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Old West gunfighters refer to people (mostly men!) who were quite handy in their use of guns during the nineteenth century when settling of the American West. They were not necessarily outlaws, although many of them were.
Some were law officers, or at least were at some point in their life. Some were known for being lawmen, yet sometimes acted a little "fishy" - going outside the law to accomplish their aims! Some were on the wrong side of the law - always! Even, it seems - since childhood.
Some became well-known, infamous you could say, because of a particular old west gunfight! Like the one here in Tombstone, Arizona - which is pretty well known: The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Let's look at that one, and the old West gunfighters there - first.
1880s Parade on Allen Street - Goes by the O.K. Corral
GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the famous draw that put Tombstone on the map. Especially popular since tourism became the rage with the advent of automobile travel.
The town itself has had its ups and downs for tourist interest success. It has pretty regularly been intent on capitalizing on its tourism potential. Many citizens in town rely on tourism for their income and jobs.
The very first attraction was Boot Hill. It's still there and popular today!
We have to say - about the most well-liked attractions in town are the gunfights. And of the gunfights - the one that is a Must-See is the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Click Here for helpful details! And Click Here for the true history of that old West gunfight. For it is a true story!
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OK CORRAL PREVIEW
Scene from Re-enactment of the O.K. Corral Gunfight
Inside the Attraction property, customers gather on shaded viewing bleachers to watch a live-actor short overview play of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The scene isn't at the actual spot. The fake buildings aren't portrayed accurately. It's just to give you a sense of what occurred that day!
True Old West Gunfighter Action
Semi-movable, life-size figures of the McLaurys: Tom & Frank, the Clantons: Ike & Billy, the Earps: Wyatt, Virgil & Morgan, and Doc Holliday are placed in their location at the start of the gunfight. A narration is set in motion by pushing a button - and the figures move (to a degree - they don't fall) along with it, to show who fired when.
This is where the gunfight did occur - in this vacant lot. It's adjacent to photographer C.S. Fly's Studio. It's behind the actual O.K. Corral.
The Location of the O.K. Corral Gunfight
Old West Gunfighters Make a Sensation!
Baltimore Sun News Report - Friday, October 28, 1881
The Gunfight made the news all across the country, and even world-wide! Think about when you've played "The Telephone Game" (probably in school!). You know how stories can be changed! So as you can see, this news report (as well as a lot of the other reports) had definite errors!
WHAT'S YOUR OPINION?
Have you seen any movies about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral? Have you read anything about this gunfight? Do you think the Earps were in the right here? Or do you think the McLaurys and Clantons were wronged? Do you think it was just one of those things - with a bad eventuality?
Please just Click Here - and comment on our Gunfight Page, to tell us what YOU think!! Thanks so much for participating!!
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More Old West Gunfighters
Some other gunslingers in the old West were known to come through Tombstone Arizona at one point or another. Let's see - who were they?
William "Curly Bill" Brocius - One of the Cow-boys in 1880s Cochise County who regularly tangled with the Earps and other Tombstone lawmen
Johnny Ringo - Troubled since his teens, involved in Texas land war before coming to the Tombstone area. Read More>
Billy Claiborne - Known as a miner, a drover and cattleman. An associate of the Cow-boys, and fled the scene just before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral began
Billy Clanton - Killed at the O.K. Corral Shootout. He was a cattle wrangler on a ranch outside Tombstone - one of the Cow-boys
Ike Clanton - A prime instigator for Tombstone's notorious gunfight. This Cow-boy was often into it with Doc Holliday.
Charles "Pony" Diehl - One of the Cochise County Cow-boys, Wyatt Earp believed he was involved in attacking his brother Virgil.
Warren Earp - The youngest Earp brother, he was also the most troublesome. He gave his parents a lot of grief while growing up. Read More>
"Buckskin" Frank Leslie - A man of many faces, he was a U.S. Army scout, gambler, rancher, and miner. He worked as a bartender at the Oriental Saloon. He's known around Tombstone as a quick-draw old West gunfighter. Some believe he was also a con-man.
Bartholemew William Barclay "Bat" Masterson - He had a storied life as a U.S. Army scout, lawman, professional gambler, and even a journalist toward the end. He worked with Wyatt Earp when they were both in Dodge City.
Sherman McMaster - Most known in town as a friend of Wyatt Earp, helping him on his Vendetta Ride to avenge Morgan Earp's death and Virgil Earp's shooting.
