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Two More For Morgan

Updated on February 9, 2015

It was touted as the prizefighting battle of the century; two titans of the ring, Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey, meeting to determine the world champion. As exciting to the standing-room-only crowd gathered to witness these world famous pugilists, equally thrilling to the fans was the man recruited to be referee. Famed ex-lawman Wyatt Earp entered the ring to judge the fairness of every move and body blow.

Just before the bell was ready to start the opening round a young man rushed up to Earp and whispered, “Marshall Earp, your gun.” The throng hushed in anticipation of what could be said to a man about to officiate at this occasion. Wyatt blushed slightly and grinned as he brushed open his frock coat and began to unbuckle his gun belt. “Well, well. This will never do, son. Will it?” “No, sir,” the lad said as Wyatt handed him his gun and gun belt. The crowd laughed as Wyatt handed over his Buntline Special and the young man scurried out of the ring.

Enjoying the moment at ringside were Bat Masterson, currently working for Denver’s George’s Weekly as a sports writer and here on assignment, and Warren Earp, Wyatt’s younger brother, here on business from California. Warren smiled at Masterson. “That gun has become part of his daily wardrobe.” Bat laughed and showed Warren the gun he carried in his shoulder holster. “I know just how he feels.”

Also there to enjoy the spectacle were Billy Claiborne and Hank Swilling, two men whose past was about to catch up to them with a vengeance. Claiborne and Swilling had been members of the Clanton-McLowery gang that tried to rule Tombstone, Arizona during the time Wyatt and his brothers, Virgil and Morgan were lawmen there. The gang often referred to themselves has “just cowboys trying to make a living” even though it was common knowledge that most, if not all, of them were rustlers, stage coach robbers and murderers. The more pressure the Earps put on the “cowboys” the more desperate they became. Clanton and McLowery realized it was just a matter of time before they would all be arrested or run off by the Earps, who would not be bribed or intimidated into looking the other way. The “cowboys” tried to compromise with the Earps by ensuring them that they would cause no trouble in Tombstone if the Earps would simply leave the “cowboys” alone. The Earps knew that was an offer designed to eventually demonstrate to the citizens that the Earps were corrupt and allow an already corrupt sheriff, John Behan, to maintain his elected position; a job Morgan Earp aspired to.

The Clantons and McLowerys decided to push harder and the famous gunfight at O.K. Corral ensued. While it was Virgil’s intention to arrest the five gang members at the corral, Claiborne reached for his sidearm and then decided that was a foolish play. That move started the shootout and Claiborne ran from the scene carrying but not firing his weapon. Three leaders of the “cowboy” gang wound up dead on that fateful day in October, 1881 leaving most people believing the “cowboys” were finished as a force in Tombstone. However, the remaining cowboys weren’t finished. They ambushed Virgil, costing him the use of an arm, and Morgan, who died from gun shot wounds to his spine. As a result Wyatt, his friend Doc Holliday and other friends and fellow lawmen sought revenge on the remaining members of the Clanton-McLowery gang. Almost all of the “cowboys” known to be directly involved in the Earps’ ambushes were killed and the few remaining went into hiding; of those most eventually met with bad ends, but a few managed to avoid detection.

So it was with Billy Claiborne and Hank Swilling. Afraid the Earp posse would track them down like so many other gang members, Billy and Hank fled to California where they assumed new identities and got jobs on a horse ranch in northern California. Still heavy drinkers and gamblers, with an occasional soiree into some illegal endeavor, the two men decided to travel to San Francisco to see the much anticipated fight between Sharkey and Fitzsimmons.

Comfortably seated in the cheap seats and awaiting what promised to be an enjoyable event, the two ex-cowboys could hardly believe what they saw when Wyatt walked into the arena and was introduced as the referee. The two men looked at each other. “Son of a bitch, it’s Wyatt Earp,” Claiborne said. “Yeah, Billy, I see him.” “What are we going to do,” Billy asked? “Kill him,” Swilling answered staring at the lawman in the ring. “We’ll follow him after the fight and end it once and for all. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder. We’ll follow him out of here and gun him down just like his brothers. There’re two of us and he doesn’t have Holliday or his brothers to protect him.”

The battle in the arena ensued between the prizefighters and in a short few rounds a foul was called against Fitzsimmons and Sharkey was declared the winner. Many of the spectators did not see the punch to Sharkey’s groin that led to Wyatt Earp announcing the end of the fight and a pronounced winner. Consequently, there was uproar in the audience that inspired all ring participants to quickly leave and have the officials explain what happened to the excited crowd. Masterson and Warren Earp rose from their seats to leave. “It’s just like Wyatt to stir something up,” Bat mused. They headed toward Murphy’s Steakhouse about a block from Goodfellow’s Restaurant which was across the street from the pavilion. Wyatt had suggested they meet at Murphy’s for dinner after the bout rather than the more frequented Goodfellow’s to avoid those who might recognize the famous lawmen.

