Wild West

THEY SHOOT COWBOYS, DON’T THEY?

The story of Wyatt Earp, his brothers, friend Doc Holliday and events surrounding the inaptly named Gunfight at the O.K. Corral remains one of the most infamous episodes in the history of the American West. For nearly 140 years the tale has been told and retold in countless newspapers, magazines, books and films. Most accounts scrutinize the goingson in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in a vacuum, detailing the relationship and antagonism between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on one side and the Clanton and McLaury brothers on the other in the weeks and months leading up to the October 26, 1881, shootout in a vacant lot near the O.K. Corral. More recent revisionist narratives even claim the troubles in Tombstone were essentially a vendetta between two rival factions, the Cowboys and the Earps. Those accounts are wrong.

Truth is, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, while clearly flawed—each had seen the inside of a jail cell—took on and defeated the biggest outlaw gang in Arizona Territory. It is impossible to understand the brothers and their actions in Tombstone unless one understands who the Cowboys were, where they came from and what they did.

The Cowboys were a loosely organized band of some 200 to 300 desperadoes that raided

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