a mineral assay office). Billy lived long enough to be seen by a doctor and be injected with morphine. He spoke a few words, saying he'd been murdered, and indicating he couldn't breathe. (Shortness of breath following a penetrating chest wound is a classic finding of a pneumothorax)

How the fighters may have been armed

No pistol was found on Tom after the fight, by any witness. As noted, Tom's usual pistol remained unclaimed during the fight at the bar at the Capitol Saloon, on 4th Street and Fremont less than a block East of the gunfight. This pistol was exhibited and identified by the barkeep and by Ike Clanton as being Tom's pistol, at the Spicer Hearing. Wyatt Earp, to the end of his life, would believe that the pistol Tom had used in the gunfight had been removed from the scene by a Cowboy confederate. At least two witnesses thought Tom had obtained a pistol in a butcher shop on Allen street just before the fight, for he was seen leaving the shop with a newly-bulging pants pocket. However, he would have had to walk past the very saloon where his own pistol had just been deposited and was stored, to have carried this second pistol to the fight. The bulge in Tom's pants pocket noted by witnesses before the fight may have been the nearly $3000 in cash and receipts found on his body (he had probably actually picked up these at the butcher's shop immediately before the fight, as it makes little sense that he'd spent all night carrying around this much cash).

Even if Tom wasn't armed with a pistol the question remains about whether or not he tried to get a rifle. Virgil Earp testified Tom attempted to grab a rifle from a horse (this would have been Frank or Billy's horse) before he was killed. Wyatt thought Tom fired a pistol over "his" horse (actually it would have had to be Billy's horse, because Frank had his own and Tom had none). It's very possible Virgil was mistaken about which McLaury brother used his horse in the fight, as Wes Fuller saw Frank in the middle of the street shooting with a pistol, and attempting to get a Winchester from his own horse, and failing (the very action attributed to Tom). However, Wes Fuller was a member of the Cowboy Gang, and could have said that to make the Earps appear as murderers.

Billy's pistol was taken from him empty, by C.S. Fly, who emerged from his boarding house at the end of the fight to disarm Billy.

Frank's pistol, with two unfired rounds remaining in it, was recovered on the street a few feet away from Frank by a bystander, and placed next to Frank's body as it lay on the sidewalk. Frank's pistol was then taken by the coroner, Dr. Mathews, and laid on the floor of the Harwood house while he examined Billy and Tom (this would cause some confusion later, but both Billy and Frank's weapons would later be positively identified as their own, by witnesses).

The horses

The two saddled horses of Billy and Frank escaped from the fight and were later caught a few hundred feet up the street, both with Winchester rifles still in place in their scabbards.


Enlarge picture
Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton (left to right) lie dead after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. This is the only known photo of 19 year-old Billy
Enlarge picture
Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury are buried in Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona.

The Earps and Holliday were considered heroes for about forty-eight hours. The funerals for Clanton and the McLaurys (who were relatively wealthy men) were the largest ever seen in Tombstone. The huge turnout caused many Tombstone residents and businesses to reconsider their calls for the mass killing of Cowboys. Billy Clanton was fairly popular around town, and although rowdy, the "Cowboys" brought substantial business into Tombstone.

Also, the fear of Cowboy retribution and the potential loss of investors because of the negative publicity in large cities like San Francisco started to turn the opinion against the Earps and Holliday. Stories that Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were unarmed, and that Billy Clanton and Tom McLaury even threw up their hands before the shooting, now began to make the rounds. Soon, another Clanton brother (Phineas "Fin" Clanton) had arrived in town, and some began to claim that the Earps and Holliday had committed murder, instead of enforcing the law.

The Spicer hearing

Enlarge picture
Justice Wells Spicer
After the gunfight, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (the two men not formally employed as law officers, and also the two least wounded) were charged with murder. After extensive testimony at the preliminary hearing to decide if there was enough evidence to bind the men over for trial, the presiding Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer ruled that there was not enough evidence to indict the men. Two weeks later, a grand jury followed Spicer's finding, and also refused to indict. (This was a common way of investigating "officer involved shootings" during that time). Spicer, in his ruling, criticized City Marshal Virgil Earp for using Wyatt and Doc as backup temporary deputies, but not for using Morgan, who had already been wearing a City Marshal badge for 9 days.

The participants in later history

A few weeks following the grand jury refusal to indict, Virgil Earp was shot by hidden assailants from an unused building at night – a wound causing him complete loss of the use of his left arm. Three months later Morgan Earp was murdered by a shot in the back in Tombstone by men shooting from a dark alley.

