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Gunfight At The O.K. Corral - Wyatt's Statement

    November 17, 1881
    Tombstone Nugget

Testimony for the Defense-Statement by Wyatt Earp.

The prosecution rested on the afternoon of the 15th and on the morning of the 16th the defense put Wyatt Earp on the stand. Under the laws of this Territory the accused can make any statement the pleases in justification or mitigation of the crime charged. Under this right, witness took the stand and commenced his statement by reading a carefully prepared manuscript. Prosecution objected to the witness reading from a manuscript and contended that the law contemplated an oral statement and not that the accused should first carefully prepare or have prepared for him the statement and read it before the court. Court ruled that the statute was very broad, and under it he felt that the accused could make any statement he pleased whether previously prepared or not. Witness then principally read from a manuscript the following statement:

My name is Wyatt S. Earp; 32 years old the 19th of last March; born at Monmouth, Warren County, Ill.; reside in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona, and have resided here since December 1, 1879, and am present a saloon-keeper; also, have been deputy Sheriff and detective.

The difficulty which resulted in the death of Wm. Clanton and Frank and Tom McLowry, originated last spring.

[Here prosecution objected to defendant reading a prepared statement. Overruled and excepted to.]

A little over a year ago I followed Frank and Tom McLowry and two other parties who had stolen six government mules from Camp Rucker-myself Virg, and Morgan Earp and Marshall Williams, Captain Hurst and four soldiers-we traced those mules to McLowry's ranch.

[Here prosecution moved to strike out above as irrelevant and having noting to do with the case; overruled and excepted to.]

While at Charleston I met a man by the name of Dave Estes. He told me that I could find the mules at the McLowry's ranch. He had seen them the day before; he said they were branding the mules with D S, changing the U to a D. We tracked the mules right up to the ranch, also found the branding iron D S, and after quite a while the mules were found with the same brand. After we arrived there at McLowry's ranch, there was a man by the name of Frank Patterson, who made some kind of compromise with Captain Hurst. Captain Hurst came to us boys and told us he had made a compromise; by doing so he would get the mules back.

WE INSISTED

on following them up. Hurst prevailed upon us to go back to Tombstone, so-we came back. Hurst told us two or three weeks afterward that they would not give up the mules to him after we went saying that they only wanted to get us away, that they could stand the soldiers off. Captain Hurst cautioned me and my brothers, Virgil and Morgan, to look out for those men, that they had made some threats against our lives. About one month after that-after those mules had been taken-I met Frank and Tom McLowry in Charleston; they tried to pick a fuss out of me down there and told me that if I ever followed them up again so close as I did before that they would kill me. Shortly after the time Bud Philpot was killed by the men who tried to rob the Benson stage, as a detective I helped trace the matter up, and I was satisfied that three men named Billy Leonard, Harry Head and James Crane were in that robbery. I knew that Leonard, Head and Crane were friends and associates of the Clantons and  McLowrys, and often stopped at their ranch; it was generally understood among officers and those who have information about criminals, that Ike Clanton was a sort of chief amongst the cowboys; that the Clantons and McLowrys were cattle thieves and generally in the secrets of the stage robbers, and that the Clanton and McLowry ranches were meeting places and places of shelter for the gang; I had an ambition to be Sheriff of this county at the next election, and I thought it would be of great help to me with the people and business men if I could capture the men who killed Philpot; there were rewards of about $1,200 each for the capture of the robbers; altogether there was about $3,600 for their capture.

I THOUGHT THIS

might tempt Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry to give away Leonard, Head and Crane, so I went to Ike Clanton, Frank McLowry and Joe Hill when they came to town; I had an interview with them in the back yard of the Oriental Saloon; I told them what I wanted; I told them I wanted the glory of capturing Leonard, Head and Crane, and if I could do so it would help me make the race for Sheriff at next election; I told them if they would put me on the track of Leonard, Head and Crane and tell me were those men were hid, I would give them all the reward and would never let anyone know where I got my information; Ike Clanton said he would like to see them captured; he said Leonard claimed a ranch that he claimed, and that it could get him out of the way that he would have no opposition in regard to the ranch. Clanton said the Leonard, Head and Crane would make a fight, that they would never be taken in alive; that I must find out if the reward would be paid for the
capture of the robbers, dead or alive. I then went to Marshall Williams, the agent of Wells, Fargo in this town, and at my request he telegraphed to the Agent or Superintendent of Wells, Fargo at San Francisco to find out if the reward would be paid dead or alive. He received in June 1881, a telegram which he showed me promising that the reward would be paid dead or alive. The next day I met Ike Clanton and Joe Hill on Allen street in front of the little cigar store next to the Alhambra; I told them the dispatch had come; I went to Marshall Williams and told him I wanted to see that dispatch for a few minutes. He went to look for it and

