One of the most famous conflicts in American history is the fight at the OK Corral. It became the symbol of good vs. evil. It became a hotbed of intrigue and spin. What really happened there? Who fired the first shot? Who were the true victims?
Before jumping into the fight and what really happened, you really need to look a little further into the past and set the scene for the fight. Who were the people involved and why did there even have to be a conflict?
The setting is the Wild West where the law could be whoever had the most power. Officially there were lawmen, but their power was limited. It was their one gun against dozens which normally were turned against him. It didn’t do much in keeping peace.
Tombstone, Arizona was not an exception. The Cowboys were the gang of the day and were notoriously stealing horses, raping, and killing. Nothing got in their way. Nobody stood up to them. Their version of law was nasty and was no bed of roses. Blood followed in their wake. One did not cross the Cowboys.
In walks the Earp brothers who were themselves familiar with the law and the other side of it. They had jobs in the past working in law enforcement and a few episodes of scandal that hints at corrupt lawmen. But the key thing to remember is that they were afraid of no man. That included the Cowboys.
Changes Meant Death
Their arrival in Tombstone marked a change in the town. They began trying to lessen the power of the Cowboys and make the town a little more civilized. Needless to say, the Cowboys were not too thrilled. Various attacks on the Earp brothers occurred. Tensions mounted as each side tried to come out on top and rule the territory.
Some began to see the influence of the Cowboys’ lessening. Some of the gang themselves could see the writing on the wall. Ike Clanton, one of the main members of the gang, secretly met with Wyatt Earp and worked out a deal where Ike would give evidence on the other members of the gang in exchange for clemency. But like any small town, secrets are not kept too well.
Word got out that Ike, soon to be former Outlaw, had ratted on his fellow gang members. In an effort to save face, Ike declared that it was the Earps spreading lies about him in an effort to tear the gang apart. Truthfully, Ike believed that Wyatt had leaked it so that the gang could get rid of him and freedom would be just a pipedream for him.
Anger brewed against Ike. He had gone to the Earps only to find that his actions were not kept quiet. Did the Earps let the cat out of the bag? No one really knows.
Thought There Were No Firearms
One of the established laws of the town was that there could be no firearms in the town except those worn by the lawmen. Word got to the Earps and their friend, Doc Holliday, that the Cowboys were in town, wearing firearms, and itching for a fight. The Earps and Holliday made their way to the corral but the conflict never did actually occur in the corral. All the action took place out back.
The Earps and Holliday walked up to find the gang assembled. Witnesses to the event have a multitude of accounts that range from the Earps coming in and being the only ones firing a shot to them being ambushed by the Cowboys. But a review of the event and those of the witnesses show that more than likely the Cowboys enticed the lawmen to a conflict in an effort to eliminate them from the picture. The end result was something different.
Quick and Deadly
In just a span of 30 seconds, 30 shots were fired with most of the cowboys being killed and Virgil Earp wounded. Ike Clanton did not die immediately. He tried to say that he was trying to protect the Earp when he rushed them. Instead of thanks he received lead. What he was really doing we may never know. But it was not long before he closed his eyes for the last time.
A trial occurred regarding the fight at the OK Corral. Though there were skeptics for both sides, the end result was the clearing of the Earps and Holliday of all charges. It was self-defense.
Was the OK Corral a symbol of good conquering evil? Was it where the corrupt lawman won again while eliminating those that stood against him? Or was the truth somewhere in the middle? We may never know for sure. Both sides of the conflict had its corrupt aspects. But the legend lives on.
As with all legends myth mixes with reality. Over time the reality fades into the background as the myth becomes more entertaining. The truth at the OK Corral? Two sides were wanting control of a town and both were willing to kill to get it. One side had not one set of morals. The other side had them at times. They were all complex men who faced each other at the back of a horse stable with their hands itching to pull the trigger and end it all. Their pride and their arrogance went into the history books as the fight at the OK Corral.