Western Short story - The Fremont Street Shooting
The Fremont Street Shooting
It was in the bottom of the box, and I almost tossed it out because it was wrapped in a bundle of old rags.
My wife and I were in northern Wyoming, heading south on Interstate 90 when she suggested we stop for lunch in the small town of Sheridan. I took the Fifth Street exit, and it was on the next corner that we saw the sign and an arrow directing us to an estate sale.
My wife and I are estate sale junkies, so I didn’t even ask. We just followed the arrows and ten minutes later, we bought a box of unknown origin and unknown content which we tossed in a storage locker on the side of our motor home and forgot about until last week.
Most of the box contained odds and ends of glassware wrapped in old newspapers, so when I found the rags in the bottom, I thought they were there for padding. In fact, whoever packed the glassware may have used them for that very purpose, not knowing what they contained. At first, neither did I.
When I felt that solid lump inside the rags, I had an immediate queer feeling of excitement, somehow sensing that whatever was in there was unusual and unique, but it took me a little while to realize just how special it was.
It was a small, inexpensive journal, not much bigger than a paperback book, but I knew immediately that it was old, and in remarkably good condition. In its day, it would have cost no more than a dime. On the faded blue cover was an intricate pattern popular at the time, with a rectangular white panel provided for the following title:
“An eyewitness account of the Fremont Street shooting”
In a second, smaller panel, was a date: August 2 1896
Already excited, I poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down to examine the journal. I carefully opened the cover and began to read:
The Fremont shooting testimony of Will Anderson
Much has been said in the last fifteen years about the events of October 26, 1881 in the streets of Tombstone, Arizona Territory; some factual and some works of fiction. I have decided to put it all down on paper lest memory fade and the truth be lost to history.
My name is Will Anderson. I came to be in Tombstone in 1881 because my parents were murdered in Oklahoma and I succeeded in tracking down the killers in the ArizonaTerritory. All three were killed in two separate gun battles. The Jackson brothers were killed near Columbia, when they attempted to thwart by force of arms my demand to accompany me back to Oklahoma for trial. Rand Kimble was killed in Tucson when he pulled his weapon on me in a saloon. I’m not proud of killing three men, but there it is.
John Henry Holliday was present in both battles, as an observer during the Jackson brothers affair, and as my friend during the Rand Kimble shootout, during which Holliday killed Kimble’s companion in my defense, after I had been wounded.
Doc, as I call him now, stayed with me during my wound recovery and was also kind enough to handle some family matters for me. As a result, I inherited a sizable fortune from my maternal grandfather and traveled to Tombstone with Doc to continue my recovery prior to my return to Oklahoma.
It was also while I was recovering in Tucson that I met Wyatt Earp.
My first encounter with the Cowboys, as the Clanton – Mclaury outlaw gang like to call themselves, was one night at the Oriental where Doc was playing poker. I was leaning back against the bar watching Doc when a drunk tripped over my foot and sprawled headlong on the filthy floor.
“Watch where the hell you put your big damn feet, kid!”
He was a medium height man with curly hair, moustaches, and a slim goatee. His face was red and bloated from alcohol, and he was furious with embarrassment
“I beg your pardon sir.” I answered polite enough, despite the fact that no seventeen year old likes to be called a kid nor had my feet been in the aisle. He had drunkenly reeled my way and tripped.
He turned and stared at me. “What the hell is that supposed to mean kid? Are you coming up smart with me?”
I stood up and towered over him. I’m well over six feet in my stocking feet, and I had filled out in the last year.
“No sir, but my patience with you is wearing mighty thin.”
He backed up a mite, but with everyone watching, I guess he felt had to bluster some more.
“Maybe you’d like to meet me outside of town and settle this with firearms!’
Doc drawled from the table as he dealt, not even bothering to look up.
“Why Ike, just how much courage have you imbibed tonight?”
“You shut up Doc! This ain’t none of your damn business.”
“Suit yourself Ike, but this young gentleman is Will Anderson, the one who dispatched Rand Kimble and the Jackson brothers in fair fights. Will, this drunken idiot is Ike Clanton, so watch your back from now on.”
Ike Clanton backed up another step and the color seemed to drain out of his face. He stared at me as if seeing me for the first time.
“Well, no harm done kid. Just watch where you put your feet next time so as you don’t trip a man!’
I just looked at him for a long moment, and he seemed to shrink a little more.
“My feet were not in the aisle, Mr. Clanton, and make that the last time you call me a kid. Do we understand each other, sir?”
Ike Clanton averted his eyes and mumbled something under his breath. He stumbled out the door and someone in the back of the room chuckled. With that, the whole place erupted in laughter and I’m sure Ike must have heard it, but he did not come back. With that incident, I took Ike Clanton’s measure, and it wasn’t much.
Doc glanced up at me. “Be careful Will. Ike Clanton is a coward, and that makes him a very dangerous man. Cowards have killed more men than any other kind, and their victims seldom see it coming.”
The Earps and the outlaw faction were natural enemies since both were ambitious and both were ruthless. The business interests of the Earps necessitated some sort of law and order, while the business interests of the cowboy gangs depended on free wheeling crime. Attracting gamblers and entertainment to a mining boomtown was difficult when stagecoaches were regularly held up. Gambling houses where men were regularly killed and robbed in alleys were hard pressed to attract new customers. So when Marshall Fred White was killed (likely murdered) by Curly Bill Brocius, Virgil Earp took the job.
