Doc Holliday's colorful life had begun in Georgia with a tale about which details could hardly be confirmed accurately. On the heels of that first unconfirmed tale of events in Georgia, Doc traveled to Dallas, Texas where he met Wyatt Earp and Big Nose Kate. Quickly taking a liking to Wyatt, Doc's decision to follow him to Tombstone, AZ would forever emblaze his name in the annals of America's history.
The Lead-up to the Gunfight at the OK Corral
Doc Holliday rested for a few days in Dodge City before setting out to meet up with Wyatt. Meanwhile, Wyatt had planned on a reunion with his brothers. The five Earp boys were close-knit. The eldest Earp, Jim and next in line Virgil were both married. Wyatt was next in age, Morgan just under him and the youngest of the boys was Warren. Virgil and Morgan were going to join Wyatt in Tombstone. Doc caught up with Wyatt before Wyatt reached Virgil in Prescott, Arizona. Prescott was another town hitting its gambling stride and Doc chose to stay, telling Wyatt he'd catch up with him in Tombstone. Big Nose Kate hearing of Doc's good luck at the tables arrived in Prescott to keep him company.
When Doc and Kate left for Tombstone, the following events are what immortalized Doc Holliday in history. Prior to his arrival, Wyatt had accepted the position of a deputy sheriff, but by his own account intended to do only as directed which was to collect the monthly fee and look the other way. However, his reputation preceded him and the outlaws of the region were determined to drive him from the county.
Heading the outlaw group was an old rancher, N.H. Clanton and his sons, Ike, Phin and Billy. Joining the Clantons were brothers Frank and Tom McLowry as well as several others. They were cattle rustlers, but also occasionally robbed stages and travelers as well as smugglers. By the time Doc arrived in Tombstone, the feud between Wyatt and the outlaws was already in an advanced stage.
For the first few months, Doc apparently stayed out of the feud. He opened a gambling house, traveled to other gambling towns and killed when he felt it necessary. Tombstone grew into a big gambling town and with it, new arrivals such as Bat Masterson, Sherman McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson supported the Earps. On the other side, recruits also arrived-William Brocius Graham, called Curly Bill, and John Ringgold, called Johnny Ringo, Frank Stilwell and Hank Swilling
Wyatt was appointed US Deputy Marshal for the district which further annoyed the outlaws. In addition, he secretly worked for Wells Fargo Express Compan, riding along on runs as an extra gun. Early on, the outlaws had stolen Wyatt's horse and in late summer of 1880, Sherman McMasters reported seeing the horse in Charleston. Wyatt and Doc went to see about the horse and according to Wyatt's account of events, found Billy Clanton trying to ride off with it, intercepted him and forced him to give it up. At that point, Doc Holliday was added to the list of undesirables by the outlaws.
Wyatt was not satisfied with sheriff Shibell's attitude about upholding the law and when another faction, Bob Paul, ran for sheriff, Wyatt resigned and backed him. Shilbell took the opportunity to appoint John Behan in Wyatt's place and restore the status quo. At the end of October 1880, Curly Bill organized a raid on the town to intimidate the opposition.
The town marshal, Fred White, was up for the challenge but asked the Earps and Doc for assistance. In the fracas that ensued, Curly Bill shot and killed White. According to Doc's report, he arrested Curly Bill and incurred the wrath of the outlaws; later reports claim Wyatt or Virgil arrested Curly Bill. Bob Paul won the election for county sheriff but it was argued and while waiting for the official results, he took over Wyatt's position with Wells Fargo. Wyatt still retained his position as US Deputy Marshal and Virgil Earp took over the town marshal position left vacant by White's death.
In the fight for county sheriff between Behan and Bob Paul, Behan offered Wyatt a position as chief deputy if Paul withdrew. Wyatt believed this a good deal, however, when Behan gained office, he did not appoint Wyatt, instead appointing Frank Stilwell as well as another outlaw, claimed to be the one who originally stole Wyatt's horse. Not long after, Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo were the leaders of the outlaw gang. The Earps and Doc Holliday were antagonists in the way of the outlaws. Many of the faction had specific grudges against Doc, most notably Behan and Frank McLowry.
