In less than a minute it was all over — the gunfight at the OK Corral. This famous gunfight occurred in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26, 1881, when Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and company battled it out with the Clantons and McLaurys.
Of course, there was a lot more going on during that era than just that gunfight at the OK Corral. We wanted to go trail riding with our horses in and around Tombstone, Arizona to relive a bit of Old West history.
Tombstone Livery Stable
Our base of trail riding operations was the Tombstone Livery Stable, located about three miles north of Tombstone, Arizona.
The Livery’s operation includes trailer spaces with hookups, 50 stalls for boarding, three cabins with kitchenettes, and one cabin with a bedroom.
The owners of the Livery are Doug and Terri Evans, veteran horse folks from up in our part of the country in the northern Rockies.
Doug and Terri are some of the nicest and most helpful people you’ll ever come across. For example, they provide a trail map that clearly states “If you get lost, we will come looking for you first thing tomorrow morning!”
A Boiling Pot
Back in the late 1870s, this part of the Territory of Arizona was a boiling pot; a rustler's roost bristling with rustlers, con men, thieves, and murderers.
Into this pandemonium came Al Schieffellin, prospecting for riches. His friends told him the only thing he'd find would be his tombstone. Instead, he discovered a large silver strike, and the new town was named “Tombstone” in honor of what he didn’t find.
Law and order was slow in coming. In 1881, Virgil Earp was appointed marshal (chief of police); his brother, Wyatt, became deputy sheriff. Wyatt’s friend, Doc Holliday, was in town to gamble, but helped the Earp brothers when needed.
One large outlaw faction in the area was operated by the Clantons and the McLaurys. They were part of an operation that stole cattle from Mexico, changed the brands, then sold them at Tombstone or to the military at nearby forts. The outlaw group was also embroiled in several murders.
It was only a matter of time until this pot boiled over.
A Monumental Ride
Our first ride was to the monument of the person who started it all, Al Schieffellin. We headed out of camp on our young Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, Cowboy and Nate. They enjoyed taking off under a silky blue sky and fox trotting through mesquite-lined washes.
It’s difficult to get lost in this section of country. The map is well-done; just keep in mind where the washes and roads are located. There’s a major power line to the east you can use as a reference point.
Schieffellin's Monument, a large, boulder-shaped pyramid, serves as his grave marker. He desired to be buried in a spot overlooking his early prospecting days.
A short distance to the south of the monument is the Arizona Spirit Ranch. This is the place to go if you don't have your own horse.
Designed like an Old West town, this guest ranch is all-inclusive: lodging; food; horseback rides; and evening entertainment.
The San Pedro River
Six miles west of Tombstone Livery is the San Pedro River, another source of Tombstone lore. We trailered to the Fairbanks parking lot located next to the river. This lot is spacious enough to turn and park large trailers.
We were met by trail-riding enthusiasts Nancy Doolittle and Jodie Hinker. Nancy is a founding member of Friends of The San Pedro River and does a lot of trail work. They were our guides as we rode north and down river on a trail of history.
At the start of the trail, several buildings remain from the ghost town of Fairbanks that flourished between 1879 and 1888. Silver ore from Tombstone was brought to the nearby Grand Central Stamping Mill to be processed. People who worked in the mill and their families lived in Fairbanks.
As you ride on this trail, take note of the town’s old cemetery, just after the start of the trail, on the right. Nancy on her horse, Risky, and Jodie on her horse, Sadie, led us down river, past the cemetery, to the block foundations of the Grand Central Stamping Mill where the ore was processed.
After the mill, we rode down a wash, then north along the San Pedro River. The ride was gorgeous! Huge cottonwood trees hugged the riverbanks, and we watched blue herons stalking silently through the shallow waters.
The site of Contention has two important points. First, it was the location of one of the elements leading up to the OK Corral gun battle. In March 1881, outlaws held up the stagecoach and killed the driver.
Contention is also where you rein left and ride across the San Pedro River for the next part of this historical ride.
Once across the river, follow the railroad tracks south. This railroad is unused today, but was originally built to transport ore and supply the area with goods.
On our return ride, Nancy decided to try a shortcut under the railroad trestle and cross the river. We noticed that her horse’s hindquarters began sinking into the water. They were in quicksand!
Nancy calmly turned Risky around, and he gallantly struggled back to firmer ground. A good rule in this country is to cross water where other animals crossed or where obvious trails are located.
Riding into Tombstone
The time had come for us to ride to the actual site of the OK Corral gun battle in downtown Tombstone. We’d been to Tombstone several times, but never with our horses. Like other tourists, we’d marveled at the original buildings, such as the early courthouse, Tombstone Epitaph, and the famous Bird Cage Theater.
Downtown Tombstone is closed to vehicular traffic; you either ride or walk. On previous visits, we’d gazed longingly as folks rode horses into town and passed period stagecoaches. We vowed that someday we’d return with our own horses and do the same.
Bolstered by strong morning coffee and under the big sky of Arizona, we rode out of the Livery south to town on our 4-year-old, greenbroke Missouri Fox Trotters.
Just before town, we cut up the hill to the right and rode past the new cemetery. The original Boot Hill Cemetery is just east of this point. The Clantons and McLaurys are still there today.
Riding into the edge of town, we could see the horse-drawn wagons milling around in the town center. We wondered about the mental stability of our young geldings, but continued on. Because of their calm nature and lots of experience under their cinches, our horses maintained their composure, and we were able to ride all the way in.
History enveloped us. We tied up at a hitching rail in front of Big Nose Kate's Saloon, named for Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. Across the street was the Crystal Palace where Wyatt Earp operated a Faro table.
Nearby was Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon, where outlaws killed Wyatt's brother, Morgan. Down the street a short distance is where Curly Bill Brocious killed town marshal Fred White.
The other way was the entrance to the OK Corral. It was here that everything came to a head on October 26, 1881, where Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday faced the Clantons and the McLaurys. In the end, one Clanton and two McLaurys were dead. Ike Clanton fled the scene.
Live on the wild side! Come on down to southeastern Arizona and ride the outlaw trail. Visit Tombstone, stay at the Tombstone Livery Stable. Or, for an all-inclusive package, there's the Arizona Spirit Ranch. You could even ride on the Vendetta Trail Ride.
You’ll be mesmerized by Arizona's natural beautyand entertained by its colorful history.