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Legend Of The O.k. Corral

By Chuck Clegg - | Oct 21, 2020

Many years ago, Mary and I decided to take a trip out west to show our son, Jeremiah some of the sights of the old west and a visit to the Grand Canyon. We felt that everyone should at least one time in their life see the Grand Canyon. Unless you have experienced the vastness of the canyon in person, it is hard to realize the wonder of this part of the southwest. We also visited meteor creator. A big hole in the ground left from a meteor that struck the earth 50,000 years ago. We also stopped by the Petrified Forest. Although we couldn’t find any trees. Just a lot of long rocks that were once real trees. South of Flagstaff, we stopped in one of the most beautiful places in the west, Sedona, Arizona. The red rock formations and landscapes are truly breath taking. After visiting the red rock country, we took Jeremiah to Old Tucson. This full sized movie set has been the back drop for many an old western movie. I have watched John Wayne walk down the streets of the movie town many times.

But we wanted to show Jeremiah a real old western town that has become legendary for the most famous shoot out in all of western lure, Tombstone. Now, to be honest like most legends of the west, I had visualized in my mind, the west I had seen in movies as a kid. Maybe my memory was from the 1957 movie, The Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral. The lead character Wyatt Earp, was played by Burt Lancaster. Kirk Douglas played the part of his side kick, Doc Holliday. Not sure what I expected when visiting the real Tombstone, but I am sure what we visited was not the same town of the old western legend. Tourist shops and actors playing parts in make believe gunfights.

Most of what we know and believe comes from the accounts of the gunfight written down in dime-store-novels. These early accounts of western shoot outs were greatly enhanced to wow readers back east wanting to know about the Wild West. Gun fights at high noon and men on tall horses. For the most part stereo typed cowboys were created to sell stories. The real west was often gritty with law coming from the end of gun barrel. And not always a straight up shoot out in a dusty street at noon.

One hundred and thirty nine years ago at 3:00 pm on October 26, the shootout at the O.k. Corral took place. For all of thirty seconds the bullets flew and gun smoke filled the air. When the shooting was over. Three members of the so called “Cowboy Gang” were dead. Wyatt Earp, with his two brothers Virgil and Morgan along with Doc Holliday stood looking at the bodies. In that short time bullets flew in all directions. Some estimates tell of as many as thirty shots were fired at close range. Accounts say the two sides were only a few feet apart. It is hard to understand how only three were killed. Bad marksmanship or wild shooting. Whatever the reason, the Earp’s and Holliday survived the encounter which set off an ongoing feud between the two sides.

Remember how I said accounts of western shoot outs often came from dime-store-novels. Well history first told of the shootout being at the Ok Corral. Truth is, the shooting took place next to a photographic studio in a small empty lot. The corral was about sixty feet away from the back side of the stable associated with the Ok Corral. I’m guessing that the writer who told the story figured it was a better dime store novel tale, Shoot out at the O.k. Corral. Instead of a shootout in small lot next to photographic studio. It don’t grab your attention as well the O.K. Corral.

Down through time there have been many accounts written of the gunfight and its’ aftermath. After the shooting a month long legal hearing was held to find the truth of what happened. Without court transcription of the testimony from the hearing, it is newspaper stories and hear say leading to accounts of the gun fight we know today. In the end, the Earp’s and Holliday were found to be justified in their actions.

Since the first silent movies, there have been at least eight movies that have been retold the story of the shootout. That thirty second gunfight has been retold and seen by millions of fans of the old west story. Wyatt Earp was also turned into a television series with Hugh O’Brian that ran from 1955 to 1961.

Of all the movie versions, the story I like is the 1946, My Darling Clementine directed by John Ford. A young Henry Fonda played the part of Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday was played by Victor Mature. And Walter Brenna played the part of Old Man Clanton. The movie was dark and gritty. It was not fancy or big on special effects. But I have always enjoyed the characters and how they told the story. Even though I know it was a long way from the real facts.

The other movie I like is also my son, Jeremiah’s favorite. It is the 1993 re-telling the shootout with Kurt Russell playing the part of Wyatt Earp. His brothers are played by Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton. Val Kilmer played the part of Doc Holliday. All four actors somehow fit their on screen characters perfectly.

Doc Holliday graduated dental school when he was 21. Shortly afterwards he contracted tuberculosis. His illness led doctors to tell him he didn’t have long to live. So, he decided to go out west to a dryer climate. That move made him part of this legendary story. Holliday died in 1887 of his illness.

Morgan Earp was born in Pella, Iowa in 1851. For most of his life he was in law enforcement. He began working first for Wells Fargo before going to Tombstone. A few months after the shootout, Morgan was gunned down and killed in March of 1882.

Virgil Earp was born in Hartford, Kentucky in 1843. Early on in his career he owned a saw mill and drove freight wagons in Arizona. It was during this time he make a friend who was a marshal. This led him to his career in law enforcement. In December, after the October shoot out, Virgil was ambushed. His gunshot injury left him with a permanently injured arm. However, his injury did not prevent his working for the rest of his life in different types of law enforcement. He died in 1905.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois in 1848. History remembers him as a frontiersmen, saloon owner, gambler, gun fighter, and lawman. He is best remembered for his part in the gunfight. After the O.K. Corral and a legal hearing that followed, he lost confidence in the courts. The killing of Morgan and ambush to Virgil lead to his pursuing the Cowboy Gang with a vengeance. Later in 1882, Wyatt left the Arizona territory and headed west to California, where he remained for the rest of his life. For a time, he even consulted on the making of western movies.

If not for the gunfight, the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and the others, would not be part of history. But that thirty seconds in Tombstone sealed all their fates to be part of the stories of the American west. But somehow, those legendary times are fading from modern memories. Perhaps someday people won’t remember who those men were, but you will remember that they were an important part of history as we look back 139 years, Through the Lens.