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U.S. Marshal Badge
Though Tombstone was quite a metropolitan city for its day and time, its remote location made it an isolated place, surrounded by unpopulated desert with no railroad access. By the 1880s, Tombstone was known as one of the deadliest places in the west--thanks to a bitter feud between a criminal gang calling themselves the "Cow-Boys" and the businessmen, investors and immigrant miners who ran the city and the nearby silver mines.
On October 26, 1881, at about three in the afternoon, this simmering powder keg exploded in a hail of gunfire that would come to be known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp, his two brothers Morgan and Virgil, and the notorious gunslinger, Doc Holliday, shot it out with a quartet of the Cow- Boys that included Ike Clanton and his younger brother, Billy, along with the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom.
According to a clipping from the Epitaph, Tombstone's famous newspaper, the trouble began when Ike Clanton was arrested that morning for violating a city ordinance against carrying firearms within Tombstone city limits.
Virgil Earp was Tombstone's City Marshal, and also a Deputy Federal Marshal for Arizona Territory. Like many lawmen hired to be "town tamers" in that era, the first thing Virgil had done after taking the job was ask the city council to enact an ordinance against carrying guns within the city limits.
The charge against Clanton that morning was disorderly conduct. He put up a fight when Virgil asked him to surrender his sidearm, and was pistol-whipped, disarmed and fined twenty-five dollars. He paid the fine, was released and left town, after swearing to return and take vengence upon the Earp brothers. Given Clanton's threat and the likelihood of further trouble, Virgil temporarily deputized his brother, Wyatt, and Wyatt's friend, the notorious gunslinger, Doc Holliday.
True to his word, Clanton returned that afternoon with his brother, Billy, and the McLaury brothers in tow. The famous confrontation--in which thirty shots were fired in the space of about thirty seconds--began around the OK Corral, but played out in and around the streets of Tombstone.
Considering their proximity to each other, it was miraculous that only three men died that day. Billy Clanton and the two McLaurys were killed. Ike Clanton, protesting that he was unarmed, ran from the fight and emerged unscathed. He would be caught rustling cattle and fatally shot by lawmen while resisting arrest in 1887.
By all accounts, neither Virgil nor his brother and deputy Morgan Earp were particularly skilled with a gun, and probably would not have survived an armed confrontation with the Clantons and McLaurys, if he hadn't deputized his brother and Holliday. That didn't stop Sheriff John Behan from charging both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday with murder in the incident, on the grounds that neither were lawmen at the time of the shootout. The charges didn't stick. A grand jury would twice decline to indict either man, and they were eventually dropped.
Virgil Earp was later shot from ambush and lost the use of one arm as a result of his wounds. Morgan Earp was shot and killed a short time later, provoking Wyatt Earp to embark on his famous "vendetta ride", vowing to wipe out the Cow-Boys once and for all. Doc Holliday died of tuberculosis at the age of 36 in a Glenwood Springs, Colorado sanitorium.
The Tombstone, Arizona U.S. Marshal's Badge recalls the mining town of Tombstone, with its storied Boot Hill Cemetery and Gunfight at the OK Corral. Even though history records several gunfights with more combatants and a much higher body count, the OK Corral shoot-out is acknowledged by historians to be the most famous gunfight in the history of the American West.