I think it was too late for thinking. A heartless cold wind was blowing across the Arizona Sonora desert. It was about 3:01 pm on Wednesday, 26 October 1881. And in a small corner of the mining town of Tombstone, 9 men were facing off across a 15 foot wide alley, sandwiched between the wood frame private home of William Arthur Harwood and the 15 room wood frame boarding house managed by "Mollie" Fly. In a span of approximately 30 seconds those 9 men would fire 31 shots, wounding 3 and killing 3 of them. And 2 men would escape uninjured.
Before the fight began 33 year old Wyatt Earp (above) had decided the most dangerous threat to himself and his brothers was 33 year old Frank McLaury.
In the first second of that fight, and hearing the double click of Doc Holliday's shotgun, Wyatt drew his 3 pound Smith and Wesson New Model 3 revolver (above), aimed its 8 inch barrel dead center at Frank, and fired.
In that same instant, 19 year old Billy Clanton pulled his 3 pound 13 inch long Colt 1876 revolver (above), and fired at Wyatt Earp.
In both guns the firing pins were driven into the primer at the back of each shell. This ignited a small quantity of mercury fulminate, briefly generating a temperature above 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This ignited a grain of black powder, a mixture of 75% potassium nitrate which provided oxygen, 10% sulfur, which lowered the mixture's combustion temperature so that the 15% softwood charcoal quickly burned. However only 45% of the black powder mass was converted into heat. Well over half did not combust, and was converted into dense white smoke. Still, the heat ignited the 239 adjoining grains of black powder, spreading within the shell casing at a rate of 30 feet per second.
This rapid increase of air pressure sent the lead and atimony bullets racing out of their respective barrels at nearly 850 feet per second, air resistance then causing them tumbling over the six to eight feet between Wyatt and Frank in less than a tenth of a second. Billy Clanton's slug had a couple of more feet to travel, but it did not matter since Billy missed his target.
Wyatt's bullet was almost broadside when it struck Frank McLaury's stomach, multiplying the damage at the point of entry, one inch to the left of his navel. First the flesh was compressed by the lead pellet, then sheered, pulling apart as the metal tore into the abdominal cavity, leaving a thin greasy lead smear on the flesh. Air, heated by friction as the bullet pushed it aside. swelled into the wound as it opened, increasing the air pressure in the cavity, and pulverizing soft tissue. The elastic skin then rebounded, as the air following Newton's Third Law of Motion now rushed back out of the wound. It was still less than a second after Wyatt's gun had fired.
The protective peritoneum tissue surrounding Frank McLaury's abdomen was now perforated as the bullet ripped through the folded small intestines, scattering their bacteria about the cavity. As the bullet's speed was translated into heat, thousands of capillaries were cauterized. But on either side of the bullet track, cavitation vibrations caused even more damage to the soft tissues. Last, the one ounce lead bullet now shattered Frank McLaury's kidney, causing a massive hemorrhage of blood. As this happened, the lower parts of Frank's brain were becoming aware of the damage being suffered, and his face was beginning to distort. In the Second and Third Seconds he staggered backward a step and in the Fourth Second he doubled over.
In the Third Second, 30 year old Morgan Earp fired his pistol at Billy Clanton, who had just shot at his brother Wyatt. Less than one tenth of a second later, Morgan's bullet hit Billy near the inside of the base of his right thumb. Still traveling faster than the speed of sound the bullet shattered the delicate carpal and metacarpal bones. Then the splintered pellet tore out the back of Billy's wrist, carrying away bone, cartilage and muscle, ripping an even larger wound in his lower arm, and rendering Billy Clanton's right hand useless. Arterial blood began to spurt out of Billy's wrist. In the Fourth and Fifth Seconds Billy staggered back against the Harwood house, while struggling to grab the handle grip of his Colt with his left hand.
Also in that First Second, seeing 28 year old Tom McLaury instinctively reach for his holster, 38 year old Virgil Earp pulled his weapon from his pocket and fired at him, and missed. In the Third Second, the 5 foot 4 inch Tom, realizing his holster was empty, reached for the nearest weapon - a pistol secreted in a saddle bag on his brother's horse. Virgil fired again, and missed the moving target. In the Fourth Second the noise and the human's sudden movement caused the horse to back a step, the lead rope pulling Tom off balance. The horse was now blocking Virgil's line of fire, and in the Fifth Second the Marshal took a shot at Tom over the top of the horse, missing for the third time.
In the Third Second, 30 year old John "Doc" Holliday, cradling the 10 gauge coach gun in his arms, moved two steps further west on Fremont, to give himself a clear view of Tom McLaury, in the alley. And in the Fifth Second Doc pulled both triggers on the Coach Gun. The twin firing pins were driven into the primer at the back of each shell. Again the mechanical and chemical reactions ignited black powder grains, sending the wax paper wad and 20 one ounce lead and atimony pellets up the two barrels at 800 feet per second.
