7th Excerpt from “WESTERN LEGEND”
(For those who came in late, please click synopsis at top of blog “before” reading.)
Within the Nacogdoches saloon, the boys have encouraged Virgil Earp (with some input from his brother, James Earp) to relate his version of events of the infamous street fight, today known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Thorough research by the author has better informed Virgil’s retelling of this historical incident. This rather healthy excerpt is taken mid-chapter, from …
CHAPTER TEN — STREET FIGHT
Once they began moving, eye-witnesses observed Virgil trade Holliday the Wells Fargo shotgun for his cane. Holliday concealed the weapon under a long gray coat he wore, that reached beneath his knees.
In their wake, and from a discrete distance, the four men were being shadowed by many from the crowd that had congested Hafford’s Corner. In the group trailing them were Sills, Hatch, and William H. Soule. Once reaching the intersection, and turning onto Fremont, Sills stopped and watched as the other two men continued on.
Also keeping pace with the Earp party were small groups of citizens seen through the alleyways on both sides of the street. One of these being William Allen, a Cowboy ally, whom having heard of the situation, had made his way across the streets of Tombstone, down alleys, over fences, and now kept pace with the men as they traveled.
The Earps and Holliday peered down the street with a cat’s glare. More than two hundred feet ahead, they discerned Behan, Frank, Tom, and Billy at the edge of a vacant lot. Behan turned and spotted the Earps and Holliday coming his way. Instantly, he began briskly walking toward them, throwing repeated looks back over his shoulder, checking on the men in the vacant lot.
Frank could be seen stepping out and speaking to him, “You need not be afraid, Johnny, we’re not going to have any trouble!”
The Cowboys retreated deeper into the lot. Now all the Earp party could see was the rear end of a horse. Doc and Virgil deviated onto the left sidewalk, staying close to the buildings. Wyatt and Morgan remained on the street. They were moving steadily ahead, four across.
* * * *
Virgil interrupted himself to orient the four boys.
“Now this was around two o’clock — ”
“Was three, Virgil.” Jim said.
“It was two, Jim — ”
“Beg to differ — was three.”
“I had just wound this here watch I’m still carrying here, in my pocket.”
“Well then you best have it checked, ’cause every clock in town read three.”
“Skip it,” Virgil said to the boys, finally, “Let’s just move on — ”
“Was three, boys.” Jim said.
* * * *
As they approached Bauer’s Meat Market, a citizen standing in the open doorway turned and shouted to everyone inside, “Here they come!” In response, the door was speedily blocked by a number of people. One of them was housewife Martha J. King, who specifically testified that due to a steady wind, Holliday was having a hard time concealing the shotgun. Fuelling further disquiet, the crowd may or may not have also seen the nickel-plated pistol sticking out of Holliday’s coat pocket, as well as Virgil resting his right hand lightly on the pistol pushed into the waist of his own pants.
As they passed the open door of Bauer’s, Mrs. King overheard Morgan, as he bent his neck slightly forward to catch Doc’s line of sight, and finish the statement, “ … let them have it.”
“All right,” Doc replied.
Sheriff Behan kept looking back over his shoulder as he met Virgil coming out from underneath the awning of Bauer’s. “Hold on, boys, I don’t want you to go any further,” he said, “I’m not going to have any trouble if I can help it,”
The men initially passed without even acknowledging him. Turning, Behan quickened his pace, and said quietly, “For Christ sake, don’t go down there; you’ll be murdered — ”
“Johnny, I’m gonna disarm ’em,” Virgil replied in a quiet, even tone.
“I’ve been down there to disarm them,” Behan stressed.
But the men ignored him. Briskly moving along the side of the street, they could just see Ike, his brother Billy, and someone else — probably Billy Claiborne — step past the corner, and back again.
Behan now shouted, “I’m the Sheriff of this County, and dammit, I want this thing stopped!”
Again, every member of the Earp party ignored him. It was too late for arguments. Behan stopped in the near center of the almost eighty-foot wide street.
Wyatt, possibly feeling that if the Cowboys were indeed unarmed, this could all result in public embarrassment, placed his long-barreled Colt into his pistol pocket — a bottomless coat pocket that gave access to either a holster, or simply his waistline.
Within the eighteen-foot wide vacant lot, the Cowboys overheard the footfalls of the Earps and Holliday approaching, along with the sound of whispering voices trailing them. Six men were now present in the vacant lot. Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, a friend of theirs named Billy Claiborne, and an acquaintance named Wesley Fuller. Hearing the Earps and Holiday approach, Fuller immediately retreated deeper into the lot, hiding in a space between Fly’s Lodging House and the small building in back, which Fly used as his Daguerreotype Photographic Studio and Gallery.
