Today (October 26th) is the anniversary of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Chris Wimmer is the Host and Producer of the Legends of the Old West podcast. He joins us today to separate fact from the fiction of the events surrounding and during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as it was depicted in the classic film Tombstone.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use it for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre: Let’s start this with the Earp brothers. Now, in the beginning of the movie, we see why Wyatt Virgil and Morgan Earp arrive in tombstone, Arizona, and the movie implies they’re not there to uphold the wall. The law, I should say. In fact, when they get there, why it is met by the coachee, County sheriff John Vion.
And immediately upon hearing his name, white Herb’s name, he says, Oh, why earth Dodge city. But then why it tells the sheriff that he gave all that up. He’s going into business now. So can you give us a brief explanation of the herb brothers before the timeline of the movie and was it that the movie implies white earth was in Dodge city?
What was it that he gave up in Dodge city and what brought them to Tombstone.
Chris Wimmer: [00:03:40] Right? Yeah, there’s actually, there’s a lot to go through there and I’ll, I’ll try to keep it pretty concise. So specifically, yes, in that moment, Johnny B hand is referring to wide Herb’s career as a lawman before he comes to tombstone.
Why it had worked as a peace officer in various capacities, you know, martial assistant Marshall, things like that in several cow towns in Kansas. That’s where he did most of his law work. And of course, the most famous cow town that he was involved in was. Dodge city. So he was a pretty well respected lawman in those times.
He was, as far as character traits, fairly similar to what you do see in the movie. He’s pretty, no nonsense, pretty straightforward. That’s very similar to who we was. But he also wasn’t, he never viewed the career of law, the profession of law as a career that he wanted to go into. He didn’t see himself as being a full time lawman for the rest of his life.
He always wanted to be like a lot of people. He wanted to strike it rich and live the easy life. He kind of fell into being a law man and was good at it and therefore was sought after to be a lawman. But after doing that for several years and all these cow towns across Kansas, by the end of the 1870s he’s decided he’s had enough of that.
It’s time to strike it rich and live the easy life. So that’s why he and his brothers are headed to tombstone is because they’ve, they’ve heard some of these rumors. So if you, if you want to expand a little more, the sequence actually begins with Virgil Earp, one of why it’s older brothers. They don’t see this in the movie, but Virgil is the first one to go to Arizona.
He and his wife are in Prescott, Arizona, a small town in central Arizona, and he’s sending letters back to why it herb telling him of all the riches that can be had in Arizona. These boom towns are springing up in Southern Arizona because of the silver strikes. So that at that point in why it’s life, that’s all the, the impetus, he needs to move down to Arizona.
So he packs up himself and the woman he’s involved with at the time, whose name is correct in the movie, Celia Anne, who went by Maddie, they were never married. And that’s why you hear a little kind of a dig from dark holiday later in the movie about why considering himself a married man. But why didn’t celiac and her together, the two of them and why its oldest brother Jim and his wife, the four of them.
Leave Dodge city, Kansas and make their way toward tombstone and stop in Las Vegas, New Mexico to pick up doc holiday and his paramour, Kate elder, and then they all continue on to Prescott, Arizona and join up with Virgil. And that’s how the whole group, at least some of who we saw in the movie ends up in Arizona.
And then from there they make their travels down to tombstone. But I know we’ll get to that in some later questions here. So that’s hopefully the short version of how that whole process worked. And there’s a lot more to it, but that’s hopefully the quick version.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:06:39] Well, it sounds like cause in the movie, yeah, they, they have doc holiday there who’s already in tombstone when they get there.
But, but you were saying that they actually picked up doc holiday along the way, so he wasn’t. Alrighty, they’re in tombstone.
Chris Wimmer: [00:06:51] No, he wasn’t. And so yeah. To move a little further down the trail here, when this whole group, when the, when the arepa brothers and doc holiday and everyone were in Prescott, Arizona, Virgil, Wyatt and Jim and their wives all began to travel down to tombstone.
They all arrive in tombstone first and Morgan is a later arrival. Unlike the movie, he does not arrive with everyone at the same time. So those three are brothers, Virgil, Jim, and Wyatt. And their wives traveled down to tombstone doc and Kate actually stay up in Prescott for a time. They stay up there for a length of time and then they arrive in tombstone later.
So it was actually the herbs and then doc who arrived in to him. So that was the order.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:07:33] Interesting. So was there somebody who filled that role that, cause in the movie doc holidays, he’s been there long enough that he’s kind of almost. He’s almost, you know, showing them around town, like who’s who and the town.
Did they have anybody like for that when they arrived that they already knew in tombstone?
Chris Wimmer: [00:07:49] Not necessarily to that degree. When you think about a lot of the towns in the Southwest, that sprang up for whatever reason, sometimes because of mineral strikes and other things. A lot of the same types of people who populated Texas and the cow towns in the Southern Midwest drifted West.
So a lot of times they would have come in contact with each other throughout West Texas and then New Mexico, and then Arizona. Has everybody just migrated West. So there were people that that doc and why it’s and others had come in contact with, but there wasn’t, you know, the role of tour guide, the way doc plays in the movie, that’s more device for the audience so the audience can understand who’s who and quickly understand the lay of the land without why it having to go through and meet all of these people and do this whole thing all over again.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:39] Okay. That, that makes sense. I mean, they have a tour guide for the, the viewer of the movie at least.
Chris Wimmer: [00:08:45] Yeah, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:47] Well. Speaking of a tour guide, one of the people that doc holiday points out as kind of the tour guide is the main villain in the movie who is nicknamed curly bill and his gang. They’re called the Cowboys, which is the most generic name that I can think of.
Basically doc holiday explains to the ERPs as they arrive that the Cowboys rule tombstone, and then according to the movie and a drunken rampage one night, curly bill kills the Marshall Fred white, and then that leads into Virgil Earp taking the job. Is that kind of set up. That the movie is talking about with curly bell and the Cowboys and then leading into the ERPs getting into law in tombstone.
