I think I know what Ike Clanton was thinking on the cold still morning of Tuesday. 26 October, 1881. Spits of snow were floating slowly down from the false promise of a brightening sky. The good people of Tombstone (above) were not yet awake. The sinners of Tombstone were just snuggling under their bed covers. Caught between them, Ike Clanton, still drunk, was wandering the streets, revolver in his back waistband, repeating rifle and whiskey bottle in his hands. Having checked out of his room at the Grand Hotel, he no longer had an abode. He was stalking the few streets of Tombstone, seeking revenge and or sanctuary. And what he was thinking was not good.
Back in August, the Mexican counsel in Prescott, Arizona had warned Joseph Evens, the Chief Deputy Federal Marshal for Arizona, that if something were not done soon to stop the Cow Boy murdering and stealing in Sonora, his government would be forced to respond against Americans in Mexico.
Replying to the American outrage over the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre, - which killed Old Man Clanton - Tombstone resident Clara Spaulding Brown (above) confessed to the San Diego Union "... the Mexicans...have suffered greatly from depredations of those outlaws, who under the guise of "cowboys" infest this country and pursue the evil tenor of their ways with no attempt at interference on the part of those whose duty it is to suppress crime." Meaning, of course, Cochise County Marshal Johnny Behan.
Thus, the pressure on the Earps and on the U.S. Army to stop the Cow Boys before they started a war. Caught between two governments, caught between between Democrat and Republican politics, between the Earps and his "friends and allies" and being crushed by the opposing forces was (above) Joseph Isaac "Ike" Clanton.
Just after eleven, on Wednesday, 26 October, 1881, the Oriental Hotel's bartender, Ned Boyle, knocked on Wyatt Earp's 2nd floor room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (above). He was there to deliver a warning. Boyle said he had run into Ike Clanton near the Allen Street telegraph office just after 8 that morning, and the Cow Boy was armed with a rifle and a hand gun. And a half full bottle of whiskey. Clanton had declared that as soon as he saw "those damn Earps...the battle will open. We are here to make a fight, we are looking for the sons-of-bitches!" Clanton did not identify who "they" were. Yesterday afternoon J.B. Ayers, the Wells Fargo agent in Charleston, had telegraphed that Billy Clanton and Billy Claiborne had been boasting that they intended on joining Ike and Tom McLaury in Tombstone on Wednesday - today. So Wyatt knew the Cow Boys were planning something in Tombstone. Wyatt got dressed, had a cup of coffee and left the Cosmopolitan about noon. Shortly thereafter a second man warned him that Ike Clanton was "hunting the Earps."
Wyatt found his brother, Deputy Federal Marshal Virgil Earp, already alerted to Ike's threats, at the corner of Fourth and Allen Streets. Together they decided to, as Wyatt put it "...find him and see what he wants." They split up. Wyatt walked down Allen Street and Virgil down Fifth, to Fremont. They were looking for trouble that was looking for them. Virgil found the belligerent Clanton in a vacant lot, secreted in an alleyway, as if laying in ambush. When confronted, Ike threw his rifle at Virgil, who clobbered the drunk with his pistol. By the time Wyatt came up, Ike was face down and bottoms up in the cold dirt, with his revolver jutting out of the seat of his trousers.
The youngest Earp, Morgan, arrived a moment later. While Virgil sought out the on duty Justice of the Peace, Albert Osborne Wallace, Morgan and Wyatt walked Ike over to the Miners Exchange Office (above, center building) , which was used as a court.
When dropped unceremoniously onto a bench seat, Ike decided to threaten Morgan, telling him, "If I had a six shooter I would make a fight with all of you." Morgan (above) offered to return to Ike his own revolver, saying, "If you want to make a fight right bad I will give you this one."
Wyatt (above) had heard enough. He knew he was going to have to fight the Cow Boys sooner or later, and his odds of survival would be better if the confrontation was at a place and time of his choosing, and not theirs. Wyatt told Ike, "You damn dirty cur thief, you have been threatening our lives. I think I would be justified shooting you down any place I meet you. But if you are anxious to make a fight, I would go anyplace on earth to make fight with you, even over to the San Simon among you own crowd."
The mention of Ike's Cow Boy allies hit a cord with Ike (above), and he blustered back. "I only want four feet of ground to fight on,." Wyatt was infuriated at the threat, and almost exploded. Instead he walked out of the room, hoping to regain control of himself. But stepping on to the plank board sidewalk Wyatt bumped into an angry Tom McLaury, coming to rescue Ike. It was a short confrontation, and brutal.
As usual Tom (above) immediately started with threats, advancing on Wyatt and inviting Earp to meet him anywhere, anytime for a fight. As Tom advanced, Wyatt saw the flash of a gun stuck in McLaury's waistband. Without a word Wyatt slapped Tom across the face and drew his own revolver, shoving the barrel into McLaury's belly. Wyatt invited McLaury to "Jerk your gun and use it." Since Tom's gun was not in easy reach, McLaury kept quiet. When Tom dd not reply, Wyatt slammed his gun into Tom McLaury's head, twice, knocking him to the ground.
Then, Wyatt admitted, he walked around the corner to Hafford's saloon (above), bought and paid for a cigar, and then walked back onto Fourth Street and lit it up.
About the same time Wyatt was making smoke, Judge Wallace arrived via the back door and quickly passed judgement on Ike Clanton. Ike paid his $25 fine for carrying a weapon in city limits. Virgil told him he could pick up his rifle and pistol at the front desk of the Grand Hotel. But when he walked out of the courtroom Ike found Tom McLaury on the sidewalk, his head bloodied. Virgil arrested Tom for carrying a weapon. It was now close to 1:00pm in the afternoon, and Thomas "Tom" Clark McLaury had less than 2 hours to live.
