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First Posted: May 8, 2010
Oct 11, 2010

McLaury Brothers: Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Blanton

Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury were killed by Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday, in the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."

Frank McLaury

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Frank McLaury

Frank McLaury (March 3, 1848 - October 26, 1881) was a cowboy of the Old West. He is notable as being a member of the "Cow-boy" faction that faced off against lawmen Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp during the early days of the boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona, and for being killed by the Earp faction during the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Although he has been dubbed a gunfighter by some accounts, he was not. The Gunfight at the OK Corral is believed to have been his first violent confrontation.

Born Robert Findley McLaury in Courtright Center, New York, and while still a child his family moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa. His older brother William McLaury completed college and later became a judge in Fort Worth, Texas, and both Frank and his younger brother Tom McLaury studied pre-law. In 1878, he moved with his brother Tom to Hereford, Arizona, where they first met Ike Clanton, and became associated with the Clanton family. At the time, the Clanton family owned one of the largest cattle operations in Arizona.

By 1879 the two brothers were seeing success in the cattle business, and they purchased land and built a house at Soldiers Hole, near Tombstone, Arizona, which was just beginning to see its population explode due to the silver rush. They also, along this time, became associated with "Curly Bill" Brocius. While with Brocius, on October 27, 1880, the two brothers were briefly detained following Brocius accidentally shooting and killing Tombstone Marshal Fred White. The shooting occurred when White went to disarm Brocius, grabbing the pistol Brocius held by the barrel and pulling it, at which time it discharged due to it being cocked. White stated before his death that the shooting was not intentional, and Brocius, who liked White, regretted the shooting greatly by accounts written afterward.

However, when arrested for the shooting, Brocius had been "pistol whipped" by Wyatt Earp, which only escalated an already tense dislike that had developed between members of the "Cow-boy" faction and the Earp faction. Although there is no direct evidence that the McLaury brothers ever participated in any illegal acts, their association with Brocius and the Clantons put them at odds with the Earps. They had likely dealt in the selling of stolen cattle, but they were never arrested and definite proof of that has never been presented beyond some doubt. In early 1881, a stolen horse was recovered on their ranch, with allegations that the tip to law enforcement that the horse was there came from Ike Clanton. Whether Clanton told law officials the horse was on their ranch or not has never been confirmed. They were, however, not arrested for possessing the horse, as the suspect in that horse theft was Sherman McMasters, a sometime "Cow-boy" member, and later Earp faction supporter.

By that point, the tension between the Earp and "Cow-boy" factions had reached a boiling point. On October 26, 1881, the McLaury brothers took part in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and by accounts afterward it was Frank and Billy Clanton who first drew their weapons, although that has been disputed in other reports of the shootout.

Graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury in Boothill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona. Ike Clanton had been arrested earlier in the day on a weapons charge, after which Tom McLaury had arrived to get Ike. Wyatt Earp and McLaury had a heated exchange outside the courtroom that led to Wyatt hitting Tom over the head with his pistol as Tom stepped towards him. A short while later, Tom was found to have left a pistol in a nearby saloon, showing he was indeed carrying it in violation of city law at the time of his altercation with Wyatt. Both Frank and Tom McLaury were killed, along with Billy Clanton. They were buried in Tombstone's Boot Hill cemetery. Their brother William McLaury spent most of his finances in pursuing charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Tom McLaury had $3,000 in his possession at the time of their deaths, which was emphasized during the trial that followed. Their brother William later wrote in a letter that his brothers had just sold their herd of cattle, and were leaving Tombstone shortly to come be with him in Fort Worth. He also suggested that they were in Tombstone on business, with plans to depart within a short time in the company of Billy Clanton. They also are believed by some to have been in business with the Bauer &Kehoe Market, planning a cattle drive.


Tom McLaury

Tom McLaury (June 30, 1853 - October 26, 1881) was a cowboy of the Old West, best known for being a member of the "Cow-boy" faction that faced off against the Earp faction in Tombstone, Arizona, eventually leading to his involvement and death during the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Although he has since, at times, been referred to as a gunfighter, this was incorrect. The Gunfight at the OK Corral is believed to have been his first violent confrontation.

Born Thomas McLaury in Courtright Center, New York, he was only two years old when his family moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa. Both he and his older brother Frank studied pre-law, and their oldest brother William McLaury eventually became a judge in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1878 he and Frank moved to Hereford, Arizona, where they first met Ike Clanton, and became associated with the Clanton family. At the time, the Clanton family owned one of the largest cattle operations in Arizona.

By 1879 the two brothers were seeing success in the cattle business, and they purchased land and built a house at Soldiers Holes, near Tombstone Arizona, which was just beginning to see its population explode due to the silver rush. They also, along this time, became associated with "Curly Bill" Brocius. While with Brocius, on October 27, 1880, the two brothers were briefly detained following Brocius accidentally shooting and killing Tombstone Marshall Fred White. The shooting occurred when White went to disarm Brocius, grabbing the pistol Brocius held by the barrel and pulling it, at which time it discharged due to it being cocked. White stated before his death that the shooting was not intentional, and Brocius, who liked White, regretted the shooting greatly by accounts written afterward.

