Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral--And How It Changed the American West

by Jeff Guinn

Pub Date: May 17th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5424-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

An absorbing, meticulous account of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight as it really happened.

In books, movies and TV series, Wyatt Earp has been portrayed as an American frontier hero who, along with his brothers and his friend Doc Holliday, faced down evil cowboys in the 1881 Tombstone, Ariz., gunfight immortalized in John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine (1946), starring Henry Fonda. In fact, writes 2010 Edgar Award finalist Guinn (Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, 2009, etc.), the traditional rendering of the celebrated shootout has skewed our understanding of frontier history. The gunfight did not occur in the O.K. Corral, but rather in a nearby vacant lot. Nobody knows exactly what happened during the shootout—we can only piece together “most likely scenarios” writes the author—but it certainly was not a classic confrontation between good and evil, as described by many writers. Drawing on papers and interviews, Guinn places his complex and nuanced story firmly within the context of the evolving Western frontier, where gold and silver began attracting prospectors, miners, and con artists in the 1850s. When the Earp brothers arrived in 1879, the nascent mining town of Tombstone had about 900 residents. Virgil Earp became police chief. Wyatt, a sometime lawman, played card games in local bars. Their brawling dentist friend Doc Holliday also gambled. Describing the many social, political and other forces that set the stage for the gunfight (including new edicts regarding arrests and carrying guns), Guinn details the historic events of the cold afternoon of Oct. 26, 1881: drunken outlaw Ike Clanton’s wild threats against Wyatt Earp and Holliday; Virgil’s attempt (together with his brothers and Doc) to disarm Ike and his cowboy buddies; and the 30-second exchange of gunfire that left three cowboys dead.

Just the facts—and still a great story.