Michael "Johnny Behind the Deuce" O'Rourke - A professional gambler who killed a man in Charleston AZ. He claimed self-defense.
David "Dave" Rudabaugh - Sometimes known as "Dirty Dave" - he was in town for awhile, associating with the Clanton Gang and the Cow-boys.
Luke Short - For a time he had an interest in the Oriental Saloon. He also shot Charlie Storms there when serving as a Faro look-out.
Frank Stilwell - Associated with the Cow-boys, he was deputized by Sheriff John Behan - serving 4 months. His ownership interests included mines, saloons, wholesale liquors, a stage line, and a livery stable. Wyatt Earp killed him.
Charlie Spencer Storms - A professional gambler, he was known throughout the old West as a gunfighter as well. He was fatally shot by Luke Short.
William "Russian Bill" Tattenbaum - In town he claimed to be descended from Russian nobility. He associated with the Cow-boys, and looked kind of like a "dandy!"
Jack Taylor - He led a gang that conducted train robberies in Cochise County.
Texas Jack Vermillion - Primarily known in Tombstone for taking part in Wyatt's Vendetta ride.
Burt (Albert) Alvord - Cochise County Sheriff Texas John Slaughter deputized him in 1886. But by the end of the century he turned to crime, robbing trains.
John Horton "Texas John" Slaughter - A rancher in Cochise County, who was elected County Sheriff for two terms.
Other Notable Old West Gunfighters
When you think of gunslingers of the Wild West - some names ring a bell right off! Others you may have heard of - the name sounds familiar, but you don't quite know who they are. Well, let's find out! Those well known, and not so...
David Lawrence "Billy Wilson" Anderson - Started out as a Texas ranching cowboy. Rode with Billy the Kid after getting in trouble, accused of counterfeiting. Arrested & serving time, he escaped. He returned to TX & his birth name. He had a family & a ranch. President Cleveland pardoned him in 1896. He became a Customs agent & then a County Sheriff.
Sam Bass - An orphan raised by an aunt & uncle in Indiana, he was on his own at age 18. He went to Denton, Texas & worked on a Sheriff's farm, & driving coaches. He saved money, bought a race horse & began a gambler's life. When a bad gold mine investment left him broke, he turned to robbery. With the "Black Hill Bandits" he robbed stages & then trains. He formed his own gang, robbing trains & banks in Texas. Rangers came after them - called the "Sam Bass War." They finally had a show-down in Round-rock TX, where he's buried.Read More>
"Queen" Ann Bassett - She grew up on ranches in Colorado & Utah, learning riding, roping & guns. Her father's customers for supplies & horses included outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. She was educated, but loved ranching. She was involved romantically with Cassidy in her mid teens, but also was friendly with others in Cassidy's Wild Bunch. She hung with them about seven years. Her nickname came from her outspoken efforts against the cattlemen's associations.
Charles E. "Charlie" Bassett - At about 25 years old he appeared in Dodge City, KS. There he opened the Long Branch Saloon. In 1873 he became the first Ford County Sheriff, by election - re-elected twice. Unable by law to run again, he next became the City Marshal. That's when he chose Wyatt Earp as Assistant. He interacted with quite a few outlaws during his days in law enforcement.
William "Tulsa Jack" Blake - As a cowboy roaming Kansas & then Oklahoma, he eventually joined up with this original Doolin's Wild Bunch gang. They specialized in bank and train robberies in Western Oklahoma.
Charles Earl "Black Bart" Boles - Born in England, he grew up in New York State. At 20 years old he went West to check out the Gold Rush. 5 years later he was married & living in Illinois - they had 4 kids, one after another. He fought for the Union, was injured & returned home. He prospected for Montana & Idaho gold in the late 1860s. There some problem with Wells Fargo occurred. He vowed revenge, took up the nickname & began robbing their stagecoaches. He had a M.O. - leaving poems behind! Finally caught, he went to San Quentin.
Billy the Kid's Headstone
William H. "Billy the Kid" (nee: Henry McCarty) Bonney - A hard young life, orphaned at 13, he was arrested stealing food at 16. Then robbed & fled arrest in New Mexico by going to Arizona, where he committed his first murder. Back in NM, he joined up with the Regulators in the Lincoln County War. That's where he gained his infamy. He once said he killed 21, but more reliable estimates are a total of 9.
