A while ago I took my family on a trip to Tombstone, Arizona, a place which is sometimes glamorized as "The Town Too Tough to Die." Many will remember this as the site of the legendary 1881 "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" when Billy Clanton and brothers Tom and Frank McLaury lost their lives in a gun battle with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.
As a student of Western history, I often wanted to visit the place where the most famous gun battle of the Old West actually took place. As we walked through the town of Tombstone, its old buildings restored and painted, we couldn't help but let our imagination take us back to the day when the gunfight at the O.K. Corral actually took place, about 126 years before we arrived.
Our journey around town took us into the Bird Cage Theatre where many years before it hosted live entertainment for local citizenry, including cowboys and outlaws. We later wandered into the newspaper office, which continues to publish under the name Tombstone Epitaph. It has been said that back in the old days it was only news when someone died of natural causes, not in a gun fight. Many of the old saloons continue to operate and we, of course, had to mosey up to the bar for a sarsaparilla.
We saved the best until near the end when we finally wandered into the original O.K. Corral and really soaked up the local history. To some extent it has no doubt been exaggerated and fictionalized, I'm sure.
After leaving the Corral, we had to pay a respectful visit to the well-known Boot Hill Graveyard where the losers of the famous gun battle are still buried. The most well-known epitaph was the one found on the marker of Lester Moore. It reads, "Here Lies Lester Moore, Four Shots from a Forty-Four. No Les No More."
Later, we walked into a local shop with a wide assortment of cowboy hats and a mirror near the front door. Of course I had to try one on. As I stared into the mirror, admiring how good I looked in a cowboy hat, two gentlemen walked in the front door. They told me that I looked like I had just stepped out of the Old West and added that they fully expected to see a six-gun strapped to my hip. I thanked them for what I thought at the time to be a real compliment.
As soon as they left, I resumed admiring myself in the mirror. It was then that my imagination took over and I began to think that them two fellers was right. I sure looked mighty good. As my mind continued to wander I started to think of myself as the modern-day marshal of Tombstone. When lawless gun slingers came to town I'd surely mow them all down, me with my six-shooter that fired 12 times without reloading. My reputation as a fast gun would spread far and wide and Iíd be a hero and living legend in my own time.
After the effects of the sarsaparilla wore off, I began to sober up. It was then that I got to thinking about why the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral started in the first place. The Clanton and McLaury brothers had been feuding with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Serious threats had been exchanged between them. On entering Tombstone that day, the Clanton and McLaury brothers refused to comply with a local law requiring them to check their guns at the office of Marshal Virgil Earp. As a result, Marshal Earp decided to confront them at the O.K. Corral. Anticipating trouble, he asked his brothers, Morgan and Wyatt, to come along to help him enforce the law. Doc Holliday, a friend of the Earps and a gunslinger in his own right, insisted on joining them on their famous walk down Fremont Street.
When they arrived at the O.K Corral, all hell broke loose. The gun battle erupted almost immediately and ended with three men losing their lives. Virgil and Morgan Earp, as well as Doc Holliday, suffered gunshot wounds, but otherwise survived. Wyatt Earp escaped unscathed. After the shooting began, itís said that Billy Clantonís brother, Ike, ran like a scared coyote only to die a violent death another day.
However entertaining, this legend is sadly like so many others throughout history with people dying needlessly, and I wanted no part in any new tales. So I took off the cowboy hat and my imaginary gun and gun belt and decided to let the Old West rest in peace.