About half an hour later, 19 year old Billy Clanton rode into Tombstone, accompanied, as expected, by 21 year old Billy "The Kid" Claiborne. Unexpectedly the pair was accompanied by Frank McLaury, the most explosive of the Cow Boys. They headed for the Grand Hotel, on Allen Street.
Frank had not been seen in Charleston. So he must have been waiting for the younger men along the road to Tombstone. His sudden and unexpected presence in town ratcheted up the danger to the Earps, and individual citizens rushed to warn the lawmen. The friendly staff at the Grand Hotel informed the 2 Cow Boys of the arrest and beating of Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury. The trio remounted and left in search of their brothers, still carrying their now illegal weapons.
After paying his fine, Tom McLaury was released, and Virgil told him his pistol could be retrieved from the bartender at the Capital Saloon, on the corner of Fourth and Fremont. After a stop at Dr. Charles Gillingham's second floor office on Allen Street, to have their wounds tended and documented, the pair were united with the 3 new arrivals. Had their plan, whatever it was, been blown? Ike suggested they get a drink and decide what to do next. But Frank McLaury dismissed that idea. Instead, he insisted, they proceed to Spangenberger's hardware and gunsmith's on Fourth Street . Passing right in front of the 3 Earps, Tom and the Billys tied their horses to the rail, and all six went in to stock up on ammunition.
The Earps were gathered in front of Hafford's saloon and as they watched, the winds began to pick up. A gust disturbed Frank McLaury's horse, and it walked across the plank sidewalk and put its head into the shop, to get it out of the wind. Wyatt took the opportunity to cross to the hardware store, and pull the horse back. When both McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton rushed to the door, Wyatt warned them, "You have to get this horse off the sidewalk." Frank , the sensible one, guided the horse back into the street. But Wyatt had seen what he needed to. The Cow Boys were buying guns and ammo.
Hearing this, Virgil Earp (above) slipped around the corner and down to the Wells Fargo office in the middle of the block on the south side of Allen Street. There he grabbed a short double barreled 10 gauge Coach shotgun. Holding it under his long duster coat, he returned to Haffords, just as Doc Holliday appeared, complaining that people had been banging on his door all morning. Wyatt explained the situation, adding the Cow Boys had moved back down Allen Street, toward the corrals. The stream of helpful civilians suggested the might be getting ready to leave town.
It was about this time, around 2:30pm, when Ruben F. Coleman, working at the O.K. Corral, was surprised to see the six Cow Boys across Allen street at Dunbar's Corral and Dexter Livery and Feed, between Fourth and Third Streets. He could hear them insulting the Earps and talking violence.
He later told the Epitath, "I went up the street and notified Sheriff Behan and told (him) it was my opinion that they meant trouble, and it was his duty, as sheriff, to go and disarm them." Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan was getting a shave, but climbed out of the barber's chair and moved at once to find the Cow Boys. Coleman went on to notify Federal and Town Marshal Virgil Earp, who was standing with his brothers and Doc Holliday,, on the sidewalk outside of Hafford's saloon on Fourth Street.
After arguing for a few more moments, the Cow Boys had come up with a plan for action. The McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom, crossed the street and headed through the OK Corral (above, yellow) and out the alley in the rear, which passed Bauers Butcher shop, to Fremont Street. Ike and Billy Clanton and Billy "The Kid" Claiborne along with Wes Fuller, walked down Allen, until they reached the alley that cut across to Fremont, passing between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House and photographic studio (above, green), where they were rejoined by the McLaurys. Frank McLaury hid at the corner of Fremont and Fourth Street, to warn if the Earps started to approach. Wes Fuller lingered at the entrance of the alley, to spread the alarm more quickly. However The move and reconcentration did not go unnoticed by the townsfolk.
Johnny Behan found Tom McLaury mounted, at the corner of Allen and Fourth street, from where he was keeping an eye on the Earps. Frank said he had no weapons and dismounted to prove it. Johnny patted him down. But then Behan suggested that with the Earps alerted, it would safer if the Cow Boys either disarmed or left town. And together they walked down Allen to the Alley where, after gathering Wess Fuller, Behan offered his advice to Frank McLaury. But. more importantly, than Frank's reaction, Tom and Wes Fuller had abandoned their observation posts. The Cow Boys had lost their early warning system, should the Earps suddenly advance.
Meanwhile a former Los Angeles police captain, John L. Fonk, offered to help the Earps, but Virgil responded that he would wait. Fonk asked, "Why? They are all down on Fremont Street now." And that was it. All of the lawmen were certain the Cow Boys had armed themselves at Spangenberger's hardware store. And now they had shifted from Allen Street to Fremont, the main street of Tombstone. They were hiding in an alley, next to Doc's quarters, They were not leaving town. There was no further need of talking. Virgil handed his shot gun to Doc Holliday, who traded it for his walking stick. And then the four men walked up Fourth Street to Fremont and turned the corner toward what and who they knew was waiting for them.
The question that has always hung over the Gun Fight at the OK Corral for me has been "Why there?" Why next door to Fly's boarding house? (above, right) And the answer is that the boarding house was important because its newest tenant was Doc Holliday.
The Cow Boys had not seen Doc Holliday (above) since his drunken confrontation at the Alhambra at midnight. As far as they knew, he was still in bed in Fly's boarding house. Doc Holliday was the man Johnny Behan had identified as the weak link in the Earp's defenses. To disarm the Federal government in Tombstone, to isolate the Earps , the first step would be to remove Doc Holliday. It was not the gun fight at the OK Corral. The rear exit from that was half a b;lock up Fremont Street, It was the gunfight at Fly's boarding house. But that title lacks romance.
But there would be nothing romantic about the approaching 30 seconds on this windy cold afternoon, in Tombstone, Arizona.