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The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona

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On a chilly October afternoon in 1881, two brothers named Tom and Frank McLaury were gunned down on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona, by the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The deadly event became known as the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and in a quirk of fate, the brothers' names became well-known, but only as bad men and outlaws. Did they deserve that reputation? The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona: An O.K. Corral Obituary explores this question, revealing details of their family background and the context of their lives on the frontier. Paul Lee Johnson begins their story with the McLaury brothers' decision to go into the cattle business with an ambition to have their own ranch. When they moved to Arizona, they finally achieved that goal, but along the way they became enmeshed with the cross-border black market that was thriving there. As "honest ranchers" they were in business with both the criminal element as well as the legitimate businesses in Tombstone. Another principal in this story was an older brother, William, who set aside his law practice in Fort Worth to settle his brothers' affairs, and associated himself with the prosecution of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. Despite his efforts, the Earps and Holliday were exonerated, and the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" became the opening salvo of a feud that took several more lives. Johnson has interviewed family descendants and mined their sources, government correspondence, and letters that have never before been published to reveal the human lives behind the storied events. For the first time the events of the O.K. Corral gunfight are presented from the viewpoint of the McLaurys, two brothers who lost their lives and reputations, and a family who tried in vain to find restitution.

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Prologue: Fame from the Barrel of a Gun

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Prologue

Fame from the

Barrel of a Gun

Marcus Aurelius Smith, the legendary Congressional representative of Arizona Territory and later United States Senator for the State of Arizona, spoke for many pioneers of his generation when he said:

Who settled the West? What character of people and whence came they? Were the pioneers in Arizona alien outcasts from foreign lands and the good society of our own States? No, sir, those were young men from honest families of all the States, with an ambition to make a name for themselves and homes for those who loved them. With hearts that knew no fear and with spirits undaunted, they left their kindred and friends and home-endearing ties and set their faces to the wilderness.1

Brothers Thomas Clark McLaury and Robert Finlay “Frank” McLaury fit this description. They were among the pioneer Anglo settlers of southeastern

Arizona Territory. The brothers were born in New York State, raised on a farm in Iowa and hired as cowboys for some time in Texas. Together they worked toward establishing a ranch in Arizona on land that was opened for settlement shortly before their arrival in the Territory. After their short lives they achieved fame, not for what they did nor for how they lived but for the violent way they died. Had they fallen victim to a murderous attack by Apaches, or

 

Chapter 1: The Clan McClaughry

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One

The Clan McClaughry

Although of Scottish descent, this branch of the McClaughry family spent a few generations living in central Ireland, in the county of Longford

(west of Dublin), in Cleghill Parish of the township of Clonbroney. In May of

1729, Matthew McClaughry attempted to emigrate and establish a new life in the American colonies. Along with members of his family, brothers, sisters and cousins, he boarded the George and Ann, a vessel chartered by Charles Clinton and his fellow passengers, known collectively as the Clinton Colony, bound for

Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Matthew, accompanied by his son, Thomas, was forced to abandon the ship before it had cleared the shores of Ireland. 1

Many years later, Thomas, with his wife and seven children, attempted the trip again. This time, the inspiration came from a small group of Protestants under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Clark. They set sail from

Ireland in September 1765, landing in New York City two months later. From there McClaughry hired a sloop to sail up the Hudson in order that he and his family could join the remnant of the Clinton Colony, who had established themselves in a settlement called Littlebritain, purchasing farmland in the area of Salem, New York. 2

 

Chapter 2: McLaurys in Iowa

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Two

McLaurys in Iowa

As he prepared his family to move west, Robert H. McClaury tried persuading his neighbors to join him. The trip was expensive, and the complications of moving the household and the younger children took a great deal of planning. The McClaurys sent their oldest children ahead as a vanguard.

Twenty-one-year-old Ebenezer, eighteen-year-old Margaret and fourteen-yearold Edmund (“Eddie”) traveled to Iowa in 1854 and built a cabin on land at the western portion of Benton County.

