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The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona

An O.K. Corral Obituary

Paul Lee Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

On a chilly October afternoon in 1881, two brothers named Tom and Frank McLaury were gunned down on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona, by the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The deadly event became known as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and in a quirk of fate, the brothers’ names became well-known, but only as bad men and outlaws. Did they deserve that reputation? The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona: An O.K. Corral Obituary explores this question, revealing details of their family background and the context of their lives on the frontier. Paul Lee Johnson begins their story with the McLaury brothers’ decision to go into the cattle business with an ambition to have their own ranch. When they moved to Arizona, they finally achieved that goal, but along the way they became enmeshed with the cross-border black market that was thriving there. As “honest ranchers” they were in business with both the criminal element as well as the legitimate businesses in Tombstone. Another principal in this story was an older brother, William, who set aside his law practice in Fort Worth to settle his brothers’ affairs, and associated himself with the prosecution of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Despite his efforts, the Earps and Holliday were exonerated, and the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” became the opening salvo of a feud that took several more lives. Johnson has interviewed family descendants and mined their sources, government correspondence, and letters that have never before been published to reveal the human lives behind the storied events. For the first time the events of the O.K. Corral gunfight are presented from the viewpoint of the McLaurys, two brothers who lost their lives and reputations, and a family who tried in vain to find restitution.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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Prologue: Fame from the Barrel of a Gun

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pp. xii-xv

Marcus Aurelius Smith, the legendary Congressional representative of Arizona Territory and later United States Senator for the State of Arizona, spoke for many pioneers of his generation when he said...

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Chapter 1: The Clan McClaughry

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pp. 1-9

Although of Scottish descent, this branch of the McClaughry family spent a few generations living in central Ireland, in the county of Longford (west of Dublin), in Cleghill Parish of the township of Clonbroney. In May of 1729, Matthew McClaughry attempted...

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Chapter 2: McLaurys in Iowa

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pp. 10-13

As he prepared his family to move west, Robert H. McClaury tried persuading his neighbors to join him. The trip was expensive, and the complications of moving the household and the younger children took a great deal of planning. The McClaurys sent their oldest children...

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Chapter 3: War and the Failed Marriage

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pp. 14-21

Following the outbreak of war in 1861, twenty-one-year-old “Eddie” McClaury and twenty-three-year-old Daniel Arbuthnot joined the Iowa 14th Volunteers, an infantry unit from Tama County. Several of the messmates in Company G were their neighbors...

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Chapter 4: William R. McLaury

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pp. 22-26

Following his discharge from the Army, Will McLaury lived in Tama County for about six months. He was, by this time, in his early twenties and once he regained his health was eager to set out on his own. By his own dating, he left Iowa in March of 1865 to travel...

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Chapter 5: Buchanan County, Iowa

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pp. 27-34

From the upheaval of the previous few years in Belle Plaine, it would seem that a move of 60 miles or so was a bid for Robert McClaury and his family to start anew. What was the effect of the tumultuous Belle Plaine years on the younger McLaurys? For approximately...

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Chapter 6: The McLaury Brothers in Arizona Territory

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pp. 35-43

There is only fragmentary evidence on the whereabouts of Tom and Frank McLaury during the middle 1870s, whether they lived with or worked for the Dewitt brothers in Lamar County, Texas. Frank and Tom McLaury were definitely in Fort Worth long enough...

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Chapter 7: W. R. McLaury, Attorney-at-Law

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pp. 44-49

If Frank McLaury was kept out of the Fort Worth jail by his brother, it could have only been during a narrow band of time between the arrival of Will McLaury and the departure of Frank (and Tom). In May 1876, Will and Malona McLaury with...

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Chapter 8: The Arizona Frontier

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pp. 50-57

The brothers’ location in the Babocomari Valley was probably land under dispute. The claimant was a San Francisco speculator, Dr. E. B. Perrin, whose previous real estate experience included being a principal in the Fresno Canal Company, along the...

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Chapter 9: “My Name is Well Known in Arizona”

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pp. 58-63

The Earp brothers immigrated to southeastern Arizona late in the year 1879. Wyatt had been part of the police force in Dodge City, Kansas, as well as a professional gambler. His older brother, Virgil, had recently settled near Prescott, Arizona Territory, where...

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Chapter 10: Border Crime

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pp. 64-70

In the fall of 1880, two men went to southeastern Arizona who would each play vital roles in the lives of Frank and Tom McLaury: John Harris Behan and John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Holliday, a one-time dentist from...

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Chapter 11: Politics of Arizona and Tombstone

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pp. 71-81

The village of Tombstone evolved from a campsite to a town over a period of a year and a half. Settlements—no more than a collection of tents, really—were gathered in several locations among the hills nearest the mines. One area gathered more momentum...

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Chapter 12: “More Havoc Than Apaches”

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pp. 82-92

Describing the outlaw cowboys and their effect on the wider community is problematic. On the one hand, they affected only a small portion of the population. On the other hand, they were wild, cunning and deadly. It’s like so many things that are statistically...

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Chapter 13: The Vexed Question

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pp. 93-100

Just as Frank McLaury at one time made money from a mine, there were other ranchers who were miners and vice-versa. A mining enterprise called the Franklin Mine was seeing a lot of action at this time. The Franklin was described as adjoining...

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Chapter 14: “The Grave Situation on the Border”

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pp. 101-107

The spring of 1881 was a time when Washington, D. C. was observing yet another transition between the past administration and its replacement. The business of making appointments to posts throughout the government was time-consuming and fraught...

