The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral—And How It Changed the American West
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Virgil Earp was determined to sleep in on Wednesday, October 26, 1881. The Tombstone police chief tumbled into bed around 6 A.M. after participating in an all-night poker game at the Occidental Saloon. Among others, he'd played against Johnny Behan, the county sheriff, and local ranchers Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury. Before sitting down to play cards, Clanton had spent much of the night threatening the chief's brother Wyatt and Wyatt's gambler pal, Doc Holliday. At one point he and Holliday had to be separated. Holliday eventually headed home to his room in a boardinghouse, but Clanton kept drinking and getting more worked up.
As chief of police, even off-duty and playing in a card game, Virgil Earp always remained alert to possible trouble. But empty threats were common in Western saloons. Men had a few drinks too many, promised to commit mayhem on somebody else, and forgot all about it the next day when they sobered up. Ike Clanton had a reputation in Tombstone as a loudmouth who fired off hot air, not hot lead. Virgil didn't take him too seriously. When the marathon poker game finally concluded—afterward, nobody seemed to remember who won or lost, so no huge sums could have changed hands— Clanton swore again to Virgil that he was going to get his guns and then settle things with Holliday the next time he saw him. He added that it seemed Virgil was part of a group conspiring against him. The Earps and Doc Holliday, Clanton warned, had better get ready to fight. The police chief replied that he was going to get some sleep, Ike should do the same, and he better not cause any problems while Virgil was in bed.
Dawn on that Wednesday morning broke bitterly cold in southeastern Arizona Territory, so it was a good time to stay warm under the covers. A storm was on the way; Thursday would bring sleet and snow. Extremes in weather had been common all year in the region. The blazing heat of summer was a given, but April through early July had been the hottest and driest in memory. When rain finally did come in July and intermittently thereafter, it frequently arrived as a deluge. Just weeks earlier, much of sprawling Cochise County—roughly the size of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined—had been drenched. The desert soil, baked rock-hard by the sun under a coating of sand, didn't absorb moisture well, and roads throughout the county flooded. Now biting winds whipped down from the north, causing the temperature to plummet. It was not a comfortable morning to be outdoors.
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On October 26, 1881, a confrontation between eight men in Tombstone, Arizona, erupted in gunfire. The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday faced off against Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. When it was over, three men were dead and two were wounded. The shootout lasted just 30 seconds but profoundly impacted the way Americans viewed the Old West. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, as the event came to be known, is often viewed as the defining battle between frontier forces of good and evil.
As award-winning author Jeff Guinn shows in The Last Gunfight, many of the facts surrounding the event have been misinterpreted or are simply incorrect. For example, the shootout occurred not in the O.K. Corral but in a vacant lot several doors down. Popular legend holds that “the cowboys”—Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury—fired first. But did the Earps truly act in self-defense?
Drawing from a cache of new material—including diaries, letters and Wyatt Earp's own hand-drawn sketch of the shootout—Guinn examines what happened on that day in Tombstone. He also paints a vivid picture of what the West was really like. More than a showdown between good guys and bad guys, the gunfight was symbolic of a clash between evolving social, political and economic forces. At the time, a loosely knit band of desperados, collectively known as cowboys, were causing tensions and threatening the peace in Tombstone.
The cowboys robbed stagecoaches and rustled livestock. In exchange for a cut of the profits, ranchers like the Clantons and McLaurys willingly grazed the stolen cattle on their land until it was ready for sale. “In Wyatt’s real West, anyone referred to as a cowboy was most likely a criminal,” explains Guinn. It was Hollywood that later romanticized the term, using it to describe hardworking ranch hands and those who rode horses and fought to uphold justice.
In Tombstone, opposing opinions about the cowboys intensified an already bitter political feud over government intervention in territorial and local issues. The rugged individualists, independent ranchers and cowboys wanted less intervention, while the wealthy miners and well-heeled townsfolk wanted more. The town’s rival newspapers fed the flames. The Nugget claimed the cowboys' transgressions were exaggerated. Taking the opposite view, The Republic Epitaph declared the cowboys a menace to local safety and Tombstone’s reputation. Simmering tensions over the issue led to the history-making deadly confrontation.
Guinn separates the facts from the fiction and places the gunfight in the context of its times. Combining masterful storytelling, fresh research and memorable characters, The Last Gunfight illuminates the Wild West's iconic shootout.
Hardcover Book : 416 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster ( May 17, 2011 )
Item #: 13-357729
Product Dimensions: 6.25 x 9.25 x 1.04inches
Product Weight: 24.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
This book is a real page-turner because of the way the story of the town, the people and the events that led up to the famous showdown is told layer by layer. Even those who know the line between the good guys and bad guys was very narrow will still enjoy the way the story is presented. One can almost hear Doc's hacking cough and smell the black powder.
I completely enjoyed this book. I was surprised to find out how things actually happened, since my only previous "knowledge" of the gunfight was via Hollywood. Good descriptions of the characters of the people involved, the geography, the politics, everything that contributed to what happened. It's rare to find a history book that is a page-turner, but this one is! His style of writing isn't pretentious, so he can make a really good story out of his subject. I was impressed with his Bonnie & Clyde book, and was not disappointed in this one either!