Surprise Find Gives Historians New Look at OK Corral Shootout

CowboyDocuments from the original coroner’s inquiry into the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral were recently discovered in the storage room of a jail in the Cochise County, Arizona, courthouse. The find has historians excited that something new about this legendary shootout may come to light after more than 125 years. Thirty-six yellowed and brittle pages contain the court reporter’s handwritten account of testimony from eyewitnesses. Digital images of the long-lost originals will be available online.

Silver strikes nearby in 1877 had made Tombstone, Arizona, among the richest mining towns in the Southwest. This most famous shootout in the history of the Wild West pitted lawmen—brothers Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp; and Doc Holliday—against a band of cattle rustlers, thieves, and murderers known as the Clanton-McLaury gang. The gunfight, which lasted all of half a minute, has been immortalized in Hollywood movies and Western lore. Historians still debate who fired first, though most reports of the time claimed that the gunbattle ensued when Virgil Earp shot Billy Clanton point-blank with a revolver. The sheriff of Cochise County charged the Earps and Holliday with murder, but they claimed self-defense and were found not guilty.

Historians doubt the newly discovered original transcript has any revelations in store; after all, photocopies have been available since the 1960s and newspapers covered the inquest. But some fuzzy passages and small-print notations have been undecipherable. One thing is certain, the new discovery will spark the historical imagination—and probably a new Hollywood script.

Related Links

  • Clerks Find Papers from 1881 Gunfight at OK Corral
    This NPR report reveals the exciting discovery that might shed light on the most famous shootout in the Wild West.
    (Source: National Public Radio, April 22, 2010)
  • Gunfight at OK Corral Document Found in Jail Storage Room
    This article from The Guardian discusses the 1881 transcript from an coroner’s inquest that recently resurfaced detailing testimony about the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral.
    (Source: The Guardian, April 22, 2010)
  • Shootout at the OK Corral
    This article puts the Wild West’s most famous gunfight and the shooters involved in historical context.
    (Source:; accessed April 30, 2010)


  1. the rock says:

    the gun fight sounds excting

  2. John says:

    Recently went to Tombstone, Az., great reenactment of gunfight. History not questioned. Clantons and McLowrey’s were not sterling citizens. Earp’s were hired to “Keep the peace”. Don’t be too quick to criticize over 130 years later.

  3. John says:

    Also, I was a Homicide Detective in Chicago a long time ago. There was a trial and the Earp’s and Holiday came thru that. How can we judge this famous incident now?

  4. Putra says:

    Thank you. A lot of these sheriff’s got their jobs baseuce they were known to be people who were comfortable with guns. Several were asked to leave a town once they, cleaned it up baseuce society didn’t want that kind of people living with them as neighbors. Some of the real gun slingers were serial killers and only used their guns to challenge other would-be gunslingers. And the dime novels from back east would pick up a name in th west and just make them out to be heros.

    • Ghislain says:

      No problem Songsmith. I am an avid wtesern history buff and have always looked for some insight as to who the real Wyatt Earp was and not just folklore. I found it on PBS. I even traveled to Tombstone, Arizona to get a glimpse inside the life of Wyatt Earp, it is much the same today as it was 150 years ago (unbeleivable experience). Glad you enjoyed it. Good luck, history hunting.