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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

The most famous event to occur in Tombstone is comparatively trivial in the grand scheme of American history, but the notorious Gunfight at the O.K. Corral remains the most renowned incident in the entire chronicle of the Wild West. The name of the site where it took place, as well as the names of those involved, are recognized around the world, and have been immortalized in countless books, films and TV shows.

Unfortunately, the precise details of the shootout that took place October 26, 1881, are mostly uncertain, as there was much disagreement in the

testimony of both eyewitnesses and those involved, not to mention Hollywood's numerous convolutions since. What we do know, however, is that two parties––Doc Holliday and brothers Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp on one side, and on the other, Billy Claiborne, brothers Ike and Billy Clanton, and brothers Frank and Tom McLaury––engaged in an armed confrontation fueled by blame, loyalty and ego.

The nine men faced off following an escalating series of run-ins that began hours earlier. Doc Holliday had provoked Ike Clanton the night before, probably concerning a months-old disagreement over a stagecoach robbery, of which Clanton accused Holliday. After the dispute ended with the help of the Earp brothers, with whom Clanton had already experienced friction, Clanton angrily threatened both Holliday and the Earps. The next day, Clanton staggered around town fully armed, drunkenly announcing he was looking for any one of them. Virgil Earp, who was city marshal, and Morgan Earp, a deputy, found Clanton that afternoon, pistol-whipped him and took him to court for illegally carrying firearms within the city.

Shortly thereafter, Wyatt Earp had his own run-in with Tom McLaury, Clanton's cohort. Wyatt accused McLaury of being illegally armed himself and tried to provoke him into drawing the hidden pistol Wyatt believed he was carrying. McLaury never revealed said pistol, but the clash ended with Wyatt pistol-whipping McLaury. Wyatt was not able to arrest him, however, as Wyatt was not officially an officer of the law.

Sometime after that, Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury arrived in town after hearing about the trouble the previous night and were intent on backing up their brothers. Both were armed, and as such, were required to deposit their weapons at the

first hotel, saloon or stable they came to. Hearing about their arrival, Virgil sought them out, supported by his brothers and by Doc Holliday, to make sure they did so.

By the time Holliday and the Earps found Billy and Frank, the two men had been joined by Tom, Ike and Billy Claiborne. Words were quickly exchanged. Then so were bullets. No one can say for sure who fired first, but in less than 30 seconds, Virgil, Morgan and Holliday stood injured, while Billy Clanton and both McLaurys lay dead.

While popular history remembers Holliday and the Earps as the good guys in the dispute, there are those who believe Clanton and the McLaurys had been unjustly killed in a blatant abuse of power. The Earps insisted the victims had been illegally armed, but detractors say that was just an excuse for murder. Some argue Frank and Billy hadn't yet had a chance to deposit their weapons as required, and disparities in testimony make it difficult to determine whether Tom had actually been armed as Wyatt believed him to be. Plus, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp would have been guilty of illegally carrying weapons themselves, since neither one was an officer of the law, as were Morgan and Virgil. Still, it's believed the victims held a grudge with the Earps to begin with and were deliberately looking for a fight.

Visitors to Tombstone can visit the site made famous by the incident, which stands on Allen Street as it did in the 1880s. Be aware, however, that the shootout didn't actually take place there. In reality, the whole thing occurred on a section of vacant property out back, along Fremont Street. The O.K. Corral just made for a better title than The Gunfight on Block 17, Lot 2. Visitors can also witness a recreation of the event, played out by a cluster of short, stiff dummies, or a more animate re-enactment featuring live stunt actors. The latter is the real draw. (Pun fully intended.)

As an alternative, try visiting the block at the corner of Fremont and Third streets at night, where some people say they've had apparitions of men dressed in dusters and cowboy hats approach them before vanishing in the darkness.

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