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What Happened at the O.K. Corral?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a very famous Old West gun battle that became a part of American pop culture. The gunfight involved Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp, who were famous lawmen, and helping them in the fight was a card-playing dentist from the state of Georgia with a violent reputation named Doc Holiday. On the other side was a group of cowboys including Billy and Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury and his brother Frank, along with Billy Claiborne. The lawmen were attempting to disarm the cowboys, and three of the cowboys were killed in the shootout. It happened in the month of October in 1881, and the location was Tombstone, Arizona.

Prior to the O.K. Corral shootout, there had been escalating tensions between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton and McLaury families, who owned major ranches in the area. Virgil Earp was the only official lawman in the family at the time, and he deputized his brothers. The group had implemented a ban on guns in the city limits, and this had already caused altercations with the Clantons. Doc Holiday, who was friendly with the Earps, had also had a run-in with Ike Clanton that nearly resulted in a gun battle.

The Clanton and McLaury brothers, along with Billy Claiborne, gathered at the O.K. Corral. The Earps decided it was time to confront them and attempt to disarm them. Doc Holiday accompanied them, carrying a shotgun. Nobody knows who fired the first shot, but at the end of the fight, both the McClaurys were dead, and so was Billy Clanton. On the other side, everybody survived, but they were all wounded except for Wyatt.

There are some who feel the Earps were using their badges to carry out an act that was equivalent to a gang hit. Some modern historians have seen the battle this way, and there were people at the time that felt the same. The Earps actually had to go on trial for murder, but they were ultimately found not guilty. Wyatt and his brothers eventually became heroes because of this fight, and most dramatizations have shown them in a positive light, but there are still many disputes about the politics and reasoning for the battle.

After the fight at the O.K. Corral, there was an eventful aftermath. Morgan and Virgil Earp were both victimized by assassination attempts. Virgil was wounded, and Morgan was killed. Wyatt and Doc allegedly went on a rampage of revenge afterward, killing many of the people responsible without any real legal authority.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By CellMania — On Dec 07, 2010

In our History class, we did a project about the famous shootout. According to some of the literature that we had available, there are several discrepancies regarding the shootout.

The gunfight took place in a vacant lot behind the OK Corral. Some of the people spilled over into Freemont Street. Many people think that the gunfight lasted for several minutes. However, it has now been said that it was only about 30 seconds long.

One of the questions has always been “Who shot first?” According to information that has been studied, the first shots seemed to have come from Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday. However, in their defense, the Clantons and McLaurys began pulling their weapons immediately. It is also said that Tom McLaury may have been unarmed.

By wesley91 — On Nov 13, 2010

@StormyKnight: The famous Doc Holliday’s real name was John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Holliday was born in Griffin, GA. When Holliday was 19, he left home to begin dental school in Philadelphia. Holliday received the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania of Dental Surgery, on March 1, 1872. He opened a dental office in Atlanta, GA with Arthur C. Ford. Not long after beginning his dental practice, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Holliday moved to the south-west, because of the drier and warmer weather to slow his illness. Holliday met Wyatt Earp in Fort Griffin, TX and formed a lifetime friendship.

Toward the end of his life, he moved to Leadville, CO, but suffered from the effects of the high altitude. He made his way to Glenwood Springs, CO and died on November 8, 1887.

By StormyKnight — On Nov 13, 2010

Who was Doc Holliday?

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