Wednesday, August 30, 2023

O. K. Corral Lynching, Part II

 August 30, 2023

   To be clear, the Cowboys did not attempt an actual lynching of Doc and Wyatt from the Tombstone makeshift jail BUT I have to believe Ike Clanton considered it, and probably promoted it. And, there is some evidence that Will McLaury, the Fort Worth lawyer and brother to the two slain McLaurys, offered a $500 reward to any cowboy who could kill an Earp. And, as we know, more than a couple took him up on the offer. That speculation led me to this question:

How Close Did Doc & Wyatt Come to Being Lynched?

   Given the ease with which the Bisbee Vigilantes extracated John Heath from the brand spanking new—safe and secure—jail in the basement of the Tombstone Courthouse, it isn't much of a stretch (ahem) to think that the Cowboys of Cochise County led by Curly Bill and John Ringo could have successfully captured and lynched Doc & Wyatt. It is my opinion those two O.K. stalwarts were very lucky during their 16 day incarceration in the makeshift Tombstone jail. It could have easily gone a different way.

Daily Whip Out: "O.K. Lynching?"

   As I mentioned there was a rumor that Will McLaury offered a $500 reward for any cowboy who could kill an Earp or Holliday. Part of the participation of the group who ambushed Virgil Earp on the evening of December 28, 1881 were counting on collecting the reward money. The same is true of the Morgan Earp assassination in March of 1882. The main takeaway is that there was plenty of bad blood in Cochise County about what the Cowboys saw as the "cowardly assassination" of Billy Clanton and the two McLaury brothers. This prejudice has persisted in the area up until the present day. When you go to Tombstone it is Wyatt Earp 24/7, but if you venture outside the city limits, especially to the ranches to the east of The Town Too Tough to Die, you will encounter some pretty strong animosity towards the Earps. These old families simply believe the Cowboys got a raw deal. Some of this is tribal and some of it is political (the Cowboys were Democrats and the Earps Republicans).

   Of course in the late Twentieth Century the cowboys all turned into Republicans, but that is another story.

   With the Earps banished from Arizona in the spring of 1882, the story gestated for quite a while with the Cochise County Cowboys taking the upper hand in the telling well into the 1920s. In Tombstone there was a sign on the Allen Street boardwalk that claimed a Cowboy shot Morgan Earp in front of Vogan's because Morgan was "too slow on the draw." This speaks to a couple things. How much local lore leans towards the dominant telling and how strong local prejudices tend to be in the "official" history of anything. Thanks to Mark Lee Gardner, here's Wyatt himself reacting to the publication of Billy Breakenridge's book, "Helldorado: Bringing Law to The Mesquite" 1928:

"Mr. Breakenridge tells that the Clantons and the McLowerys [SIC] were unarmed and that they threw up their hands. All of which is very interesting, and probably explains how Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded in the fight."

—Wyatt Earp, in a letter to Stuart Lake


  1. Levi Marcas11:47 AM

    It's a fascinating what-if. Also I wonder, if Wyatt and Doc had been lynched, would it have escalated into a full-blown war? Something like they had in Lincoln County?

    1. Anonymous12:54 PM

      I don’t think it could have happened. Too many supporters of the Earps. Remember by Oct 1881 not too many people were enjoying the cow-boy faction. The Earps and Holliday were aquited of the gunfight. Tombstone was going through a political change. The town was grown from the small mining camp of 1879. Cow-boys time was at an end.


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