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October 2016

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Tombstone AZ's Boothill Cemetery

After the infamous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," Tom and Robert
"Frank" McLaury
(a.k.a. "McLowrey") and Billy Clanton were
buried in Tombstone's Boothill Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On the afternoon of October 26, 1881, City Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday squared off against a group of insolent cowboys in Tombstone, AZ. The Earps were well-known lawmen when they arrived in Tombstone in 1879, but their confrontation with the cowboys that day made them legends of the American West.

The cowboys (a gang of ranch hands, cattle rustlers, and thugs) had been menacing Tombstone and the Earps for months leading up to October's standoff. On October 26, Virgil Earp learned that the cowboys (including Billy and Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Tom and Robert "Frank" McLaury) were in town and making drunken threats. They also broke the law by refusing to turn in their weapons as required by Tombstone's ordinance against wearing guns in public. The Earps and Holliday found the cowboys in a lot behind the O.K. Corral and ordered them to surrender their guns. Despite testimony that no one wanted a fight, gunshots rang out. When the dust settled, the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton were dead. Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday lay wounded.

Four days after the gunfight, Ike Clanton (who fled the O.K. Corral before the shooting started) filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Over several weeks, Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer heard testimony from the fight's survivors and witnesses, including Cochise County Sheriff John Behan (who sided with the cowboys). On November 30, Spicer ruled that the lawmen's actions were justified and they had not broken any laws.

The conclusion of Spicer's hearing did not settle the matter for the lawmen or cowboys. On the evening of December 28, 1881, cowboys shot and wounded Virgil Earp as he walked to Tombstone's Cosmopolitan Hotel. On March 18, 1882, they murdered Morgan Earp while he played billiards. In response, Wyatt organized a posse which killed gang members Frank Stilwell, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius, and Johnny Barnes. A fifth cowboy—Johnny Ringo— was killed in July 1882, although it is uncertain who was responsible for his death.

"Buckskin" Frank Leslie killed O.K. Corral gunfighter Billy Claiborne in self-defense outside Tombstone's Oriental Saloon on November 14, 1882. Ike Clanton "met his maker" on June 1, 1887, when Detective Jonas V. Brighton shot him during his attempted arrest for cattle rustling south of Springerville, AZ. Doc Holliday succumbed to tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, CO, on November 8, 1887.

On October 19, 1905, Virgil Earp died from pneumonia in Goldfield, NV, leaving Wyatt the sole survivor of the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." Following a career in law enforcement, gambling, mining, and working as consultant to Hollywood movie studios, Wyatt died quietly (of a urinary tract infection) on January 13, 1929, in Los Angeles, CA.

You can learn more about the American West, Arizona, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies. For example:

