Hollywood has an unquestionable tendency to dramatize events to make them more appealing to the audience. This happens to be the case in The Gunfight at the OK Corral. Although Hollywood documented the events leading up to, and the actual gunfight relatively accurate, they failed to include some small incidents and confrontations that may have very well contributed to the outcome in Tombstone. The film begins in Fort Griffin, Texas with “Doc” Holliday in trouble after he killed a man in a saloon. Although it was clearly self-defense, a lynch mob gathered to hang Doc.
This is when Wyatt Earp sets up a distraction and arranges for Doc Holliday’s escape. Doc felt he was in great dept to his savior and wound up in Dodge City, Kansas, where Wyatt is marshalling. After some talk between the two, Earp decides to let the notorious killer stay in his town as lonf as he promised no killing. This segment marked the beginning of their friendship when, according to Dee Brown Doc saved Wyatt’s life from a bunch of rustlers in the Long Branch Saloon.Kate, Doc’s on and off girlfriend, on the other hand suggested that the friendship started on their trip west since Earp accepted Doc’s tuberculosis, a disease many did not understand and were frightened of. In the movie Wyatt Earp was getting ready to move to California to marry.
Then he got word that his brother Virgil was in danger and needed his help with a rowdy bunch of cowboys. Dee Brown said, “Wyatt decided Dodge was too tame for him and at the end of the season he, Doc, and Big-Nose Kate left for Tombstone.“His arrival in Arizona with Doc and Kate was already a problem since highly acclaimed Wyatt Earp was riding in with the cold-blooded killer, Doc Holliday. The film portrayed Wyatt’s brothers as being very wary of Doc’s presence, but they already knew what he had done for Wyatt so they had accepted him as friend, but that did not go for the rest of the town. The events played in the movie were obviously crucial to the gunfight, but there were other circumstances that contributed. Perhaps the biggest problem that went unmentioned was the Benson Stage Robbery where Bud Philpot was murdered. Though it was believed to be a failed assignation attempt on Bob Paul instead of a robbery, since none of the reported 26-80 thousand dollars was stolen. A posse quickly formed with three Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, and many others.
They only found one man on their hunt, Luther King whom they scared into admitting that the robbers were Harry Head, Billy Leonard, and Jim Crane. This is a very important event because of the actions the Earps take with the Clantons and the McLaurys to locate the stage robbers. Many rumors flew around the Benson robbery accusing everyone from Doc and the Earps to the Clantons and the McLaurys. A deal between Ike Clanton and Wyatt Earp was documented, Ike wanted the Leonard’s ranch and Wyatt wanted the glory of arresting Philpot’s murders. Even though these were associates of Ike, he wanted the ranch and the cash reward. He knew that if word were to get out that he had a deal with the Earps that he would surly be dead.
And this fact scared him from the day he and Wyatt shook hands. The film makes the sheriff of Tombstone Cotton Wilson, but in real life his name was John Behan. His character in the movie is fairly accurate, Behan was a corrupt man whom received payoffs and benefits from the cowboys in exchange for him being impartial to their actions. Wyatt openly has problems with Behan after he pieces together Behan is dirty.The reasons for the problems with the cowboys, as the film writes it, are their cattle rustling and their blatant disrespect for laws.
The Earps seemed to take this personally and even though they offered to get out of town, Wyatt instead demanded that they return the stolen cattle. The Clantons and McLaurys realized that their problems began with the arrival of Wyatt Earp. So they figured the easiest possible solution would be to kill him. On the night of their planned assassination they fouled up and killed his little brother. This infuriates the Earps and Doc, and they plan immediate retaliation.
And thus set the tone for the gunfight at the OK Corral. They plan to meet at sunrise to settle their problems once and for all.That version is not very accurate. Instead it was days of drunken talk and inflated egos that led up to the gunfight. Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury rode in on their wagon filled with beef on October 25. They split up to gamble on their favorite games. Around one o’clock in the morning Ike ran into Doc Holliday and had a serious argument because Ike was drunk and very concerned about his deal with the Earps and he thought that Doc had learned about it.
Doc was upset because he thought that Ike was making threats against the Earps. Morgan eventually came over to put an end to the squabble. When they were done arguing Clanton came to Wyatt and asked him to go for a walk where he proceeded to tell Wyatt that he was going to kill Holliday in the morning.
Wyatt did everything he could to calm him down, saying Doc did not want to fight. Wyatt Earp then said his most famous line “Go home Ike, you talk too much for a fighting man.” A half-hour later one of the strangest poker games in history took place. John Behan, Virgil Earp, Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday all sat together and played for five hours at the Occidental Saloon.
This took place the night before their gunfight. The game broke up about six in the morning and everyone went their own way. But Ike followed Virgil out very upset and drunk. Virgil claimed that Ike wanted him to give Doc a message for him, “That damned son of a bitch has got to fight.”Virgil refused to relay the message. Ike now believes that the Earps are out to kill him, but not only does he not leave town, he wonders around with a gun, which is against the law, picking fights alone. Eyewitnesses say that at eight o’clock in the morning Ike clearly stated that, “As soon as the Earps and Doc Holliday showed themselves on the street, the ball would be open-and they would have to fight.”The Earps and Doc were warned by about everyone that heard Ike but they all just stayed in bed at this point.
Ike was in front of the telegraph office so everyone assumed that he had called for back up. He made his way around to a couple more saloons, still loud, armed, and belligerent. In the early afternoon Wyatt and Virgil came out of their homes, dressed in black and armed. The hunt for Ike was on, Virgil and Morgan found him first and Virgil sunk up behind him, pistol whipped to the ground, and asked, “Are you looking for us?” Ike said that he was, and that he would have killed them if he had seen them two seconds earlier. He was arrested but still made threats to the Earps. At this time the Earps are extremely fed up with the threats and they agreed to fight.
As Wyatt was leaving the courthouse he ran into Tom McLaury and immediately slapped him with his left hand followed by a pistol butt to the head with his right. At this time Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton arrived, starring at Wyatt, and met Ike at the gun shop. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon and a fight was now unavoidable, so Virgil retrieved a shotgun. The cowboys walked down to the OK Corral barking out threats. The Earps try to get the assistance of Behan but he refuses. As the three brothers make their way toward the cowboys they are joined by Doc Holliday whom Virgil gives the shotgun too.
About two forty-five the four of them reach the Corral and approach their nine cowboys, who seemed very surprised to see them. Virgil said to them, “Throw up your hands.” Shots rang out, the first hit were Frank, then Billy. Ike, ironically unarmed, ran away. And in just twenty-eight seconds, and about thirty shots later, one of America’s most violent shootout was over. Everyone was hit except for Wyatt, three cowboys were dead and Doc, Virgil, and Morgan all took minor wounds.
Although students of this fight are skeptical about whom shot first, most believe it was Holliday.Bibliography:Brown, Dee. The American West (Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1994).Tefertiller, Casey.
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