Is that pretty accurate?
Chris Wimmer: [00:09:37] Yeah, for the most part. Yeah. There’s definitely a couple of things I want to point out here because overall, the movie tombstone, I guess you could say it’s as accurate as a fictional Hollywood feature film can be or probably ever will be. It’s not a documentary. Obviously it’s meant to entertain and not to inform, so you take everything with a bit of a grain of salt.
But the vast majority of scenes or sequences or pivotal moments you see in the movie do have some sort of nugget of truth behind them. They’re obviously wrapped in layers of embellishment, but very few things in the movie are just completely fictitious and just made up entirely by the writers. The city historian of tombstone, Don Taylor, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, would certainly want me to point out one of those.
At this point. The red sashes that the Cowboys wear is entirely fictional. They did not have any kind of distinguishing feature. In fact, that’s what made the Cowboys very difficult to distinguish. They look just like everybody else. They looked like any drifter cow hand who was coming from Texas. They were.
It wasn’t like you could spot one standing on the street and say, that guy is not only a literal cowboy, a person who works with cattle, he’s also an outlaw. That was very hard to do for the most part, because the Cowboys as a group, we’re a very big, very loose organization. And curly. Bill broaches was one of their leaders.
They didn’t have like a very set full time leader. Johnny Ringo, who you see in the movie, of course, was a leader. I Clinton was a leader at times. I Clinton’s father was a leader at times. So the, it was a very interesting organization. So as far as this specific moment goes, the conflict between curly bill and Marshall, Fred white.
As far as we know, it happened fairly similar to what you see in the movie. The details have been changed a little for dramatic license, but the story goes that there was a, a scuffle of some sort in a side street and they were gunshots. And obviously the people in the town, including Wyatt and some of the others who become prominent in the story and heard these gunshots and they came running to this side street.
They found two men scuffling and one of whom was curly bill brochures. Fred white gets in a scuffle with curly bill and as Wyatt is trying to Pat down curly bill and try to check for weapons, Fred white is grabbing the gun that is in curly Bill’s hand. The gun goes off and shoots Fred white. So. Whether or not curly bill intentionally pulled the trigger and really wanted to kill Fred white is maybe still a matter of contention, but there was a scuffle between the two men.
Curly bill was holding the gun that did kill Fred white, and then yes, Virgil or did take over temporarily as town. Marshall. But another detail that you just can’t get into in a movie that has to be two hours long, is that Virgil or became town Marshall for, I think it was something like 12 days until an election could be held to fill the position permanently.
And then Virgil actually lost the election and was not elected town. Marshall. His kind of full Marshall ship, I guess, if that’s even a word, came later in the story. But another slightly interesting facet is that Virgil was a deputy us Marshall up in Prescott, and he arrived in tombstone as a deputy U S Marshall.
So he did have the standing of law. He just wasn’t a town Marshall at the time.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:11] So would he still have jurisdiction there as a us Marshall?
Chris Wimmer: [00:13:15] Yeah, cause his jurisdiction covered that Southern Arizona area.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:19] Okay, so it makes sense that he would be the temporary until an election. Then it wasn’t like he would just randomly pick, like he was kind of the law that was left, essentially.
Chris Wimmer: [00:13:29] Yeah. He had some official standing, so he would’ve been looked at as an authority figure. you know, whether it was because people disliked I, at this point, I apologize. I can’t remember specifically. There’s. As you find, if you dive into tombstone history, everybody’s connected somehow, and there’s a long backstory to all the characters, many of whom never make an appearance in the movie.
And the men who enter into the political sphere or become law men all have their connections and their tie. So the guy who actually does become town, Marshall has all kinds of deep connections that lead him to become town Marshall instead of Virgil herb. But Virgil IRBs still retains his us marshals badge until later in the, in the story.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:10] I mean, that makes sense. If you think of it as an election in the town and their relative newcomers, so it would make sense even just from that perspective that he, he wouldn’t win that sort of an election, even if they hadn’t a reputation elsewhere.
Chris Wimmer: [00:14:23] Yeah, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:25] Well, one of the things that we see in the movie after Virgil becomes the Marshall is in one of his first acts is to enact a law.
That Outlaws carrying guns in town limits. And according to the movie it, it actually works. It restores order in the town, at least at first, that is until in the movie, we see some Cowboys ride into town and they’re fully armed and they know about the law. They’re just ignoring it. That’s the implication that we get in the movie.
And so that’s when we see the herb brothers along with doc holiday, who’s holding a shotgun, confront six Cowboys. They’re announcing their intention to disarm them. Two of the Cowboys run away after the ERPs arrive, leaving essentially a four on four and then it doesn’t take long until this breaks out into one of the most famous guns, fights of the old West, the gunfight at the OK corral.
Now we’ll talk about the actual fight itself, but can you talk about the events leading up to the gun fight? Was the movie accurate in that it was the ERPs and doc holiday essentially trying to disarm the Cowboys from that law that said you’re not allowed to carry guns in town. Was that the reason for the fight itself?
Chris Wimmer: [00:15:40] Yeah, you’re right. We’ll get into the actual fight in a second, but there’s a lot in there. And so in somewhat of a little terms, yes. On the surface, the IRBs and doc holiday did confront the four Cowboys in the vacant lot to ostensibly disarmed them. Those men were armed. They had been threatening the lives of the herbs and the holidays, and he’s true.
And I can walk through a little bit of that sequence. But that’s much more of just an immediate surface reason. Then the real underlying reasons so that without getting too deep into the weeds, and you know, all of this stuff is covered in great detail in my show, so I certainly won’t repeat all of it here because it would take forever.
But there is a long history of conflict between the IRBs and various members of what were called the Cowboys. It was an 18 month build up until this moment and they went back and forth. There’s all kinds of shenanigans that happened on both sides. It’s very messy and very long, and then in the 24 hours before the gunfight, it really escalates.
