Tag Archive | Old West

Arizona Getaway 2019: Tombstone and The O.K. Corral

Day 2, Friday, March 15, 2019

Tombstone, Arizona

Our second day, we went to Tombstone.  I had long ago heard about it, had never been there and thought it would be interesting. I wanted to spend the day there!  Mom was game, as it had been a long time since she visited as well.

For those of you who are light on your Tombstone history, Tombstone is a mining town in Southern Arizona, and it is the infamous site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  The “good” guys, the Earp brothers and their buddy Doc Holliday, got into a gunfight with the bad guys, the Clantons and McLaurys.  That’s the sanitized version anyway.  The truth is a bit tougher to pin down.  The truth is that Tombstone was a lawless place, with violence and murders occurring regularly.  It wasn’t that difficult to get appointed as a lawman there; you just had to know the right somebody.  And once you were a lawman, you could deputize your friends and family!  And that’s what Wyatt Earp did.

The Earps didn’t have spotless records.  They had some honest dealings and some shady ones, including being pimps, card dealers and horse thieves.  Several of them also either solicited prostitutes or lived with them.  Doc Holliday made his living as a gambler and sometime dentist and his girlfriend was a prostitute too.  The Clantons and McLaurys didn’t have their noses clean either.  They were suspected of stealing horses, and according to the historical record, they were probably guilty.  But their offense that day in Tombstone?  Not checking in their weapons when they came into town. Which most other men probably didn’t do either.

There had been a lot of threats back and forth for months before the shootout.  After a lot of lead up and posturing, things were ripe for a confrontation, and it happened on October 26, 1881 at the O.K. Corral.  Except it wasn’t actually at the corral; it was more a small vacant lot between two buildings, one of which was C.S. Fly’s Photography Studio.  But that doesn’t sound as good.  The shootout at the Photography Studio?

In the end, after 30 seconds of shooting among nine men, three men were dead and three were wounded.  The three dead men were Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton.  Virgil and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded in varying degrees of severity.  The ensuing attempts at revenge continued into the next year; Morgan Earp was shot and killed in March 1882.  Did anything really get settled?

Mom and I stopped first at the historic Boothill Cemetery, where the three men who died at the O.K. Corral are buried, but there are many others there as well.  Tombstone was a rough place, and many of the markers explained that the grave’s inhabitant died at the hands of another.  Of course, others died in the usual fashion – like getting trampled by horses!  Or being pulled out of the jail and lynched.  Or opium overdoses.  Hardly anybody, it seems, lived a long life in Tombstone.

Mom and I ventured next to the O.K. Corral, where we enjoyed watching the shootout reenactment.  Admittedly, it is a bit cheesy, with the actors encouraging spectators to boo and cheer for the bad guys and the good guys.  It does help you realize that even with all the lead up, when you know it is coming and are actively trying to watch so you can see exactly what happens, 30 shots fired by six potential participants within the span of 30 seconds, with smoke and people moving, makes it difficult to figure out what truly happened.  No wonder they were never really able to figure out what went down.

We checked out the exhibits on Tombstone’s history, both before and after the O.K. Corral.  We toured C.S. Fly’s Boarding House and Photography Studio, where Doc Holliday’s girlfriend Big Nose Kate watched the gunfight unfold (gotta love history; I wonder what my nickname would be?).  Several cowboys who fled the gunfight did so through the door of Fly’s Boarding House, including Ike Clanton.

A hearse display

Be sure to check out the Historama presentation while you are at the O.K. Corral; it is dated, but still fascinating, and not just for its historical value.  How often do you see a revolving model of Tombstone, complete with a train, animals, mine shafts and other attributes of the town?  Did I mention it was narrated by Vincent Price?  Down the street you can tour the museum of Tombstone’s oldest newspaper, the Epitaph.  Your admission ticket to the O.K. Corral even gets you a free copy of a historic edition of the newspaper.

It was good to see the reenactment, but we did more on our visit that day!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: The Fetterman Fight

Day 11, Thursday, July 26, 2018

The day before, I had visited Fort Phil Kearny and learned about the Fetterman Fight.  I blogged about my visit here.  The next morning, on my way out of Sheridan, I visited the site of the Fetterman Fight.  In the Fetterman Fight, about 90 soldiers had been dispatched outside of the fort to guard woodcutters about 5 miles away; they were cutting wood for fort construction and heating fuel.  The wagon train was attacked, and signaled to the fort that they needed back up.

The ridge looking out over the valley

The Commanding Officer at the fort, Colonel Henry Carrington, dispatched about 50 more soldiers under the command of Captain William Fetterman to provide relief, but Carrington gave orders that under no circumstances were they to go over the ridge line in the area.  The Native Americans successfully lured them into a trap though; over the ridge.  When all was said and done, Fetterman and 81 soldiers had been killed, stripped naked and mutilated in ritual fashion.  In less than six months of Fort Phil Kearny’s existence, 96 soldiers and 58 civilians had been killed.