Some Indians continued to hunt and trade as they roamed the sparsely settled countryside. One memorable day, Margaret was alone in the cabin while her brothers were out hunting for game. An Indian hunter walked into her home, uninvited. She was terrified—unsure whether or not he meant her harm—and watched in silence while he squatted by the fire, warming himself.

When he stood up and pulled his blanket around himself, he pointed to the sugar and the tea, then to the brace of turkeys slung over his shoulder. Margaret gladly made the exchange and the Indian silently went away.

 

Chapter 3: War and the Failed Marriage

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Three

War and the

Failed Marriage

Following the outbreak of war in 1861, twenty-one-year-old “Eddie”

McClaury and twenty-three-year-old Daniel Arbuthnot joined the Iowa 14th

Volunteers, an infantry unit from Tama County. Several of the messmates in Company G were their neighbors from other parts of the county. From their muster in the Toledo area, the men of the 14th traveled by wagon to

Marengo, Iowa, and then by rail to Camp McClellan, located just north of

Davenport, for training. In late November they removed down the river to a place outside St. Louis dubbed “Benton Barracks.” Sickness was soon evident among the ranks.

Ed McClaury, a boy from Irving and my bunkmate since we started, was very sick. Had a high fever and was out of his head part of the time.

There were a number of boys sick. … [Sometime later] McClaury was very full of measles but was not nearly so sick as he had been nor as some of the other boys were.1

Despite illness and death, the drilling and training continued. The company was not issued rifles until January 13th by which time, according to Private Peter Wilson: “[Company G] got the name of being the best Co. in the Reg. as far as drilling goes. We have the most and loudest swearers.

 

Chapter 4: William R. McLaury

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Four

William R. McLaury

Following his discharge from the Army, Will McLaury lived in Tama

County for about six months. He was, by this time, in his early twenties and once he regained his health was eager to set out on his own. By his own dating, he left Iowa in March of 1865 to travel to Nebraska, Colorado, Montana,

Wyoming, Utah, and back to Iowa. All of his roaming over the West took place in the year-and-a-half between March 1865 and October 1867. According to his family, Will spent this time driving a stage, following the gold rush into

Colorado and fighting Indians during that time. It is perhaps more likely that he was actually working hauling freight during this period of time. Late in

1867, he came back to Iowa to spend another few months in the vicinity of his boyhood home.1

What stories did he bring for the eager ears of his younger brothers?

What seeds of wanderlust did he plant in their imaginations? Was he aware in later years of having influenced his younger brothers to seek their fortune far from Iowa?

 

Chapter 5: Buchanan County, Iowa

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Five

Buchanan County, Iowa

From the upheaval of the previous few years in Belle Plaine, it would seem that a move of 60 miles or so was a bid for Robert McClaury and his family to start anew. What was the effect of the tumultuous Belle Plaine years on the younger McLaurys? For approximately three years, instead of farming, their father worked from an office, often in court and constantly in and out of debt. The escapade with the Wickhams might be interpreted as a determined effort to assist a friend, or to prevent a perceived injustice. It might have been an aberrant acting out of stressful times. Or it might have been a window into

Robert’s wild side. Some years later, Robert would be described as a man of

“indomitable will.” Willfulness, obstinacy, stubbornness—call it what you will—his children were also known by this family trait. At all events, those times would have made a strong impression on them all.1

Robert McClaury had purchased land in Buchanan County when he first arrived in Iowa in 1855. If he had been leasing the land, the missing piece of information may be that his tenants abandoned their farms. If, on the other hand, he had taken a mortgage with the men whose names were also on the deed, he was ready to take possession of the land outright. At the purchase price of 16¢ per acre, his 800 acres had cost $128. It was to those three lots in the unincorporated township of “Buffalo,” sometimes called “Buffalo Grove,” that the family moved. 2

 

Chapter 6: The McLaury Brothers in Arizona Territory

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Six

The McLaury Brothers in

Arizona Territory

There is only fragmentary evidence on the whereabouts of Tom and

Frank McLaury during the middle 1870s, whether they lived with or worked for the Dewitt brothers in Lamar County, Texas. Frank and Tom McLaury were definitely in Fort Worth long enough to have their portraits taken by August