COULD NOT FIND IT

just then; he went over to the telegraph office and got a copy and came and gave it to me. I went and showed it to Ike Clanton and Joe Hill and returned it to Marshall Williams, and afterwards told Frank McLowry of its contents. It was then agreed between us that they should have all the $3,600 reward, outside of necessary expenses for horse hire in going after them and that Joe Hill should go where Leonard, Head and Crane were hid over near Eureka, in New Mexico, and lure them in near Frank and Tom McLowry's ranch, near Soldier's Holes, 30 miles from here, and I would be on hand with a posse and capture them. I asked Joe Hill, Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry what tale they would tell them to get them over here. They said they had agreed upon a plan to tell them that there would be a paymaster going from Tombstone, to Bisbee shortly to pay-off the miners, and that they wanted them to come in and take them; Ike Clanton then sent Joe Hill to bring them in; before starting Joe Hill took off his watch and chain and between two and three hundred dollars in money, and gave it to Virgil Earp to keep for him until he got back; he was gone about ten days, and returned with word that he had got there one day too late, that Leonard and Head had been killed the day before he got there by horse thieves; I learned afterwards that the horse thieves had been killed by members of the Clanton and McLowry gang; after that Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry claimed that I had given them away to Marshall Williams and Doc Holliday, and when they came into town they shunned me, Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday, and we began to hear of their threats against us; I am

A FRIEND OF DOC HOLLIDAY,

Because when I was City Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, he came to my rescue and saved my life when I was surrounded by desperadoes; about a month or more ago Morgan Earp and myself assisted to arrest Stilwell and Spencer on the charge of robbing the Bisbee stage; the Mclowrys and Clantons have always been friends of Stilwell and Spencer, and they laid the whole blame of their arrest on us, though the fact is we only went as a Sheriff's posse; after we got in town with Spencer and Stilwell Ike Clanton and Frank McLowry came in; Frank McLowry took Morgan Earp into the street in front of the Alhambra, when John Ringgold, Ike Clanton, and the two Hicks boys were also standing by, when Frank McLowry commence to abuse Morgan Earp for going after Spencer and Stilwell; Frank McLowry said he would never speak to Spencer again for being arrested by us; he said to Morgan: "If you ever come after me you will never take me;" Morgan replied, if he ever had occasion to go after him he would arrest him; Frank McLowry then said to Morgan: "I have threatened you boys' lives, an a few days ago had taken it back, but since this arrest it now `goes;'" Morgan made no reply and walked off; before this and after this Marshall Williams, Farmer Daly, Ed Byrnes, Old Man Winter, Charley Smith and three or four others had told us at different times of threats to kill us made by Ike Clanton, Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry, Joe Hill and John Ringgold; I knew all those men were desperate and dangerous men; that they were connected with outlaws, cattle thieves, robbers and murderers; I knew of the McLowrys stealing six government mules and also cattle, and when the owners went after them-finding his stock on the McLowry's ranch-that he was driven off, and they would kill him, and he has keep his mouth shut until several days ago

FOR FEAR OF BEING KILLED

I heard of Ringold shooting a man down in cold blood near Camp Thomas; I was satisfied that Frank and Tom McLowry had killed and robbed Mexicans in Skeleton Canyon three or four months ago, and I naturally keep my eyes open, for I did not intend that any of the gang should get the "drop" on me if I could help it; I Clanton met me at Vogan's old saloon five or six months ago and told me I had told Holliday about this transaction concerning the "giving away" Head, Leonard and Crane; I told him I never told Holliday anything; I told him that when Holliday came up from Tucson I would prove it; Ike Clanton said that Holliday had told him so; when Holliday came back I asked him and he said no; I told him that Ike Clanton had said so; on the 25th of October-the night-Holliday met Ike Clanton in the Alhambra lunch room and asked him about it; Clanton denied it; they quarreled for three or four minutes; Holliday told Clanton he was a damn liar if he said so; I was sitting eating lunch at the lunch counter, Morgan Earp was standing at the Alhambra bar talking to the bartender, I called him over to where I was sitting, knowing that he was an officer, and told him that Holliday and Clanton were quarreling in the lunch room, and for him to go in and stop it; he climber over the lunch counter from the Alhambra bar, went into the room, took Holliday by the arm and led him into the street; Ike Clanton in a few moments followed them out; I got through eating and walked out; as I opened the door I could hear that they were still quarreling outside; Virgil Earp came up, I think out of the Occidental, and told them (Holliday and Clanton) that if they did not stop their quarreling he would have to arrest them.

