Roadtrip Sidebar #3; or, Tombstone’s Wyatt Earp, Pre-Makeover

It was a messy fight–short, bloody, and confusing, the way most fights are that aren’t guided by judges, rules and regulations, and a boxing ring.

Cue Frankie Laine, please…

Thanks. It’s also the epic that caused Tombstone, Arizona, to revamp itself from fading mining town to THE Wild West town, and the draw that sucks tourists from across the world to watch the gunfight reenacted and dress in cowboy gear (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a family of five dressed in white dusters, black cowboy hats, and cowboy boots eating wafflecone ice creams).

It started as a rivalry of competing business interests. As misunderstanding, macho posturing, resentment, and money. The Earps had moved to Tombstone to make money. They hooked up with those who made money–the  Republican entrepeneurs and businessmen who owned the mines, ranches, and banks that hired Democrats like the Cowboys. The Cowboys, under boss man Ike Clanton, lived and worked across the region. They were the little guys with big families and failing homesteads who wanted a voice in how the town was being run. They wanted their due. The Earps and their fellow Republicans wanted the status quo.

Everyone picked on in high school (that would be me) knows that when rival bullies clash, the best thing to do is get out of the freaking way. Forget at about telling a responsible adult. And in this case, the responsible adults were on the Earps’ side, or had ties to the Cowboys and weren’t trusted. Tombstone inhabitants were, basically, screwed.

The bullies tormented each other until they couldn’t stand it anymore (if only Clint had been around–he’d have kicked their butts to the town of Hell and back). Then on October 26, 1881, around 2:30 in the afternoon, Wyatt Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and I-guess-I’ll-go-along-for-the-ride Doc Holliday confronted a group of Cowboys in an open lot in Tombstone. Thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds. Three cowboys were shot dead, Frank and Tom McClaury and Billy Clanton; Virgil and Morgan Earps were wounded.

The Earps were not lauded as heroes. They did not get a ticker-tape parade. They did not get medals or a trip to Washington to see the president. “WTF!” the townspeople cried as they arranged  dead Cowboys prettily in coffins in the window of the town’s hardware store.

Rumor had it that some of the Cowboys hadn’t been armed and had refused to fight earlier in the day. Fact was, there was beaucoup Cowboy/Democrat love and Republican envy in Tombstone.

The Earps were cleared of any wrongdoing by a judge (hmmm, I wonder what political party the judge belonged to???) but soon the Cowboys and the Earps were shooting at each other again, on the streets of Tombstone, on the high plains, in saloons–anywhere they could, basically. It’s amazing any of them survived that tit-for-testosterone bloodbath.

As it happened, the Cowboys were killed or thrown in prison to rot. Virgil and Wyatt Earp lost a brother and Doc Holliday survived long enough to move somewhere else. And lastly, Wyatt Earp got to be played by no less than Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Kurt Russell, and Kevin “Forget About Waterworld, Please” Costner back when he was handsome and kinda cool.

From bloody mercenary bully, despised and feared by many, to Silver-Screen Western hero? How’d Earp do that? WTF indeed.

Tomorrow–how to transform yourself.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>