I Clinton was threatening the lives of the IRBs and doc holiday. He was drinking heavily all night and early in the morning there was a confrontation similar to what you see in the movie, between Virgil and Ike and why it in, and another one of the Cowboys, Tom McClory, I believe there were some little spats back and forth.
And then by the time the afternoon of the gunfight arrives at the day of the gunfight arrives, the herbs and doc holiday have been hearing these threats for a long time. They’ve already been some minor conflicts, but to some degree they think maybe the Cowboys are leaving. They’ve been hearing people keep running up to very, just like you see in the movie, people keep running up to the IRBs and doc holiday.
And repeating the threats they’ve heard from the Cowboys. But at the same time, the herbs are hearing that the Cowboys are working their way through town toward the OK corral, which was a working stable. So they, the IRBs thought, well, maybe the Cowboys have had enough. Maybe they’re going to get on their horses and ride away.
But that’s not what happens. So by the time Johnny tries to insert himself into the mix and says, okay, I’ll go down there and disarm these guys. By that point, the IRBs have pretty much had enough. They say, okay, Johnny, we’ll wait for you to go down and disarm the Cowboys. Even though Johnny has pretty clearly portrayed himself as being aligned with the Cowboys.
So the idea that the Johnny B hand is going to go down there and disarm them, you know, falls on deaf ears for the most part. It’s like it’s a hollow gesture, but the herbs do the due diligence. They wait about 20 minutes or so. Johnny does not come out. Has not come back. There are still reports that these Cowboys are in town and now they’re moving away from the OK corral.
It’s clear they’re not going to leave. So now the herbs take action and they begin what was not famous then, but is a perfect movie moment. They begin their walk through the streets of tombstone to find the Cowboys as they have been drifting away from the okay corral. So it’s similar to what you see in the movie, but you know, there is some dramatic license in there.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:18:50] Sure. Well that makes sense. And it makes sense that it would be the final straw as it sounds like you’re explaining, you know, a lot of stuff leading up to it. But this was just kind of the, the final moment they’ve had enough.
Chris Wimmer: [00:19:00] Very much. That’s really what it was. There was a long history of back and forth that got really heated right before the gunfight.
And by that point, you know, the, a conflict was almost inevitable. Well,
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:11] speaking of the conflict, since the gunfight at the OK corral was. And probably is one of the most popular gun fights in the old West today. I thought it’d be interesting to do a little bit of a, a quick fire fact check on it. I know you go into a lot more detail on your show, but just some of the, the overview of what happens in the movie.
I’ll explain what happens in the movie and then if you could just let us know. If that really happened or not, and you can go into as much depth as you want to. I’ll leave that up to you if you just want to keep it surface level and kind of an overview.
Chris Wimmer: [00:19:46] Sure. The
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:48] first one here is like you mentioned, they walked down down the streets of, of tombstone, but then there’s these two sides and there’s a tense calm in the air.
He hung out with some tension there where you see two sides of armed men staring each other down and then the camera cuts in on doc holiday. And he winks at one of the Cowboys, and that’s the initiation of, okay, we know that something’s going to happen. Do we know if it was a doc holiday Winker doc holiday at all?
That was the final straw, so to speak, of the actual gunfight itself.
Chris Wimmer: [00:20:21] I don’t think anyone could probably say 100% but I think the odds would be pretty strong against doc holiday winking. That seems to be much more, much more of a Hollywood moment and a great moment for Val Kilmer playing this wonderful version of doc holiday.
The rest of it is though very, very similar. Initially before the gunfight, doc holiday did have this walking stick, this cane that he exchanged for a shotgun with Virgil herb. That did happen. So Virgil, herb is carrying docs. Cain doc does have a shotgun when the four, when the three IRBs and doc holiday arrive at the lot, they’re not in a, you know, kind of a straight line like that.
Actually, there’s a little more staggered to it. Doc has the shotgun. He, in the movie, you will see doc Holly shrug off his coat and raise the shotgun according to the reports. That part did happen. But we don’t. I think there’s probably very little evidence to show that he actually winked. And that’s how it all began.
But again, as you see in the movie, Virgil, herb raises up that black cane with the silver top on it that he had taken from doc, and he yells, you know, something like, hold, I don’t want that. You know, I don’t want, we’re not here for a shootout. And that part really did happen. That was basically the last moment before the shooting started.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:40] All things considered. It sounds like they did a pretty decent job. Again, going back to a course, it’s at the end of the day, it’s entertainment. so it’s not going to be 100% accurate. Of course.
Chris Wimmer: [00:21:49] Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:51] The next shot that we see in the gunfight is really the first angle that we see where somebody pulls up a gun, you see a gun leaving its holster, and it’s closeup of a cowboy.
That’s the one that doc holiday, wink, that do we know who drew their guns first.
Chris Wimmer: [00:22:07] There’s varying reports. I think the common wisdom now, the most agreed upon version now is that wider and Frank McCloud Marie pulled their guns at almost the same time when the IRBs and doc holiday arrive. Billy Clinton and Tom McClory.
Well, the two clans, Billy and Ike are in the, in the lot, and the two McLeod where is Frank and Tom were in the lot, I believe it’s Billy Clanton and Frank McCloud, where he, who started reaching for their guns. As the herbs come up, that starts to establish the tension. Then Virgil yells, hold, I don’t want that.
And then almost right after that, Frank and Wyatt pulled their guns at about the same time, why it shoots Frank Macau re in the stomach. Frank shot goes wide and then the next gun shot comes from Billy Clinton, I believe. So Frank and Frank McCloud and wider pull and fire almost at the same time to start the whole thing off.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:23:07] Okay. Yeah, that was going to be one of my next questions because in the movie we see why it shoot first. Did you see the cowboy drawing and then Wyatt as well? Of course. It’s why it seems to be a faster draw, so he’s the one that actually shot first, so it seems like they got it pretty close there.