William L. "Buffalo Bill" Brooks - His nickname is because he began as a buffalo hunter, & then drove a stage-coach. In 1872 he became Marshal in Newton Kansas. After that he was offered the Marshal's job in Dodge City. During his lawman days he was involved in over 15 gunfights!
Laura "Della Rose" Bullion - Her origins are a bit obscure, but it seems she's part German & Native American. She was part of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. Her boyfriend was the "Tall Texan" Ben Kilpatrick. She was involved in the Great Northern Train Robbery, serving time for that.
Seth Bullock - Born in Canada, he ran away from home at 16 - to his sister's in Montana. He became a County Sheriff there, killing a man in that job. Soon after he moved on to Deadwood, Dakota Territory. He was soon appointed Sheriff there. He became an entrepreneur, met the president & was quite successful.
Robert Leroy "Butch Cassidy" Parker - Growing up with his Mormon parents in Utah, he left their home before adulthood. Going to work on a farm, he met & was influenced by cattle rustler Mike Cassidy. He later took his name & added Butch when he got work as a butcher in Wyoming. He mostly cowboyed until 1889 when he robbed a bank at age 23. Eventually he hooked up with Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid.
Ned "NeDe WaDe" Christie - Born in what's now Oklahoma. He was an executive council in the Cherokee Nation senate. He advised Chief Dennis Bushyhead. He was falsely accused of killing a U.S. Marshal. He asked for bail to go prove his innocence, but was denied. He resisted arrest & was then on the run. The law offered him wanted dead or alive. He hid out & held out for almost 5 years. He was shot & killed by a posse in 1892. Then posthumously exonerated of this crime in 1918, when an eyewitness came forward.
Scott Cooley - Taken in & raised by Texas rancher Tim Williamson. He became a respected Texas Ranger. Deputy Sheriff John Worley arrested his adoptive father on false charges of cattle rustling. Enoute to jail, German immigrant cattlemen killed Williamson - that enraged Cooley. This began the Hoodoo War. Cooley blamed the Sheriff, but waited for the law. Unsatisfied with results - he & other friends, like Johnny Ringo, took the law into their own hands.
Timothy Isaiah "Longhair Jim" or "Big Jim" Courtright - Born in Illinois, he reported practiced with guns while growing up. He had to lie about his age to enlist with the Union during the Civil War. Afterwards he moved to Fort Worth, TX in 1876. He became the city's first elected Marshal. He had a tough reputation & had a few gunfights. He moved to New Mexico where he got a Marshal appointment. There add a few more shootings to his list. His end came in a gunfight with Luke Short.
George Sutherland "Flat-Nose" Currie - Born in Canada, he moved down to Nebraska in his youth. Beginning his outlaw deeds with rustling, he moved onto robbery with a gang behind him. He stole as needed & got in gunfights to survive. He robbed the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train with Cassidy's Wild Bunch. His end came during a Utah rustling job by the bullets of Sheriff Tyler.
William Marion "Bill" Dalton - As an adult he began in the California legislature. Then turned to crime & a desire for infamy. With his brothers Frank & Grat, he went on a 3-year spree of bank, stagecoach & train robbery around Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas & Kansas. In 1892 his brothers were killed. He joined up with The Wild Bunch. Then in OK he killed Deputy US Marshal Shadley. He was cornered & killed by a posse in Pooleville OK in 1894.
Charles Wilson "Charley" Ford - He joined the Jesse James gang. He was the brother of Robert Ford, who ended up killing Jesse. But he was introduced to Jesse by another acquaintance. His own death was by his own hand.
Patrick Floyd Jarvis "Pat" Garrett - Born & raised in the South, his family suffered heavily from the Civil War. He left the area at age 18 & was in Fort Griffin TX in 1876. By 1880 he was in New Mexico, where fame found him. He became Lincoln County Sheriff. He also got a U.S. Deputy Marshal Commission. His focus was bringing Billy the Kid to justice. He shot him dead on July 14, 1881. Some portrayed him as an assassin for that act. Afterwards for awhile he was in Texas as a Ranger. A mysterious disappearance brought him back to NM - he was appointed Dona Ana County Sheriff & made arrests in the case. He remained a controversial figure in Southern NM.
