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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Spawn of the Shootout at the OK Corral

Ever since adolescence I have been highly aware of the 19th Century origins and subsequent doings of ‘Tombstone,” a town located somewhere in the desert fastnesses of Arizona.   This was due to having come across a fascinating book of that name by a probably now long forgotten writer of the 1940's and '50's, Walter Noble Burns.

In the years since,  I have driven through Arizona several times, and have made a big point of visiting places there like the Hopi mesas, the Grand Canyon, and the Navajo Reservation.   Yet, for some strange reason, though I could easily have done so, I never took a little side jaunt to a place that was much more a part of my early Wild West cinematic and literary upbringing, Tombstone.   Maybe this was because of the impossibility of catching even the most fleeting of  glimpses there of any of the long deceased, historical characters that Burns brought back so much to life in his book, like Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo, Doc Holliday, and especially the Earp brothers, nor would the OK Corral be as funky in the 1970's as it must have been in the 1880's.   Instead Tombstone was likely to be all spiffed up and sanitized so as to be acceptable to today's touristy blandnesses.

In the afternoon of 26 October 1881 a shootout took place at the OK Corral that, in the events that it grandfathered, is still ringing down to us today, in real life as well as in what I, still steeped in my own antiquity, like to call  "moom pictures."   It was probably the first well-known mass shootout in American history, though by today's standards it was a quite modest event, in the number of participants and in the firepower involved.

Three groups of brothers had been carrying on a war of words, mostly conducted in saloons.  Finally, three of the Earp brothers, Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan, who were lawmen though they were also gamblers, decided that they had had enough of the insolence of two sets of rancher brothers, the Clantons and  the McLaurys, and, accompanied by their good friend, the deadly, tubercular Doc Holliday, they made sure their six-shooters were operative and loaded,  and they grabbed their shotguns (Holliday carrying his hidden in a sling under his coat), and, clad in long, light-weight, jet black coats, they took the coolest stroll imaginable down some Tombstone streets and turned into the OK Corral where several also armed members of the Clanton and McLaury families just happened to be hanging around.

On the surface, in the ensuing 30-second gunfight the Earp side won, suffering injuries but no deaths, while killing three of their opponents.   But a lot of local public opinion was against them, and eventually, after Morgan Earp was assassinated, the Earps and Doc Holliday found it expedient to say bye-bye to Tombstone and to ride off into legend that is emulated to this day, of which the latest example can be seen toward the end of the first episode, on the second Netflix disc of the second year of the series "True Detective."

In that episode, titled "Down Will Come," Annie, the main lady detective and a member of a special investigative force, assembles a team of as many as 10 other cops and makes sure they are well-fitted with kevlar jackets and side arms and ammo.   One of her colleagues questions the need for such a large force for what promises to be just a routine arrest of one suspect..   With a prescience of which even she is not fully aware, Annie, cute but hard-bitten, answers, 'It's better to be safe than something else."

Near the site of the prospective arrest they walk down the street in twos in a spirit that is absolutely identical to the many re-enactments that have been made on film of the Earp approach to the corral over the decades that I have been keeping track of these things, of which there have been many, the best being one that appeared on PBS probably in the 1950's.   And very quickly the police team starts wishing they had brought along twice or three times that many men,  and some bazookas, too.

 They are instantly driven into having to take refuge behind the nearest parked cars as furious gunfire thunders down on them, courtesy of one guy with an automatic rifle, firing from an upstairs window.  While taking heavy casualties and armed only with handguns, they manage with difficulty to get rid of that assailant, only to be attacked from other directions by reinforcements that arrive in a car, out of which spill out several more bad guys, all also armed with AR's and the will to use them.  And meanwhile this is taking place where a large number of people are protesting something, and they also get shot down in generous numbers, because, after all, it is hard to stay alive when some of the antagonists are using those most inhuman of weapons, automatic  rifles.

At length, when they finally manage to gun down the last of the fanatical bad guys, the three main characters of the series, including Annie (who, having expended all her ammo, had been standing ready to use a knife) end up being what looks to be the only survivors of all that shooting, and in their fatigue and amazement and standing amidst the fleshly debris of all that carnage, they stare at each other, speechless, as if unable to believe that they themselves are actually still alive.   (Of course we could be sure that in the very next episode, they will be running around hale and hearty as if nothing had happened, though I am certain that in real life, almost anyone who had survived that kind of thing would be mentally scarred and scarcely able to function for the rest of their lives.)

That long segment of "True Detective" was easily the most gripping and well-done rendition of that kind of action that I have seen since a 2003 movie, “44 Minutes: the North Hollywood Shootout,” which was a close reenactment of a real incident that had taken place five years earlier.  What appear to have been two East European immigrants to the U.S., dressed and armed in the latest fashion of terrorists, emerged from their latest of several bank robberies, only to find police arriving on the scene quicker than usual, and that led to a prolonged sequence of a shattering intensity of gunfire that was unheard of on American city streets till that time, because the bad guys had AR’s.

All of these, on film and in real life, are direct descendants of the shoot-out at the OK Corral, with the only upgrade (or downgrade, if you will) being the use of automatic rifles.

  Since that incident took place in a corral we have to assume that horses were present and that maybe one or two were hit and downed by stray bullets, unless all the antagonists, being closely attuned to the utility of horses, made certain that they never aimed at any, even in the background, and at the cost of risking their own lives to do so.

In any case, as large as they are, you will never see horses getting shot by stray bullets in films.   Obviously horses are better protected in films than humans are, by humane societies.  In fact you will rarely if ever see horses being killed, period, in period war movies, though they might be all over the battlefields.  I suspect that that wasn't at all the case in the Civil War.   I would think that horses were the first things to go, once guns became commonly available and easily operable, even when there were still no AR’s.   Now that “collateral damage” consists only of innocent bystanders, if any are available.

Meanwhile, imagine!  One guy armed only with an AK-47 and enough magazines could easily be  a match for a small army of Genghis Khan’s riders!  Yet today many thousands of Americans feel that their homes are not adequately furnished unless outfitted somewhere with just such an “accessory.”


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