Chris Wimmer: [00:23:21] Yeah, it’s very similar and in the milliseconds that we’re involved, it’s probably hard to tell who actually fire their gun first and maybe began to draw first.
By why it’s own account. He does draw in fire very early, so if not right before Frank McCloud, he pulls almost at the same time, maybe with the second he sees Frank McCloud this thing is going to now escalate into a gunfight. Why it pulls and begins to fire. And as you’ve probably have seen, the movie through Kurt, Russell’s portrayal from my understanding, whiter in real life, was a very cool customer.
You know, he was one of those guys who stayed calm during a crazy gunfight. And so maybe part of the idea that he might’ve drawn first, and I think he says he does, but either way he lands the first shot because he’s unphased by all of this stuff. And the Cowboys are freaked out and firing more wildly than why it’s a, Wyatt score’s a hit, if you want to say it that way.
And so maybe that hel has helped generate the idea that he actually drew and fired first. Now in
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:21] the movie, it doesn’t take long. Once the shooting starts for two of the four Cowboys to get shot, and then a third is close behind after the horse that he was using for some cover moves and then doc holiday shoots him with a shotgun, but then a fourth cowboy raises his hands and pleads the ERPs to stop shooting.
Did the Cowboys try to stop the gunfight partway through?
Chris Wimmer: [00:24:44] Yes and no. I could. Clinton, who’s it was really is the instigator of a lot of this stuff. Is the cowboy who throws up his hands and says, I got no gun, don’t shoot me, and runs toward wider. That did actually happen. I Clinton throws up his hands and says, you know, I’ve got no gun.
I don’t remember his specific words, but he throws up his hands. And shows that he does not want to be a part of this, and he rushes toward wider and collides with wider and wider. It does say to him, it’ll get to fighting or get away. The fight is commenced, either fight or get out of here. And so I Clinton exits the fight and we might get into exactly what he did afterwards, but he, that part did happen.
He did run up to Wyatt. And then gets out of the way and is not part of the gunfight. The thing you referenced previously, is it? Yeah, I believe it’s Tom Macau re who is next to a horse and is using the horse for cover and then eventually gets shot by the shotgun, which, which also happens in real life that doc holiday did shoot Tom McLeod with the shotgun after the horse got out of the way as well.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:25:51] As you’re talking about this, it’s fascinating to me that it’s not like we have it on video that we can go back and re and you know, know what happened. This is all coming from the accounts of the people that were there and you think about how this is happening in milliseconds between different things.
The fact that we’re able to break this down in this much detail is it’s impressive. It’s surprising.
Chris Wimmer: [00:26:14] Yeah. And luckily, because, you know, at least on the, on the urban doc holiday side, everyone on that side of the equation survived and wider wrote a very famous handwritten diagram of how it all went down.
And there were various other people, I mean, this has happened right in the middle of town, more or less. Like there were two main streets going through tombstone, and this happened right in one of them. And I, and I can kind of get into exactly how it ended, literally in the middle of the street. But this happened in full view of everyone.
There were other witnesses, so you have a lot of different people. So we didn’t have video evidence, but we had a lot of different people’s testimony to try to verify things. But of course, in the heat of the moment that everybody gave conflicting statements. So even though we have a generally agreed upon sequence, no one will ever be 100% sure.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:27:04] Sure. Man, that makes sense. That’s the way a lot of history is. In the movie though, we see that Virgil is shot in the leg and Morgan is shot in the chest where they actually injured in the gunfight.
Chris Wimmer: [00:27:16] Yeah, and this is pretty accurate. So yes, a Virgil was absolutely shot in the leg. Morgan’s injury was a little more visceral, actually, and I won’t get into too much graphic detail, but he was shot in the right shoulder and the bullet actually travels across his back and exits out of his left shoulder.
So it’s a very strange, like you said, it’s like he’s someone fired at him and he’s spun to the side at the last second, and the bullet just kind of traveled along his back. So he was technically injured in both shoulders. So, but yeah, like you both guys were injured. Morgan’s was just a little different than is portrayed in the movie.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:27:53] Going back to the, the movie here, the man that in the building, he, he, the guy who held up his gun, he went into a building nearby. But then he ends up shooting from that building almost instantly. It seems like all of a sudden the urchin doc holiday are surrounded almost for a time where they have the Cowboys on one side and then this guy who we thought was out of the gunfight and reenters that where they actually shot at from a nearby building like that.
Chris Wimmer: [00:28:24] No, this is, this is a little bit of dramatic license in the movie. That’s I Clinton again, who was rushed up to Wyatt herb. And said, he has no gun and he’s supposed to run away from the fight in real life. He did run away from the fight. He was no longer involved in it. In the movie, his character circles around into fly’s boarding house slash, Photoshop, and grabs a gun and begins firing through a window.
And that’s just a little, you know, dramatic license for entertainment value. Now I
Dan LeFebvre: [00:28:53] want to talk about the duration of it because I timed this in, in the movie. That scene lasts one minute and 29 seconds from that first shot until the last shot. So how long was the actual gunfight?
Chris Wimmer: [00:29:08] Yeah. Here’s some great little nuggets about the fight.
I love talking about the, so that’s, that’s not too far off the actual gunfight. I believe the, the most common number you’ll see associated with it is it lasted about 27 seconds. And in in that 27 seconds. So yeah, the, the gunfight in the movie is only about a minute longer than it actually lasted in real life.
Now, of course, that would’ve felt like an eternity, but it’s less than 30 seconds in real life. And during that time period, there were somewhere around 30 shots fired. So almost immediate, you’re talking about a ton of shooting. And the most interesting thing that certainly if you’re, if your listeners haven’t done so, I hope this spurs him to go check it out.