THEY ALL SEPARATED

At that time, Morgan Earp going down the street, home; Virgil Earp going in the Occidental saloon, Holliday up the street to the Oriental saloon, and Ike Clanton across the street to the Grand Hotel. I walked into the Eagle Brewery where I had a faro game which I had not closed. I stayed in there a few moments and then walked out on the street and there I met Ike Clanton. He asked if I would take a walk with him, he wanted to have a talk with me. I told him I would if he did not go too far, that I was waiting for my game in the Brewery to close, as I had to take care of the money. We walked about half way down the side of the brewery building on Fifth street and stopped. He told me that when Holliday approached him in the lunch room, that he was not fixed just right. He said that in the morning he would have man for man, and that this fighting talk had been going on for a long time, and he guessed it was about time to fetch it too a close. I told him that I would not fight no one if I could get away from it, because there was no money in it. He walked off and left me saying, "I will be ready for all of you in the morning;" I walked over to the Oriental, he come in, followed me in rather, and took a drink having his six-shooter on and playing fight and saying "you must not think I won't be after you all in the morning." He said he would like to make a fight with Holliday now. I told him that Holliday did not want to fight, but only to satisfy him that this talk had not been made. About that time the man who was dealing my game closed it, and brought the money to me. I locked it up in the safe and started home.

I MET HOLLIDAY

on the street between the Oriental and Alhambra. Myself and Holliday walked down Allen street, he going to his room, and I, to my house to bed. I got up next day, October 26th, about noon. Before I got up; Ned Boyle came to me and told me that he had met Ike Clanton on Allen street, near the telegraph office, and that Ike was on it; that he said that as soon as those d-d Earps, make their appearance on the street to-day the ball will open; that Ike said, "We are here to make a fight and we are looking for the s-s of b-s." I lay in bed some little time after that; got up and went down to the Oriental saloon. Harry Jones came to me after I got up and said, "What does all this mean?" I asked him what he meant. He says, "Ike Clanton is hunting you Earp boys with a Winchester rifle and a six-shooter" I said, "I will go down and find him and see what he wants." I went out and at the corner of Fifth and Allen, I met Virgil Earp, the marshal. He told me how he had heard that Ike Clanton was hunting us. I went down Allen street, and Virgil went down Fifth and then Fremont street. Virgil found Ike Clanton on Fourth, near Fremont, in an alley way. He walked up to him and said, "I heard you were hunting for some of us." I was coming down Fourth street at this time. Clanton then throwed his Winchester around toward Virgil; Virgil grabbed it and hit Clanton with his six-shooter and knocked him down. Clanton had his rifle and his six-shooter in his pants. By that time I came up. Virgil and Morgan Earp took the rifle and six-shooter away and took them to the Grand Hotel after examination and took Ike Clanton before Justice Wallace. Before the examination Morgan Earp had Ike Clanton in charge as Virgil was out. A short time later I went to Wallace's court and sat down on a bench. Ike Clanton looked over to me and said, "I will get even with all of you for this." If I had a six-shooter now I would make a fight with all of you." Morgan Earp then said to him,"if you want to make a fight right bad I'll give you this, at the same time offering Ike Clanton his own (Ike's) six-shooter. Ike Clanton started up to take it, and Campbell, the Deputy sheriff, pushed him back in his seat, saying he would not allow any fuss. I never had Ike Clanton's  arms at any time as he has stated. I would like to describe the positions we occupied in the court room at that time