However, when arrested for the shooting, Brocius had been "pistol whipped" by Wyatt Earp, which only escalated an already tense dislike that had developed between members of the ""Cow-boy" faction and the Earp faction. Although there is no direct evidence that the McLaury brothers ever participated in any illegal acts, their association with Brocius and the Clanton's put them at odds with the Earp's. They likely had at one time or another dealt in the selling of stolen cattle, but that has never been confirmed and they were never arrested. In early 1881, a stolen horse was recovered on their ranch, with allegations that the tip to law enforcement that the horse was there came from Ike Clanton. Whether Clanton told law officials the horse was on their ranch or not has never been confirmed. They were, however, not arrested for possessing the horse, as the suspect in that horse theft was Sherman McMasters, a sometime "Cow-boy" member, and later Earp faction supporter.

By that point, the tension between the Earp and "Cow-boy" factions had reached a boiling point. On October 26, 1881, the McLaury brothers took part in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and by accounts afterward it was his brother Frank along with Billy Clanton who first drew their weapons, although that has been disputed in other reports of the shootout.

Graves of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury in Boothill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona .Earlier in the day, Ike Clanton had been arrested, after which Tom McLaury had arrived to get Ike. Wyatt Earp and McLaury had a heated exchange outside the courtroom that led to Wyatt hitting Tom over the head with his pistol as Tom stepped towards him. A short while later, Tom was found to have left a pistol in a nearby saloon, showing he was indeed carrying it in violation of city law at the time of his altercation with Wyatt. Both Frank and Tom McLaury were killed in the gunfight that followed, along with Billy Clanton. They were buried in Tombstone's Boot Hill cemetery. Their brother William McLaury spent most of his finances in pursuing charges against the Earp's and Doc Holliday.

During the trial that followed the shootout, emphasis was given to why Tom McLaury had $3,000 on his person when the gunfight took place. His brother William stated in a letter that his brothers had just sold off their cattle herd, and were planning on leaving Tombstone and coming to Fort Worth to be with him. Billy Clanton, according to William McLaury, was going to accompany them. He also claimed in his letter that the two brothers were in Tombstone that day on business. He further stated that his brothers had been working with rancher Edwin Frink, whose ranch was near them, to gather several head of cattle scattered after an Apache raid a few weeks before. It has been suggested since that the brothers were in business with the Bauer & Kehoe Market to drive several hundred head of cattle.

Was Tom McLaury Armed?

There have since also been suggestions that Tom McLaury was not armed, as his pistol was not found at the scene of the shooting. Over one hundred years after the shootout, the event is still not completely clear. There is evidence to suggest that members of the "Cow-boy" faction lied in an effort to have the Earp's convicted, but also evidence to support that the Earp faction and Doc Holliday lied to protect themselves from being convicted. At the time, there were two newspapers in Tombstone, the Tombstone Epitaph and the Tombstone Nugget. The Epitaph was pro-Earp, while the Nugget was pro-"Cow-boy," and their versions of the testimony during the trial varied greatly. Clara S. Brown reported through the San Diego Union newspaper that, during the inquest, it was believed that only two of the "Cow-boys" were armed. Saloon owner Andrew Mehan testified that an hour before the gunfight Tom McLaury had checked his pistol with him at Mehan's Saloon.

Wyatt Earp testified that Tom McLaury fired one or two rounds at them from behind a horse, and that if he was unarmed he did not know it. In an 1896 interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Earp further claimed that Tom McLaury had shot Morgan Earp from behind the horse. In two of Wyatt Earp's three biographies he indicated that Tom McLaury fired the first shots. However, some historians have suggested that Wyatt Earp's claims about his deeds while working as a lawman are often flawed, if not outright lies. Case in point, his false claim that he arrested gunman Ben Thompson, and his claim that he ran gunman Clay Allison out of Dodge City, Kansas, both of which have since been proven false.

One eye witness, Mrs. J.C. Colyer, was only a short distance away sitting in a buggy when the shootout took place. Although never called to testify at the subsequent inquest, her account of the shooting was published in the Tombstone Epitaph a few weeks after the event. In her recount of the events she witnessed she said that it was in fact the "Cow-boys" who fired first, and in that interview she said that one "Cow-boy" used a horse as a barricade, firing from under the horses neck. It has since been confirmed that neither Billy Clanton nor Frank McLaury ever came near a horse during the shootout, so if her statement is to be believed, it could only have been Tom McLaury to which she was referring. She knew none of those involved, and was only in Tombstone to visit her sister, therefore making her an unbiased witness.

Another eye witness, laundryman Peter H. Fellehy, stated that he saw Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday shooting at a man who was using a horse to barricade himself, and once shot the man fell. During that statement, Fellehy claimed the man still held his pistol in his hand. Although he never said he saw him shoot, he does indicate that Tom McLaury was armed.


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