Cowboys who died here, still linger.
Tombstone’s OK Corral is the site of the most famous gunfight that happened on October 26th 1881. This epic shoot-out was between the lawmen Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday, and the outlaw cowboys and ranchers Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLowery. These outlaws got what they wanted the easy way, by stealing cattle and selling them to the miners and others for meat, and by murdering folks that got in their the way.
Today, the OK Corral is a replica of the original 1880 corral which was burnt up in a fire, leaving only its sign. There is a wall around what was the alleyway and the corral itself, as the actual shoot-out happened in the alleyway. There is no roof over this area, which is quite large. The 5th Street is on the other side of the wall. For the price of a ticket, this famous gunfight can be watched today inside the walls. We missed the last show at 4:00 when we visited, but will see it next time. The show takes place outside.
There is also a museum showcasing artifacts and pictures of the participants in this famous shoot-out, which adds to the whole experience.
Inside, ticket holders can sit on the observation stands located on the south wall. The replica of the corral is not open for the public to saunter inside, but can be seen with the mannequins of the parties involved facing off. There are also live shows in which actors in full cowboy/lawman dress square off against each other.
During the beginning boom years of Tombstone, suddenly a large population of miners, businessmen, Chinese workmen, European immigrants and townsfolk flocked to this opportunity to be where silver flowed and riches could be quickly made and spent. By chance, nearly all loved meat as part of their diet, opening up irresistible opportunities for ranchers to sell their cattle to them.
To keep their overhead down and to make more money, some ranchers with bad attitudes hired outlaw cowboys to help them rustle cattle from rancheros just over the Mexican boarder, while also smuggling in goods that the Mexican government heavily taxed. These folks made up the serious criminal element in the countryside and in Tombstone as well.
These same rustlers also stole cows from neighboring ranchers. They held up stage coaches, had no qualms about killing well-loved drivers and guards, probably robbed passengers and stole the wealth being transported. They also liked to come in town and shoot their guns, drink too much and cause havoc, like the stereotypes seen in the movies, who may have been inspired by Tombstone’s problems.
Tombstones’s Sherriff Fred White was out-numbered and was shot by accident by one of these outlaw cowboys. The Federal Marshall heard White’s pleas for help and sent a deputy federal marshall, a no-nonsense, straight-as-an-arrow man named Virgil Earp. He asked his brothers Wyatt, Morgan, James and Warren to come with him. Wyatt’s friend Doc Holliday who was suffering from TB also came along to be helpful and to get the benefits from the dry air of Arizona. This development threatened the Clanton family and the McLowery brothers’ goal of taking over Tombstone as well, as they already controlled the countryside.
Besides the goal of more power and money, the Clantons and the McLoweries had other underlying reasons. Many of the ranchers and some cowboys were southerners, and had fought for the Confederacy. The miners, the mine owners, businessmen, townspeople, and lawmen were northerners and who had fought for the Union side.
When the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday rode into Tombstone, this started a personal, family and political feud. All five of the Earp brothers were made of stern stuff, being raised by Nick and Ann Earp to be brave, honorable and loyal to each other. Nick was a strict but loving lawman/ justice of the peace. All his children were instilled with fortitude to always do the lawful thing and protect family.
The Clanton family was just the opposite. Their patriarch N Clanton had a checkered past with the law, and was not afraid to take advantage of others and rob for profit. He came to the valley, only 15 miles from the mesa where Tombstone would spring up. He started a cattle ranch, in an area only 30 miles from the Mexican boarder. Ill-gotten wealth was theirs for the taking, and the Clantons with the McLowery brothers joined forces and started smuggling tobacco and alcohol over the boarder, and helping themselves to Mexican ranch cattle. They even held up a Mexican convoy, killing some important guards and people. They asked for trouble and got it, paying a stiff price.
Wyatt and Virgil Earp joined with Mexican forces in stopping these men from taking stolen riches and cows back to their ranches. In this skirmish, N Clanton was killed. Uh Oh! Some pretty big grudges were formed against the Earp brothers. The feud officially began in earnest.
For weeks, the Clantons and the McLowerys boasted how they were planning to shoot the Earps, and tried to bully them which usually worked for them. They sent warning notes for the Earp brothers to leave Tombstone or be shot dead. The Tombstone City Council voted to ban guns and weapons in town, and were supposed to be dropped off at the livery stables found on the outskirts of town before entering Tombstone.