Ike had taken a step forward to meet the men, when suddenly, the Earp party turned the corner of Camillus Fly’s Lodging House, in a diamond formation, with Virgil out front, Wyatt and Morgan directly behind, and Holliday bringing up the rear. Virgil remained within sight of citizens watching from around the corner; Wyatt, planted himself right at the corner; Morgan centered himself on the sidewalk, facing down Billy Clanton; and Doc stepped just past the sidewalk, six feet away from Frank McLaury.
Also in the lot, were two horses which figured prominently in the orchestration of the fight — Tom McLaury had his hand on a Winchester rifle in a scabbard on Billy Clanton’s horse, while Frank had one hand wrapped tightly around the reins of his own steed.
As the following crowd got closer to the lot, Robert Hatch referenced two men now visible in the vacant lot and asked of a stranger, “Who are they?”
“The McLaury brothers,” The stranger replied.
Ike had initially moved straight to Wyatt, and Wyatt pulled his pistol and pushed Clanton back with the barrel, barking, “You sons-of-bitches have been looking for a fight; now you can have it—”
Ike quickly backed off; Frank and Billy each rested hands on holstered six-shooters. The second part of Wyatt’s statement overlapped with that of Virgil’s. “ — throw up your hands!”
“Boys, throw up your hands,” Virgil said, “I want your arms!”
In the street, Behan’s hands had gone straight up into the air, as if he himself were under arrest. He began shouting, “Put up your guns, boys! Put up your guns, boys!”
Robert S. Hatch turned to Deputy Sheriff & Jailer William H. Soule and said, “This is none of our fight. We had better get away from here.”
Ike backed into the approximate center of the lot near Billy Claiborne; both men clearly agitated. Within a second of Virgil giving the order for the Cowboys to throw up their hands, Claiborne had the common sense to throw up his left hand, and quickly dart deeper into the rear of the lot. He may’ve even dropped a pistol to the ground. Then came the sound of two hammers being cocked: CLICK, CLICK.
In sequel to this sound, Virgil’s hands went straight up, with Doc’s cane still in one of them. “Hold!” he said sternly, “I don’t mean that! I’ve come to disarm you!”
In front of Bauer’s Butcher Shop, Reuben Franklin Coleman was afraid he was too close. And while in the act of turning to move back up the street, he heard — BA-BANG! Coleman jolted in spasm with the initial two shots. He turned and saw Ike Clanton being shoved away by Wyatt, then spin at the corner of Fly’s, and jump inside the Gallery — with Behan right behind, his hand on his shoulder. In that instant, a stray shot struck the wagon parked right next to Coleman.
Both sets of testimony hint that before this, much of the crowd had begun to move en masse, back up the street. And all at the same instant. Possibly accounting for a lack of reliability on many eye-witnesses in nailing down the exact sequence of shots fired at that very moment.
“And the rest is history.” Virgil said, definitively.
* * * *
The four boys were still leaning forward on the floor of the saloon waiting for more … When it became strangely obvious that there would be no more. Jim was trying to hold in his laughter, but eventually, he cracked into an uncontrollable cackle.
“What happened next?” J.D. said.
“What about the rest of the gunfight?” Sean exclaimed.
“The gunfight?” Virgil smiled, “The gunfight!? That all you care about, the gunfight?”
All four of the boys answered at once, and without reserve, “YEAH!”
“It was like what Frank said about Minnesota, just sheer racket.” Virgil had now tossed both hands in the air in gun pose and was firing off shots around the room, “BANG, BANG! — BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG! BANG, BANG, BANG!”
While out the window behind him, several Nacogdoches citizens were alarmed by the sight of this. One young woman turned the corner, saw Virgil’s motion, and fainted dead away.
Meanwhile, those inside the saloon were simply having a good time. Virgil continued, “BANG, BANG! BANG, BANG! BANG, BANG, BANG! Men shootin’, horses going crazy, dogs barking … Krakatoa didn’t make that much racket.”
Virgil finally appeared to be finished when his brother offered up a suggestion which intrigued him, “Go on,” Jim said, “Set the record straight. Give them boys the blood-and-thunder.”
Virgil looked around at the men, half-smiling, and then peered down at the boys with complete seriousness. “All right,” he said, “Let me draw it out for you. And don’t blink.”