John Wesley Hardin - Born in Texas into a religious preacher's family, he still grew up as a problematic child. In 1868, he committed his first murders of 4 freed slaves. It didn't end there. Next it was a soldier, a gambler, a pimp & 2 men in a posse that were after him. Finally arrested in 1871 at age 17, he managed to escape during transport, killing 4 lawmen in the process. He hooked up with cousins as a cowboy to get out of Texas. Then still got involved in gunfights & a few more killings. After that still more involvement with old west gunfighters - on & on, including shooting a man (although unintentionally) for snoring! They say he was likely the fastest draw of all the old west gunfighters. Finally captured by Texas Rangers, tried for murder of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb & sentenced to 25 years. It didn't end there. Controversy & gun-play followed him til the end!
Pearl Hart - Born in Canada, (nee Taylor) she was well brought up & educated. In her teens she met Mr. Hart & they eloped. He wasn't the dream she thought - he was abusive & she returned to her parents. She tried working out her marriage a few times - including a trip to the 1893 World's Fair which gave her a look at Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. She became fascinated with cowboys & on her own went West. She ended up in Arizona, funding herself various ways. At a desperate point she robbed a stage with a male accomplice. They were captured. Her next lodging was Yuma Territorial Prison. Afterwards, details are dim. But she caused a sensation as a woman stage robber!
James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok - Quite famous from his time on down, his talents encompassed many occupations: a drover, wagon master, soldier, spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, actor & embellisher of his own life! He did a lot, but did a lot more to make it even more exciting. He was raised in Illinois, his youthful life filled with local freedom & adventure. He went West after a fight when he thought wrongly he'd killed another youth. He wasn't immune to gunfights, either as Marshal or gambler. And that's how his life ended - while in a card game.
Jesse at 25 (L) - Frank at 29
Jesse James - Raised as a Southerner in Western Missouri, he was the middle child. During the Civil War, he was involved in Confederate support fighting groups. Jesse was shot & injured twice during these conflicts. He was at his Uncle's place recovering when he fell in love with his 1st cousin, Zerelda Mimms. Jesse & his brother Frank held much post Civil-War bitterness. When they began their bank, train & stage robbing gang activities - they mainly preyed on those they wanted revenge for in the crimes of the war. They joined up with kindred spirits - Cole Younger & his brothers to forge the James-Younger gang. The Pinkerton Detective Agency took on the charge of catching them. But it was an inside job that got him. READ MORE>
Alexander Franklin "Frank" James - The first child, the older brother of Jesse James. He was a good student, planned to be a teacher. He was 18 when the Civil War began, he joined the Confederate forces. He became quite sick & had to surrender to the Union. They let him go home. He ended up joining Quantrill's Raiders for the 1863 Lawrence Massacre. Afterwards there's a few accounts of gunfights he's involved in. Then he joined his brother Jesse robbing at least 4 banks & trains from 1868 to 1876 that included some murders. After Jesse was killed, he surrendered to authorities. But accountability never quite reached him.
Thomas E. "Black Jack" Ketchum - Born in Texas, he went to New Mexico by 1890. He worked as a cowboy. But then he became involve in robbery - trains, stagecoaches. He was in the Wild Bunch - Hole in the Wall Gang. He also did jobs on his own, including his last. He was shot by the train conductor, found & arrested the next day. Sentenced to death by hanging - it ended up in decapitation!
Ben "Tall Texan" Kilpatrick - Born in Texas, he started adulthood as a cowboy. He became friendly with a few outlaws & then joined up with Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang. He was imprisoned at one point. Upon release, he continued his criminal life. He attempted a train robbery, but the Wells Fargo messenger defended the valuables by attacking the Tall Texan with a mallet. It caused fatal brain damage.
Harvey Alexander "Kid Curry" Logan - He grew up uneventful, eventually learning the cowboy life into his adolescence. When he was in his early 20s, he got into a major conflict with a local mine in Montana. Charged with assault, he felt he wouldn't get a fair trial, he left the area & took up with Black Jack Ketchum. Montana sent Pinkerton detectives after him. He also had a falling out with Black Jack, so with his brother he joined the circus! They left that & then worked a Colorado ranch. Next they gathered a couple other guys & formed a gang, began robbing banks & post offices. In 1899 he began riding with Cassidy's Wild Bunch. During his time with them he was involved in many gunfights with the law. His ending is still disputed.
