Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Mon, Jan. 27

Editorial: Prescott linked to iconic legend

Today is the 134th anniversary of an event that involved several former Prescott residents who later became a part of American legend.I am talking, of course, about the gunfight that took place at 3 p.m. Oct. 26, 1881, in an empty lot next to the OK Corral in Tombstone. The incident has been told and retold so many times that almost everyone by now is familiar with the main characters. On one side were the Earp brothers and Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday, all of whom had moved to Tombstone from Prescott some two years earlier. On the other side were the Clanton brothers, the McLaury brothers and a man named Billy Claiborne, who purportedly were cattle rustlers, thieves and murderers. Virgil Earp, 38, was the town marshal of Tombstone and enlisted two of his brothers, Morgan, 30, and Wyatt, 33, to bring law and order to the wild silver boomtown. According to, the Earps and the Clanton gang had several violent run-ins which ultimately led to the shootout. Historians say the shootout lasted no more than 30 seconds and a total of 30 shots were fired. When it was over, the two McLaury brothers were dead along with Billy Clanton. Virgil and Morgan Earp as well as Doc Holliday were wounded. Wyatt was the only one who got away unscathed. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne, claiming they were unarmed, fled the scene before the shooting started.Gunfights weren't uncommon in the Old West (Ike Clanton was killed in a gunfight about six years later in Springerville while resisting arrest on a cattle rustling charge), so why this particular shootout has become an American legend is pretty hard to explain.According to historians, Americans outside of the Southwest didn't know anything about it until half a century later when an author named Stuart Lake in 1931 published a biography of Wyatt Earp, most of which was fiction. However the story had great appeal to Americans who at that time were living through the Great Depression. Hollywood director John Ford picked up the story and turned it into a famous film called "My Darling Clementine" (1946) starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. Since then, countless books and movies have been produced about the gunfight at the OK Corral, and the Earps and Doc Holliday, all of whom were one-time Prescott residents, became famous.According to a Daily Courier article published in April 2009 titled "Prescott was true home for Virgil Earp," Virgil and his wife Allie were the first of the Earps to move to Prescott and lived here from 1877 until 1879. Later Wyatt and the eldest brother, James, and their wives met up with Virgil in Prescott and lived here for a while before they all headed down to Tombstone. Virgil returned to Prescott in 1895 and lived here until 1902.The story of the gunfight at the OK Corral captured the imagination of the American people and has become a part of our national identity. It represents a time in American history when the West was a wild and untamed place and men of action had to step up to bring about law and order. Prescott is an interesting place for a lot of reasons; its link to this great American story is just one of them.An excellent PBS documentary about the life of Wyatt Earp can be found online by searching: Wyatt Earp - The Real Story of the Legend.- Jim Painter, News EditorFollow Jim Painter on Facebook at Reach him at 928-445-3333, Ext. 2035, 928-642-0560 or
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