After these incidents, Wyatt, accompanied by Doc Holliday and several other friends, undertook what has later been called the Earp vendetta ride in which they tracked down and killed the men whom they believed had been responsible for these acts. After the vendetta ride, Wyatt and Doc left the Arizona Territory in April 1882 and parted company, although they remained in contact.

Billy Claiborne was killed in a gunfight in Tombstone in late 1882 by gunman Franklin Leslie. In less than six years, Doc Holliday died of tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Virgil lived without the use of his arm, although continued as a lawman in California, and died of pneumonia at age 62 in 1905, still on the job as a peace officer.

Wyatt Earp traveled across the Western Frontier for decades in the company of Josephine Marcus, working mostly as a gambler, and eventually died in Los Angeles of infection, in 1929, at the age of 80. Johnny Behan failed to be re-elected as sheriff in 1882 and never again worked as a lawman, spending the rest of his life at various government jobs, dying in Tucson of natural causes at age 67 in 1912. Ike Clanton was caught cattle rustling in 1887 and shot dead by lawmen while resisting arrest.

A legacy of questions

The issue of fault at the O.K. Corral shooting has been hotly debated over the years. To this day, Pro-Earp followers view the gunfight as a struggle between "Law-and-order" against out-of-control Cowboys; Pro-Clanton/McLaury followers view it as a political vendetta and abuse of authority.

A recent attempt to reinvestigate part of the matter aired on an episode of Discovery Channel's Unsolved History using modern technology to re-enact the shotgun shooting which was part of the incident. However, the re-enactment did not use 19th century period technology (a late 19th century shotgun messenger type short shotgun, brass cases, black powder). The episode concluded that Doc Holliday may have triggered the fight by cocking both barrels of his shotgun, but was likely not the first shooter.

Representation in film, TV and literature

It is a testament to the gunfight's impact on the national psyche that numerous dramatic, fictional, and documentary works have been produced about or referencing this event over the decades. Here is but a small sample. For more on these works, see the more complete filmography given by Allen Barra, Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, referenced in "Additional Sources" books in the following section, below.

External links

Primary sources

Selection of secondary sources

Additional sources

  • Steve Gatto (2000). The Real Wyatt Earp: A Documentary Biography. Silver City: High-Lonesome Books. ISBN 0-944383-50-5. 
  • Allen Barra (1998). Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-0685-6.  Contains a thorough analysis of the O.K. Corral fight.
  • Casey Tefertiller (1997). Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-18967-7.  Contains extensive discussion of the police issues and moral issues relating to the O.K. Corral shootings.
  • Paula Mitchell Marks (1989). And Die in the West: the story of the O.K. Corral gunfight. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-671-70614-4.  Extensive examination not only of the gunfight and vendettas, but also of the myth-making that took place surrounding the OK Corral incident. Marks writes from a socioeconomic perspective.
  • Grace McCool (1990). GUNSMOKE: The True Story of Old Tombstone. Tucson: Treasure Chest Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-918080-52-5. 
  • * Maps and aerial photos for Coordinates:
  • Maps from Google Maps, Live Search Maps, , Yahoo! Maps, or MapQuest
  • Topographic maps from TopoZone
  • Landuse survey from GlobalGuide


1. ^ [1]
Western is a fiction genre seen in film, television, radio, literature, painting and other visual arts. Westerns are devoted to telling stories set primarily in the later half of the 19th century in what became the Western United States (known as the American Old West or Wild
..... Click the link for more information.
American Old West comprises the history, myths, legends, stories, beliefs and cultural meanings that collected around the Western United States in the 19th century. Most often the term refers to the late 19th century, between the American Civil War and the 1890 closing of the
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American Civil War (1861–1865) was a major war between the United States (the "Union") and eleven Southern slave states which declared that they had a right to secession and formed the Confederate States of America, led by President Jefferson Davis.
..... Click the link for more information.
October 26th is the feast day of the following Roman Catholic Saints:
  • St. Albinus
  • St. Alfred the Great
  • St. Cedd
  • St.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
  • 18th century - 19th century - 20th century
    1850s  1860s  1870s  - 1880s -  1890s  1900s  1910s
    1878 1879 1880 - 1881 - 1882 1883 1884