Harry Alonzo "Sundance Kid" Longabaugh - With Butch Cassidy, he was in his Wild Bunch gang. Born in Pennsylvania, the "baby" of the family. He went West in his teens. Then stole a gun at 20 in Sundance Wyoming - as his first crime. He began calling himself the Sundance Kid, & served prison time for the crime. After that he worked ranches for awhile. When he join up with Cassidy, he wasn't much known as a prime gunfighter, though he did participate in the shoot-out at the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout. That's where he met his long-time love - Etta Place. He also teamed with Kid Cody to rob banks. To escape continuous law pressure, he & Etta left for Argentina in 1901. Apparently he never returned to the U.S. It's said he crossed into Bolivia & may have died there.
Martha Jane "Calamity Jane" Cannary - The oldest of 6 children, she was born in Missouri. Her parents died when she was a young teenager & she took charge of her younger siblings. They were in Wyoming. To earn money she did dishwashing, cooking, waitressing, nursing. She worked as a dance-hall girl & an ox team driver. And when necessary she worked as a prostitute at Three-Mile Hog Ranch in Fort Laramie. She claimed she did scouting for Fort Russell. At least she hung around the military fort areas when they were occupied with their Native American campaign conflicts. She claimed she was christened "Calamity Jane" by a post commander who she saved from falling off his horse. However, she did have it somehow, but mid 1876. That year she joined Charlie Utter's wagon train to Deadwood & met Wild Bill Hickok on it. She had two daughters - there was a unverified claim that one was fathered by Hickok. She was a heavy drinker through her life, but she also was known to help people.
Bass Reeves, U.S. Federal Law Officer
Bass Reeves - Born a slave in Arkansas, for the state legislator William Steele Reeves. That family moved to Texas when Bass was 8. Later he was with the son, George Reeves. Bass left that family, running North to Indian Territory, living with the Cherokee, Creek & Seminole tribes. He learned all their languages. In 1865, when slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, he returned to Arkansas a freedman. There he married, began farming, & eventually had 11 children. U.S. Marshal James Fagan hired Bass Reeves as a U.S. Deputy Marshal for Western Arkansas, including Indian Territory - since he spoke the languages. He also served in Eastern TX & Muskogee OK. During his 32 years as a law officer he made over 3000 arrests & engaged 14 gunfighters to defend himself. Just before retirement he served 2 years on the Muskogee Police Department.
Belle Starr, sitting side saddle on her horse.
Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed "Belle" Starr - Born & growing up in Missouri, she was well educated. She did become acquainted with the Younger & the James families in her youth. Her family moved to Texas in 1864, after a Union attack during the Civil War. She married one of Quantrill's Raiders, Jim Reed in 1866, post war. Belle loved dressing in style, would ride side-saddle all glamoured up & was a great shot with her twin pistols. She had two children by Reed. When he was killed, she moved on. She married Sam Starr, a Cherokee who took her to his family in Indian Territory. Together they grew a lucrative system of fencing for rustlers, horse-thieves & bootleggers. Plus they'd provide them hide-outs. Finally Bass Reeves caught up with them. After serving time, they took up old habits. Belle escaped conviction, but Sam was killed in a gunfight with an officer. She remarried a Starr relative to stay on Indian land. When she was nearly 41, she was ambushed & killed - it was never determined by whom.
Thomas Coleman "Cole" Younger - Born in Missouri, the middle child of 14. His father supported the Union when the Civil War began. But when a Kansas Union soldier killed his father, Cole was filled with want of vengeance. He joined with Quantrill's Raider's on their Lawrence KS Massacre - killing about 200 citizens, looting & burning the town. He claimed he left them then, joined the regular Confederate Army, went to California to recruit & came back to Missouri at war's end. At that point Union Radicals were ruling Missouri, enacting harsh restrictions on former Confederates which created anger & division. Cole recruited some of his brothers & took up with a former Quantrill man, who'd formed a gang to target Union owned businesses. The leader was killed. At some point, Jesse James & his brothers joined with Cole & his brothers. They continued robbing banks & stagecoaches in Missouri & Kentucky, known as the James-Younger gang. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency were after them. These old west gunfighters engaged law enforcement in gunfights along the way. At various points they were killed, until only Cole & his brothers Jim & Bob were left. As well as Frank James. The Youngers pleaded guilty. They all received a life sentence.