326 E Allen Street, Tombstone, Arizona, 85638
If you think you know the history of the OK Corral, guess again. This livery and horse corral has seen gunslingers, sharp-shooters, stagecoaches, and saddle bums. It’s also credited with the most famous scuffle in cinema, the 30-second shootout highlighted in over 40 feature films, most notably Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and Tombstone (1993).
Yet this legendary gunfight happened six doors down. Plus, Wyatt Earp wasn’t the central figure, despite his notoriety in Technicolor Westerns. Earp is said to haunt the OK Corral today, alongside the Cochise County Cowboys and Doc Holliday. “Justice” Jim Burnett is another poltergeist, riddled with pistol wounds sixteen years later. Is everything OK at the OK Corral?
You’re bound to be haunted whenever you’re famous for fast draws. Some think that the OK Corral may have more apparitions than any other site in the southwest. Tombstone’s late lawmen and lawless patrol the property, packing their pistols and pitching a fit. Who are these poltergeists?
Most are familiar with Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and Tombstone (1993), yet these feature films are deceiving. The shootout didn’t occur at the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp also wasn’t a central figure. Instead, Wyatt’s brother Virgil may have been the primary gunslinger. Virgil was Tombstone’s Town Marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal – giving him more experience as a sheriff, constable, marshal, and soldier in combat.
The "Cowboys," Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, had a long-simmering feud with Tombstone's lawmen – Virgil Earp, Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday.
Tombstone had passed an ordinance on April 19, 1881, requiring everyone who carried a bowie knife, dirk, pistol, or rifle to leave their weapons at the livery before entering. The ordinance didn't sit well with the Cowboys, who thought that the Earps were "badge-toting tyrants." The Earps considered the Cowboys, "the most reckless class of outlaws in that wild country [...] infinitely worse than the ordinary robber." George Parson, a resident of Tombstone, wrote that the "Cowboy is a rustler at times, and a rustler is a synonym for desperado — bandit, outlaw, and horse thief." The Cowboys were lawless; legitimate cattlemen thought the term an insult.
On October 26 of 1881, the Cowboys rode into Tombstone. They left their horses at Dexter's Livery Stable, making their way to Spangenberg's gun shop. Virgil allegedly witnessed the Cowboys filling their cartridge belt with bullets on Fourth Street, a direct violation of the ordinance. Tensions were high. Virgil’s hostilities were higher.
Three men hurled into eternity in the duration of a moment. ~ The Tombstone Epitaph of October 27, 1881
The Cowboys continued to the OK Corral, where they discussed their plans to kill Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp. Witnesses reported these threats to Virgil, who was Tombstone's current city marshal. Virgil already believed that the Cowboys had violated the ordinance, so he was eager for a showdown. Their feud had reached the boiling point – an easy feat in the desert heat.
Miner Ruben F. Coleman later told The Tombstone Epitaph:
I was in the O.K. Corral at 2:30 p.m. when I saw the two Clantons and the two McLaurys in an earnest conversation across the street at Dunbar's corral. I went up the street and notified Sheriff Behan and told them it was my opinion that they meant trouble, and it was his duty, as sheriff, to go and disarm them. I told him they had gone to the West End Corral. I then went and saw Marshal Virgil Earp and notified him to the same effect.
Virgil testified to the warning, alleging afterward that Bahan had cautioned, "For God's sake, don't go down there or they will murder you!" But Virgil was a hard man. He didn’t flinch. Virgil replied, "Those men have made their threats and I will not arrest them but I will kill them on sight."
No one knows why, but the Cowboys continued to the narrow lot near C.S. Fly's Photography Studio. There, the Earps joined Doc Holliday to confront the Cowboys. Once Virgil saw the Cowboys, he ordered, "Throw up your hands, I want your guns!" The Cowboys refused to relinquish their weapons; the legendary gunfight began.
It's uncertain who shot first. Accounts are contradictory. Eyewitnesses were also confused by the smoke from the shootout, unable to see through the black powder. Yet thirty shots were fired within thirty seconds. Frank's bullet bruised Doc Holliday's hip, grazing his holster. Virgil Earp was shot through the calf. Both Frank and Billy Clanton were killed. Tom McLaury, too, was killed. Only Wyatt Earl was uninjured.
Today, the OK Corral is said to be haunted by the Cowboys and Lawmen. Guests witness various poltergeists throughout the property. Apparitions of men in cowboy attire are the most frequent sightings, appearing with their guns drawn.
