The Streetfight

What We Know and Why We Know It

By
Jeffrey J. Morey



Time: Approximately 3:00 PM

Comment: while the San Francisco Chronicle (October 27, 1881) pinpointed the shooting at 2:30 PM, both Clara S. Brown (San Diego Union Nov. 3, 1881) and James Earp (Los Angeles Harold March 28, 1882) cite 3:00 PM as the shooting time.

Positioning:

THE EARPS and DOC HOLLIDAY - From deepest in the lot to farthest in the street.

Virgil Earp was in the vacant lot. “I was standing to the left of my party.” (V. Earp -Inquest, p. 193. Also, Wyatt’s 1926 map for Flood confirms this. Flood, Boyer version p. 243 A, Chafin version, p. 177).

Wyatt Earp positioned himself at the corner of Fly’s house. (Billy Allen - “I think Wyatt only got to the corner.” Inquest, p 58. This is the only testimony to state Wyatt’s position.)

Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday remained on Fremont St. (Wesley Fuller’s testimony before Wells Spicer, Epitaph, Nov. 8, 1881. Fuller has Holliday on the far outside with Morg next inward. That Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday remained in the street while Virgil and Wyatt were in the lot is confirmed by P.H. Fellehy - “after the shooting commenced, I see Doc Holliday in the middle of the street, and the youngest one of the Earp brothers [Morg] was, I judge, 3 feet from the sidewalk… I never see the older two Earp brothers as I did not know where they were situated.” Inquest, p. 38)
 

THE COWBOYS - from farthest in the street to deepest in the lot.

“Tom McLaury was standing just to the left of Frank [McLaury] on the sidewalk…” (Ike Clanton, Inquest, pp. 112,113) Tom held the lines of Billy Clanton’s horse.

“Frank McLaury was standing in front of the vacant lot…close to the corner of the building west of the photograph gallery.” (Ike Clanton, Inquest, p. 112) Frank held the reins of his horse.

“Billy Clanton was standing in the vacant lot, about four [feet] east of the building, and about two feet in from the sidewalk…” (Ike Clanton, Inquest, p. 113)

“Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I don’t know [Wes Fuller] were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west.” (W. Earp, Inquest p. 164)
 
 

Upon entering the lot, Virgil Earp surveyed the scene. Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury wore six-shooters at their sides. Tom McLaury rested a hand on a rifle housed in a scabbard on one of the horse’s saddles. (V. Earp, Inquest, p. 193)

Doc Holliday stepped up to Tom McLaury, threw back his overcoat and leveled the shotgun at the cowboy. (Addie Bourland, Inquest, p. 204. Comment: She mistook the shotgun for a large dark brown pistol.)

Virgil spoke. “Throw up your hands boys, I intend to disarm you!” (Nugget, October 27, 1881. reprinted in the Tucson Citizen Oct. 30, 1881).

Frank McLaury replied, “We will” as he moved to pull his pistol. (W.S. Williams, Inquest, p. 63).

Taking no chances, Wyatt Earp drew the revolver from his coat pocket. Immediately, Billy Clanton reacted, pulling his own shooter and taking aim at Wyatt. With two cowboys clearing leather, a frantic Virgil Earp flung both arms up and bellowed “Hold on, I don’t want that!” (V. Earp. Inquest, p. 193)

Two shots exploded nearly as one. Wyatt’s bullet busted into Frank McLaury’s belly, just left of the naval. Billy’s shot went wide of the mark passing between Wyatt and Morgan. (W. Earp. Inquest. P. 164, V. Earp. Inquest, p. 201, Nugget, Oct. 27, 1881 - reprinted - Tucson Citizen, Oct. 30 1881, Matthews’ coroner’s report, Nugget, Nov. 1, 1881)

Virgil Earp switched Holliday’s cane to his left hand and reached across his body to retrieve the pistol lodged in his waistband on his rear left hip. As Virgil’s weapon appeared, Frank McLaury fired his first shot hitting the City Marshall in the right calf, dropping him. (H.F. Sills, Inquest, p. 182 “…and the Marshall changed the cane from one hand to the other and pulled his revolver out. He seemed to be hit at that time and fall down.” The Epitaph, Oct. 27, 1881 reported, “Mr. Earp says that it was the first shot from Frank McLaury that hit him.”)

Stunned by the shooting, Ike Clanton sprang at Wyatt Earp, pushing Earp’s gun hand away as he wrestled with him. (Ike Clanton, Inquest, p. 95, W. Earp, Inquest p. 164.)

With Ike and Wyatt Earp struggling, Billy Clanton couldn’t get another clear shot off at Wyatt before Morgan Earp let loose. Morg’s round punctured Billy two inches below the left nipple, collapsing his lung. (Ike Clanton, Inquest, p. 94, and Billy Claiborne, Inquest p. 46 - Both claim the first shot hitting Billy was to his chest and was fired by Morgan. In an 1896 San Francisco Examiner article, Wyatt Earp confirmed this. “At the same time Morgan shot Billy Clanton in the breast.” - reprinted in Turner, The Earp’s Talk, 1980, p. 7. Billy’s wound is from Matthews, Inquest, p. 53.)

Virgil Earp was back up on his feet and now firing. His first shot was at Frank McLaury, the man who had wounded him. (V. Earp, Inquest, p. 201, “I fired four shots. One at Frank McLaury, and I believe the other three were at Billy Clanton.”)