R. Mignon, a photographer whose studio was on the second floor of 24 Main

Street, across from the Public Square. 1

It’s unclear why they left central Texas and moved farther west. A family story claimed that Frank got into a fight or shooting. According to that story,

Will helped to keep Frank out of jail, persuading him to leave town. A check of the docket for mayor’s court did not turn up any record of Tom or Frank ever having been arrested in Fort Worth. One newspaper story described a vicious fight that took place near the railroad depot. The mention of one man being a “mechanic” could be significant, as the words “boss mechanic” were used three years later to describe Frank’s occupation in the History of Buchanan

 

Chapter 7: W. R. McLaury, Attorney-at-Law

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Seven

W. R. McLaury,

Attorney-at-Law

If Frank McLaury was kept out of the Fort Worth jail by his brother, it could have only been during a narrow band of time between the arrival of

Will McLaury and the departure of Frank (and Tom). In May 1876, Will and

Malona McLaury with their son, John, and new daughter, Katherine, left the

Dakotas. Their reasons for leaving were, in all probability, for Lona’s health.

They reached Fort Worth, Texas, in June of 1876, as the Fort Worth Daily

Democrat of July 7, 1876, proclaimed, “W. R. McLaury, recently of Iowa, a young lawyer of more that [sic] ordinary ability, has arrived with his household gods [sic] and taken up abode in our city.” 1

Not all the news was so benign. It was the same newspaper issue that brought the news of Custer’s disaster at the Little Big Horn. Nationally, the news about Custer created a backlash against the Grant Administration’s pacification policies under the Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schurz. The aim of the policies was to contain (on reservations) and “civilize” the tribes—that is, convert them—either religiously or culturally, mostly both. There were even activists among the Radical Republicans who sought to extend citizenship to the Indian. Custer’s disaster also had the effect of briefly distracting people from the most intractable domestic problem the government had to deal with: Reconstruction.

 

Chapter 8: The Arizona Frontier

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Eight

The Arizona Frontier

The brothers’ location in the Babocomari Valley was probably land under dispute. The claimant was a San Francisco speculator, Dr. E. B. Perrin, whose previous real estate experience included being a principal in the Fresno

Canal Company, along the upper San Juaquin River. In Arizona, Perrin’s claim included land five miles north and south of the Babocomari River, from where it joined the San Pedro and west for a swath 14 miles long. This enormous tract of land was known as the San Ignacio del Babocomari Land

Grant, a patent that had its origins in Old Mexico and dated back to 1832.

The land patent belonged to a Mexican family who had abandoned it prior to the War of 1846 due to harassment by the Apaches. Perrin visited Mexico in

1877, while investigating the possibility of a railroad route from the United

States into Mexico. Purchasing the land from the Mexican family was easy, but proving the legitimacy of his claim took 23 years. In the meantime, the central strip of the Babocomari Valley remained in dispute. The McLaurys kept their sights on settling in the Sulphur Spring Valley. Meanwhile, their friends, the Clantons, settled on a ranch near the San Pedro, overlooking

 

Chapter 9: “My Name is Well Known in Arizona”

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Nine

“My Name is Well Known in Arizona”

The Earp brothers immigrated to southeastern Arizona late in the year

1879. Wyatt had been part of the police force in Dodge City, Kansas, as well as a professional gambler. His older brother, Virgil, had recently settled near

Prescott, Arizona Territory, where he worked for a time in law enforcement.

Wyatt and Virgil’s older brother, James, lived in Fort Worth, Texas, for several years where he tended bar for saloon-keeper Robert J. Winders. Winders left for Tombstone in the spring of 1879 and very publicly invited any of his friends from Fort Worth to join him in the booming camp. Jim Earp was likely the first of the Earp brothers to hear about the excitement at Tombsone and he probably persuaded his younger brothers to join him in going there.

A younger Earp brother, Morgan, lived in Montana until the spring of 1880, and joined his brothers in Arizona in July 1880. 1

Before leaving Prescott, Virgil was appointed a deputy United States marshal by Crawley P. Dake, United States marshal for the Territory. Virgil’s commission was to enforce the federal laws for that region. Of the Earp brothers, he alone held a position as a lawman when they arrived in Tombstone.

