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Coroner's inquest from OK Corral gunfight uncovered

Clerks find documents at Cochise County courthouse

PHOENIX – Michelle Garcia and Bonnie Cook were reorganizing files in an old jail storage space at Bisbee’s courthouse when they found a box marked “Juvenile 1988.”

Whoever wrote that meant to say 1888.

The women, both deputy clerks for Cochise County Superior Court, found an envelope inside saying “Coroner’s Inquest.” Taking their find to a supervisor, they realized they had found lost documents with interviews from people who witnessed the gunfight at the OK Corral.

“We opened it up and we could tell it was original because it was hand-written,” Garcia said.

At a ceremony held Wednesday outside the State Capitol, the county transferred the documents to the Arizona State Archives, where officials will restore and preserve them.

Denise Lundin, the Cochise County Superior Court clerk, presented the documents to Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Bennett said the documents are an important window into Arizona’s history.

“To have the actual documents taken from the actual trial of the people who were involved and verbatim that they gave in the courtroom is pretty neat; it makes us appreciate what happened to make Arizona come together as a state,” he said.

The 30-second shootout Oct. 26, 1881, in Tombstone had Wyatt Earp leading a band against against the Clanton and McLaury gang, killing Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury. Earp and his allies were charged with murder, but a judge ruled the killings justified.

Documents from the inquest were in a manila envelope that caused the papers to yellow from acids. Some parts of the documents are held together by tape, which will deteriorate the ink if it isn’t removed, said Melanie Sturgeon, the history and archives division director for the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records.

“If they would’ve sat that way for another 50 or so years, it would’ve been really hard to restore them, Sturgeon said.

The documents will soon be digitized and posted on the Arizona Memory Project’s website, which provides people access to state historic documents, Sturgeon said.

Historians will be taking a look at the documents to see if there is additional information that has been lost in history about the OK Coral gunfight, said Lundin, the court clerk.

“My guess is that they will reveal additional information about what people actually saw,” she said.

Lundin said her staff will continue to search for other documents at the old courthouse.

“I have no doubt that there are other valuable and fragile historical records waiting to be found,” she said.

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2 comments on this story

Apr 22, 2010, 3:51 am
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So cool.

Apr 21, 2010, 6:54 pm
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Griselda Nevarez/Cronkite News Service

At Wednesday's ceremony, Cochise County officials transfer to the state the original documents of the coroner’s inquest into the 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral.

Quick facts

Some facts about the gunfight at the OK Corral:

  • Date: Oct. 26, 1881.
  • Location: On a street near, but not in, the OK Corral in Tombstone.
  • Wyatt Earp's Allies: Virgil and Morgan Earp, Wyatt's brothers; Doc Holliday, a dentist, gambler and gunslinger.
  • Origin: There was a three-way power struggle at the time between the Earp brothers and their allies, Sheriff Johnny Behan and county Democratic Party leaders and the Clanton gang.
  • Flashpoint: The gunfight occurred a day after a verbal confrontation between Ike Clanton and Doc Holliday and shortly after Ike Clanton's arrest for carrying firearms as he went gunning for Holliday.
  • Killed: Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury.
  • Aftermath: The Clanton sought revenge through ambush tactics. Virgil Earp was crippled by buckshot two weeks later and Morgan Earp was shot and killed five months later. Wyatt Earp went on a personal vendetta, and soon after suspects Frank Stillwell, Florentino Cruz and Curly Bill Brocius were dead.
  • Source: "Roadside History of Arizona," by Marshall Trimble, Arizona state historian.

On the Web

Arizona Memory Project: azmemory.lib.az.us