March 13, 2011

Fact or Legend?

The shootout at OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, has been immortalized so many times in TV shows and movies that people who hear about it probably believe it was all the figment of a western author's imagination. Not so.

September 1881 was one month before the fabled shootout in Coshise County. At that time, because of reports of lawless conditions and a plethora of gunplay, US Secretary of State John Gosper, who was acting  as governor of Arizona in the absence of Governor John C. Freemont, visited Tombstone. He found a multitude of illegal activity--stage robbery, cattle rustling, even public gun battles. He laid the blame on the inactivity of the local  peace officers.

The cow-boy element at times very fully predominates, and the officers of the laware unable orunwilling to control this class of out-laws.

He wrote a lengthy explanation of what he thought should be done, ending with:

Something must be done, and that right early,or very grave results will follow. It is an open disgrace toAmerican liberty and the peace and security of her citizens, that such a state of affairs should exist.

Handguns were available all over the West at that time. Many had been handed down from the participants of the Civil War, but others came into use as the manufacturers progressed in better designs. Here are a few that were used often.

Colt Navy .36 - manufactured from 1851-1873
Remington New Army .44 - first manufactured in 1858
Starr Double-Action Army .44 - issued in 1860, one of the earliest self-cocking revolver
Classic Peacemaker .45 - cost $17 by mail order
Short-barrell Peacemaker .45 - preferred by gunfighters
Sheriff's Model Peacemaker .45 -
Smith and WEsson Schofield .45 - single-action, preferred by Jesse James

Smaller revolver models were developed, so the they could be carried concealed. Some of the smaller ones often slipped into a woman's reticule.

In addition, some gunfighters preferred using rifles to handguns.

Sometimes it's a wonder to me that anyone in the West was able to live through the terrible gunfight that left so many bodies strewn along the streets of Tombstone.

If you write about the old West, you have a lot of weapons to choose for your hero as he rescues the heroine and her family.

Lena Nelson Dooley, author of Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, and Maggie's Journey (October 2011)

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