Day 2, Friday, March 15, 2019
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.
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!