In my previous post, “What Really Happened at the OK Corral? (Part II)”, I discussed Wyatt’s interaction with the cowboys, Virgil Earp and Sheriff Benham contemplating disarming the cowboys, and the Earps and Doc Holliday leaving Hafford’s Saloon to go and disarm the cowboys.
As the Earps and Doc Holliday made their way down Fremont Street, Sheriff Johnny Benham told the cowboys to stay where they were, and broke off from them, and met the Earps and Holliday in front of the butcher’s shop to try and stop them from going any further. It was about 3 o’clock. Sheriff Benham said to them, “Gentlemen, I am the sheriff of this county, and I am not going to allow any trouble if I can help it.”
It seemed that the Earps and Holliday only paused for a moment when Sheriff Benham came up to them, as they were looking past the Sheriff down to where the cowboys were. They then brushed past the Sheriff and continued on towards the vacant lot the cowboys were occupying. Based on what Virgil and Wyatt said, Sheriff Benham told them as he was following them that they would be murdered. Virgil said over his shoulder that he was going to disarm them, then based on Sheriff Benham’s testimony, he responded back to Virgil that he was already in the process of disarming them. Virgil and Wyatt testified that Johnny had told them he had already disarmed them.
They further testified that, since the Sheriff had already disarmed the cowboys, they could relax their position a little, so Virgil hiked his pistol more towards his left hip, so it was less visible and switched Doc’s cane from his left hand to his right hand. Wyatt placed his pistol in the large inside pocket of his overcoat. As the Earps and Doc approached the empty lot, they were surprised to see that Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury were still wearing their gunbelts, and the horses’s saddles still had rifles in their scabbards. Apparently, the Sheriff had lied to them.
Below is a map of the gunfight site. The gunfight never actually took place in the O.K. Corral.
Believing a gunfight was about to take place, Sheriff Benham ran ahead of the Earp party into the vacant lot, grabbed Billy Claiborne and pulled him onto the landing that separated Fly’s Boardinghouse from the Photography studio, and then in through the door that led out to the landing, getting the young cowboy and himself out of harms way.
Virgil Earp stepped just inside the lot, while brother, Wyatt remained on his right side, at the northwest corner of Fly’s Boardinghouse. Morgan Earp was positioned to Wyatt’s right, a few feet further back, while Doc Holliday was basically in the middle of Fremont Street, keeping his eyes out for other cowboys nearby. The cowboys were lined up on the opposite side of the vacant lot near the Harwood house.
Anatomy of the Gunfight:
– After Virgil Earp stepped into the lot, Frank McLaury moved toward his horse and the rifle residing in its’ scabbard on the saddle – Doc Holliday pulled out the shotgun from beneath his coat and Frank stopped in his tracks
– Virgil instructed, “Throw up your hands, boys. I intend to disarm you.” – Frank McLaury responded, “We will…”, there was a slight pause, with Frank’s possible intention of finishing the sentence with “…not.”, but as the first two words were uttered, the cowboys began to move…an action they would regret
– Friends of the cowboys, that were eye-witnesses, testified that Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton began to raise their hands and Tom McLaury was throwing open his coat to show that they were not armed – The Earps testified they heard the distinct sound of pistol hammers being cocked
– In reaction to the guns being cocked, Wyatt went for his gun inside his overcoat, withdrawing it and cocking it in one fluid motion – Frank and Billy had their guns cocked and were withdrawing them from their holsters Frank had Wyatt in his sights, but Wyatt beat him to the draw
– Virgil waved the cane in his hand and shouted, “Hold, I didn’t mean that!” – Wyatt took his shot at Frank and hit Frank in the abdomen – just as Frank turned himself from the impact, Billy then took a shot at Wyatt, but missed
– Virgil, realizing he had no other options, switched the cane in his right hand to his left and reached for his pistol on his left side, tucked in his waistband – as he did, Frank, though seriously injured, raised his gun and shot Virgil in the right calf, and Virgil went down
– As Frank shot Virgil, and Billy was preparing a second shot at Wyatt, Ike Clanton ran up to Wyatt and grabbed him, with the intention of letting Wyatt know he wasn’t armed – with Ike in the way, Billy could not get a clear shot at Wyatt (not realizing what he had done, Ike probably saved Wyatt’s life by standing in the way of Billy’s direct aim at Wyatt – how ironic)
– Morgan Earp then fired at the 19 year old Billy Clanton, hitting him in the body and sending Billy back against the wooden wall of the Harwood House
– Billy kept shooting, as he slumped down on his backside to the ground, as one of his bullets possibly ripped a hole through Wyatt’s overcoat
– Virgil, struggling to his feet, took aim at Frank, who was trying to get out of the lot onto Fremont Street – Frank’s horse, with Frank holding onto it, was in Virgil’s way for a clear shot at Frank, but Virgil continued shooting
– Wyatt was still struggling with Ike Clanton, when Ike grabbed Wyatt’s hand that held Wyatt’s gun, which made the gun discharge – at the same time, Morgan shouted, “I’m hit!” or “I’ve got it!” as a bullet tore through one shoulder and out the other – Morgan went down, attempted to get back up and went down again
– The bullet that hit Morgan may have come from any of the weapons being fired – friendly or non-friendly
