This breezy western from 1951 is set against the backdrop of the infamous ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’. Wyatt Earp makes an appearance as does Doc Holiday along with several of their opponents in the well-known street battle which only takes up a couple of pages. The fictional protagonist is Sam Chalmers who, after a run in with cattle-rustler, Bigelow Newman, heads to Tombstone to set up his own ranch and to woo the beautiful Jean. Trouble is that Newman has also set up shop in Tombstone and has secretly wed Jean’s sister who he intends to employ as an actress in his new theater. With the bitter enemies set to become brothers-in-law, and tensions rising between the ‘Cowboys’ and the new lawman, Earp and his brothers, Tombstone looks set to live up to its name.
Tombstone, Arizona sprung into existence in 1879 after prospector Ed Scheiffelin struck silver in the vicinity. It was the very definition of a boom-town, its population exploding in a short period of time, and with it came the trouble. Cattle rustlers, whores, bandits and other unsavory types walked its streets with ease, several of whom were members of a loosely organized gang called the ‘Cowboys’. Headed by Ike Clanton, the Cowboys enjoyed robbing stagecoaches and stealing and smuggling cattle in from Mexico. It wasn’t long before help was hired in to clean up the town. This help came in the form of the Earp brothers who had recently made names for themselves in whipping Dodge City into some sort of order. They were instantly unpopular with Ike Clanton and his boys. Insults were traded and threats tossed about, culminating in a street confrontation which took the lives of three Cowboys. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has gone down in history as a symbol of the lawlessness of the old west, where outlaws could walk the streets of frontier towns under the nose of the law who, if they wanted to resist, could expect a hard, bloody battle.
The gunfight took place in 1881 but in my alternate history of Golden Heart and its prequel short story On Rails of Gold, I have pushed this back to 1885. My reasoning for this is that as Wyatt Earp and his family supported the Union, they probably wouldn’t have become lawmen had the Civil War gone differently. With the Confederacy still in control of the Southwest by 1885, the Earp brothers may have been killed during the course of the war or simply gone in different directions. Thus the Clanton gang would never had encountered them in the gunfight in 1881 and would have gone unchallenged for several more years, maybe even bcoming lawmen themselves.