Both McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed by some of the thirty shots that were fired and the gunfight at the OK Corral found its place in American history.
Like so much legend, especially American legend, the gunfight was in fact little more than the culmination of a sordid struggle for power between rival gangs. The Earps were seen by their enemies as badge-toting pimps who ruthlessly enforced the business interests of the town while the Clantons and their cowboy crowd were viewed by their enemies as cattle rustlers, thieves, and murderers. The likely truth is that both groups were a bunch of nasty self-seeking crooks who should all have been exposed on a hillside at birth.
The two groups would probably have continued in pointless bickering for years but two events took place which bought matters to a head.
In March 1881 there was a stagecoach robbery, in which two people were killed and the prime suspect escaped from jail. This, as everyone who has ever watched a Western film knows, was nothing new, and this event would probably have been forgotten except that, for some little understood reason, the improbably named tart ‘Big Nose Kate’, made accusations that her paramour, Doc Holliday, had robbed the stagecoach. Like many such women before and since, she later recanted.
Coincidentally, Wyatt Earp, a chum of Doc Holliday, was standing for election as sheriff of Cochise County. In a crass attempt to grab the moral high ground he decided to coerce Ike Clanton to help arrest some of the men accused in the robbery – and thereby get his pal Doc Holliday off the hook. Ike, knowing a wind-up when he saw one, decided not to take part.
These two events resulted in the animosity between the Earps and Clantons growing.
Bickering ensued and during the morning of October 26 reports of the cowboys going about the place toting guns were rife, with Ike Clanton saying he was going to shoot down the Earps.
Virgil Earp, ever the diplomat, decided to pour petrol on troubled waters and enforce the town's little used law which said that all firearms had to be checked in with local authorities. He decided to approach Ike Clanton's group to demand they give up their guns.
Accompanied by his brothers Morgan and Wyatt, and soon by Holliday, they strode (no doubt with that bow-legged gait much loved in westerns) to the vacant lot near the corral. Virgil Earp shouted "Throw your hands up, I want your guns" at which point everyone and his dog opened fire.
Virgil and Morgan were seriously wounded, while Holliday received minor wounds. Wyatt remained standing. Ike Clanton, who had pushed more than anyone else for a showdown, was, ironically, unarmed and ran away. Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers Frank and Tom were killed.
There you have it; a legend or just another tawdry day in the wild west?