– Wyatt finally managed to free himself from Ike, saying “The fight [has] commenced, go to fighting or get away!” – Ike Clanton ran in the opposite direction of Fremont Street, towards Toughnut Street, two blocks away and hid in an office
– Doc Holliday kept his cool as these events took place – he resisted the urge to throw himself into the fray – Doc was watching Tom McLaury, waiting for a clear shot at Tom whose horse had become an obstacle
– Now that Wyatt was free from Ike, he turned his attention back to the fight, and needed to get Tom’s horse out of the way, shooting at it and nicking it – the horse jerked free from Tom’s grip and Tom was in the open – Doc immediately closed in on Tom and fired the shotgun, hitting Tom under his right armpit – mortally wounded, Tom struggled his way down Fremont Street, towards Third Street and collapsed against a telegraph pole near the intersection (testimony differs as to whether Tom had a weapon or not – the Earps say he did, but no weapon was found on him when he was taken to the same house as the other two shot cowboys after the gunfight-some surmise that Tom’s gun was picked up by a cowboy friend)
– Doc threw the shotgun down, and withdrew his pistol, looking for another target
– As Frank staggered onto Fremont Street, he attempted to duck behind his horse, meanwhile, with Tom down and Ike gone, Wyatt and Virgil turned their attention to Billy Clanton, who was still sitting against the Harwood House, and attempting to shoot with his left hand – Billy was now shot in the abdomen and right wrist
– Doc may have also sent a shot or two Billy’s way – Billy was too injured to accurately shoot, even though he tried and the shot went straight up, so Billy was effectively out of the fight
– Back on Fremont Street, Frank took a shot at Morgan, at which Frank’s horse bolted from Frank’s grip, leaving Frank in the open – Morgan mustered up the strength to rise and take aim at Frank, but Frank’s attention was on Doc
– As Doc was ready with his pistol, Frank raised himself up straight, and exclaimed to Doc, “I’ve got you now!” – Doc replied, “Blaze away! You’re a daisy if you have.” – Frank pulled his trigger and the bullet grazed Doc’s hip and Doc cried out, “I’m shot right through!”
– Then Doc and Morgan shot at the same time at Frank – Doc’s shot missed, but Morgan’s shot hit Frank near the right ear – Frank collapsed immediately – Doc went up to the fallen McLaury with the intention of killing him, but Morgan’s bullet had already sealed Frank’s fate
– Camillus Fly, the owner of Fly’s Boardinghouse and Photography Studio, and Saloonman, Bob Hatch, started arguing about who should take the gun away from Billy Clanton, while Billy laid in the lot and was desperately ejecting empty cartridges from his gun – both Camillus and Bob wearily approached the injured teenager – Camillus Fly finally took the gun away from Billy
– Roughly thirty shots and thirty seconds later, the infamous gunfight was over
The events summarized above, that took place that late October afternoon, are an amalgamation of eye witness accounts and court testimonies, and is the best record we have of those events.
In researching your ancestors, you must strive to pool all of the available records together to try and tell their story for future generations to come.
A More Recent Discovery
In mid-2010, historian, author and antique dealer, Lee Silva came across and purchased a collection of paintings, drawings, letters and personal belongings of many of the early cowboy desert painters including Victor Clyde Forsythe, John Hilton, Bill Bender, James Swinnerton, Ted DeGrazia, Will James, Ed Borein and Olaf Wieghorst. Amongst the collection, was an original, signed pen-and-ink sketch by Victor Clyde Forsythe that was the drafted rendition of the well-known 1952, 43″x 60″ oil painting by the same artist of the gunfight near the O.K. Corral.
This unique sketch identifies each person that was illustrated in the final painting. This sketch, which may be the only one known to exist, is based upon eye-witness accounts, and accounts handed down by Victor’s father, William Bowen Forsyth and Victor’s uncle, Ira Chandler, who ran the Chandler & Forsyth C.O.D. Store, located at 328 Fremont Street. Both claimed their presence at the gunfight, and were said to have kept a journal that they recorded in what they had witnessed. There are discrepancies though from what was illustrated and other eye-witness testimonies from other Tombstone citizens and the Earp entourage.
Here is the original sketch:
Based upon the previous accounting of the gunfight in this posting and the positions of the men and the horses in the above sketch, there are some differences. With that said, there are two striking details that match testimony and other eye-witness accounts. 1) Sheriff Benham (5) and Billy Claiborne (6) exiting the vacant lot through the side door of Fly’s Boardinghouse and 2) Ike Clanton (8) imposing himself upon Wyatt Earp (7) during the gunfight.
This is as close to a photograph of this event as we are ever going to get.
Below is a picture of the final painting:
-The book, “The Last Gunfight”, written by Jeff Guinn
-Court testimony during the trial of the Earps (murder charges filed by Ike Clanton)
-Letters written by Earp family members
-Interviews with eye witnesses and eye witness accounts
-Material from other noted Earp authors
-Material from biographer Stuart Lake
-The © Lee A. Silva Collection
Special thanks to all our Earp relatives out there, and especially to my great-uncle Bill Earp, who started me on the trail of the Earps. Happy Trails, Uncle Bill!
Also, special acknowledgement to my wife – her love and support is vital to my existence and my writing.
Brian S. Miller – 2019