Gunfights of the American west


In Hollywood old western movies, two disagreeing gunfighters, usually meet in the middle of a town square, and are spread apart evenly about ten or so feet. In the movies, the clock strikes noon and both would draw, usually the good guy wins and gets the girl, while the bad guy lay’s flat down in the dirt dead. In reality, the truth about these gunfights is that there is an all-out brawl between the two parties resulting in long excruciating seconds or minutes of wait to find out who the victor is. This research will be looking at the O.K Corral incident, and examine how the gunfight went down, identify the common myths of the gunfight, and identify the individuals who were involved with the gunfight. Though Hollywood has depicted gunfights a civilized way of killing one another, the myth is that gunfights in the old west were not at all civilized.

Tombstone, Arizona was founded in the midst of the expedition to locate the Apache Indians in the late year of 1877. Founded by miner Ed Schiffelin, Ed, was a miner out in search of gold. Without luck in the finding of gold, Ed instead, found silver in the ironically named mine known as the Tombstone mine. Since Tombstone’s discovery in 1877, people throughout the entire American west began if flourish in Tombstone’s glory. Cowboys, merchants, homesteaders, and prospectors all jumped to Tombstone for their little slice of the pie. However, this also brought in a lot of crime, reports of robbing’s, shootouts, and other crimes required the attention of sheriffs to be on constant watch for crime.

Enter the Earp brothers, Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp. During the events leading up to the gunfight, Virgil the oldest of the Earp brothers started his career as a Lawman in Dodge City, Kansas in 1877. The second oldest Wyatt joined up with Virgil and both moved began to move to Arizona where eventually found work as lawmen in Prescott. Upon finding work, the last Earp brother, Morgan moved to Arizona and became sheriff of Pima County. Though these men were validated as Heroes of Tombstone, the myth’s surrounding the Earp brothers includes a large life of crime between the three. Before they were lawmen, The Earp’s were actually just your average family working to make a living; however, the Earp’s chose to do business with various brothels and bars during their time working in different towns. For example, Virgil Earp was “a bartender and worked in several brothels. He Hired Wyatt to be a bouncer and possibly a pimp” (Blitz). Another Incident Involving robbery was perpetrated by Wyatt in 1871 where he was arrested for stealing horses “valued at about $100 each” (Blitz). Though they were in fact lawmen, the Earp’s were just as villainous as any other criminal in the American west.

With the Earp’s moving into Arizona, another most notable gunfighter has made his way into Arizona, during this time. Friend of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday was a dentist, and gunslinger, jumping from town to town avoiding any possible contact with authorities such as the Texas Rangers and the U.S Marshals. Holliday was in fact a deadly gunslinger that was very popular at the gaming parlors in various states. However, Holliday was even more famous in the ways he could kill a man, for example, Doc was very serious in the game of cards that he was known to have sliced open a man’s stomach when the man refused to follow the Faro rules that Doc had “implemented.” (Blitz). In Hollywood movies such as the famous western movie “Tombstone”, Holliday was portrayed as a kind hearted individual who worked alongside the Earp brothers to get rid crime in Tombstone. This Hollywood portrayal is a myth in fact, as before, Holliday was a deadly individual and was not classified as a hero and or lawman in any sense.

In this essay we have Identified, the “heroes” of the O.K Corral gunfight and explained how they are not exactly your typical , the research must identify how gunfight went down exactly and identify the myths involved with the gunfight itself. The Gunfight occurred in 1881 when the Earp’s arrived into town. During that time, the Earp’s noticed that there was another gang that ruled Tombstone, the Clanton gang. At the time, the Earp’s were not lawmen of Tombstone until the early months of 1881. During that time the Clanton gang ran rampant across Tombstone without penalty until Virgil Earp became marshal of Tombstone in mid-1881. The Earp’s and the Clanton’s soon began to have minor run-ins with each other which resulted in lashings of profanity and fist fights. More of the confrontations led to an actual gunfight on October 26, 1881, the Clanton gang and Virgil’s Posse of Wyatt, Morgan, and Doc Holliday met at the O.K Corral on the corner of Fremont Street. The fight began by Virgil attempting to disarm Billy Clanton and Frank Mclaury. Upon the attempted disarm, both Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday showed up to assist in Virgil’s arrest. This went all array when Billy Clanton went for his pistol when Virgil and his men approached, fired burst from wither end of their pistols, “it is not really known who fired the first shot, but Dos’s bullet was the first to hit home” (Weiser-Alexander). The gunfight ended in about 40 seconds with Frank and Billy both shot in their mid-torso’s which resulted in their deaths. During the gunfight, Virgil was the only one who was injured while taking a shot to the leg.
The major myth of this gunfight came after the gunfight occurred when The Earp “gang” was arrested for the murder of Billy Clanton and Frank Mclaury. This is myth is a little farfetched because Virgil and his men were lawmen of Tombstone. On the days leading after the gunfight, the Earp’s and Doc Holliday were tried for their crimes, and it was concluded that Billy Clanton and Tom Mclaury initiated the fight first. Eventually after the court proceeding, The Earp’s and Holliday were let go due to the fact that the Judge who was operating the preceding was the Earp’s cousin and was able to convince the jury to let the gang go.

In conclusion, The O.K Corral gunfight was one of legend in the American west because of the Individuals involved and how quickly the shootout took place. This research paper has busted the myths on how both Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers were not exactly the all-around nice hero everyone looked at as they watched Hollywood western movies. Though Hollywood has depicted gunfights a civilized way of killing one another, the myth is that gunfights in the old west were not at all civilized.

Work’s consulted
1). Blitz, Matt. “Wyatt Earp- The Great American… Villian? Today I Found Out. Published

2). Cellania, Miss. “The Truth About Gunfights in the Old West”. Neatorama. Published

3). Gard, Wayne. Frontier Justice. University of Oklahoma: Book Reviewing, 1949.

4). Wesiser- Alexander, Kathy. “Legends of America,” Legends of America. Published 2003.

5). “Wild West Outlaws And Lawmen”, History Net. Accessed Oct. 13, 2015.

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