At long last, Wyatt Earp pushed Ike Clanton off, saying, “The fight has commenced. Go to fighting or get away.” (W. Earp, Inquest, p. 164)

The McLaurys were ensnared in a swirling, plunging, rearing hysteria of terrified horses. Shots popped all about as Morgan screamed, “I’ve got it Wyatt!” and keeled over. (W. Earp, S.F. Examiner, Aug. 2, 1896 - reprinted in Turner, The Earps Talk, 1980, p.7) A ball had gouged through one of Morg’s shoulder blades, across the back and out the other shoulder. Taking advantage of the distraction, Ike Clanton scooted behind Wyatt and clambered through Fly’s front door. (Both town papers describe Morgan’s wound but give opposite directions. The Epitaph, Oct. 27, 1881, has the bullet going from right to left, while the Nugget, Oct. 27 1881 has the wound ranging from left to right. R.F. Coleman, Inquest, p. 30 says, “Ike Clanton ran up and through Fly’s Gallery.”)

All this time, Doc Holliday had been trying to get a clean shot at Tom McLaury. Billy Clanton’s horse had bolted forward at the first gunfire and blocked a clear shot. Reading the situation and believing it was Tom who had wounded Morg, Wyatt “fired a shot which hit Tom McLaury’s horse and made it break away, and Doc Holliday took the opportunity to pump a charge of buckshot… into Tom McLaury.” (W. Earp, S.F. Examiner, Aug. 2, 1896 - reprinted in Turner, The Earp’s Talk 1980, p. 8)

Hit under the right armpit, Tom McLaury spun around and bounded away toward the corner of Third St. where he crumpled down in a heap. Thinking he had missed a sure shot, Doc Holliday threw the scattergun down in disgust. ( W. Earp, S.F. Examiner, Aug. 2, 1896 - reprinted in Turner, "The Earps Talk", 1980, p. 8) Then, he pulled his nickel-plated pistol and fired two quick rounds at Billy Clanton. (C.H. Light, Inquest, p. 44 “…there was a tall man with gray clothes [Doc Holliday] and broad hat standing about the middle of the street, [who] fired two [shots] apparently in the direction of the man who had been leaning against the house.”)

By now Morgan Earp was up again and also shooting at Billy. Inside the lot Virgil and Wyatt joined in making Billy the primary target. Billy Clanton’s gun seemed to be firing itself.

Out on Freemont St. Frank McLaury still held the lines of his horse. When Morgan had been downed and Holliday and Wyatt were preoccupied with Tom McLaury, Frank had broken free from the lot and made it out onto the roadway. The effects of Wyatt’s shot were apparent. “During the engagement, he [Frank McLaury] seemed [to] stagger and shoot wild and act dizzy.” (James Kehoe. Inquest, p. 69) He fired once at Wyatt, clipping a hole in Earp’s overcoat. (W. Earp. Inquest, p. 165. That his coat was torn is in Flood - Boyer version p. 232. Chafin version p. 168). Johnny Behan saw Frank “shoot at Morgan Earp and from the direction of the pistol… he hit the ground.” (J. Behan. Inquest, p. 139). In the middle of the street, Frank’s horse finally pulled away and ran off. (W. Claiborne. Inquest, p. 79).

But all the Earps were focused on Billy Clanton. Hit in his right arm, Billy switched his shooter to his left hand and continued to fire. Hit again, six inches right of his naval, Billy squatted down on the ground “taking his pistol across his knee, he fired…” again and again. (R. F. Coleman. Inquest, p. 30. Wound info from Matthews’ report, Nugget, Nov. 1, 1881 and Thomas Keefe, Inquest, pp. 129-130).

As Wyatt was edging out of the lot toward the street, he heard what he took for a gunshot, coming from behind him, apparently from the alleyway east of Fly’s. (Cross examination of J. Behan, Inquest, p. 148).

“Look out Morg, you’re getting it in the back!” Wyatt yelled. (W. Earp, S.F. Examiner, Aug. 2, 1896, reprinted in Turner, The Earps Talk p. 9).

Twisting quickly, Morg tripped and fell over a mound of earth covering a recently installed water pipe. Looking up, he was surprised to see Frank McLaury facing off against Doc Holliday. (S.F. Examiner, Aug. 2, 1896, Flood Ms., Boyer version p. 237, Chafin version p. 172, Hooker Ms., pp. 38-39).

McLaury stared at Holliday. “He stopped and stood with a pistol across his arm, in the act of shooting; his pistol in his right hand and resting on his left arm…” (R. Hatch, Inquest, p. 177).

“I’ve got you now,” McLaury challenged.
“Blaze away! You’re a daisy if you have.” Countered Holliday.
(The Nugget, Oct. 27, 1881 - reprinted in the Tuscon Citizen, Oct. 30, 1881).

Frank McLaury’s gun flashed. It’s bullet hit Holliday’s pistol pocket and skimmed across the good doctor’s hindquarters. As McLaury fired, Morgan Earp quickly rose, aimed and squeezed his trigger. His bullet caught the cowboy under the right ear, pulverized his brain stem and slammed Frank’s body sideways, heel over head. (Nugget, Oct. 27, 1881, R. Hatch, Inquest, p. 177, Matthews’ Report, Nugget, Nov. 1, 1881).

At the northwest corner of the lot, Billy Clanton vainly sought to continue the fight. Sitting on the ground, “he tried to fire… but apparently was too weak. The shot went into the air.” (C. H. Light, Inquest, p. 44).

A pall of smoke folded over Freemont St. as C. S. Fly sprang from his house brandishing a Henry rifle. As Billy Clanton pleaded for more cartridges, the photographer snatched the handgun from Billy’s grip. (R. Hatch, Inquest, p. 178).

When a swarm of excited townsfolk descended upon the Earps, “Wyatt Earp and the three wounded men with him, stood… waiting to see whether those drawing near were friends or foes. (Hooker Ms. P. 39).

At Johnny Behan’s appearance, Wyatt Earp looked down on the fallen cowboys and bitterly intoned, “We won’t have to disarm that party.” (Epitaph, Oct. 29, 1881). The gunfight was over; the controversy and legend were just beginning.