Because of air resistance, the paper wad fell to the ground well short of Tom McLaury. But less than a second after Doc pulled the triggers, the shot reached Tom, it's 20 BB sized pellets having spread out to a circle of just 4 inches in diameter. These plowed into Tom under his raised right arm, peppering and penetrating the flesh between the 3rd and 5th ribs. Absorbing the energy caused his ribs to crack. Those which missed the bone punctured the upper lobe of his right lung, producing a pulmonary laceration. Air was forced out of his mouth. Most of the pellets ran out of energy just before reaching Tom McLaury's heart. In the Sixth Second, Tom, his hand finally gripping the secreted gun, staggered into Fremont Street, dragging the frightened horse behind him - between himself and Doc Holliday.
In the Sixth Second, as Wyatt Earp was taking aim for a second shot at Frank McLaury, Ike Clanton ran forward, pressing himself against the lawman, and spoiling his shot. Ike cried out that he was unarmed. In the Seventh and Eighth Second, Wyatt told Ike to "Get a heeled", adding, "Go to fighting or get away!" In the Ninth Second Wyatt pushed Ike to his right and rear, out of the line of fire. And during the Tenth through Thirteenth Seconds, Ike stumbled east on Fremont, up the steps of Fly's Boarding House, and through the front door - out of the fight. There was now a 2 second pause while the wind cleared enough smoke so the combatants could see each other.
In the Eighth through the Thirteenth Seconds, Tom Mclaury staggered east across Fremont Street, and Doc Holliday dropped the coach gun, pulled his Nickel plated .41 caliber "Long" Colt Thunderer revolver from his shoulder holster and stepped forward to face his enemy. About the Fourteenth Second the horse pulled free from Tom's hand and loped west on Fremont. In the Fifteenth Second Tom McLaury reached the south side of Fremont Street.
In the Sixteenth Second Billy Clanton (above) got a firm grip on the pistol in his left hand by bracing it with his leg. Tom McLaury fired his Colt in blind anger at Virgil Earp. The bullet hit Virgil in the calf. In the Seventeenth Second the big lawman fell. During the Eighteenth through Twenty-first Seconds Virgil staggered to his feet and stumbled back against Fly's Boarding House.
During the Nineteenth Second, Morgan Earp (above) and Billy Clanton exchanged shots. Morgan's bullet hit two inches below Billy's left nipple. The bullet clipped a rib and penetrated his lung. Billy's shot clipped Morgan's right scapula, and went spinning across his back, burning across his left shoulder blade as well. In the Twentieth through Twenty-third Seconds Morgan fell. He then tried to stand, calling out "I'm hit." But he tripped over a lightly buried water line and fell again. Billy Clanton slumped to the ground, still firing but hitting no one as his sight failed for lack of blood to the vision centers of his brain.
In the Twentieth Second Wyatt Earp fired his last shot at Frank McLaury (above), the bullet striking him in the abdomen beneath the 12th rib, 6 inches to the right of his naval. Frank staggered forward, away from the gunfire, and then began to jog up Fremont Street, out of the fight. Wyatt then turned to help his brother Morgan. In the Twenty-third Second, Tom McLaury stood on the South side of Fremont, telling Doc Holliday, "I have you now." In the Twenty-fourth Second Doc replied, "You're a daisy if you have." In the Twenty-fifth Second Tom fired his Colt revolver, hitting Doc, who cried out, "I'm shot through". He was not. He had suffered a flesh wound.
In the Twenty-eighth Second, braced against the boarding house, Morgan fired his last shot. It traveled the 50 feet in less than a second and struck Tom McLaury (above) just below his right ear, - the best shot in the entire fight. The lead projectile punched in an oval section of Tom's Temporal bone, converting it into a quarter inch think projectile which plowed into the 100 million neurons of Tom's brain. This was followed almost instantly by the bullet, which followed a different path through the greasy squishy white brain matter.
Modern medicine calls what happened an ischemic cascade. In less than a tenth of a second all that was Tom McLaury, his ability to speak, to smell, to hear, to think and plan and dream, 28 years of memories, talents, skills and failings were all obliterated as if they had never existed. His heart would go on beating for some time, and he would continue to breath for a few minutes, but in truth Tom McLaury ceased to exist before his legs crumpled beneath him, and he fell to the sand of Fremont Street.
Billy Clanton (above) was slumped now against the Harwood house, his revolver empty. The 19 year old asked for more cartridges. Fifty feet up Fremont, Tom McLaury collapsed against a telegraph pole at the corner of Fremont and Third Street and died from exsanguination, less than thirty seconds after Wyatt's first bullet destroyed his kidney. In the Thirtieth Second Doc Holliday ran up to Frank McLaury's crumpled body and yelled, "That son-of-a-bitch shot me, and I mean to kill him!"