The Gunfight At O K Corral And Other Hollywood Blunders

by Al Benson Jr.

October 26th this year was the 141st anniversary of the famous gunfight at the O K Corral Between Wyall Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons and McLowerys. I would have written about this on that date had my computer been up and running, but such was not the case.

I’ve probably seen 8 or 10 movies about this event over the years and none of them got it right from what I can tell. Just about every movie you see about this fight makes it as big an event as Pershing’s invasion of Mexico in 1916. Actually, if the truth were known, the entire gunfight lasted between 90 seconds and two minutes. If you believe the movies, and many do, it looks like it lasted about 20 minutes to a half hour and expended as much ammunition as the Battle of Gettysburg!

Director John Ford madea movie of this event called “My Darling Clementine” starring leftist Henry Fonda back in 1946. Ford said he actually talked to Wyatt Eart about this fight and he put in the movie what Wyatt Earp had told him about it. I hate to say it, but whatever Wyatt Earp told John Ford about the gunfight is no guarantee of accuracy. Wyatt Earp had a penchant for spinning events in a way that made him look good.

When it came to getting his biography published, he chose Stuart Lake to write it because Lake portrayed him as a valiant, dedicated frontier lawman. I read Lake’s biography many years back. It was like a hagiography of Rarp’s life as a lawman.Great fun for reading as long as you don’t take it seriously. Wyatt Earp and his brothers had one intent in life and that was making enough money to be comfortable and seem respectable. Wyatt Earp’s dedication to the law wasbased on it being a vehicle to help him out financially. He and his brothers had enough shady business interests over the years that they were never going to be really “respectable”. In everything the desire to make money came first.

One Western author who wrote about the Earp brothers said that the gunfight at the O K Corral was like “rwo street gangs fighting over who was going to control the local turf.” or something to that effect. When the Earps were in Tombstone, those that were “married” all had common-law wives, which they never bothered to officially marry. Interestingly, some of these women lived into the 1940s during my childhood .Wyatt Earp lived until 1929.

When you see these movies about the O K Corral gunfight you inevitably see the Earps dressed in those long, thin, linen dusters.One author I read took exception to this and I think he was right. He noted that the gunfight took place on October 26th and that Tombstone was 6,000 feet above sea level .At that altitude Tombstone would have been a cold place in late October and he claimed the combatants all would have been wearing mackinaws, not thin linen dusters. I think he is correct.

Wyatt Earp’s story is interesting as long as you take it in perspective and don’t put him on a pedestal he doesn’t deserve to be on. The real history doesn’t support the tale of Wyatt Earp the dedicated crime fighter. Matt Braun, a historian and Western author, has a really low opinion of the Earp brothers. He feels they were little better than legalized theives. I don’t know if he is totally accurate or not, but I don’t think he’s that far off either. Movies about Wyatt and his brothers are fun to watch as long as you don’t take them seriously. Ir’s like everything else. If you want the truth you have to do the homework.