Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Horse at the O.K. Corral

Tombstone scene by William Turner Porter
Before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp watched Frank McLaury and 19-year-old Billy Clanton walk into Spangenberg’s Gun Shop to fill their cartridge belts with the ammunition they planned to use to kill the Earps and Dr. John Henry Holliday.
McLaury’s horse must have been fond of him, because it strolled up the wooden sidewalk and stuck its head inside the door of the gun shop. Wyatt startled McLaury and Clanton by walking up to the shop and leading the horse away. When the angry McLaury charged out to grab the reins from Wyatt, the lawman coolly warned him that letting his horse wander onto the sidewalks was a violation of a city ordinance.
Violation of another city ordinance — the one against carrying firearms inside city limits — had gotten Billy’s brother Ike pistol-whipped over the head earlier by Virgil Earp. Ike joined the others at the gun shop to buy a pistol. Owner George Spangenberg looked at Ike’s bleeding head, remarked that it looked like Ike had been in trouble and said that he therefore refused to sell Ike a gun — demonstrating that gun dealers in the “Wild West” were sometimes smarter and more ethical than the ones today.
Wyatt Earp has been portrayed at least 10 times on the movie screen, by everyone from James Garner to James Stewart, but in none of the films, to my knowledge, does a horse poked his curious head into the gun shop just prior to the big battle.
And why not? A little comic relief can provide just the right, light touch in a melodrama. And the unlikely scene would have the additional advantage of being true.
Sources: “Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends," Allen Barra; “Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend,” Casey Tefertiller

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