 

Chapter 10: Border Crime

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Ten

Border Crime

In the fall of 1880, two men went to southeastern Arizona who would each play vital roles in the lives of Frank and Tom McLaury: John Harris

Behan and John Henry “Doc” Holliday.

Holliday, a one-time dentist from Georgia, had moved out west seeking a cure for his tuberculosis and became an itinerant gambler. While it seems redundant to say much about him, about whom so much has been written, a man whose legend is only partly eclipsed in the shadow of Wyatt Earp, it is worth saying that he was not as famous a figure in his own time as he is at present; neither was Earp. His “celebrity status” was composed of two reputations: that he was a professional gambler, a man renowned for the “sport” of gambling, who made his way around the “circuit” and was known by other professional gamblers; and that of a dangerous man, for he had knifed one man in Fort Griffin, Texas, and shot another in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Word of mouth did travel. A man like Holliday might have his reputation precede him

 

Chapter 11: Politics of Arizona and Tombstone

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Eleven

Politics of Arizona and

Tombstone

The village of Tombstone evolved from a campsite to a town over a period of a year and a half. Settlements—no more than a collection of tents, really—were gathered in several locations among the hills nearest the mines.

One area gathered more momentum than the others, the area briefly called

“Goose Flats,” which had nearly level land on a mesa just north of the Grand

Central and Contention mines. As this site continued to expand in its relative importance to other small settlements such as Watervale, Richmond, HogEm and others, it established itself as the commercial center while the others became the satellite communities. Disputes were native to mining communities throughout the West, especially the successful ones. Any ambiguity in the surveying of mining claims would quickly produce a face-off between mine owners. The discoverers of the Tombstone District had such a dispute within the first days of its existence. Fortunately they were able to agree to settle their differences, and the settlement became the Contention Mine.

 

Chapter 12: “More Havoc Than Apaches”

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Twelve

“More Havoc Than Apaches”

Describing the outlaw cowboys and their effect on the wider community is problematic. On the one hand, they affected only a small portion of the population. On the other hand, they were wild, cunning and deadly.

It’s like so many things that are statistically true, yet open to interpretation.

For instance, one can say that air travel is very safe and point to statistics that prove that the vast majority of passengers make their destinations without serious difficulty. But to the passenger who is in an accident, the risk of injury or loss of life might as well be 100 percent. As a result, people can reasonably be nervous about flying, even if they have never experienced an accident for themselves.

So it might be said of the cowboys of Cochise County. Where the violent ones struck, they left behind injury and loss. They were not an organized group, but a confederation of individuals who ranged throughout the southeastern region of Arizona Territory. Many of them were residents of the Babocomari

 

Chapter 13: The Vexed Question

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Thirteen

The Vexed Question

Just as Frank McLaury at one time made money from a mine, there were other ranchers who were miners and vice-versa. A mining enterprise called the Franklin Mine was seeing a lot of action at this time. The Franklin was described as adjoining the Bradshaw Mine “along the Charleston road.”

The Bradshaw Mine had been sold by Thomas Corrigan months before for

$40,000, giving him the grubstake to establish the Alhambra Saloon. Ownership of the Franklin was purportedly held by the same Corrigan, attorney J.

F. Hutton, and stock-raiser Pete Spence (also known as Peter Spencer). As in a con-artist’s shell game, mines could be bought and sold between the same parties to demonstrate to an outside party that there was interest in the mine.

The desired effect was to inflate its price. By such means, many undeveloped and nearly worthless mines in the Tombstone District were used as collateral.

In March 1881, shares of the mine were being sold, and the newspaper dutifully listed the transactions: “J. F. Hutton to Thomas Corrigan, 3/8 of Franklin

 

Chapter 14: “The Grave Situation on the Border”

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Fourteen

“The Grave Situation on the Border”

The spring of 1881 was a time when Washington, D. C. was observing

yet another transition between the past administration and its replacement.