IKE CLANTON SAT

on a bench like this, with his face fronting to the north wall of the building like that; I, myself, sat down on a bench that sat up against and along the side of the north wall, in front of Ike Clanton; Morgan Earp stood up on the floor against and to the right of where I sat two or three feet; Morgan had Ike Clanton's Winchester in his left hand, with one end on the floor and Ike's six-shooter in his right hand; he had them all the time; Virgil Earp was not in the court room any of this time; we were in Judge Wallace's office; Virgil came there after I had walked out; he was out, he told me, looking for Judge Wallace; I was tired of being threatened by Ike Clanton and his gang; I believed from what they had said to me and others and from their movements that they intended to assassinate me the first chance they had, and I thought that if I had to fight for my life with them I had better make them face me in an open fight, so I said to Ike Clanton, who was sitting about eight feet away from me, you d-n dirty cow thief, you have been threatening our lives, and I know it, I think I would be justified in shooting you down in any place I would meet you, but if you are anxious to make a fight I will go anywhere on earth to make a fight with you, even over to the San Simon among your own crowd; he replied, all right, I will see you after I get through here, I only need four feet of ground to fight; I walked out, and just then outside of the court-room and near the Justice's office, I met Tom McLowry; he came up to me and said to me, "if you want to make a fight I will make a fight with you anywhere;" I supposed at the time that he had heard what had just transpired Ike Clanton and myself; I knew of his having threatened me, and I felt just as I did about Ike Clanton that if the fight had to come I had better have it come when I had an even show to defend myself, so I said to him,:"all right, make a fight right here," and at the same time slapped him on the face with my left hand and drew my pistol with my right; he had a pistol in plan sight, on his right hip, in his pants, but made no move to draw it; I said to him

JERK YOUR GUN

and use it, he made no reply I hit him on the head with my six-shooter and walked away down to Hafford's corner., went into Hafford's and got a cigar and came out and stood by the door. Pretty soon after I saw Tom and Frank McLowry and William Clanton. They passed me and went down the street to the gunsmith shop; I followed down to see what they were going to do; when I got there, Frank McLowry's horse was standing on the sidewalk with his head in the door of the gunsmith shop; I took the horse by the bit, as I was deputy city marshal, and commenced to back him off the sidewalk; Tom and Frank McLowry and Billy Clanton came to the door; Billy laid his hand on his six-shooter, Frank McLowry took hold of the horse's bridal. I said "you will have to get this horse of the sidewalk." Frank McLowry backed him off on the street. Ike Clanton came up about that time and they all walked into the gunsmith shop. I saw them in the shop changing cartridges into their belts. They came out of the shop and walked along 4th street to the corner of Allen; I followed them to the corner of 4th and Allen streets, and then they went down Allen and over to Dunbar's corral. Virg Earp was then City Marshal; Morgan Earp was a special policeman for six weeks or two months, wore a badge and drew pay; I had been sworn in Virgil's place to act for him while he was gone to Tucson to Spencer and Stillwell's trial; Virgil had been back for a few days but I was still acting; I knew it was Virgil's duty
to disarm those men; expected he would have trouble doing so and I followed up to give assistance if necessary, especially since they had been threatening us as I have already stated. About ten minutes afterwards and while Virgil, Morgan, Doc Holliday and myself were standing on the corner of Allen and 4th streets, several persons said there is

GOING TO BE TROUBLE

with those fellows, and one man named Coleman said to Virgil they mean trouble. They have just gone from Dunbar's corral to the O.K. Corral armed. I think you had better go and disarm them. Virgil turned around to Holliday, Morgan Earp and myself, and told us to come and assist him in disarming. Morgan Earp said to me, they have horses, had we not better get some horses ourselves so that if they make a running fight we can catch them, I said , no. If they try to make a running fight we can kill their
horses and then capture them. We four then started through Fourth and Fremont streets. When we turned the corner of Fourth and Fremont, we could see them standing near or about the vacant space between Fly's Photograph Gallery and the next building west. I first saw Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry, Billy Clanton and sheriff Behan standing together. We went down the left hand side of Fremont street, when I got within about 150 feet of them. I saw Ike Clanton, Billy Claibourne and another party. We had walked a few steps from there when I saw Behan leave the party and come towards us. Every few steps he would look back as if he apprehended danger. i heard Behan say to Virgil, "Earp, for God's sake don't go down there for you will get murdered." Virgil replied, "I am going to disarm them;" he being in the lead. When I and Morgan came up to Behan, he said, "I have disarmed them." When he said this, I took my pistol which I had in my hand under my coat, and put it into my overcoat pocket, Behan then passed up the street, and we walked on down. We came upon them close; Frank McLowry, Tom McLowry and Billy Clanton standing all in a row against the east side of a building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly's photograph gallery. Ike Clanton and Billy Clanton and a man I did not know was standing in the vacant space, about half way between the photograph gallery and the next building west. I saw that Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLowry had their hands by their sides; Frank McLowry's and Billy Clanton's six-shooters were in plain sight. Virgil said, "Throw up your hands; I have come to disarm you." Billy Clanton and Tom McLowry commenced to draw their pistols; at he same time Tom McLowry threw his hand to his right hip, throwing his coat open like that (showing), and jumped behind a horse. I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket, where I put it when Behan told us he had disarmed the other parties. When I saw Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry draw their pistols, I drew my pistol. Billy Clanton leveled his pistol on me, but I did not aim at him. I knew Frank McLowry had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man and I aimed at Frank McLowry. The first two shots which were fired were fired by Billy Clanton and myself, he shooting at me and I at Frank McLowry. I do not know which shot was fired first. We fired almost together. The fight then became general. After about four shots were fired, Ike Clanton ran up and grabbed my left arm. I could see no weapon in his hand, and thought at the time he had none, and so I said to him, "The fight has now commenced;