In Tombstone, Doc did not register Kate as "Mrs. Holliday" and thus the events of Dodge City were not repeated and he faced no shame when she plied her trade. Kate was a lot of things, but she was also a woman and one who could be hurt by Doc's scathing words. She was not above airing her displeasure in public and as fate would have it, this brought Doc to the jail house with a charge of robbery and murder. It seems Behan was able to get Kate to sign a document claiming Doc was involved in the robbery of a Wells Fargo stage during which the driver was killed.
Wyatt put up the $5000 bail for Doc's release, and jailed Kate until she was sober enough to testify that she had signed a document in the company of Behan while she was drunk. Other testimony on his behalf allowed Doc freedom. The incident also relinquished him from his perceived obligation to Big Nose Kate. He gave her $1000 and told her to leave town. She did not argue and by most reports, this was the last time she ever saw or communicated with Doc. There are some who contend that she was with Doc when he died in Glenwood Springs, but this is not confirmed.
Wyatt wanted to arrest the true robbers of the stage hold-up and got Wells Fargo to offer a reward. Wyatt then when to Ike Clanton and offered the sum for information and capture. Ike brought in Frank Lowry and the two agreed to Wyatt's offer. However, as luck would have it, the three robbers were killed before Wyatt got to them. Ike and Lowry were nervous that the other outlaws would find out about their planned betrayal. Eventually, Doc heard about it and though he was not angry with Wyatt for not telling him of the plan, he was furious with Ike and Lowry at their betrayal. This was because one of the robbers was a past acquaintance of Doc's and if nothing else, Doc retained the strong sense of loyalty unless unwarranted. He did not begrudge Wyatt's duty to bring in the friend, but he did begrudge the betrayal of the outlaw by his own co-members of the gang. Doc sought out Ike and derided him for his disloyalty.
To disprove the claim that they had plotted with the law, Ike and Frank Lowry planned to get rid of the three Earps and Doc Holliday. They made this known to their associates and Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo spread the news throughout Tombstone. Over the next weeks, many altercations ensued. In late October they came to a head.
The Gunfight at the OK Corral
October 25th Ike and Tom Lowry were in the Occidental Saloon boasting of vengeance. Doc arrived and confronted Ike who claimed he was unarmed. Doc told the men next time they'd better come heeled. Morgan Earp arrived and intervened followed shortly by Wyatt. Later in the evening, Wyatt and Ike had an altercation and Ike threatened the Eaps and Doc further, stating they may have bested him that evening but tomorrow was a different story. In the meantime, Frank Lowry, Billy Clanton and another of the outlaw gang were coming into Tombstone to join Ike and Tom Lowry. The next day, as Doc slept in, Wyatt and Virgil rounded up Ike and Frank Lowry, and relieved them of their weapons.
Not to be obstructed, the outlaws procured new weapons. Virgil requested of Behan to accompany him to disarm the Clantons; instead, Behan went to the OK Corral to report to the rustlers. By this time, Doc had awakened and as he was eating breakfast learned of the trouble afoot. He quickly made his way to the Hafford's saloon where the Earps had set up shop. The Earps were discussing what they needed to do; they had to either disarm the rustlers, or leave town. Furthermore, a local ran in to report another man had joined the outlaws and a message that the Earps either had to meet the outlaws at the OK Corral or the Earps and Doc would be dead before the day was up anyway. On their way out to confront the outlaws, the Earps met Doc who upon hearing their plan declared it was "about time" and he thought he'd just go along.
The Earps wanted to try a peaceable approach at first and demand the disarming of the outlaws, and to this end, Virgil handed Doc his shotgun in exchange for Doc's cane. Doc concealed the shotgun in his long top coat and the Earps and Doc strode off in the direction of the OK Corral.
The four men looked quite dapper as they strode down the street; the Earps, all six feet tall were dressed in black gambler's clothing while Doc at five feet ten inches, was dressed in light gray attire and whistled to himself as they made their way down Allen Street toward Fremont Street and the OK Corral, Virgil in the lead with Morgan behind him and Doc tailing Wyatt.
The OK Corral was a livery stable with open-air pens in the rear which extended to an alley that bisected the block from east to west. An open yard was north of the alley. At the end of Fourth Street, was the photography shop of C.S. Fly and on the Third Street side was the office of the mineral assayer. Against this wall, the Clantons, the McLowrys, and Billy Claiborne had taken their stand. The sixth man, Wes Fuller was waiting in the alley. As Doc and the Earps walked past him, Fuller ran down the alley to alert their coming.