The business of making appointments to posts throughout the government was time-consuming and fraught with the necessary task of rewarding the political supporters of the victorious party with patronage. Issues of long standing were being taken up by new appointees throughout the government. The ambassador from Mexico sent a letter reminding the new Secretary of State of the ongoing border lawlessness, and it reverberated in a flurry of diplomatic and official correspondence. The churning of cabinet-level correspondence with regard to cowboy incidents and depredations in Arizona meant that United States government officials were taking notice; local incidents were being watched from Washington, D. C. Furthermore, both the Territorial Governor and the U.S. Marshal, Republican appointees from the previous administration of R. B. Hayes, were being called to account. By April and May 1881, the correspondence had been going for some time.

 

Chapter 15: Vengeful Schemes

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Fifteen

Vengeful Schemes

Earlier in the year, the Territorial legislature passed a “memorial,” a message to the United States government that Arizona Territory needed additional aid in dealing with the border bandits. The Fronteras murders helped spur United States Marshal Crawley P. Dake in Prescott into action. Sort of.

First, he had to ask for the money from the federal government:

The last Legislature of the Territory passed a memorial asking the

Government to aid in breaking up these gangs of desperadoes and that the U.S. Marshal be instructed and authorized to institute measures to this end. In view of these facts I would respectfully request to be advised in regard to the matter, as to whether any action is to be taken by the

Government through the Marshal’s office and if so, how much money I am authorized to expend in connection with the arrest and breaking up of the serious annoyance; the work will necessitate the employment of a large number of deputies as a posse and will be expensive as the cost of travel, horse [hire] and wages of men and all expenses connected with each service are very much in advance of rates charged in the other states and Territories, and much care and vigilance will have to be used to prevent blood shed as these parties are of the worse [sic] class and will hesitate at nothing in the way of crime to carry out their designs and defeat the ends of Justice.

 

Chapter 16: Summer Storms

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Sixteen

Summer Storms

In Tombstone, the unbroken streak of hot weather was underscored by the outbreak of two fires on Thursday, June 22nd. The first fire burned a small tent belonging to a Mexican family in Block 17, north of Allen Street between Fourth and Third, near the O.K. Corral, “but there being little or no wind, the people who rushed to the fire prevented any further calamity than the loss of the tent and some of its contents.” 1

Later that afternoon, a second fire broke out that quickly went out of control. In front of the Arcade Saloon, three doors up from the Oriental on

Allen Street, a whiskey barrel exploded and the alcohol fire spread to the nearby buildings as quickly as the tinder-dry wood of walkways, awnings, doorways, window sills and roofs of adobe buildings could catch. Wooden frame buildings went up wholesale. Embers and sparks wafting high in the air helped spread the fire from one place to another, across Allen Street and even across the intersection of Allen and Sixth. It was their good fortune that there was so little wind to fan the flames or spread them farther.2

 

Chapter 17: Loss in Fort Worth

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Seventeen

Loss in Fort Worth

Will McLaury’s feelings of success at the end of 1880 didn’t last long.

While he continued to make gains in his business dealings and in Fort Worth politics, his personal life began to deteriorate. In 1876, Will and Malona

McLaury had left the northern climate on account of her health. She continued to be chronically ill despite Texas’ better climate. For the first few years in

Fort Worth, they each owned property in their own name. Lona owned their part of the lot on Fifteenth Street on which stood their family home in order to prevent it from being subject to a lien or lawsuit against McLaury in his business. It could cause confusion, as when the business directory for 1879 listed both McLaury, W. R. (lawyer) and McLaury, M. (lawyer) at Fifteenth and Pecan. As early as 1880, the McLaurys began transferring ownership from Lona to Will while also buying more property.1

As Lona’s illness advanced, there was more pressure to be ready for the inevitable. The tax rolls of 1881 record W. R. McLaury as owning all six lots. His name replaced hers on the Ad Valorum tax rolls. Her consumptive condition took a turn for the worst with debilitating symptoms. As Will later recounted: “… Heaven—I thought for the two years previous to March last I was having a little taste of it.” 2

 

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