May 31, 2023
Over the Memorial Day weekend in 1993 I got a chance to read Kevin Jarre's original script for "Tombstone." This was mere weeks before filming was to begin. As I've said before, I didn't want to like it, because I had the conceit I would someday write the most accurate screenplay on the life of Wyatt Earp, especially as it relates to his 22 months in Tombstone.
Daily Whip Out: "The Vendetta Riders"
The bottom line is the script wasn't just good, it was so damn, amazingly good! One scene in particular stunned me and it was absolutely dead on and I knew then, that if they filmed this version of Earp's life it would be the best move ever on the troubles in Tombstone. Here is the scene that won me over:
EXT – RUSTLER’S PARK – DAY A wide plateau in the mountains dotted with tents, water and feed troughs, rope corrals, etc. Cowboys cut out steers while others crouch around fires, cooking, looking up with naked hostility as Wyatt Earp rides up.
McMasters points to the edge of camp where Billy Clanton is currying Wyatt’s stallion.
You seem like a nice fella. Like To’ve know'd you better. Had you lived.
Wyatt rides on, making for Billy. Ike steps up with INDIAN HAWK SWILLING, the giant half-breed. They walk alongside Wyatt.
Hey, law-dog. The hell you doin’ here?
How ‘bout I just drag you off That horse and eat you blood raw?
Wyatt ignores them, riding up to within 20 feet of Billy and dismounting. Billy looks up, supremely confident and unconcerned.
Where’d you get that horse?
Beauty, ain’t he?
I asked where you got him.
Where do you think? I stole him.
Everyone laughs. More cowboys gather, jeering. Wyatt steps closer.
Look, I don’t want any trouble with you but that’s my horse and I mean to have him back. One way Or another.
Come and get him.
Look kid, I know what it’s like, I was a kid, too. Even stole a Horse once. But you can’t--
Don’t sweet-talk him, make a move.
Yeah, go ahead, Mister. Make a move.
Billy steps back, poised. Ike and Swilling do the same. 3 more Cowboys move up behind him. The scene seems on the brink of explosion when Curly Bill suddenly STREAKS into frame on his buckskin mare, majestic and 10 times life size as he pulls back and SKIDS to a stop in front of Wyatt, raising a giant roostertail of dust, making everyone but Wyatt recoil.
Give him his horse, Billy.
Come on, Curly! Don’t let him—
Shut up. Give him his horse, Billy.
Billy reluctantly hands over the leadline. Wyatt mounts and rides off with Dick Nailor in tow, Curly Bill riding alongside.
Feel bad about ol’ Fred. Just Can’t hold back when I’m feelin’ Woolly. Still, feel kinda bad. But now we’re square. Anyway no Use for holdin’ a grudge. I Deserved a rap in the head.
Make you a deal. My brother took Over the Marshal’s office in Tombstone. Got it in his head He’s gonna make the place safe For widows and orphans. You and Your boys stay out of his way, I’ll make sure he stays out of yours.
Fair enough. You know I got to admit, you got a lot of bark on You comin’ up here like this.
They were all gonna jump me back There. What ever happened to one against one?
Ain’t our way. We go all on one, One on all. Fight one of us, you Fight us all. That’s the Cowboy way.
And how come you call yourselves Cowboys? Cowhands ride for the brand.
Oh, we ride for a brand all right. (gives Wyatt the finger) This brand. How ‘bout you?
(points thumb at self) This brand.
We’re gonna get along just fine.
End of Jarre's scene. This sequence did not make it into the final film, but, to me, it brilliantly captures the gray area between the Earps and the Cowboys. Wyatt Earp really did have a confrontation over a stolen horse with Billy Clanton (it was actually at Contention not Rustler's Park). And, the genius of this scene is that Earp was arrested for stealing a horse himself when he was younger and Kevin Costner spent 20 minutes illustrating this dark chapter in Earp's life in his film, "Wyatt Earp," and Jarre takes care of that entire back story in one line of dialogue!
Here is another glancing historical reference that gives this scene so much historical gravitas:
“Will Sanders, owner of the Chiricahua foothill ranch on which John Ringo is buried, told me his father remembered riding through pine-stippled Rustler Park, high in the Chiricahuas, early one morning and counting more than seventy outlaws camped among the deep pine groves. John Ringo was among them.”
—“John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was” by Jack Burrows, page 22, (U. Of A. Press, 1987)
Thanks to Jeff Morey for finding this Rustler's Park reference and for also letting me read Jarre's script. It was Jeff who got me onto the "Tombstone" set where I took this now historic photo.
Jeff Morey and Kevin Jarre on set, June 1993
Yes, I am seriously considering storyboarding a graphic novel of Jarre's original script and wouldn't that be a fine homage to a great story and a brilliant storyteller?
"There's a fine line between catching an outlaw and becoming one."
—Old Vaquero Saying