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Chapter 15: Vengeful Schemes

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pp. 108-117

Earlier in the year, the Territorial legislature passed a “memorial,” a message to the United States government that Arizona Territory needed additional aid in dealing with the border bandits. The Fronteras murders helped spur United States Marshal...

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Chapter 16: Summer Storms

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pp. 118-127

In Tombstone, the unbroken streak of hot weather was underscored by the outbreak of two fires on Thursday, June 22nd. The first fire burned a small tent belonging to a Mexican family in Block 17, north of Allen Street between Fourth and...

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Chapter 17: Loss in Fort Worth

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pp. 128-132

Will McLaury’s feelings of success at the end of 1880 didn’t last long. While he continued to make gains in his business dealings and in Fort Worth politics, his personal life began to deteriorate. In 1876, Will and Malona McLaury had left the northern...

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Chapter 18: Deadly Ambush

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pp. 133-142

At the height of the rumors about cowboy retribution at Fronteras, it was rumored that the New Mexican outlaw “Billy the Kid” organized a gang to go “clean out” the Mexican village. By late July, the entire nation was enthralled by news of his death..

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Chapter 19: “Glad You Are on the Alert”

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pp. 143-153

The weather improved—dramatically—during the last week of August. Train schedules and regular deliveries of mail resumed. It was not long before the newspapers were once again complaining of the dust. Before they did, the...

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Chapter 20: Open Hostilities

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pp. 154-161

Following the Indian outbreak at the Cibecue, Acting Governor Gosper traveled throughout the Territory. He was in Tucson on September 8th and traveled to Tombstone the next day. His brief stay in Tombstone took place as the news of the stolen horses...

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Chapter 21: Indian Summer

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pp. 162-175

Meanwhile, events taking place many miles away from Cochise County profoundly affected everyone. On the same day that Acting Governor Gosper wrote his letter to Secretary of State Blaine, a detail of soldiers rode up to the...

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Chapter 22: “Throw Up Your Hands”

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pp. 176-186

That same Monday evening Milt Hicks broke out of jail, and with him were Charles “Yank” Thompson and Jim Sharpe. Billy Soule, the jailor, left the jail under the supervision of the keeper, Charles Mason. A “trusty” came to empty slops from the cell...

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Chapter 23: “Hurled Into Eternity”

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pp. 187-200

The corpses of the McLaurys and Billy Clanton were taken by wagon to a cabin in the back of John Dunbar’s livery stable on Fifth Street between Fremont and Safford. There, Dr. Henry Matthews, the county coroner, had an opportunity to examine...

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Chapter 24: A Charge of Murder

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pp. 201-206

Government correspondence about the problems at the border kept up even as events in Tombstone came to a climax. On the same date as the shootings, General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote a caustic note to Secretary of War, Robert...

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Chapter 25: “This Don’t Bring Back My Dead Brothers”

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pp. 207-218

The prosecution of Territory of Arizona vs. Morgan Earp et al. began at 3 p.m. on Oct. 31st in the courtroom space being leased by the county in the Mining Exchange building on Fremont Street near the corner of Fourth Street, a building only...

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Chapter 26: “The Cause of the Murder Was This”

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pp. 219-232

The following day, Wednesday, November 9th, Will McLaury sat down with a letter he received from his brother-in-law and wrote the most detailed description of his recent court maneuvers, but more importantly, what he understood to be the causes...

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Chapter 27: “I Do Not Like Your Letter”

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pp. 233-246

Tucson’s Weekly Star published an editorial titled “Some Light” which quoted a large section of Clanton’s last day of testimony and concluded...

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Chapter 28: “And Tales of Broken Faith

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pp. 247-257

Wednesday, November 30, 1881, was the wedding day for Sarah Caroline “Carrie” McLaury and James Reed. The Reed and McLaury families were gathered in the home of the Appelgates in Toledo, Iowa. Missing from the festivities were...

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Chapter 29: “I Knew They Were All Down on You”

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pp. 258-270

Three days past Christmas, Virgil Earp was shot down at night as he crossed the street after leaving the Oriental Saloon. The ambush was carried out by two, possibly three, men hidden in an unfinished building at the opposite corner...

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Chapter 30: Habeas Corpus

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pp. 271-278

Will McLaury traveled north to visit his father and sisters in Iowa. He may have wanted to make up for being absent from the wedding of his youngest sister. One of his duties as executor of his brothers’ affairs was to report to the man most directly affected...

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Chapter 31: “They Would Shoot a Fellow to See Him Fall”

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pp. 279-291

In the aftermath of Judge Spicer’s decision to exonerate the Earps and Holliday, the feud between factions in Cochise County see-sawed back and forth...

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Chapter 32: “And None of the Results Has Been Satisfactory”

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pp. 292-300

In the spring of 1882, the slow-moving but heavy hand of the federal government threatened Arizona Territory with martial law. President Arthur sent urgent messages on April 18, April 26 and May 3 to both houses of Congress about lawlessness...

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Epilogue: Three McLaury Brothers

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pp. 301-305

The History of Buchanan County’s write-up of Robert H. McClaury gave the old man a chance to boast about himself and his children. For the sake of putting the best foot forward, old hurts and family skeletons were put away. A failed marriage was never...


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pp. 307-360


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pp. 361-373


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pp. 374-380

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414585
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574414509

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 22 b&w illus. 3 maps.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

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Subject Headings

  • Tombstone (Ariz.) -- Biography.
  • McClaughry family.
  • Outlaws -- Arizona -- Tombstone -- Biography.
  • Lawyers -- Texas -- Fort Worth -- Biography.
  • Violence -- Arizona -- Tombstone -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Arizona -- Tombstone.
  • Tombstone (Ariz.) -- History -- 19th century.
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