Virgil and Wyatt started to forcefully collect guns. They took Ike Clanton’s gun and moved on to Billy Claiborne, relieving him of his firearm. Billy Clanton, Tom McLowery, and Frank McLowery still had their guns, and were waiting, hoping that the Earp brothers would try to enforce the new law, and so give them the opportunity to shoot. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne joined them, even though they were unarmed.
When Virgil and Wyatt Earp heard that the bad ones were waiting for them at the OK Corral, they picked up reinforcements: Doc Holliday and Morgan Earp. The Earp squad entered the vacant lot and alley next to the OK Corral where they faced these surly lawbreakers with bad attitudes and a need for revenge.
Virgil Earp kept asking for their guns. Ike and Billy Claiborne fled the showdown, while the three remaining started shooting, starting a 3 minute shoot out. Both Virgil and Doc Holliday were wounded, while the McLowery brothers and Billy Clanton were dead. Wyatt didn’t get a scratch. The feud continued.
Ike complained to the sheriff and the Earps and Doc Holliday were put on trial but were acquitted. The jury ruled that they were just doing their job. Two months later, the Earps were still getting death threats, but they stayed. Virgil was ambushed while walking across the street, and lost the use of his arm. Morgan Earp was playing pool at Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon and Billiard Parlor in the back of the building. He was shot through the back window and his spine was shattered. He wound up dying on the lounge sofa there surrounded by all his brothers, Doc Holliday and their wives.
The suspects in Morgan’s killing were arrested, but were let go because of false alibis given for them from other cowboys. Federal Judge William Stilwell advised Wyatt that federal justice would bring the culprits of Virgil’s shooters to court. After getting Federal warrants, Wyatt Earl and his posse decided to first travel with Virgil and his wife with Morgan’s remains to Tucson. Trouble followed them. They wound up shooting Frank Stillwell, who was waiting to get a shot at Virgil to finish him off. Ike Clanton escaped. He apparently had nine lives.
The sheriff in Tucson, who was friends with the cowboys, sent an arrest warrant to Tombstone to Sheriff Behan, for Wyatt and Warren Earp. Sheriff Behan was also friends with the cowboys. The Earp brothers ignored Sheriff Behan’s attempt to arrest them. Instead, they gathered their posse, still armed with their Federal warrants to search for the cowboys who needed to be brought to justice or be killed fighting. Earp and his posse hunted down and killed the four men responsible.
They escaped Sheriff Behan’s huge posse of twenty cowboys, with the help of other ranchers and businessmen of Tombstone, and were able to escape into New Mexico. All the Earp brothers and their wives wound up safely in Colorado and California. Doc Holliday finally succumbed to TB in Denver.
In 1927, Wyatt Earp defended the decisions he made in Tombstone to author Stewart Lake, who was writing Wyatt’s biography.
“For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done over again, I would do exactly as I did at that time. If the outlaws and their friends and allies imagined that they could intimidate or exterminate the Earps by a process of murder, and then hide behind alibis and the technicalities of the law, they simply missed their guess.”
“I want to call your particular attention again to one fact, which writers of Tombstone incidents and history apparently have overlooked: with the deaths of the McLowerys, the Clantons, Stillwell, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill, and the rest; organized, politically protected crime, and depredations in Cochise County ceased.”
On July 1st, 1897, another killing happened on East Allen St., near the OK Corral site. Two ranchers who hated each other, finally had it out. William Greene shot Justice Jim Burnett as a consequence of their feud over water rights. Both shared the river. Greene had dammed up the river. Burnett hired a man to blow up the damn. Greene’s daughter and her friend were drowned in the rushing water.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
People who are determined to finish an important task, or to fulfill their revenge against an enemy but are killed before they are able to do so, can be restless and grounded in this world as spirits. They are often stuck in the moment or hours before their death, trying to accomplish what they failed at doing, seeing if they can somehow change the outcome. If they have to, they may try to pretend that they are still alive.
Carnton Mansion TN (On the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, the spirits of two officers appear near Carnton Mansion’s back porch and begin to relive the day of the slaughter of their troops and their own deaths during this Civil War fight, knowing full well that most of their men would die because of bad leadership from a higher officer. Their conversation was heard by a local man who interacted with them).
