Showdown at the O.K. Corral: The Trial of Wyatt Earp
It was the most famous gunfight in the history of the Wild West: the Showdown at the O.K. Corral.
On Octber 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona, legendary frontier lawman Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and John Henry “Doc” Holliday confronted Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury, members of a band of notorious cattle rustlers known as the Cowboys, at the O.K. Corral. A gunfight ensued. In less than 30 seconds, six men were shot. Frank McLaury died on the spot; Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton both died within an hour. Wyatt Earp survived uninjured, but his brothers and Doc Holliday were wounded. Ike Clanton ran away when the shooting began and was unharmed.
While the gunfight itself is well-known, what followed it is not: Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday were all charged with the murders of Billy Clanton and the McLaurys. After escaping the gunfight, Ike Clanton filed a petition asking that Earp and his group be charged with murder. In those days, a citizen petition, like Clanton’s, was enough to initiate criminal prosecution. After a month-long preliminary hearing, in which Wyatt Earp testified that he, his brothers, and Doc Holliday had acted in self-defense, the presiding judge found insufficient cause for a murder charge and dismissed the case. Wyatt Earp had won the fight at the O.K. Corral a second time.
This is a reenactment of the preliminary hearing before Judge Wells Spicer in territorial court. The case raises an issue of great relevance today: when may a law enforcement officer use deadly force?