Friday, July 16, 2010

Tombstone: Gunfight at the OK Corral

“Five years from now, there won’t be two people in the whole country even remember the marshal of Tombstone. What kind of name is that anyway—Earp?” -- Hannibal Heyes to Kid Curry in Which Way to the OK Corral?

In this ASJ episode, it is clear the Kid and Heyes know who Wyatt Earp is and it is also apparent that the Gunfight at the OK Corral has not yet occurred. Much has been written about the thirty-second gunfight between the Earps, Clantons, and McLaurys and there is nothing new I can add to the explanation of what happened that day on October 26, 1881. Instead, I will offer a description of how Tombstone today showcases the seminal moment in its history.

Wandering around the downtown area of Tombstone, signs in the street in front of various buildings explain their historical significance and many of the signs note a connection to the Earps. One such building, the Oriental Saloon, was partially owned by Wyatt Earp and was where he and Doc Holliday worked as faro dealers on occasion (see photo at above right). The street outside the Oriental saloon is where Virgil Earp was killed after the gunfight at the OK Corral. The building is currently divided into several smaller places of business (see photo above).

But despite evidence of the Earp’s other activities in Tombstone, it is impossible to escape the legacy of the confrontation between them and the Cowboys. From the shops selling T-shirts with their pictures emblazoned on them--in classic gunfighter stance--and other memorabilia to the innumerable books about them, the influence of Wyatt, his brothers, Doc Holliday, the Clantons, and the McLaurys permeates this town.

Of course, the main reason for visiting Tombstone is to see where the actual gunfight occurred at the OK Corral. To do so, one must buy a ticket ($10) that entitles you to: watch a reenactment by actors of the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) fight, which is offered several times during the day in an outdoor theater near the actual location; visit the actual location where the gunfight occurred, which is now populated by life-sized animatronic figures of the persons involved in the gunfight (see photo above); wander around the area (which is enclosed by a wall so prying eyes are unable to see inside unless they buy a ticket) and visit the Fly boarding house where Big Nose Kate witnessed the gunfight from Doc Holliday’s room, as well as see other exhibits about life as a cowhand and a working blacksmith’s shop; watch a multimedia presentation at the Historama about Tombstone’s history, narrated by Vincent Price; and pick up a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph article about the gunfight, written the day after it occurred. Whatever one thinks about the gunfight itself and how Tombstone markets it to tourists, it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend a few hours where an event of such historic import happened.

On the outskirts of Tombstone, heading north towards Tucson, is Boothill Graveyard. This cemetery is where the Clantons and McClaurys are buried (see photo at right). Although not within walking distance of downtown Tombstone, it is definitely worth a visit. Besides the graves of outlaws and more respectable citizens, there is an area where Chinese residents of Tombstone are buried as well as, a short distance away, a section where the Jewish residents were interred. Viewing the graves neatly laid out in rows, with a view of the town below, makes it easy to contemplate the history of the Old West and reflect upon the events that happened in Tombstone 129 years ago during the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

About the Oriental Saloon:

Article describing the events leading up to the gunfight and its aftermath: