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.