Claiborne and Swilling also rushed from their seats in an effort to follow Wyatt and the others so as not to lose sight of the ex-lawman. They nudged and shoved their way through the still shouting fans and managed to become part of the group that included the fighters and Wyatt Earp. They had been to the pavilion before and knew the direction the group would be heading even though they couldn’t see Wyatt in the crowd. During the trip from the ring the assistant who had Wyatt’s gun returned the weapon to him and Wyatt strapped it on his waist as he walked. During this time a group of fans cornered him and requested autographs. Wyatt stopped and accommodated some of them before he realized Bat and Warren would be waiting and so he started moving again while signing his name to various articles presented to him, including scraps of paper, newspapers and fight programs.

Bat and Warren were well in front of Wyatt and they kept walking out the pavilion to the restaurant. Bat had frequented both the pavilion and Murphy’s in the past and knew a route behind the pavilion that would lead them through back alleys to the restaurant quickly. Claiborne and Swilling were almost on a trot when Swilling noticed them and who he thought was Wyatt.

“Over there, Hank.”

“Who’s he with?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“We’ll kill them both. No witnesses, Billy.”

Warren, like Morgan Earp, bore an almost twin-like resemblance to Wyatt. The two would-be assassins continued following their prey, slowing down so as to both continue to be unnoticed and hoping for a quiet place to confront their quarry. They followed Bat and Warren out the side entrance of the pavilion to the rear entrance of Murphy’s Steakhouse.

Wyatt meantime had noticed the two men behind Bat and Warren. The unknown men should have passed Bat and Warren since Bat walked slowly as a result of a gun shot wound to the hip during a shootout in Dodge. It seemed to Wyatt the two strangers were deliberately keeping a distance between Bat and Warren. Wyatt decided to follow the strangers just in case something was awry. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to bother Warren, but Bat, like Wyatt, had made some enemies during his career as a lawman.

Just as Bat and Warren neared the rear entrance to the restaurant and were about to enter Claiborne and Swilling reached to draw their weapons. Wyatt, now only a few feet from the would-be assassins, called to them, “Hey, you two.” Bat and Warren, cheerfully reminiscing about the past, entered the restaurant unaware of what was happening yards away from them.

When Claiborne and Swilling, both with their hands wrapped around their gun butts, turned to face the voice from behind them Wyatt recognized them and instinctively drew his Buntline Special. Wyatt’s cold, blue eyes glared at them. The two cowboys paled when they realized who it was and looked at each other in disbelief.

“That’s my brother Warren you ignorant sons of bitches. You planning another ambush, are you?”

Claiborne was speechless, but Swilling summoned up some bravado. “I don’t have to ambush anybody. We’re going to finish what we started fifteen years ago.” Wyatt slid his pistol back into its holster. Claiborne remained silent, his eyes darting about in a vain attempt to find some avenue of escape. He couldn’t believe he was in this predicament again. Swilling, feeling a little more comfortable now that Wyatt’s gun was holstered said, “Make your play.”

Claiborne was sweating profusely and began to step backward. “Not this time, Billy,” Wyatt hissed. “This time you draw or I’ll gun you down like the cur you are. I did it to Spence and I’ll do it to you.”

Swilling, hearing Wyatt admit what had always been suspected but unproven, that Wyatt had shot Pete Spence when Spence resisted arrest, realized Wyatt meant that remark more for his benefit than Claiborne’s. Still neither man pulled their weapons. “I’ll give you the same chance I gave Pony Deal,” Wyatt said referring to another Clanton-McLowery gang member he and his posse had hunted down. “I’ll count to three. You can draw anytime you care to and I’ll wait to three.”

Claiborne was trying desperately to think of something to say; something that might lead to more conversation rather than the shootout that seemed inevitable. Just then

Swilling yelled, “No, now,” and both he and Claiborne, in startled disbelief that Swilling could be so reckless, started to pull out their weapons. Swilling was about to fire from the hip and Claiborne was bringing his weapon to aiming level when Wyatt’s Buntline Special exploded hurling one bullet at Swilling’s chest and another at Claiborne’s stomach. Swilling flew back from the force dying almost immediately as the bullet ricocheted off his sternum and hit his heart. Claiborne doubled over from his wound, staggered first right, then left and finally dropped to his knees still holding his firearm. He began to raise his gun in an attempt to fire when Wyatt sent another bullet to his heart. Claiborne lurched backward and died.

As Claiborne expired the door to the restaurant opened and the kitchen employees looked at the scene quizzically. Wyatt’s gun was back in its holster by then and he addressed the onlookers, “These gentlemen tried to resolve old issues with me to neither one’s satisfaction. You should call the authorities and I’ll explain the circumstances to them.” He then excused himself and entered the restaurant to join Bat and Warren.

Wyatt was questioned and advised to leave San Francisco as soon as possible. As a favor to the renowned ex-lawman his details of the event were accepted and virtually no notoriety resulted from the incident. As the train left the depot he waved to Bat and Warren who were scheduled for later departures. Warren shook his head, smiled and said to Bat, “That’s two more for Morgan.”

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