Gunfight at The O.K. Corral

Gun Fight at the OK Coral

The South West of the United States was truly a mad, wild and lawless territory. Everybody was armed and would shoot you dead for a chance remark or a perceived dirty look. It really was the Wild West.

This was the crazy world that Wyatt Earp lived in. Wyatt himself was a horse thief, card sharp, brothel keeper and had many wives in the many towns he lived in. In 1876 he decided to become a lawman in Wichita, later becoming the Sheriff in Dodge City, with Bat Masterson, another gunman. Both men robbed as much as they could and got away with it because they wore a tin star on their chest. They were Lawmen!

Doc Holliday

In 1877 Earp and his three brothers – Jim, Morgan and Warren became ‘The Law’ in Tombstone. Here, he met Doc Holliday, who saved his life in a gunfight, and they became best friends for life. Doctor John Holliday was a tall, slim, erudite man. Always charming and smiling, he could read and speak Greek, French, and Latin. When he graduated he discovered he had TB (or consumption as it was called then) and moved to Arizona’s warm, dry climate to help his lungs.

In the middle of this mix were the Clanton and McLaury gangs  – 40 plus gunmen, who terrorised Tombstone. On 26th October 1881, the Clanton boys shot up the town. Forget the many fanciful Hollywood versions, this is what really happened. Wyatt called his three brothers and Doc Holliday and all four tooled up and headed across town. Doc was wearing a long cotton dust coat and carried a shotgun. They slowly walked down Freemont Street and turned left to the O.K. Corral (which stands for Old Kindersley). Here they met four of the Clanton gang, including Ike Clanton. They stood 10 feet apart.

Doc Holliday fired at Ike first and missed, then all hell broke loose. Bullets flew everywhere. Wyatt shot Frank McLaury dead, Morgan Earp shot Billy Clanton dead and Doc killed Tom McLaury. Ike escaped in all the confusion. Then it was all over, lasting all of 30 seconds. The three bodies were washed and dressed by the Clanton Gang and put on display in a shop window on Main Street Tombstone to the chagrin of ‘The Lawmen’.

In the years following the OK Corral gunfight the Wild West got law and order, thanks mainly to the Texas Rangers and their new Colt 45 repeater. They took few prisoners, simply shot dead every crook, including Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. They are still a force to be reckoned with.

Wyatt Earp

In 1881, Wyatt’s brothers Morgan and Virgil were both shot dead. He and Doc found the killers and shot them dead. The next 25 years were spent wandering and robbing his way around the Wild West before ending up in Hollywood as an advisor on silent cowboy movies, even acting as an extra in some.

His best pal during this period was Tom Mix, a silent movie star, Holliday having died of his TB in Colorado aged 36. When Wyatt Earp followed him to the great beyond in 1929, Tom Mix wept openly at the funeral.

Doc told his nurse “I am dying with my boots off” the week he died. This was unusual as most gunmen die with their boots on. Hence the name ‘Boot Hill’ for western cemeteries.

Like our own plot for Michael Collins in Glasnevin, many thousands of people visit Doc’s grave each year. As they stand reading his tombstone something very strange happens. First they look puzzled, then baffled and then the penny drops and their faces light up with a big smile.

Written across the grave, plain and simple, is the following: ‘Doc Holliday. He died in bed’.

Photos: Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp.

By Noel Twamley