The Last Gunfight

I have just read The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn. The book details the circumstances leading up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. There are various strands which lead up to the gunfight. The ambitions of the Earp family to find their fortunes. The similar aims of other lawmen, ranchers and cowboys. The play of politics in the election of officials (sheriffs had responsibility for collecting taxes for which they kept a percentage), philosophical views of governance (too much or not enough government) and the desire of the Tombstone businessmen to have a nice town whilst still parting rowdy cowboys from their money. The gunfight produced the immediate deaths of Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. The Earps came out of the inquest with their actions being excusable and justifiable by law.  The gunfight and the inquest did not stop the animosity between the Earps, Clantons and the cowboys. The book infers that the Earps finally lost patience with their enemies, tracked them down and executed them. In most cases this was permissible as there were outstanding warrants against their enemies. The book has a number of interesting vignettes but my favourite quote is from the historian John E. Ferling “events by themselves are unimportant; it is the perception of events that is crucial”. The shoot out was an arrest gone wrong and the result of complicated social, economic and political issues which left eight men dangerously mistrustful of each other. A very good read and a healthy antidote to the glamourisation of the Wild West.

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