The elected sheriff was John Behan, but the position was more political than it was law enforcement. Behan’s close associations with the Clanton - McLaury cowboy outlaw gang was widely known, and any suggestion that he was enforcing the law was ridiculed.
The night before the shooting Ike Clanton was on another of his drunken binges when he and Doc got into it over a card game. In a rage, Ike retrieved his guns but failed to leave town, violating the order against wearing firearms, so Virgil Earp arrested him.
The Earps believed in rawhiding the likes of Ike Clanton, and that rawhiding usually consisted of a gun barrel over the head, just to show they meant business. Therefore, Ike Clanton had a fierce headache when Tom McLaury showed up to retrieve him in the morning. Unfortunately for McLaury, he too proved to be armed, a mistake that also cost him a rap on the head. So it was two sore and angry men who met Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Frank McLaury in the vacant lot behind the OK Corral on October 26, 1881.
And I was there.
I had taken a room at Fly’s boarding house, and I was sitting on the front porch facing Fremont when I heard a commotion in the adjacent vacant lot, behind the OK Corral. I recognized the loud, grating voice of Ike Clanton, and he was talking about going after Doc and the Earps. I got up and stood on the edge of the porch and saw Ike, Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and the two McLaury brothers, Tom and Frank. Of the five, I had only met Ike, and that was only the one time in the encounter I previously described. After that, he seemed to avoid me.
Ike was angrily declaring what he intended to do to Doc and the Earps, while the others seemed dubious at best. Ike was known for bragging, but when the chips were down, he usually took water and the others knew it.
Sheriff John Behan then joined the group, probably by way of the OK Corral. He told all those who were armed to mount up and leave town immediately because he’d heard the Earps were looking for them. That angered Ike Clanton.
“Shut up Behan! If you had done your job, the Earps would have been run out of the territory long ago!”
“Suit yourself Ike. I’m going to see if I can stop them before there’s trouble.”
I heard a noise and looked up in time to see Big Nose Kate looking out her window in the boarding house. Doc was nowhere in sight. I sat back down on the bench, thinking the worst had passed when I looked down Fremont and saw approaching death.
A very determined looking Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp were marching my way, accompanied by a whistling Doc Holliday! The man was whistling like he was on his way to a band concert on Sunday afternoon! I’ve never seen such nerve and bravado, before or since.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sheriff Behan hurry by. He stopped in front the approaching foursome and held up his hands, as if to stop them, but they paid him little mind.
“I’ve already disarmed them, gentlemen. Nothing further is warranted!”
They didn’t even look at him, and as they brushed by, I heard Virgil Earp mutter, “I’ll see to that myself, Behan.”
I stood up and considered joining them, but Doc caught my eye, shaking his head no, and motioning me back. The very intent Earps scarely noticed me, if at all. Behan, sprinted the other way, obviously bent on doing something elsewhere.
I was almost always armed beneath my coat and Doc knew it, as did, I am sure, the Earps, but I was not a belligerent, so they paid it no heed. I was armed today.
What followed next occurred so quickly that no witness could be entirely sure of the exact sequence of events. Doc and the Earps rounded the corner of the boarding house as I stepped again to the edge of the porch, where they confronted their opposites in the vacant lot.
“Place your hands in the air,” boomed the voice of Virgil Earp. “I have come to disarm you.”
For a long moment, nothing happened, and then, all hell broke loose. As bullets whined by, I instinctively stepped behind the protection of the building corner, blocking my view momentarily. What happened next is the reason for this testimony. As I learned later, Ike Clanton ran to Wyatt during the gun battle and pleaded for mercy, claiming he was unarmed. Wyatt pushed Ike behind him, telling him to then step away from the fight. Ike ran to the porch corner of the boarding house and pulled a gun from out of his rear waistband, which was hidden by his coat. He braced his arm on the corner post and took careful aim at Wyatt’s back. He was no more than nine feet away from where I stood.
“Pull that trigger and you are a dead man, Ike!”
Ike Clanton slowly turned his curly head to the left and looked square into the unwavering eye of my Russian .44. For a moment, he stared at me owlishly, his mouth working like a fish out of water. Then he turned and ran up Fremont, dodging into an alley and out of sight. I turned back to the gunfight, but it was all over.
It was later said that Tom McLaury was armed with a hideout gun, but none was ever recovered. It is my sincere belief that the gun Ike Clanton possessed was the missing weapon dropped by Tom McLaury when he was shot.
The Earps and Doc Holliday were exonerated of any wrongdoing, and my testimony was never requested because I remained silent about what I had seen and done. After all, I was guilty of illegally possessing a deadly weapon while having a minor participation in a deadly shootout, so I was not eager to make that known. Let history reflect that. It no longer matters to my own well being.
The testimony of William P. Anderson, concerning the shooting on Freemont Street.
My coffee was cold and forgotten. I was sure that what I had just read was an authentic eyewitness account of the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral, but forgeries and fakes abound in the collector industry, so I researched Will Anderson thoroughly. Sadly, I found no evidence whatsoever that he ever existed. That doesn’t mean he did not, but there is no record, as so often happened in the early west.
Nonetheless, I have what I believe to be a true account and a revelation of what happened that day and I shall always treasure it.
Oh and by the way, we paid two dollars for the cardboard box at that estate sale.