Showdown at the O.K. Corral: 30 Shots in 30 Seconds


View of cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and lasso.

In just 30 seconds of gunfire, three men were killed and two were badly wounded in one of the most famous gunfights of all time.
(Image credit: Bigstock/LincolnRogers)

A Bitter Rivalry

At roughly 2:30 p.m., four men walked down the street in Tombstone, AZ. The day was October 26, 1881. These men were the Earp brothers--Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan--and their close friend, Doc Holliday. With Virgil as the town marshal, they were prepared to arrest a group of cowboys that were waiting for Doc Holliday outside of his home after a heated argument between Ike Clanton, leader of the cowboys, and Holliday on the previous evening. Ike Clanton had sworn he would kill Holliday and the Earps. With the rivalry between two gangs, the shootout, and loyalty for one's brotherhood, no one knew how far this battle would go or how significant this day would become.

When the men reached the O.K. Corral, Virgil told the cowboys to "throw up your hands." In a brief moment of time, everyone had paused. It is unknown who shot first, but once the first gunshot was fired, both sides started to shoot. Ironically, Ike Clanton fled the scene in fear, declaring that he was unarmed. In addition, another cowboy named Billy Claiborne also ran away from the fight, leaving their men behind to face the battle.

Just as the gunfight began, two of the cowboys, Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton, had been shot dead. Morgan Earp was shot between his shoulders while Virgil Earp suffered a shot to one of his calves. Although shot in the stomach, one of the cowboys by the name of Frank McLaury had gone up to Doc Holliday with his gun pointed at him. Both Holliday and Morgan Earp shot McLaury in the head simultaneously, ultimately killing him. It's unknown which shot had done the deed, but the shootout was over when McLaury hit the ground.

The cowboys and their supporters insisted that their men were murdered in cold blood. The Earp brothers and Holliday stood trial, but the charges were dropped. Although they were free, the "war" was far from over. Within a year after the O.K. Corral gunfight, Virgil Earp was attacked and had lost the use of his right arm while just a few months later, Morgan Earp was shot to death. This started what was called the "Vendetta Ride," which was set up for revenge for the Earp brothers. Wyatt Earp led the ride with his youngest brother, Warren Earp, and Doc Holliday. In the end, they killed a few cowboys in their brother's name.

Archetype of the Wild West

Over a hundred years later, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has become quite possibly the most famous gunfight of all time and it is the archetype for much of the popular culture associated with the Wild West. However, this is not where the story ends. Some believe the war is still ongoing between the Earps, Holliday, and the cowboys--from beyond the grave.

Graves of Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury at Boothill Cemetery

Strange noises, cold spots, and even ghostly apparitions have been reported throughout Tombstone, including Boothill Graveyard.
(Image credit: Bigstock/jefffrank)

A Haunted Tombstone?

There have been numerous reports that Tombstone is haunted with ghosts of men who are still fighting at the O.K. Corral. Apparitions are said to have been seen of men wearing cowboy hats and boots with their guns drawn, and ghosts of Virgil Earp and Billy Clanton have also been reported around the area. "Cold spots" have been reported in the vicinity of the O.K. Corral. Visitors have also reported hearing strange, unidentifiable noises coming from the nearby Boot Hill Cemetery. Some even claim that ghosts have appeared in photos taken by tourists.

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral remains one of the most popular historical events in modern history, and it helped to shape popular conceptions of the Old West. The event has been written about and reenacted in numerous books, television shows and movies. While there are differing accounts as to how the gunfight actually played out, and historians have often complained that the modern potrayal of the Earps and the cowboys is innacurate, it is certain that the gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a fascinating look at rivalry and lawlessness in the American Southwest at the end of the nineteenth century. And, if the paranormal rumors about Tombstone being haunted are true, the war that lasted only 30 seconds may never be put to rest.

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