Sheriff Behan catches up with the Cow-Boys who are in a narrow lot off Fremont Street getting ready to saddle up. Behan first tries to reason with Frank McLaury, trying to get him to surrender, but to Frank it just seems like he and his brother and the rest of the Cow-Boys are just being bullied by the Earps.
Because what we’ve got to remember here is that at this time in history, the line between the law and the outlaw was much blurrier than it is now. And just because some of the Earps carried badges doesn’t mean that they were universally acknowledged to be authority figures. In a certain sense, the lawmen of the old west were essentially gunfighters whose fighting had been endorsed by whatever proto-government existed in the area at the time. So Frank McLaury has no more reason to obey the orders of Virgil Earp or Johnny Behan than those of any other man.
And so Frank says, “Johnny, as long as the people of Tombstone act so, I will not give up my arms.”
And really, what can Sheriff Behan do. Ike is the only one of the Cow-Boys that lets himself be frisked. The rest of them just stand there with God knows what under those long dusters, never too far away from the Winchester rifles sticking up from the scabbards on their horses.
Someone down the street cries out, “Here they come!,” and Behan turns around to see the Earps and Doc Holliday making the turn from Fourth Street onto Fremont. They’re walking four abreast with Virgil slightly ahead of the others and Virgil’s still got Doc’s cane in his hand. He’s holding it in his fist at his side and the man’s able to make a silver-headed cane look as threatening as hell.
Behan turns back to the gang members and he says, in a voice a little squeaky from panic at this point, “I won’t have no fighting. You must give me your firearms or leave town immediately.” The poor man’s grasping at the straws of his authority.
Frank replies, “You need not be afraid, Johnny. We are not going to have any trouble.” Now listen to the beautiful ambiguity of that sentence. “We are not going to have any trouble.” Behan interprets this to mean that the Cow-Boys intended to avoid a gunfight, and seeing as he isn’t going to get them to disarm anyway, he decides to be satisfied with this. But maybe what Frank means is that he and his brothers in arms won’t “have any trouble” dealing with the Earps.
Behan scurries back down the street to where the Earps are marching towards the Cow-Boys like a phalanx of goddamn angels of justice. Behan holds up his hands and he begs them, “Hold up, boys! Don’t go down there or there will be trouble.”
But Virgil isn’t afraid of ‘trouble’. “Johnny,” he says, “I am going down to disarm them.”
The sheriff says, “I have been down there to disarm them.” Meaning, “I’ve already tried that, and it didn’t work.” But what the Earps and Holliday think he means is, “They have already been disarmed,” which is a very different thing. So the Earps and Doc Holliday just shoulder past Sheriff Behan to make sure that the deed is done. They relax and holster their weapons. Their guard comes down a little bit.
So imagine their shock when they come around the side of Fly’s Photograph Gallery and they see not four unarmed Cow-Boy members waiting to be taken into custody. They see six Cow-Boys, two of which are clearly armed, all standing around two horses, both of which have Winchester rifles sticking out of their saddles.
Wyatt calls out “Son of a bitch!”, and without any communication at all, the Earps and Holliday start to get into their battle positions. Wyatt and Morgan move slightly away from Virgil to more evenly cover the area of the lot. Doc Holliday with the big scatter gun moves back into the street to act as containment man. Virgil steps forward, the prow of the ship of justice, showing that there is someone in charge here. And He’s still holding Doc’s cane in his right hand, and he raises it up over his head, like a wizard trying to cast a spell.
He says, “Throw up your hands, boys. I intend to disarm you!”
But this is the last straw for the Cow-Boys. This isn’t just western justice run amok; this is persecution. The law states that if you’re on your way out of town, you can be wearing a gun. How else are people supposed to get out of town with their guns! They were on their way out! But the Earps and that perfumed lackey Holliday, they just wanted to pick a fight. That’s how it looks to them.
Frank McLaury steps forward, and in answer to Virgil’s question, he says, “We will!” And he goes for his revolver, and it’s clear to everyone present that he’s not just going to pull it out butt first and throw it in the dirt. His hand is a blur.
Two of Frank’s comrades behind him take his cue. His brother Tom throws back the sides of his duster to clear his guns. Billy Clanton goes for his gun too, looking all the time at Wyatt, the next biggest threat, since Virgil doesn’t appear to be armed.
