Sharp Shooters

Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp heard of financial prospects in the boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona, and traveled there with his brothers in December 1879. Along with his reputation as a gunslinger, Wyatt was a gambler and he dealt faro while also trying to keep the peace at the notorious Oriental Saloon after its opening in 1880.

Wyatt’s brother Virgil was appointed city marshal of Tombstone, and later made his brothers Wyatt and Morgan his deputies.

Area ranchers and cattle rustlers, dubbed “The Cowboys,” created a conflict for the Earps. Headed by two families, the Clantons and the McLaurys, the Cowboys were known for reckless behavior, violence and criminal activity. They robbed stagecoaches, stole cattle and horses for their own profit and were responsible for many deaths.

The Cowboys struck fear in the townspeople, and after several street shootings, an ordinance was passed prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun in town. The Cowboys refused to obey the ordinance, which lead Marshall Earp and his deputies, along with their quick-draw friend John Henry “Doc” Holliday, to confront and try to disarm them. This confrontation turned into the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881.

The gunfight actually occurred in a vacant lot adjacent to the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street, between the Harwood House and C.S. Fly’s Boarding House. The Cowboys would not lay down their weapons, and instead lost three men in less than a minute.

Cowboys Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed. Virgil was shot in the leg, Morgan was shot in the shoulder and Holliday’s leg was grazed by a bullet, but all survived their injuries. Wyatt left the fight untouched.

This scene has been immortalized in film through varying depictions of the story and the Earp brothers became iconic symbols of the Wild West.

The most memorable retelling is likely the 1993 movie, “Tombstone,” starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt, Sam Elliot as Virgil, Bill Paxton as Morgan and Val Kilmer as Holliday. The thrilling ideation of the clash between outlaws and lawmen in the Old West as portrayed by these acclaimed actors was an instant favorite for Western film fans and continues to boost tourism in the town of Tombstone to this day. In fact, Russell is so widely recognized as Earp, that many souvenirs sold in the local shops depict the actor’s face rather than the less familiar actual portrait of Earp.

The film’s popularity works to Tombstone’s advantage as visitors flock to “the town too tough to die” year round to experience a live recreation of that fateful day for themselves, and feel a connection to the untamed Western frontier of long ago.

The main attraction is the O.K. Corral, of course. Gunfighter’s reenact the 1881 showdown at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily at The Streets of Tombstone Theater. The show contains a little humor, plenty of action and all the facts of the day. Right next to the theater is a life-size setup of the gunfight on the actual spot of the fight, according to a map drawn by Wyatt Earp.

Tickets to the show cost $10 per person and include entry to C. S. Fly’s photo gallery, a stroll throw the corrals, blacksmith shop and buggies on display, as well as a visit to the 1880s museum of Arizona’s oldest newspaper, the “Epitaph” and a reprint of the 1881 issue with the original gunfight reports.

Tickets for the O.K. Corral show must be purchased in person on the day of the show. Tickets do sell out, so it is recommended to purchase at least an hour before the desired showtime. For more information about the show, visit ok-corral.com.

There is much more to see in town, making the 6-hour drive from Laughlin worthwhile. Souvenir shops line Allen Street (the main street through town), and you can find authentic Western hats, clothing, jewelry and décor for purchase. If you just want to dress up as a saloon girl for the day, take an old time photo in costume at Can-Can, which is the original site of a restaurant with the same name from the 1880s.

Certainly you’ll want to wet your whistle at one of the saloons as well. Wyatt Earp’s Oriental Saloon on the corner of 5th and Allen streets is a must stop, with live music and family-friendly gunfight shows inside. Just across the street is the Crystal Palace Saloon, a great spot to grab a bite to eat or belly up to the ornate wooden bar for a cold one.

Known as the “wildest, wickedest nightspot,” the Bird Cage Theatre held poker games and supplied music and entertainment suited to the miners in town after opening its doors in 1881. It is rumored that 26 people were killed inside, which is supported by the numerous bullet holes still visible in the walls. Today, visitors can take a ghost tour of the historic building, which has collected several reports of paranormal activity.

A somewhat unusual point of interest in the town is the Rose Tree Museum, which is home to the world’s largest rose tree. The “Lady Banksia” rose was planted in 1886 and covers about 9000 square feet. For a $5 entry, guests can walk around its trunk and climb a short staircase to see its blooms from atop the raftors (if visiting in springtime).

Just about a half mile from the O.K. Corral is the Boothill Graveyard, which is the last piece to the gunfight and a notable stop to round out your trip. The two McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton were all laid to rest in the cemetery and visitors can see their gravesites, along with those of several other Tombstone residents. There is a $3 entrance fee to the graveyard.