    Subjects:     Archaeology - Architecture -
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    A livery stable has come to mean a place where horse owners keep their horses in return for a fee. Levels of provision and service at a livery stable or livery yard vary greatly, as do the fees.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    City of Tombstone, Arizona
    Location in Cochise County and the state of Arizona
    Country United States
    State Arizona
    County Cochise
    Founded 1879

    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Arizona Territory was an organized territory of the United States that existed between 1863 and 1912, as well as a territory of the Confederate States of America that existed officially from 1861 to 1863, when the Union territory was declared in Washington, D.C.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    "In God We Trust"   (since 1956)
    "E Pluribus Unum"   ("From Many, One"; Latin, traditional)
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    The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight refers to a famous gun fight that occurred on April 14, 1881 on El Paso Street of El Paso, Texas. Four men were killed within a very small time frame.
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    The Going Snake Massacre was an incident that occurred on April 15th, 1872, during the early days of the Old West, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, then the capitol of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory.
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    The Gunfight at Hide Park, or Newton Massacre, was the name given to an Old West gunfight that occurred on August 19, 1871, in Newton, Kansas. It was well publicised at the time, but since has received little historical attention, despite its producing a higher body count
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    citation, footnoting or external linking.
    Wyatt Earp

    Wyatt Earp at about age 21, photo about 1869
    Born: March 19 1848(1848--)
    Monmouth, Illinois, U.S.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Morgan Seth Earp (April 24, 1851–March 18, 1882) was the younger brother of Wyatt Earp, the famous gunfighter. Morgan was involved in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where he was wounded.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Virgil Walter Earp (July 18, 1843–October 19, 1905) was one of the men involved in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the Arizona Territory of the United States. He spent his life in law enforcement, although ironically it is his younger brother Wyatt Earp, who spent most of
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    John Henry "Doc" Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) was an American dentist, gambler, and gunfighter of the American Old West frontier who is usually remembered for his associations with Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a gunfight that has been portrayed in numerous Western films. It has come to symbolize the struggle between law-and-order and open-banditry and rustling in frontier towns of the Old West where law enforcement was often thin, and where some of
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Billy Claiborne (October 21, 1860 – November 14, 1882) was a western outlaw and gunfighter who was one of the survivors of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.


    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Joseph Isaac (Ike) Clanton (1847-June 1, 1887) was born in Callaway County, Missouri, and grew up to be one of the pivotal players in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the most famous events of the American Old West.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Joseph Isaac (Ike) Clanton (1847-June 1, 1887) was born in Callaway County, Missouri, and grew up to be one of the pivotal players in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the most famous events of the American Old West.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Billy Claiborne (October 21, 1860 – November 14, 1882) was a western outlaw and gunfighter who was one of the survivors of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.


    ..... Click the link for more information.

    Cattle rustling or cattle raiding is the act of stealing livestock. In Australia, such stealing is often referred to as 'duffing', and the person as a 'duffer'.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    stagecoach is a type of four-wheeled enclosed coach for passengers and goods, strongly sprung and drawn by four horses, usually four-in-hand. Formerly making regular trips between stations, it was widely used before the introduction of railway transport.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    March 15 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

    In the Roman calendar March 15 was known as the Ides of March.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    18th century - 19th century - 20th century
    1850s  1860s  1870s  - 1880s -  1890s  1900s  1910s
    1878 1879 1880 - 1881 - 1882 1883 1884

    Subjects:     Archaeology - Architecture -
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    John Henry "Doc" Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) was an American dentist, gambler, and gunfighter of the American Old West frontier who is usually remembered for his associations with Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Mary Katharine Horony

    Big Nose Kate at about age 40, photo about 1890
    Born: November 7 1850
    Pest, Hungary
    Died: November 2 1940 (aged 91)
    Prescott, Arizona, USA
    Occupation: Prostitute?
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Cochise County is located in the southeastern corner of the U.S. state of Arizona. As of the 2000 census its population was 117,755. The county seat is Bisbee.


    Cochise County was created on January 3, 1881 out of the eastern portion of Pima County.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    John Harris Behan (October 23, 1844–June 7, 1912[1]) was, for 21 months of a two-year term (February 1881 to November 1882), the sheriff of Cochise County in the Arizona Territory.
    ..... Click the link for more information.
    Wells Fargo & Co.

    Public (NYSE:  WFC )
    Founded New York, New York, USA (March 18, 1852)
    Headquarters 420 Montgomery, San Francisco, California, USA

    Key people Richard Kovacevich, Chairman

    John Stumpf, President and CEO
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