You can find a photo. Online, if memory serves that someone took of the vacant lot where the gunfight took place a couple of years after the fact, before, you know, the town changed and it was demolished. So you can see just how narrow this is. And so the mistaken, the biggest misnomer may be in the history of the West is the gunfight at the OK corral.
The gunfight did not actually happen at the OK corral. It happened at a vacant lot that backed up against the OK corral so you could walk through this vacant lot and into the back of the OK corral. So that’s how the sequence started. The Cowboys were near the OK corral and they just walked through this empty space in this town block.
And ended up at this vacant lot next to fly’s boarding house. and that’s where they were finally found, confronted by the herbs. So this lot is really narrow. So like if anyone has a two car garage, it’s about that wide. So if you picture four guys standing just outside the door of the, of the garage with weapons drawn and.
Four guys inside the garage, one of those guys inside or runs away, and now there’s seven guys firing at each other in this tiny space for 30 seconds with bullets flying everywhere. And one of them is doc holiday with a shotgun. So it must have just been mayhem there for 30 seconds.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:06] I mean that that really paints a picture and it really makes me, I mean, in the movie at the end, we see Virgil and Morgan are injured.
We talked about that, and then there’s three dead Cowboys and one escaped. But when you paint the picture like that, it really would surprise me that anybody would survive. What was the actual end result of the, the gunfight.
Chris Wimmer: [00:31:26] Yeah. You got it right. And that’s, that was when I did the research on it. That was one of the, one of the startling revelations to me too, cause I, you know, I’d seen the movie tombstone and I loved it and I assumed that was basically how it all worked.
And for the most part it was so, yes, three Cowboys were killed. The three Cowboys who stayed in the fight, Frank McCloud, re Tom McClory and Billy Clinton all died. They didn’t necessarily die immediately in the gunfight. Billy and Tom. Lingered a couple more hours before they died of their wounds, but all three men did die as a result of the gunfight, Virgil and Morgan were injured more or less the way you see in the movie doc holiday had a tie, like a minor scratch on his hip.
A bullet grazed him. It cut through his coat, and he initially thought he was much more badly injured than he was when they finally looked at it. It was just a minor scratch. And then the kind of miraculous part is that why Earp, who was right in the middle, right in the forefront, in the thick of the whole thing, was never scratched.
He never received a wound. And that was kind of the miracle of why it ERPs life in everything he did. He was never sustained an injury. He was never shot. It never sustained any kind of, severe blow of any, you know, really any kind. So he was just one of those guys. It just, the bullets seem to miss him every time.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:45] It’s a guy to have on your side, that’s for sure.
Chris Wimmer: [00:32:47] Yeah.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:48] In the movie, after the gunfight at the OK corral happens, or in the vacant lot next to the okay corral, if we correct that, we see that the Cowboys are out for revenge. And so we see Virgil Earp gets ambushed and shot in the back with a shotgun. he isn’t killed, but he’s.
Pretty badly injured, as you could imagine, getting shot with a shotgun would do. And then Morgan earth is not as lucky. He actually is killed in the movie. We see it when he’s shot. He’s playing billiards and somebody shoots through the window and and kills him. So did the attempted murder of Virgil and the successful murder of Morgan happen that way that we saw in the movie.
Chris Wimmer: [00:33:28] Very, very similar. Yes. This is another one of those things that’s very similar. And I, and this is another thing I would mention to anyone listening who was very, he was interested in seeing tombstone, Arizona and seeing this stuff. The Oriental saloon, which I’ll I’ll talk about in greater detail in a second, has just been restored to a saloon.
You know, a lot of these places in these old West towns change shape and name, but now the Oriental saloon is back to being itself. So Virgil, Earp. About or he would have it be two months after the gunfight at the OK corral. Virgil herb walks out of the Oriental saloon, which is one of the big saloons in town.
He walks across the street toward the crystal palace saloon, and while he’s about halfway across the street between those two saloons. There are gunshots that come out of the dark from a diagonal angle across the street in a different direction. And because he’s walking from one place to another, and that the angle that this, that the gunshots came from, they just pulverized his left arm.
So he takes the full force. Of I believe two to three gunshots in his left arm as he’s walking from one saloon to the other. And you can actually do that walk in tombstone. Now you can walk out of the crystal or the Oriental and walk toward the crystal palace and you can kind of see how this thing all went down.
So. He takes that gunshot and Wyatt and everybody rushed him in up to his hotel room. The doctors fear all night that he’s going to die, but he does pull through, although just like you see in the movie, he can never use his left arm again. It’s just been shredded and he, he keeps the arm, they don’t amputate his arm, but he’s never able to use it again.
It just hangs Olympic his side. And then about three months later, Morgan Earp is playing pool in a pool hall and why it is there and gunshots do fly through the windows at night and do shoot Morgan pretty much the way you see in the movie. He’s shot in the back again, like some of the others, he lingered as a little while, but then ultimately he does.
Di, you know right there in that pool hall. And so that’s as, as I’m sure we’ll get to, that’s kind of, that’s again, out of the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:35:40] Now with the timeline there, of course, it all happens relatively quickly as far as the movie is concerned. And so it’s safe to assume that the Cowboys are the bad guy.
Is it generally accepted that the Cowboys were behind this retaliation against a Virgil and Morgan.
Chris Wimmer: [00:35:54] Yeah, absolutely. It was always assumed that the Cowboys were, again, you know, how much proof they would have had would have been difficult. There were various little things found, you know, at some of the crime scenes, like in the vacant building where the, the shooters were supposedly waiting for Virgil herb.
There were some little pieces of evidence that pointed toward various members of the Cowboys. Once an investigation of Morgan’s murder began, there were interviews conducted and names came to light of people who were probably responsible for it in some way, whether they were actually there on the ground when the trigger’s pulled or whether they somehow worked with the, with the killers to organize the thing.