McRaven House, MS (When he isn’t being the courteous host to the living, the spirit of John Bobb is stuck reliving his last day of life. He starts his frustrating day by throwing a brick at some Union soldiers who are tearing up the roses. Apparently he hits one in the head. He goes to the headquarters of the Union Occupying Forces and asks for help from the commander, who promises to curb his soldiers. However, the commander had already given permission to the soldiers to kill John).
The OK Corral, AZ (Several of the participants who were killed by the Earp posse are sorely disappointed and even angry and more determined to avenge themselves, not letting death stop them. They just have to get the jump on the Earps this time around).
Some spirits are not ready to admit that they are dead, and try to continue, sometimes staying where they died, especially if they died at the hands of another.
The Brumder Mansion, WI (When the old Chicago Mob owners closed the speakeasy, they shot all the crew because they knew too much. These murdered spirits have come up with jobs for themselves to help the new owners).
Wabasha Street Caves, MN (Three spirits of gangsters who were shot execution style while playing cards in one of the side rooms have decided to reside and remember all their good times, and invite themselves to the social events that take place there).
OK Corral, AZ (Spirits of cowboys who died here still linger sometimes, getting their chuckles at the expense of the innocent tourists. The Spirit of Justice Jim Burnett still goes about his business).
Spirit of Billy Clanton
This spirit makes his way to town, where he finds things to amuse himself and tries to find some peace.
His apparition is seen floating from Boot Hill into the historic district of Tombstone.
He likes to keep watch for the Earp brothers on the corner of 5th and East Allen Street.
Clanton’s Place of Entertainment
The spirit of Billy Clanton is also thought to visit the Bird Cage Theater and sits in the Clantons’ box on the side of the wall.
When a mannequin of Wyatt Earp was placed in the Clanton box seat, staff would find Earp’s hat in the middle of the floor in the morning.
When the mannequin had been turned around, they did some research and discovered their mistake, and removed it.
Personal Appearances of the Unseen and Seen
During the day, an unseen presence or two makes themselves known in the OK Corral area.
One visitor reported that a presence walked right through him; sounds like a spirit bully.
Shadows and apparitions have been seen lingering around.
Spirits with guns relive that day when they died or were wounded in the corral.
It’s thought that one of the sprits is Billy Clanton, still trying to kill the Earp boys.
The spirit of Morgan and perhaps the spirit of Virgil and the other spirits are on the other side of the battle.
Footsteps are heard inside and outside the corral and outside area. Disembodied voices also are heard.
Spirit of Justice Jim Burnett
He is described as being a tall, thin man with a brim hat.
His apparition is clearly seen entering the old office building behind the OK Corral and walking/floating down the street near the OK Corral.
One staff member caught this spirit peeking at him through the blinds.
Throughout the years since the OK Corral, boatloads of witnesses; mostly staff, some ghost tours, and independent people, have seen apparitions and heard footsteps and disembodied voices. Tourists have claimed that an unseen presence likes to walk through folks.
Not much hard evidence has been caught that has been made public. No direct contact through EVPs has been shared with the public. The 2006 Ghost Hunter Show, when they relied solely on their instruments, came up with nothing, but they didn’t try to make direct contact. They also were hampered by the weather, because of the high winds blowing.
Two grounded intelligent spirits, Billy Clanton, and Justice Jim Burnett, are drawn here, with spirits of their friends and family probably coming to visit and perhaps even trying to get them to come with them back to the other side.
The spirit of Billy Clanton is stuck in Tombstone because he is so frustrated in not being able to get revenge and reclaim his power and dominance. He is still trying to achieve what he couldn’t while alive. (new paragraph)
Naturally he is in a crabby mood, and on occasion will interact with the tourists in not very nice ways, which reflects his bullying personality. He has been known to walk right through living tourists. His spirit has been indirectly experienced in The Bird Cage where he must visit along with all the other spirits who still party there at night.
The spirit of Justice Jim Burnett is still stuck here for two reasons. Because his death was so quick and sudden, he doesn’t want to admit that he is dead, or doesn’t realize that he is in spirit form and continues to go to work in his old office.
Perhaps he is also feeling a little guilty, because the blowup of the dam caused a child and her friend to drown. He may be afraid to go to the other side with these deaths on his hands, though the man who shot him is the one who put up the dam.
The OK Corral is located on the corner of 5th Street and East Allen Street in historic old town Tombstone.
- Haunted Tombstone, by Cody Polston, pg 100-109, Haunted America, 2018.
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr