Inside the OK Corral shootout – from mob violence to cattle thieves

It's difficult to appreciate the significance of the Gunfight at the OK Corral to the history of American crime until it's understood it as the American crime which started it all.

The inspiration for 30 feature films, hundreds of songs and dozens of TV shows, the nine-man shootout in Tombstone, Arizona 140 years ago today is more than just infamous in its own right.

OK Corral – and its immortal reputation – set the tone for how we see the Wild West today in the same way Al Capone's St Valentines Day Massacre is the ultimate illustration of the gangland violence of the 1930s.

Both events are extreme examples of the anarchic historical eras which produced them – but they're just too dramatic to forget.

It didn't start that way.

Gamblers James, Virgil and Wyatt Earp arrived in the Mexico border town on December 1, 1879 when it was still a one-horse mining town and the 100 or so permanent residents lived in tents.

Virgil arrived as a Deputy US Marshal, meaning he had jurisdiction in any town throughout America.

  • Ancient 2,000-year-old 'lost city' unveiled by revolutionary laser scanning technology

Together the three brothers defused as much trouble as they made, stopping mob violence in its tracks and doing their best to keep the peace, while enjoying the saloons a little more than they should.

It didn't matter that James and Wyatt weren't officers themselves: Virgil's badge spoke for itself, and in 1881 he became the town's police chief.

Thanks to the Silver Boom, Tombstone had grown rapidly and by late 1881 had a population of well over 7,000.

  • UK beer price warning as Brit pubgoers face 30p hike per pint in the Budget

That made Tombstone the biggest town in the southwestern United States – and something of a crime capital, too.

Its closeness to the Mexican border meant that there was plenty of cross-border smuggling of livestock, tobacco, alcohol and more.

Criminal gangs thrived, and the Earp brothers struggled to keep a lid on a situation which was getting closer and closer to lawlessness.

  • Mum who died while running herself a bath was seen crying for help before collapsing

A local gang known as the Cochise County Cowboys, led by cattle thief Ike Clanton, were the biggest nuisance.

They clashed with the Earp brothers repeatedly, who worked hard to keep Ike and brothers Billy and Phineas Clanton, plus Frank and Tom McLaury, in line.

While the Earp brothers were educated northerners and Union veterans in the Civil War, the Cowboys were mostly Confederate southerners.

  • Millionaire hotel tycoon, 33, collapses and suddenly dies weeks after glam wedding

But the main conflict was that the Cowboys saw the Earps as corrupt and self-serving, with Virgil Earp handing out sheriff's badges and police power to whichever brother he felt like.

This wasn't far off the truth: Virgil had just appointed his youngest brother, Morgan, an undersheriff.

And Wyatt Earp brought in buddy Doc Holliday, a charismatic dentist with a quick hand, as an informal assistant.

  • Teacher jailed for sex with boy bragged 'horny teenagers flirt with me in class'

The bubbling conflict came to a head when Holliday and Ike Clanton had a late-night drunken argument outside the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone in the early hours of October 26.

It ended with a veiled threat of violence between the pair. Ike was angrier than ever.

The next day he picked up his guns from out of town and walked through Tombstone showing the firearms, though it was an offence to carry weapons.

  • Inside 'human sacrifice' cult as leader who slit members' throats killed in police crash

Ike was pistol whipped from behind by Virgil and taken to court, where the rest of the gang came to support Clanton.

After the hearing a couple of hours later, the situation defused – but Cowboy Frank McLaury still refused to give up his concealed weapon until the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday surrendered theirs.

Virgil decided to go and disarm the Cowboys, handing Holliday a shotgun for his protection.

  • Scandalised Disney fans demand raunchy t-shirts be banned across their theme parks

Yet after all of Ike and the McLaury brothers' threats, the Earps had no idea what to expect.

By now both parties were heavily armed and stood against each other a few doors down from the OK Corral.

Peacemaker Wyatt yelled at the group: "Throw up your hands, show me your guns!"

The McLaury brothers cocked their weapons and raised them.

Wyatt replied: "I don't mean that!"

All the while, Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp stood ready for a fight.

  • Halloween games with Ouija boards could turn you into murderer, warns paranormal expert

It's still not known who shot first.

But within 30 seconds, the six or seven men with guns fired 30 shots at each other.

Holliday shot and killed Tom McLaury, while instigator Ike sprinted toward Wyatt and begged him to stop the shooting.

It turned out Ike was one of the few men unarmed and he escaped into a nearby saloon.

His brother Billy was the next person shot, followed by Frank McLaury. Morgan Earp is credited with these shots.

But Virgil and Morgan got hit themselves.

In the smoke after the melee, the McLaury brothers and Billy lay dead – and the Earps were just wounded.

The Cowboys' corpses were displayed in a local shop with the sign: "Murdered in the Streets of Tombstone", and locals sympathised with the careless gang.

  • Traveller's brutal bare-knuckle fight at 9 years old only ended as it was 'time for bed'

Ike filed murder charges for the killing of his brother, but after a month-long hearing the judge found the police chief and his gang were just doing their jobs.

Dozens of witnesses came forward and the dirty laundry of the years-long rivalry came out, with townspeople soon divided like the warring tribes themselves.

Yet it was the Cowboys who arguably had the last laugh.

  • Twisted terrorist mastermind who led ISIS blew his own kids up to avoid capture

Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed in a revenge attack by the gang, while Morgan was killed outside a saloon by a Cowboy hiding in the shadows.

In the three days following his brother's death, marshal Wyatt killed no fewer than five people without even filing charges.

But it didn't achieve justice, with the Cowboys who killed Morgan never jailed for the crime.

To stay up to date with all the latest news, make sure you sign up to one of our newsletters here.

Almost a century and a half later, with films Gunfight at the OK Corral, My Darling Clementine and Tombstone among the gems remembering the incredible incident, a kind of twisted draw emerged from the Cowboys' war with the Earp brothers and honorary Tombstone cop Doc Holliday.

Holliday himself was dead by the age of 36, losing his life to tuberculosis.

Wyatt Earp, meanwhile, lived to the stellar age of 80.

He died in 1929, two years after telling a biographer he had "no regrets".

Source: Read Full Article