GO TO FIGHTING

or get away." At the same time I pushed him off with my left hand. He started and ran down the side of the building and disappeared between the lodging house and photograph gallery; my first shot struck Frank McLowry in the belly; he staggered off on the sidewalk, but first fired one shot at me; when we told them to throw up their hands Claibourne held up his left hand and them broke and ran, and I never seen him afterwards until late in the afternoon; I never drew my pistol or made a motion to shoot until After Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols; if Tom McLowry was unarmed  I did not know it; believed he was armed and fired two shots at our party before Holliday, who had a shotgun, fired at and killed him; if he was unarmed their was nothing in the circumstances, or in what had been communicated to me, or in his acts or threats, that would have led me to even suspect his being unarmed; I never fired at Ike Clanton, even after the shooting commenced, because I thought he was unarmed; I believed then, and believe now, from the acts I have stated and the threats communicated to me by different persons, as having been made by Tom McLowry, Frank McLowry and Ike Clanton, that these men last named had formed a conspiracy to murder my brothers, Morgan and Virgil, Doc Holliday and myself; I believe I would have been legally and morally justifiable in shooting any of them on sight, but I did not do so, nor attempt to do so; I sought no advantage when I went, as Deputy Marshal, to help to disarm them and arrest them; I went as part of my duty under the directions of my brothers, the marshals; I did not intend to fight unless it became necessary in self-defense or in the rightful performance of official duty; when Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry drew their pistols; I knew it was

A FIGHT FOR LIFE

and I drew and fired first in defense of my own life and the lives of my brothers and Doc Holliday; I have been in Tombstone since Dec. 1, 1879; came here directly from Dodge City, Kansas, where against the protest of business men and officials I resigned the office of City Marshal which I had held there from 1876; came to Dodge City from Witchitaw, Kansas; was on the police force in Witchitaw, Kansas from 1874 until I came to Dodge City. The testimony of Ike Clanton that I ever said to him that I had anything to do with any stage robbery or giving any information of money going on the stage, or any improper communication whatever with any criminal enterprise is a tissue of lies from beginning to end. Sheriff Behan made me an offer in his office on Allen street in the back room of the cigar store where he had his office, that if I would withdraw and not try to get appointed Sheriff of Cochise county that he would hire a clerk and divide the profits. I did so and he never said another word to me afterwards in regard to it, but claimed in his statement and gave his reasons for not complying with his contract which is false in every particular. Myself and Doc Holliday happened to go to Charleston the night that Behan went down to subpoena Clanton; we went there to get a horse that I had had stolen from me a few days after I came to Tombstone; had heard several times that the Clantons had him; when I got there that night was told by a friend of mine that the man that carried
the dispatch from Charleston to Clanton's ranch had rode my horse. At this time did not know where Clanton's ranch was,

A SHORT TIME AFTERWARDS

I was in the Huachucas locating some water rights, and I started home for Tombstone, had got within ten or fifteen miles from Charleston and met a man named McMasters; he told me that if I would hurry up that I would find my horse in Charleston; I drove into Charleston and seen my horse going through the streets towards the corral; I put up for the night at another corral; I went to Burnett's office to get out papers for the recovery of the horse; he was not at home, having gone to Sonora to some coal field's that had been discovered. I telegraphed to Tombstone to James Earp to have papers made out and sent to me; he went to Justice Wallace and Street and made the papers out and sent them to Charleston by my youngest brother, Warren Earp; while I was waiting for the papers Billy Clanton found out I was in town and went and tried to take the horse out of the corral; I told him that he could not take him out; that it was my horse. After the papers came he gave the horse up with out any service of papers, and asked me if I had any more horses to lose. I told him I would keep them in the stable after this, and give him no chance to steal them.


Your host is Steve Gatto, author of The Real Wyatt Earp (Edited by Neil Carmony) (2000), Johnny Ringo (2002), Curly Bill, Tombstone's Most Famous Outlaw (2003).  Steve's latest work, Hurled Into Eternity, The Story of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has not yet been released.

Portions of the text appearing on this site come from the above books.
"bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place."  Tombstone Epitaph