  • Prospector Edward Schieffelin founded Tombstone in the Arizona Territory in 1879. The abundance of silver ore in the area saw the town's population reach 973 by the 1880 Census and 1,875 in 1890. Depressed silver prices and the flooding of Tombstone's mines led the town's population to fall to 646 in 1900. By 1919, gold and silver mining employed just 642 wage earners annually in Arizona. Western-themed tourism revived Tombstone in the 1950s, and its population rebounded to 1,283 in 1960. In 2010, Tombstone's population numbered 1,380.
  • Soon after Tombstone's founding, the 1880 Census counted 40,440 inhabitants in the Arizona Territory. Two years before Arizona's admittance to the Union, the 1910 Census counted 204,354 in the territory. Following Arizona's statehood in 1912, the population grew to 334,162 in 1920. More recently, the 2010 Census found that 6,392,017 Arizonans call the state home.
  • Between May 1879 and May 1880, mines in the Arizona Territory produced 20,312.3 ounces of gold and 3,328,753 ounces of silver. Mines in the Tombstone area led the territory, producing 10,710.7 ounces of gold and 1,182,441 ounces of silver.
  • Many prospectors dreamed of striking it rich in mining boomtowns like Tombstone, AZ, but the peddling of vice (gambling, prostitution, alcohol, and drugs) often proved to be the most lucrative trade. Many miners and cowboys fell victim to the violence and disease accompanying these activities. For example, of the 756,893 deaths reported in the United States by the 1880 Census, vital records show that 1,217 died from venereal disease, 1,652 from alcoholism, and 3,623 from gunshot and homicide. In the Arizona Territory, the 1880 Census recorded 291 deaths. Gunshot wounds and homicide claimed 41 lives in the territory, followed by 30 pneumonia deaths, 10 from consumption, 7 from alcoholism, and 3 from venereal disease. In 1890, the census reported 875,521 deaths nationwide, including 1,619 death from venereal disease, 2,657 from alcoholism, and 4,505 gunshot and homicide deaths. Of the 654 deaths in the Arizona Territory, 10 were from venereal disease, 8 from alcoholism, and 17 from gunshot or homicide.
  • At the time of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Prescott was the capital of the Arizona Territory. In 1880, Prescott's population was 1,836. The territorial capital moved from Prescott to Phoenix in 1889 and the 1890 Census recorded the new capital's population as 3,152. In 2010, Prescott's population totaled 39,843 and the population of Phoenix was 1,445,632, making the latter city the sixth largest urban place in the United States.
  • On February 1, 1881, the Arizona Territory's legislature created Cochise County from the eastern portion of Pima County and named Tombstone its county seat. In 1890, Cochise County's population was 6,938. The county seat moved to Bisbee in 1929. The following year, Cochise County's population numbered 40,998. In 2010, 131,346 people called Cochise County home.
  • In 2010, the largest city in Cochise County was Sierra Vista, AZ, with a population numbering 43,888. Sierra Vista's population grew from 3,121 in 1960 to 24,937 in 1980 following the 1971 annexation of Fort Huachuca—one of Arizona's largest employers.
  • Mining and agriculture ventures drew thousands of settlers to Tombstone and Cochise County, AZ, in the 1880s. More recently, 2014 County Business Patterns data found 9 "Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction" (NAICS 21) and 7 "Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting" (NAICS 11) establishments employed 23 in the county. The county's largest sectors include Retail trade (NAICS 44-45) with 409 establishments employing 5,419; Health care and social assistance (NAICS 62) employing 4,766 at 274 establishments; and 4,029 employees working at 274 Accommodation and food services (NAICS 72) establishments. Many of these establishments service employees of and visitors to the U.S. Army's Fort Huachuca, the county's Western-themed tourist attractions Link to a non-federal Web site, and the National Park Service's Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado National Memorial, and Fort Bowie National Historic Site.

Allen Street, Tombstone, AZ

Western-themed tourism revived Tombstone in the 1950s, and its population rebounded from 646 in 1900,
to 1,283 in 1960. In 2010, Tombstone's population numbered 1,380.

Panama Canal
View larger image

This Month in Census History

In accordance with the terms of the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties, the Census Bureau ended operations in the Panama Canal Zone on October 1, 1979.

The Panama Canal Zone came under U.S. jurisdiction on November 18, 1902, and the U.S. Isthmian Canal Commission conducted its first census there in 1904. Between 1920 and 1970, the Census Bureau enumerated the Canal Zone as part of the decennial censuses.

In 1904, the Isthmian Commission reported the Canal Zone's population was 9,742. Between 1920 and 1970, the Census Bureau found that the zone's population grew from 22,858 to 44,198.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

View larger image


Not all cowboys were "outlaws" like Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, or Billy Claiborne.

During the 1880 Census, thousands of law-abiding and honest cowboys worked on farms and ranches throughout the American West and Southwest.

Some examples include the 27 men who listed their occupation as "Cowboy" at the Burnett Brothers Cattle and Horse Ranch near Wichita Falls, TX; the Cook brothers in Granada, CO; and the Jose and Guadalupe Duran families of Rio Arriba County, NM.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Did You Know?

Columbia Pictures released the short film, "No Census, No Feeling" starring the Three Stooges on October 4, 1940.

The film features Moe, Larry, and Curly inadvertently working as census takers after being chased into an enumerator recruiting center by an irate shopkeeper.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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