There were, there was basically a list of Cowboys generated who were thought to be involved in one or both attempts.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:42] Makes sense. Is it, like you’re saying earlier where leading up to the gunfight at the OK corral itself? You know, there’s this long history of things, so of course that’s only going to continue on.
Chris Wimmer: [00:36:52] Nobody was surprised when the, the chief suspect’s became apparent.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:57] Well, in the movie, after Morgan is killed at first Wyatt or wants to leave town, he doesn’t want any more bloodshed. He wants to get out of there, but then the Cowboys ambush them as they’re trying to leave. Why it shoots. First he kills one of the two Cowboys that are there, and then he lets the other one goes so that he can run back to curly bill, who again in the movie is kind of the leader of the Cowboys, but
Chris Wimmer: [00:37:22] he’s
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:22] letting them know that why it’s going to come for him.
He’s coming after him. Meanwhile, we also see that Virgil does leave town, so he leaves town on the train, but why it does not is that actually what happened.
Chris Wimmer: [00:37:37] Generally speaking. Yeah. Yeah. So after, after those two tragic events, after Virgil is ambushed and Morgan is killed, that’s, that essentially signals the end of the earth clan in tombstone.
So the ERPs, including Jim , who has been in tombstone this whole time, the great overlook Jim, or who was a us in the saloon business for his entire life, he was working as a bartender on saloon operator in tombstone during this whole thing. We just never really see. You don’t see him at all in the movie.
he’s overshadowed by everyone else.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:08] I can see this now. The sequel, the tombstone. What about Jim?
Chris Wimmer: [00:38:12] Yeah, exactly. What happened to Jim. So Jim’s there the whole time. We just, we just don’t see him. And he plays, you know, a small role in some of the events that led up to the gunfight. But obviously once the gunfight happens, the whole story is dominated by.
Virgil, why it Anne Morgan? And as I’ll briefly touch on in a second, the youngest brother of the clan war in herb joins Wyatt on what we’re going to talk about here. The vendetta ride. So yes, after the ambush of ambush is a Virgil and Morgan, the whole herb clan packs up. And at this point, the patriarch of the clans, so the IRBs family all live out in California.
So why it puts Virgil on a train. He puts Morgan’s body on a train and the wives and basically sends everyone West to California to safety while he, Wyatt and doc and several others try to track down the Cowboys and it, it does begin with a concentration right there on the train platform. Which I believe was in Tucson, if I’m not mistaken, I could be, I could be wrong on that.
I didn’t look up that specific detail when I should have, but either way, it begins on the train platform with the killing of Frank Stilwell. So that is, that is kind of what you see. I, you know, I don’t, there’s no classic hero moment where whiter allows one of the two Cowboys to live. I believe it’s iCloud and in the movie, and shouts a, our famous line, you know, tell him I’m coming and hell’s coming with me.
That didn’t happen that way. It’s a great movie moment, but the confrontation did happen. You know, Frank Stillwell was shot and killed on the train platform, another cowboy, and I believe it is, I Clintonville it might’ve been a more peripheral character runs away and why it tries to catch him, but he’s not able to.
So that guy does escape and therefore is kind of able to warn people, but it’s not the ominous warning issued by wider. And then afterwards, of course, then it becomes the, what was dubbed later the vendetta ride or why it IRBs vendetta ride where he, he and his crew try to track down as many of the Cowboys as possible.
And that’s probably the biggest dramatic license in the movie other than the red sashes. Is that the vendetta ride is not quite as crazy and bloody as it appears in the movie in real life. They weren’t hanging. Guys in the middle of town squares are barging in on Cowboys while they’re in brothels or just shooting people like crazy.
It wasn’t quite that violent.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:39] Okay. Yeah, that was going to be one of my questions cause you see like why it rides a horse into a barbershop or something. Guys getting a shave and then just just kills him. It seems like he’s snapped. He’s kinda gone off on the deep end and just, you know, this has turned into something.
Well I guess, you know, Morgan dying, it’s turned into something very, very personal. So what actually happened on that vendetta ride then was, was it more he was trying to arrest them or was he actually trying to go out and kill them.
Chris Wimmer: [00:41:06] Hey, you know what? To be honest, it was probably a little bit of both. I don’t think he had any qualms about killing them.
He probably had no problem killing these guys, but it would not have been the murderous rampage that had portrayed it in the movie. And just like everything in this story, it’s a much longer, more drawn out affair. This would not have seemed strange to why it, and that’s what we, in hindsight, people tend to look at what we’ve now called this vendetta ride and has been shaped by the movies as something that was just this crazy swath of destruction that was cut through this land and through these people.
But Wyatt’s brother was injured. One of his brothers was killed. It made perfect sense for him, especially as a law man, to try to track down the people who did it. He had no faith in Johnny B hen or the local law enforcement. So anybody in the old West would have done the same. This was very common for a relative and especially alarm, and to try to track down these killers.
So in his mind, he’s thinking, I have every right to track these guys down. If they don’t come peaceably, I won’t have, won’t shed a tear if I ended up shooting them. So it takes about three weeks. There’s about three weeks of time where Wyatt and doc and all of their group are riding through the Hills of Southern Arizona and trying to track down the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, various groups of Cowboys led by Johnny Ringo and curly bill Brosius and Clanton are also creating policies and chasing why. It’s so like, it’s this almost. To some degree, a little comical circle of all of these guys are all chasing each other all over Southern Arizona and Wyatt and his group do track down a few of the Cowboys.
They are, they do track down. One of the guys who was supposedly was involved in the murder of Morgan ERPs. That guy ends up dead, but there are no witnesses to his actual killing. It’s pretty well, pretty widely acknowledged. I think that that wider and his group are responsible for this man’s death. And then there is a confrontation with curly bill that is a little more, has a little more speculation around it, but I think, again, the general wisdom is that there was a shootout between wide urban, curly bill brochures, and I think most people agree that curly bill got the worst end of that confrontation.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:22] Okay. Yeah. That’s what we see happen. It’s like in the middle of a river or something when that’s kind of the end of the sequence shots of why it tracking down the Cowboys is when we see that confrontation with him and curly bill.
