It’s the October issue, so naturally the thoughts of Wild West editors and longtime readers alike turn to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. For those who’ve had their fill of Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday and that Oct. 26, 1881, shootout in a vacant lot (not actually at the corral) in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, please forgive us. Take heart in the fact that our cover story looks at 10 notable Western gunfights that took place nowhere near the O.K. Corral. That said, don’t expect us to apologize for last October’s feature “Finding Wyatt” (by Casey Tefertiller with Bob Cash), which mostly finds our man Earp in Tombstone. The Wild West History Association, we are proud to say, has since recognized that article with a Six-Shooter Award.
We now venture beyond the Tombstone dustup. Author Ron Soodalter recognizes the pull the O.K. Corral has on our Western consciousness but points out the clash was “neither the most dramatic nor the deadliest” of known Western gunfights. His Old West “fight card” (the October 2018 cover story) lacks a single Earp, but it does feature the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, the Doolin-Dalton Gang, Dallas Stoudenmire, Commodore Perry Owens, Nate Champion, Elfego Baca, Buckshot Roberts, Ned Christie, Zeke Proctor and Mike McCluskie. That last name might be the most unfamiliar of the bunch, but McCluskie was one of five men to die (four others were wounded) in an August 1871 gunfight in Tuttle’s Dance Hall in Newton, Kan. By comparison, three men died (Frank and Tom McLaury and Bill Clanton) and three were wounded (Doc Holliday and Morgan and Virgil Earp) a decade later in the Tombstone tussle. Wyatt Earp himself escaped unscathed, as did Ike Clanton, though only because he fled when the lead started flying.
Of the gunfighters mentioned above, Christie probably faced the worst odds in a November 1892 fight in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), though Baca had been at a considerable disadvantage six years earlier in New Mexico Territory. In Christie’s case a posse fired some 2,000 bullets and 38 three-pound cannonballs at the fortlike cabin where the most wanted Cherokee had holed up. “The cabin walls were too tough for the cannonballs,” a posseman recalled many years later. “They just bounced off, barely missing the deputies who had the cabin surrounded. Finally, the man in charge decided to use a heavier charge of powder. He packed it in and then fired the weapon. But the charge was too heavy, and the cannon was blown to pieces.” The posse finally used sticks of dynamite to blow a hole in the cabin wall. With the place on fire, Christie bolted, firing his Winchester as he ran. “In the smoke and confusion he nearly got away,” Bonnie Stahlman Speer wrote in her 1990 book The Killing of Ned Christie: Cherokee Outlaw, but return fire from the posse finally silenced him.
Speer and Philip Steele, author of the 1974 book The Last Cherokee Warriors, were convinced Christie was forced to become an outlaw due to a false accusation, and Soodalter agrees Ned was “killed for a crime [the murder of Deputy U.S. Marshal Dan Maples] he had not committed.” In her 2018 book Ned Christie: The Creation of an Outlaw and Cherokee Hero (see review), author Devon A. Mihesuah takes Speer to task for using “fabricated and incomplete sources” and “data manipulation” in her research. “It could be that Christie did not kill Maples,” Mihesuah adds, “but that is not the point. The ethical problem is that both Steele and Speer forced that conclusion with narrative trickery that diminishes their stories. The irony is that addressing the content of their accounts may not even matter, because their writings are agreeable to many who support Christie’s innocence.” Was Christie a heroic freedom fighter, one of the most vicious killers to ever stalk Oklahoma Territory or something in between? No matter how you see it, his final shootout is one for the books…and for Wild West. WW
Wild West editor Gregory Lalire wrote the 2014 historical novel Captured: From the Frontier Diary of Infant Danny Duly and “Halfway to Hell” in the 2018 anthology The Trading Post and Other Frontier Stories. His article about baseball in the frontier West won a 2015 Stirrup Award for best article in Roundup, the membership magazine of Western Writers of America.