Wyatt pulls his gun, and Doc Holliday pulls back both hammers on the shotgun and lifts it from under his coat.
Virgil feels his control of the situation slipping away, and he cries, “Hold! I don’t mean that!” He’s still holding the silver-headed cane over his head. He’s trying to make everyone look at him and not at each other.
Wyatt and Frank fire at the same time. Wyatt’s shot hits Frank in the belly. Billy Clanton pulls and fires at Wyatt and misses. Virgil, in one of those weird prioritizations of panic, doesn’t drop the cane. He tries to shift it to his other hand as he struggles for the pistol on his hip.
Doc Holliday, from his wider point of view, sees the movement of Tom McLaury behind one of the horses and he starts to move in towards him.
Ike breaks from out behind where Frank is staggering backwards. He runs up to Wyatt and grabs his lapels. Remember, Ike’s guns are still at the hotel where the Marshall had deposited them after the trial that morning. He tries to grapple with Wyatt Earp, but Wyatt won’t play. He throws Ike off and says, “The fight’s commenced. Go to fighting or get away!” Ike turns and smashes through the door of the photography shop and on through to the next lot. Billy Claiborne and West Fuller go with him.
So now it’s four lawmen against three Cow-Boys.
Frank McLaury, even though he’s shot, he keeps fanning the hammer of his revolver and firing, as does Billy Clanton. Virgil goes down with a bullet through the meaty part of his calf. Morgan goes down with a chipped vertebra, yelling, “I am hit!” But he gets back up again.
Doc’s aware of all of this, but he’s still got his eyes on the shape of Tom behind that big chestnut mare. Tom’s reaching across the top of the saddle, trying to get at the Winchester in the scabbard. But the horse finally decides that he’s had enough of all this shooting and he bolts.
Tom’s left there exposed for a split second, and that’s all that Doc Holliday needs. Doc pulls both triggers on the shotgun and thunder erupts. buh-BLAM. Tom’s blasted back against a telegraph pole with twelve buckshot across his body. Doc throws away the empty shotgun and pulls a nickel-plated revolver from his waist. The revolver is the same color as the head on his cane.
Billy Clanton is hit in the chest and in the wrist of his gun hand, but he leans up against a wall for support, and he shifts his gun to his other hand and keeps firing.
Frank, bleeding from his gut is trying to use the other horse as a shield. Then it decides to bolt too. He was focused on trying to take down Morgan who had almost managed to flank him on his left. But with the horse gone, he sees that Doc Holliday is almost close enough to touch.
So Frank lifts his pistol and he says to Doc, “I’ve got you now.”
Doc, who already has his pistol leveled at Frank, says, “Blaze away. You’re a daisy if you have.” Doc’s bullet goes through Frank’s chest and Morgan’s goes into head.
Frank gets off one shot before he falls. It tears into Doc’s coat and clips his hip. Holliday overreacts. “I’m shot right through!,” he says, and although Frank McLaury has gone down like a sack of potatoes, he starts towards him again with his gun raised. He says, “The son of a bitch has shot me, and I mean to kill him.” Morgan pulls him off.
The fight is over and witnesses arestarting to make towards the wounded. Billy Clanton is collapsed against a wall, a bloody mess, trying to reload his pistol with one wrist smashed, which is pathetic and impossible. He looks up at the men standing around him, and he says, “Give me some cartridges!” But Mr. Fly, the man who owns the photography studio next door, just snatches the pistol out of his hand.
The wounded Cow-Boys are taken into a nearby house, where brothers Frank and Tom McLaury die together without saying another word. Young Billy Clanton, 19 years old, victim of the first and only gunfight he’s ever involved in, he begs the men tending to him to “go away and let me die”, which he does.
Billy’s brother Ike is arrested later that day, and later tries to bring murder charges against the Earps for the death of his brother, but he’s unsuccessful. So instead Ike embarks upon a vendetta ride with the Cow-Boys to exact his own revenge. As a part of that ride Virgil Earp is permanently disabled, and Morgan is fatally wounded.
Back when they were kids, Morgan and Wyatt had promised each other that whoever was the first to die would report back to the other one what the next world looked like. As Morgan lay dying, he gripped his brother’s hand and he said, “I can’t see a damned thing.”