As the Earps and Doc passed C.S. Fly's studio, Behan ran out to meet them. Behan had apparently counted on either the Earps giving up the fight and leaving town; or the outlaws handing over their weapons to him in which he would look the hero and humiliate the Earps. Neither of these things were happening and thus he foolishly tried to save the situation for himself by running out and telling Virgil that he had disarmed the outlaws. Unfortunately for him, Virgil said "all right. Come on" and continued on, apparently to arrest the men. Behan ran into Fly's studio to safely observe the action through the studio's window.
As the party moved onward, they slanted into the street and Doc took up a stand which prevented the outlaws from flanking them. Wes Fuller had left, but the other five were strung along the wall of the assayer's office. Billy Claiborne had two holstered guns on display, Billy Clanton, Ike and Frank Lowry each had one holstered six-shooter and Tom McLowry who was closest to Doc had a six-shooter shoved into the waist of this pants. Two horses hitched at Tom's left had rifles in saddle boots. The horses were strategically placed to prevent anything but a frontal attack; they also kept Doc from being in good position to engage in the initial attack.
The Earps walked into the corral and Virgil confronted Ike and Claiborne. Wyatt faced Billy Clanton and Frank Lowry and Morgan was opposite Tom Lowry. Virgil told the men they were under arrest and demanded "throw up your hands." The outlaws complied but with it, came the guns. Anticipating the action, the Earps drew their guns from the various hiding places. All the men began shooting except Doc as he had no clear target without hitting one of the Earps.
Billy Claiborne fired three wild shots and fled into Fly's studio. Wyatt exchanged bullets with Billy Clanton and hit Frank Lowry in the gut. Tom Lowry hid behind the horses as he exchanged fire with Morgan. Ike had not drawn his gun and rushed at Wyatt shrieking peaceful intentions. Tom Lowry hit Morgan across the base of the neck and through his right shoulder. Wyatt yelled at Ike to "get to fighting or get out" which angered Doc because Wyatt did not kill Ike. Ike leaped for Fly's studio and Behan opened the door to let him inside.
Billy Clanton took two shots, one to his gun hand, but he changed hands and continued firing until Morgan shot him in the chest. Tom Lowry was still behind the horses firing at Wyatt. Wyatt creased one of the horses and they both broke their reins and ran off giving Doc the chance to fire. Tom had lunged for one of the rifles but failed before the horse got away, he leveled the revolver at Wyatt, but Doc let loose with the shotgun and shot him in the midsection. Tom struggled forward and Doc thought the shotgun had failed. He threw it aside and grabbed his colt .45.
The men in Fly's studio went into action and whirling to meet it, Morgan fell. Doc aimed two shots at the window and the firing stopped. The rear door opened and Ike made a run for it. Though Doc shot at him twice, the distance was too far to hit. Billy Clanton and Frank Lowry were sliding along the wall towards the corner and firing as they went. Wyatt hit Billy in the hip. Doc turned and faced Frank who had a bead on him. Frank is reported to have said "I've got you this time," to which Doc replied "You're a good one if you have." Doc swung into a classic dueler's pose offering only the right side of his body as a target as he replied. At almost the same instant, Doc shot Frank through the heart, Morgan shot Frank in the forehead and Frank shot Doc, hitting his holster and cutting a swathe along his back. Billy Claiborne, ran out the back door of the studio, but Doc had no more bullets.
The whole incident lasted less than a minute. Ike and Claiborne had fled, the Lowry brothers were dead, Billy Clanton, a mere 19 years old, was on his way to death, and Virgil, Morgan and Doc were all wounded. As Wyatt was tending to his brothers, Behan came out of Fly's studio and attempted to place them all under arrest for murder. Many townspeople had arrived on the scene as well. When Behan tried to arrest them, Wyatt told him he would account for his actions but he wouldn't be arrested. He also reminded Behan that he had told the Earps the outlaws were disarmed. In the aftermath, Tombstone was a town divided.
The events after the OK Corral battle were as much a part of the whole story as the actual gunfight. The outlaws vowed vengeance and the Earps and Doc Holliday went on trial to determine if they would be charged with murder. Behan made sure the local newspaper was slanted in the outlaws favor and many citizens rallied behind the outlaws. However, the Earp brothers and Doc had their supporters as well, and the overwhelming evidence would eventual fall in their favor.
Meyers, John Meyers. Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973; original printing London: Little Brown,1955.
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