Chris Wimmer: [00:43:35] Yeah, and it’s very similar. So yeah, that is close to the end of the, of the three weeks saga of this thing.
In reality, it’s wider, but his group are going toward a waterhole in the mountains, like a natural spring where they can get water. Meanwhile, curly bill and several Cowboys are hiding at that same spring waiting to ambush White’s group. And wides group rides right into the ambush and it turns into a shootout and miraculously, again, in such close quarters, Wyatt Earp is not injured though his clothing and his coat, his long duster coat are shredded and pockmarked and everyone can’t believe that he was able to come out of this thing alive.
But the, I think the accepted story is that why it did shoot curly bill brochures with a shotgun and curly bill died as a result. Now, you will certainly find all kinds of rumors. That say they curly bill was not there. It was, he wasn’t actually the one who was shot or the curly bill was shot, but he didn’t die.
And you know, like a, a legendary character. He turns up down the road under an assumed identity because nobody can ever find his body. He just kind of disappears after that moment. So you can find a bunch of different stories out there, but I, my guess is the general wisdom is that wide urban curly build did get into a shootout wider, did shoot curly bill with a shotgun and curly bill probably did die as a result.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:44:56] mentioned wider being a lawman. It would make perfect sense that he would try to find his brother’s killer and whoever shot Virgil. But at that point, was he actually a lawman he had, cause it was Virgil that was a deputy U S Marshall. Right. Why? It was not technically Olam and at that point, even though he was previously, wasn’t that part of things that he was giving up to go to tombstone.
So was he still alarming?
Chris Wimmer: [00:45:22] It is slightly complicated that he did assume lawman status at various points during this whole process. And I believe you see in the film, though, I haven’t watched it in awhile. I can’t believe I didn’t use this as a perfect reason to go back and watch it for the thousands time he did.
I believe he assumes, I believe he becomes a deputy U S Marshall, like Virgil. To be able to make this whole thing legal. I’m almost positive that that’s how it worked. He had performed various law man duties while in tombstone, whether he was wearing a badge or not, or officially sworn in or not. He was recognized as an authority figure, just like Virgil.
And then of course, Morgan, who were actual law men in tombstone, and I believe that if I have my, if I have my memory serves, Virgil does become a deputy us Marshall. And he actually did. He ran for the office of County sheriff. Like that’s part of this too. The the back store that we didn’t really get into.
He ran for County sheriff of the area around tombstone against Johnny , and there’s a whole political conflict with those two guys that is just, it’s way too much backstory to get into. But because of that, he thought he would have been the County sheriff. Of the area. I believe it was Pima County at that time around tubes, and maybe it’s still is Pima County.
I’m going from memory on that, but I believe he was in some fashion granted lawman status, and I believe it was a deputy U S Marshall while he was doing this.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:46:49] Okay. Yeah. Is there a call in the movie? I think it is that, you know, once Virgil essentially becomes the Marshall and then he makes us brothers marshals, it’s kind of, you know.
I’m, I’m the law now. And so my friends with the law as well was kind of the implication I got from as far as the movie is concerned.
Chris Wimmer: [00:47:04] Yeah. And that does happen. Like Virgil was a Marshall temporarily. Then he does become the actual town Marshall. It just at a later time, it didn’t happen as fast as it’s portrayed in the movie, cause everything has to be sped up in the movie.
Of course. And Morgan does become a special deputy to Virgil. They are local law men, and I think it’s even possible that Virgil could have retained his deputy U S marshal status. Though I am not positive, but I think they kind of traded these badges a little bit. So I think when Virgil leaves the Southern Arizona.
Why it essentially assumed the role that Virgil had had previously of deputy U S Marshall. There is the us Marshall in charge of the Arizona territory. I believe that makes wider a deputy U S Marshall kind of formalizes the process there. Going
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:52] back to the movies timeline and the way the movie depicts things after the showdown with
Chris Wimmer: [00:47:57] curly bill, we
Dan LeFebvre: [00:47:58] assume in the movie, of course, he’s the leader of the Cowboys, so we assume that kind of the leader of the Cowboys is dead.
But then there’s another show down that happens in the movie, and that is with Johnny Ringo. And we saw him earlier and I think earlier they were in a saloon or something and doc calls him the deadliest pistol tier since wild bill. But then at the end of the movie, it’s actually Johnny Ringo that challenges Wyatt Earp to a one-on-one dual, why it accepts, but then doc holiday knows that Ringo is faster than wider.
So doc actually shows up first and he’s the one that duals Ringo. Doc holiday is faster. He kills Ringo. And then once why it gets there, he tells doc that it’s time to finish this. And then we, she shots of Wyatt and doc. Shooting down more Cowboys and kind of just finishing all of this off, so there’s a few different plot points there, but how accurate was the movie there in the duel between Johnny Ringo and doc holiday?
Did it actually happen? And then wrapping up the feud of sorts between the ERPs and the Cowboys.
Chris Wimmer: [00:49:05] I feel a little bad. I feel like I’m going to be shattering all the fun moments for your listeners.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:49:11] Well, that’s, that’s the whole point, right?
Chris Wimmer: [00:49:13] Yeah, exactly. We’re separating fact from fiction here, so please don’t let my words hurt your viewing of the movie.
Anyone. I love the movie just as much as everybody else, even though I have sadly now learned the truth of it all. So in reality, there was no challenge between Johnny Ringo and wide herb. There was no duel between doc holiday and Johnny Ringo. But if you wanted to go with a little bit of nugget of truth with that, here is the truth that could have led to that movie moment if it wasn’t just completely made up out of whole cloth.