The OK Corral’s manager alleges that he saw the specter of a tall, thin man in a flat-brimmed hat. Is this Virgil Earp? Or are these the poltergeists of the Cowboy faction, preparing for a showdown? Cold spots are also reported throughout the livery. Plus, guests sometimes overhear the sounds of phantom horses.
The Gunfight at the OK Corral wasn’t the site’s only shootout. Another occurred on the first of July, 1897 between “Justice” Jim Burnett and William Greene. Burnett is said to haunt the historic site today, his body beaten with bullets.
Burnett was the Justice of the Peace for Charleston, a town located between Tombstone and Sierra Vista. He was a hard-hitting, no-nonsense “man of all hats,” working too as Charleston’s Judge and Marshal. Burnett even tracked down outlaws, collecting the fines that he placed for personal gain. Yet William Greene wouldn’t back down from the bullying Burnett, who had earned a reputation as a browbeater. Their long-simmering feud caused Greene to build a dam that blocked the water flow into Burnett’s land. This backfired on Greene, who later lost a daughter to the blockade.
William’s daughters Ella and Eva Greene had taken Katie Corcoran to the riverbed. They had planned to swim for the day, unaware that it would be their last. Yet the dam had been dynamited, causing the water to rise to cataclysmic levels. Heedless, the girls raced down to the river; Ella and Katie jumped first, spinning and sliding through the air. They were quickly submerged, wiped out by the river.
Eva ran back to the house for help but it was too late. Both Ella and Katie were drowned. The swimming hole had been enlarged from the dynamite, engulfing the young girls.
Greene was fit to be tied. He vowed revenge upon the man responsible. Although he thought that Burnett had blown out the dam, he lacked evidence. Greene placed an ad in the Tombstone Prospector: “I WILL PAY $1000 REWARD FOR PROOFS OF THE PARTY OR PARTIES, WHO BLEW OUT MY DAM AT MY RANCH ON THE NIGHT OF JUNE 24, THEREBY CAUSING THE DEATHS OF MY LITTLE DAUGHTER AND KATIE CORCORAN.”
Greene soon received a reply from a Chinaman, who told Greene that Burnett had hired someone to dynamite the dam. Loopy as a cross-eyed cowboy, Greene hunted Burnett.
On July 2, 1897, Burnett found him at the OK Corral. Greene shot Burnett with three revolver bullets; Burnett was killed instantly.
The Arizona Republican ran the following:
Marshal Meade received a dispatch from Tombstone which said, “Bill Greene killed Jim Burnett here today.” There were no further particulars, but it is believed at the Marshal’s office that another earth had led to the tragedy of today. About a week ago a dam on San Pedro owned by Mr. Greene was blown out. It so happened that a little daughter of Mr. Greene’s was playing in the river below with a companion from Bisbee, and in the rush of the water which followed the blowing up of the dam, both children were drowned. Greene offered a reward of $1000 for information that would lead to the discovery of the party which had blown up his dam and thus brought death in his family, and it is believed to be the sequel of today’s killing.
Jim Burnett is now an infamous inhabitant of the OK Corral. Witnesses describe him as a “balding old man with a peppered beard.” His appearances are brief, vanishing upon approach. Does Justice Jim still stalk the streets? Is Jim Tombstone’s thin man in a flat-brimmed hat?
By the time of the gunfight, the OK Corral (Old Kindersley) was owned by "Honest John" Montgomery and Edward Monroe Benson. It operated in Tombstone from 1879 to 1888.
This livery was one of eight in Tombstone and provided wagons, carriages, and buggies to residents. Since most didn’t own horses, they would rent them from the corral. By 1886, the OK Corral even leased an eleven-passenger excursion – a glamorous addition to Tombstone’s gunslinging scene.
On May 25, 1882, the OK Corral caught fire. It was an event that ravaged the Western Business District. Water was inaccessible, so residents used dynamite to control the fires. Curiously, they would blast the buildings within the fire’s path, containing the fire’s spread.
The OK Corral was rebuilt in time for Stuart Lake’s 1933 Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal. The acclaimed biography was published two years after Earp’s death, publicizing Tombstone’s celebrated corral. It served as the basis for the 1946 My Darling Clementine, directed by William Ford. In 1957, Gunfight at the OK Corral was released, making the OK Corral forever inseparable from Wyatt Earp. The livery is still known for the legendary gunfight, despite the location’s inaccuracy.
The OK Corral is located at 326 E Allen Street, Tombstone. Visitors will be excited to find that the gunfight is reenacted by live actors daily. The OK Corral also operates as a museum, available from nine to five. Let us know if you encounter any paranormal activity.