Tag Archives: gunfight at the ok corral

Western Writing Sample from Pan Historia


It occurred to me that in an earlier post I gave you a link that has samples of my collaborative fiction writing set in Ancient Egypt but that I haven’t shared anything yet of what I do in the Western genre. So without further ado here is a free sample of some writing of mine from Pan Historia. It is from the Tombstone novel and features my trademark Wyatt Earp from the day of the Gunfight at the OK Corral:

I watched the back of the sheriff as he moved off to ‘deal’ with the cow-boys that had been threatening our lives all morning. I think I heard a snort of derision from Doc, who was, I might add, in particularly fine fettle this afternoon – as if the danger was all he needed to feel in perfect health.

We stepped off the sidewalk as a group when we were accosted by concerned citizen after concerned citizen. First the cow-boys were at the Dexter Corral and then at the O.K. Corral. There were numerous first hand accounts coming at us in all directions of the threats against our lives. I had cause, in the days to come, to remember many of the names and faces and offers of assistance, and not in a pleasant way. Captain Murray, a stockbroker with a military past offered to gather a militia, a man by the name of Sills told us that the cow-boys had said they mean to kill us on sight.

We were not another ten paces down the street after declining help from left and right when a foreigner by the name of John L. Fonck came to see us. Fonck sells furniture in town but apparently had a far more colorful past – as a Chief Detective of the Los Angeles Police Department and an agent of the U.S. Secret Service. He tells us what he has heard of the threats and that he can quickly round up ten men.

“I swear to God, are these boys just going around finding everyone in town to issue this threat to?” exclaimed Virgil in exasperation.

It was getting a little tedious.

“Where are they now?”

“They are all down there on Fremont Street,” said Fonck.

“Thank you, sir, but I think we can take care of things – as duly appointed officers of the law. We’ll take it from here.”

After Fonck made his retreat Virgil turned to me with distress in his face. I knew he didn’t want to fight these men, and I knew he’d much rather be studying the racing form, but there really was nothing for it.

“Nothing to do but try and disarm them, and if they want a fight, make a fight.”

“About time,” said Doc, “I’ll go along.”

“This is our fight, Doc. There’s no call for you to mix in.”

“That’s a hell of a thing for you to say to me, Wyatt.”

I wasn’t going to gainsay my friend if he wanted to back our play so I nodded. Virgil didn’t argue either, which surprised me a little, but then he requested Doc’s silver capped cane and handed Doc the shotgun.

“The sight of this thing could give folks the wrong idea. Put it under your coat, Doc, and now you’re a deputy.”

Reading this now I’m surprised it is as cohesive as it is. I wrote it under a lot of pressure on the actual anniversary of the gunfight. If I were to rewrite the thing today at my leisure there would be some changes. I worked quite closely with Virgil and Doc Holliday when I composed this piece, and each had done their research on the day so this was one of those occasions when the role play and collaboration went as rapidly as the shots fired that cold day in 1881.


Fiction Understanding History

Recently I participated in an online writing exercise that was ambitious and unusual. I don’t know what happens elsewhere because I tend to stick to a few places on the internet and really dig in deep, but even for my community site www.panhistoria.com I felt that the endeavor of last weekend was quite remarkable. We re-enacted the Gunfight at the OK Corral with our key writers over one day: October 26th, 2008 – the 127th Anniversary of the historical event.

To give you a little history our group has been ‘role-playing’ the characters and color of the town of Tombstone, Arizona since 1998 when I first quite randomly picked up the character of Wyatt Earp, and my kid, then quite young wanted to be Doc Holliday. I thought it would be an educational thing we could do together – I could sneak some history down with the role play and he might actually learn something. School sure wasn’t sticking. At the time I was into Ancient Egyptian and Roman history and knew nothing about the American West. I was not a huge fan of Roy Rogers, the Wyatt Earp TV Show (never heard of it even), and even John Wayne (though The Shootist was on my list of great movies). I neither counted nor discounted the western movie from my repertoire of viewing or reading but what brought me to westerns was a movie – it was Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer and a momentary passing interest my son had in Doc Holliday because of that movie.

Slipping into the skin of an American icon, one both revered and hated depending on whose doing the looking, was and remains a terrifically challenging task. Not to be half-assed I started looking into the historical record of a man that lived by the gun but was never shot himself and kept finding nifty and interesting tidbits as well as controversy. It was a story sure to suck me in. Who was this guy and how did he become famous, stay famous, and then end up the central figure of a love him or hate him conflagration that maintains its passion to this day across numerous history forums?

One thing I decided early on was that I was pro-Earp. First I was playing the character and I preferred the hero to the villain (villains are great fun to write by not the kind of dull brutish villain Earp detractors favor for our Wyatt). Second there were several facts that seemed indisputable and pointed to Wyatt being an ok guy even if he had some less than stellar moments on occasion (as is true of us all): his enemies pretty much were all well known rustlers, collaborators with criminals, on the graft, and ended up either in jail or shot for their crimes; his enemies tended to ambush people and shoot people in the back; Wyatt ended his life respected and loved by some rather upstanding and interesting people.

There is probably no way at this late date in history to ever completely know just what kind of man Wyatt Earp really was, and in the end it’s not necessary to me as a fiction writer to recreate the man. I have, in the end, simply created a man that I call Wyatt Earp who re-enacts many key elements of the original’s life but is, in fact, quite uniquely himself. You cannot take the role of another for ten years and not infuse something of yourself into him – whatever your take on history.

This year as a writing group it seemed like we finally had the chance to write about the events that seemed to have thrust Earp into the history books whether he like it or not. These events, the Gunfight, which should more accurately be called “the street fight in the vacant lot by C.S. Fly’s Photography Studio (not so catchy is it?), are not exactly pivotal events in the history of our nation. In fact it’s a wonder that they survive as more than a footnote in the annuals of the history of frontier law and as one of the only actual gunfights to take place in western American history – unlike the Dime Novels would have had us to believe.

But it is a pivotal event in the history of the American Myth, and part of the stories that make us, as a nation, who we are, or at least who we like to be. Wyatt Earp’s name is known around the globe as a symbol of American shoot ’em up go get ’em and ask questions later law enforcement. He is the predecessor of characters like Bruce Willis plays in the Die Hard franchise. Going back to the shoot out itself, even if it was just in a collaborative fictional setting, our history books open, was to watch the birth of something huge and looming in the American psyche. I make no judgments here whether it this thing is good or bad, but it is part of us, even to the people with no interest in the ‘Wild West’ or Wyatt Earp. We are touched by it whether we like it or not. It’s relevant to our dealings in law enforcement, our dealings in government, in foreign policy, and how many of us see ourselves.

So it was with some sense of awe and accomplishment that I completed a twelve hour long role-playing session at Pan Historia on Oct 26th with my fellow writers (much thanks to the other big players Virgil Earp and Doc to use their Pan identities), as well as all the other wonderful writers and supporters playing characters both made up and historical. As the day flowed from one tense moment to the next, after weeks of building up the tension in town to get the heat right, I finally made sense of what, no matter how well explained in a history book, had previously left me confused and without answers: what happened that day to cause the Earps and their friend Doc Holliday to participate in a gunfight that hurtled three men to their deaths, made Wyatt and Doc famous, but ultimately destroyed all the ambitions of the Earp family.

And in making sense of it the event finally became more than just fiction, it became history.