So Johnny Ringo was a very mysterious person in the old West. Anyway, we really don’t know that much about his life. There’s so much shrouded in mystery that you can create about anything you want out of Johnny Ringo is real character. So Johnny Ringo was found dead in the mountains at the base of a tree, I believe, with a single gunshot wound to the head.
That part is true as far as we understand it. So if you worked backwards, if you accepted that as how he was found dead, you could create your own really dramatic way that he ended up that way. But there’s almost no chance that it involved why it or. Doc, you know, Johnny was an outlaw. He met an Outlaws end.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:28] Okay. Well, I mean, it sounds like they had the end in sight and how can we fit this into the story without bringing in any more characters?
Chris Wimmer: [00:50:34] Exactly. Yeah. Like everything, like almost everything. There’s some little kernel of truth to it somewhere.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:40] I appreciate sharing that. I mean, even though it’s something that it kinda does shatter some of the perfect Hollywood ending as far as that part of the movie is concerned.
But still, I mean, that’s, that’s real life. You know, it’s not always the same and they’re going to have to find a way to make it an entertaining movie. And I still enjoy the movie, so
Chris Wimmer: [00:50:58] yeah, me too.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:00] Well, speaking of the end of the movie, at the very end, we do hear some voiceover that, and we just kind of see what happens to these characters at the very end.
And basically doc holiday, he ends up dying of tuberculosis. He suffered from it throughout the entire movie. And then he ends up dying from that. We see. We hear some voiceover that explains Virgil. Herb went back to California. He became a sheriff there. We talked a little bit about that, and then we also hear that why ERPs story essentially ends happily ever after.
We haven’t really talked about her that much, but it says that he spent the next 47 years with Josephine Marcus. So what happened for these characters? Did the movie portray that ending for them correctly?
Chris Wimmer: [00:51:44] Yeah, for the most part it did. Doc holiday did pass away in Glenwood Springs, Colorado of tuberculosis.
Virgil herb did become a law and I believe it was fairly brief, but he did become a lawman again in California with the use of just one arm and wider did rekindle a romance with Josephine Marcus, which is. Man, you could almost make a whole movie out of that. That’s another long and complicated story that they had to greatly condense and maybe fabricate to some degree in the film.
But, but yeah, he did rekindle that romance and then they spent the rest of their lives together and they did travel everywhere through California and up to Alaska and wider did become kind of an advisor in the early days of the film industry that all that stuff did happen. It’s pretty accurate.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:52:30] it sounds like despite all the. The horrors that that must’ve been to live through something like that. It seems like at least a, hopefully they found some peace towards the end.
Chris Wimmer: [00:52:40] Yeah, it sounds like, and I think one of the interesting things to throw out at the very end here is that you know, wider from what I have read, he never really understood what the big deal was.
He never sought fame. He never viewed anything. He did as so extraordinary. He just viewed it as things anyone would have done in his situation, and in all reality. They were things that did happen over and over again be, you know, law men did chase down fugitives. Relatives did track down the people who harmed their relatives.
Like that stuff was all very common back then. The part that was uncommon that seems to have set wide Herb’s life apart and everyone, all of these events apart is that there were very few, if any, gunfights like the one at the OK corral or I guess at the vacant lot on Fremont street. This is a little nugget I should throw out there too, that for the first 50 years after the gunfight, it was called the fight on Fremont street.
There were two different versions of it, but I think most common was the fight on Fremont street because that’s where it took place. The vacant lot opened up onto Fremont street, and that’s the street that the herbs were standing in when they were firing into the lot where the Cowboys were. And one of the Cowboys dies right in the middle of Fremont streets of a whole thing took place on Fremont street.
And it was an author writing, I believe in the thirties who coined it, coined the name, the gunfight at the OK corral. So that’s where the, the misnomer comes from. So the difference is that there were very few shootouts, like the gunfight at the OK corral where seven or eight guys are firing at each other at the same time.
If, if there was a gun fight at all, it was generally a drunken shootout between one or two guys, and they very rarely hit anything. This situation was unique, which is why it has lived on, and then propelled further by the vendetta ride, which wasn’t nearly as bloody as it’s been made out to be in the movies.
But it did happen. And so all of those things put together have just made into this phenomenal story. And this really interesting legend.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:54:41] Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you coming on to chat about tombstone, and I know there’s a ton more information that we could talk about this, but I always like to leave the listeners with recommendation for where they can learn to get even more.
I know you have an entire season dedicated to the true story behind tombstone, but there’s so much more. Can you share a little bit about your podcast and where someone listening to this can go find it?
Chris Wimmer: [00:55:10] Yeah. First, I guess the second thing, first, you can find it on pretty much every major podcast platforms.
So Apple podcast is certainly the most popular, but it’s on Spotify and iHeartRadio and tune in and Stitcher and all the major podcast platforms, pretty much wherever you want to listen to it, including, I guess Google podcasts, which is now, they’ve, they’ve completely redone their whole podcast set up.
So it’s much better than it used to be. So it’s out there for pretty much everywhere. This season about tombstone, which is just called tombstone, is season two of the legends of the old West podcast where yeah, you can hear the whole history of the herbs and doc holiday and how they got to tombstone and all the events from start to finish over the course of those episodes.
And then a couple interviews with, as I mentioned earlier, the city historian of tombstone, Arizona, Don Taylor, who knows more about these events than just about any other person alive. He lives and breathes it every day down in tombstone. He was a great resource during the production and he’s become a good friend afterwards.
And then of course there are several books out there if you want, if you want to grab those. There’s no shortage of material to read about the, the gunfight at the OK corral and the participants of it. The gunfight at the OK corral is the most written about event in the history of the American West.
More things have been produced, books, movies, articles, whatever. More content has been generated about that gunfight than anything else in the history of the West. So there’s plenty of stuff out there if you want to take that die.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:56:37] Again, thank you so much for coming on and chatting about the true story behind tombstone.
Chris Wimmer: [00:56:42] Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.