Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meet the Clantons -- IV

The Earps and the Clantons were like oil and water. Or, as they say in Japan, like monkeys and dogs.

The Arizona Daily Star, a Tucson newspaper, had this to say about the Clantons.

The Clanton brothers numbered three – Ike, Phineas (Phin), and Billy. They lived on a cattle ranch on the San Pedro River, about twelve miles from Tombstone, with their father. Old man Clanton was murdered in August by Mexicans with five others. The Clantons then fell heir to all of the old man’s cattle, and were pretty well fixed. They were fine specimens of the frontier cattleman. Billy, although only 17 years old (sic) was over six feet in height, and built in proportion, while Isaac and Phineas are wiry, determined-looking men, without a pound of surplus flesh. They lived on horse-back, and led a life of hardship.

From the deposition of Ike Clanton, taken by the court, this is how things started.

On the morning of October 25, 1881, Billy and Ike Clanton and the McLaury brothers ate breakfast at Chandler’s milk ranch. They then separated, with Ike and Tom McLaury riding for Tombstone and Billy and Frank heading off to round up some stock at the McLaury ranch.

Almost from the moment Ike and Tom arrived in Tombstone, the Earps and Doc Holiday seemed out to pick a fight. Doc Holliday roundly abused Ike verbally, and as Ike was unarmed, Morgan Earp told him to “heel” himself and stay that way.

Next morning, when Ike was standing on a street corner with a rifle in one hand, City Marshal Virgil Earp snuck up behind him and hit him with the barrel of his pistol, disarmed him, and took him to court. There, Justice Wallace fined Ike twenty-five dollars. In the courtroom, Morgan Earp taunted Ike again, and tried to force a pistol on him.

A. Bauer, in a deposition, outlined the next actions.

Wyatt Earp met Tom McLaury on the street and, for no apparent reason, pistol-whipped him. McLaury was unarmed.

About this time, Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury rode into town. A neighbor, Major Fink, accompanied them. They’d just settled down for a drink in a saloon when they heard what had happened to Ike and Tom. Frank said, “We won’t drink,” and they separated to search for their brothers.

Billy Clanton is the tall man in the back row

Billy Clanton ran into Billy Claiborne, and they went around to several livery corrals looking for Ike’s horse. In his deposition, Clairborne said Billy told him that he wanted Ike to go home. “I don’t want to fight anyone,” Billy said, “and nobody wants to fight me.”

The Gunfight at OK Corral

The two sets of brothers, Clantons and McLaurys, stood with Sheriff John H. Behan (they say Behan was trying very hard to avert a gun fight) in a vacant lot next to Fly’s Photography Gallery.

Here’s Ike Clanton’s version of the action, according to his deposition.

The Earps and Doc Holliday approached. Virgil said, “Throw up your hands!” The someone else, probably Wyatt, said, “You sons of bitches have been looking for a fight and now you can have one!”

Billy Clanton put his hands in the air and cried out, “Don’t shoot me” I don’t want to fight!”

Morgan Earp shot him, and he fell against the house behind him. Before he could draw his pistol, he was shot through the right wrist.

Seeing Wyatt’s pistol pointed at him, Ike Clanton grabbed Wyatt’s arm and held it a few seconds. While he was doing this, Wyatt fired. Ike released his arm and ran for the cover of Fly’s gallery. Several shots followed him.

Billy managed to draw his pistol with his left hand. He fought back, wounding Virgil and Morgan Earp. He tried to cock the pistol for another show, but lacked the strength.

Fly came from his gallery with a rifle. “Someone take that pistol away from that man or I will kill him,” he said, referring to Billy. He was told to do it himself. Fly wrenched the pistol from Billy’s weakened grasp. Billy said, “Give me some more cartridges.”

According to his deposition, Wesley Fuller saw the Earps and Holliday going down Fremont Street and tried to reach Billy Clanton to warn him of the impending trouble. He arrived too late, but was able to watch the gunfight from the shelter of an alley. Seeing Billy rolling on the ground in agony, Fuller picked him up and carried him into a small house on the corner of Fremont and Third streets.

“Look and see where I’m shot,” Billy said. Fuller found one wound in the left breast from which the lung was oozing, and one in the right side of the belly beneath the twelfth rib. Fuller told Billy he would live. “Get the doctor and give me something to put me to sleep,” Billy pleaded.

Dr. Giberson, who was there, said, “It’s no use to give him anything.”

About that time, Thomas Keefe, a carpenter, helped carry the dying Tom McLaury into the same house. He said he heard Billy screaming in pain. “They have murdered me!” he said. As curious onlookers crowded in, he again said, “I’ve been murdered. Go away. Give me some air.”

Keefe said Billy “turned and kicked and twisted in every manner with pain.” Dr. Millar arrived and Keefe held Billy while he injected two syringes of morphine near his stomach wound. Billy died about 15 minutes later.

An article in the Tombstone Nugget had this to say about the incident:

The firing altogether didn’t occupy more than 25 seconds, during which time fully 30 shots were fired. After the fight was over, Billy Clanton, who, with wonderful vitality, survived his wounds for fully an hour, was carried into a house where he lay, and everything possible was done to make his last moments easy. He was game to the last, never uttering a word of complaint, and just before breathing his last, he said, “Goodbye boys; go away and let me die.”

That evening Finn Clanton, brother of Billy and Ike, came into town, and placing himself under the guard of the Sheriff, visited the morgue to see the remains of his brother, and then passed the night in jail in the company of the other brother . . . .

. . . At the morgue the bodies of the three slain cowboys lay side by side, covered with a sheet. Very little blood appeared on their clothing, and only on the face of young Billy Clanton was there any distortion of the features or evidence of pain in dying. The features of the Two McLowery (sic) boys looked as calm and placid in death as if they had died peaceably. No unkind remarks were made by anyone, but a feeling of unusual sorrow seemed to prevail . . . .

The next day, a funeral was held for Billy and the McLaury brothers. We’ll talk about that next.

I’ll add the photos tomorrow.


  1. Your story is just a tad bit one-sided. Phin and Ike Clanton developed a reputation for stealing livestock. The grand jury indicted both and Ike was killed while resisting arrest. Phin served one year and five months of his 10-year prison term. He married later in life and four years later died after contracting pneumonia.

  2. Greetings,

    My name is Katie Wornek and I am a researcher for a television show called American Ride (http://www.byutv.org/show/06d93297-b6fa-49f5-8cce-6bd555b563af/american-ride). We are interested in using the picture of Billy Clanton seated with 3 men found on this website. Do you know if the image has an active copyright and, if so, do you know how I can obtain the rights to use the image?

    Thank you for your help. Rather than commenting back, please reach me at katiewornek@me.com.


  3. im a descendent. so cool to learn about my family.