The ridge where the Fetterman Fight occurred

It was certainly a sad time in US history, with the army and the tribes battling for control of the land all across the West, and the tribes being forced further and further onto undesirable reservation land as white men moved in to mine, ranch and farm.  The Native Americans had enough; who can blame them?  The Fetterman Fight was a pre-cursor to the Battle of Little Bighorn, which occurred 10 years later near present-day Billings, Montana.

The trail at the Fetterman Fight

The battle was a win for the tribes; even though skirmishes continued in the area and the tribes lost their competitive advantage when the troops at the fort were armed with breach loading rifles in 1867.  The 1867 Wagon Box Fight was a draw, even though the tribes had between 300 and 1,000 warriors in the battle against the government’s 32 troops and civilian wood cutters.

In 1868 the US Government negotiated a peace treaty with Red Cloud; the Native Americans retained control of the Powder River country.  The three forts along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned; the Cheyenne burned Fort Phil Kearny shortly after.  However, in 1868, the railroad had reached the area, making the wagon trails obsolete; it was much faster and much less dangerous to take a train west than to try to cover the ground in a wagon.  Unfortunately for the tribes the train made it that much easier and safer for whites to continue to move into the area; the encroachment continued and the tribes only retained their control of the area for eight more years.

Carrington, his wife, and the other women and children left the fort after the Fetterman fight; Carrington was publicly maligned for his role in the battle, even though a report showed that Fetterman had acted in violation of the orders that Carrington had given him.  He wrote years later about the battle and managed to re-establish his tarnished reputation.

The monument at the Fetterman Fight site

It was interesting to visit the site, and I was completely alone there.  I hiked most of the mile long trail, but rain was threatening so I headed back to the car just as a few big, fat raindrops started.  I got on the road to head east – I had more to see that day!

They have to point out that rattlesnakes are venomous?

And no, I didn’t see any rattlesnakes… Sadly…

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Phil Kearny

Day 10, Wednesday, July 25, 2018

After lunch, I drove to Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site, which is about 25 miles east of Sheridan.  Fort Phil Kearny was a short-lived US Army outpost set up along the Bozeman Trail, the wagon road that linked the Oregon Trail to the gold fields in present-day Montana.  It was first constructed in 1866, and was tasked with protecting travelers who were heading northwest along the Bozeman Trail; there were about 400 troops stationed there.  However, from the very beginning, the Native Americans in the area had a issue with the fort’s presence, and they ended up fighting several battles over control of the North Powder River in the area.

The Powder River country landscape

When the Army first envisioned the forts along the Bozeman Trail, the land was occupied by the Crow tribe, who believed that cooperating with the US Government was in their best interest; they accepted the forts on their land, which had been “granted” to them by the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty.  However, dwindling herds of bison meant that the tribes were moving around more to seek food;  the Lakota tribe took control of the area, decided to ignore the treaty boundaries, and were decidedly less accepting of the presence of the US Army.

The tribes had seen the devastation inflicted on the land and the natural resources by white settlers traveling on the Oregon and California Trails, and they were determined to protect this area, one of their last open hunting grounds, which was critical for their way of life.  The Lakota, cooperating with the Northern Cheyenne and the Northern Arapaho tribes, launched a series of small scale attacks on troops, travelers, and civilian laborers working out of the forts.  One such skirmish erupted further; the Fetterman Fight in 1866.  However, as that battle was fought about three miles away from the fort, I will talk more about it in a later post; I visited the battle site the next day.

Sculpture of Native American scouts on the ridge line

It costs $5 to visit; $3 if you are a Wyoming resident.  When you visit, the Visitor’s Center has a brief film that goes over the details of the fort, the Fetterman Fight and the Wagon Box Fight that occurred in 1867.  There is also a diorama of the layout of the original fort. There is a lot of imagination that goes into your visit; the original fort was burned in 1868 and the replica buildings have not been constructed.  The fort site has had some excavations; a map and signs mark out where the original buildings were located.  There is a rebuilt section of the fort wall, so you can try to imagine what it would have looked like.  The cemetery down the hill also contains burials of some of the soldiers and civilians who were killed during the Army’s short occupation here.

Today it is a peaceful grassland, and it is still a sparsely populated area.  I can only imagine how remote it was back in the 1860s; the fort was 236 miles from its nearest neighbor, Fort Laramie.  That would have been an incredibly difficult journey on horseback or in a wagon trail even in the best weather, not to mention temperatures of 30 below zero during a harsh winter.

I saw magpies and pronghorn in the grass beyond the fort’s boundaries when I visited, and imagined what it would have been like when the area had large herds of bison.  It was worth the visit to see the wildlife I did see!

After my wanders at the fort, I went back to camp for a nice nap!