The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral – And How It Changed the American West.

“A gripping revisionist account of the famed 1881 showdown. . . . Guinn uncovers complex figures who straddle the line between outlaw and lawman. . . . He sets the story in a Tombstone, Ariz., that’s a Wild West version of The Wire, complete with seething political intrigues. . . . Exhaustively researched, stylishly written . . . explodes many of the Manichaean myths surrounding the gunfight. . . As grimly compelling as a Greek tragedy.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

starred review “An absorbing, meticulous account of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight as it really happened. . . A great story.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS

Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster

New York, NY –-( Along with the Alamo and Custer’s Last Stand, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral ranks among the most legendary battles of the Old West.

Drawing on exclusive new material that completely reframes the event, Jeff Guinn – the critically acclaimed, New York Times- bestselling author of Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde – gives for the first time a full account not only of what really happened, but of the personal and historical forces behind it, in the enormously entertaining and consistently eye-opening THE LAST GUNFIGHT: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral – And How It Changed the American West (Simon & Schuster; May 17, 2011; $27.00).

Like a classic Western movie, Guinn delivers a fast-paced narrative of high drama, featuring rustlers on the loose, sneak attacks, a love triangle, renegade Apaches, political tension, and the elegant, decadent frontier town of Tombstone, Arizona.


Iconic heroes like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Ike Clanton, Bat Masterson, Daniel Boone, David (not Davy) Crockett, and Buffalo Bill Cody populate Guinn’s vivid account, and he reveals surprising new things about each of them. Relying on major new primary and documentary sources – including original manuscripts, letters, photographs, and Wyatt Earp’s hand-drawn sketch of the aftermath of the O.K. Corral shootout – as well as dozens of interviews, Guinn blends groundbreaking information into a fresh and gripping story. At the same time, he clears away the many distortions that have built up around the story of the O.K. Corral gunfight since it took place on October 28, 1881– starting with the fact that it didn’t happen at the O.K. Corral. Yet as Guinn reveals, the real story of the gunfight and the American West is even more fascinating than the mythology.

At every turn, Guinn offers fascinating and illuminating new perspectives on the Tombstone story and its major figures, including:

  • In his youth, Wyatt Earp was arrested for horse theft and broke out of jail while awaiting trial. Soon afterward, he also worked as a pimp in Illinois river towns. Even during his subsequent sporadic service as a policeman and deputy marshal (never as a full sheriff) in Kansas and Arizona, he was technically a fugitive from the law.
  • How Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really became best friends for life. Guinn relates the whole story in Wyatt’s own words, told to a potential biographer whose notes have remained hidden by a private collector until they were made available exclusively for this book.

The very real possibility that, during the famous gunfight, Wyatt shot and seriously wounded his brother Morgan by accident. This conclusion is based on Wyatt’s own diagram of the battle, which is included in Guinn’s book.

Moreover, Guinn contends, legends popularized by innumerable TV westerns and movies have distorted the way we view not only the O.K. Corral shootout, but the entire history of the Old West. As Hollywood would have it, for example:

  • Western law enforcement mostly involved shootouts between sheriffs and bad guys on town streets at high noon.
  • Everybody wore guns in fancy holster sets. Everybody drew fast and often.
  • The West was a primitive place with rampaging Indians and comely schoolmarms, completely isolated from sophisticated culture.
  • Nobility of purpose versus selfish disdain for others defined any conflict there. The lines between good guys and bad guys were clearly drawn. The spirit of the West was grounded in the simple desire to live in wild, wonderful places.

The only problem is that none of these alleged “facts” is true. Amid the anxieties of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, such black-and-white myths were comforting and appealing. Yet the truth, as Guinn reveals it, was far more complex and interesting than a cartoonish confrontation between good guys and bad guys. As he explains, the so-called Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was actually an arrest gone wrong. It happened not in a colorfully named livestock enclosure, but in a vacant lot on nearby Fremont Street. The fundamental allure of the American West to settlers was financial, and Guinn describes the ways everyone scrambled to get ahead. Furthermore, the law was a tenuous thing on the frontier – especially for the lawmen – and for the most part laws were observed only when it was convenient.

“What has come to be called ‘The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ became a pivotal moment in American annals,” Guinn writes, “because misunderstandings, exaggerations, and outright lies about it provided impetus for future generations to form a skewed, one-dimensional view of history. In fact, it represented an unintentional, if inevitable, clash between evolving social, political, and economic forces, though the Earps and the Clantons and the McLaurys and Doc Holliday had no notion of that when they began pulling triggers.”

In addition, as Guinn recounts, the taciturn Wyatt Earp was responsible for many of the misconceptions about his own life. In a captivating coda, Guinn describes how Wyatt repeatedly tried to sell his story to book publishers and the movies until he died, nearly fifty years after the shootout. But he never succeeded, largely because his headstrong wife, Josephine, preferred that he be depicted as a true gentleman whose distinguished life only occasionally involved distasteful episodes with guns and frontier riffraff. After Wyatt’s death, Josephine reluctantly consented to work with the writer Stuart Lake, whose book about her husband became a surprise bestseller in the 1930s.

In his research, Guinn made numerous visits to modern-day Tombstone, which has reinvented itself as an Old West theme park. Now a year-round tourist mecca, the town holds a “Helldorado” festival every October to capitalize on its gun-slinging past. During 2009, an estimated 400,000 visitors flocked to Tombstone to ride around in stagecoaches, test their marksmanship in a shooting gallery, and, above all, pay $10 each to attend a reenactment of the gunfight where Wyatt, his brothers, and Doc blast Billy Clanton and the McLaurys into smithereens.

The shootout in Tombstone didn’t end anything, Guinn concludes, but many have come to consider it the last gunfight, the moment that defined the best of the wonderful Old West. Contemporary soldiers, athletes, and politicians routinely compare their victories to surviving the O.K. Corral. The image is rampant in our culture, and indelible. “As for Wyatt Earp, who was both more and less than his legend insists, we can feel certain of this: He would be pleased by the way everything turned out, except for the fact that he never made any money from it,” Guinn writes.

Anyone intrigued by one of the most romanticized episodes in America’s past will meet a West and a Wyatt Earp they never previously knew in Jeff Guinn’s riveting THE LAST GUNFIGHT. Combining masterly storytelling and memorable characters with authentic history and remarkable new revelations, it is the definitive work on the Wild West’s greatest shootout.

Jeff Guinn is the New York Times-bestselling author of twelve previous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, which was a finalist for the Edgar Award (true crime) in 2010. He is a former investigative journalist and books editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recipient of the City of Fort Worth’s Human Relations Commission’s annual award in 1999. He and his wife Nora are longtime residents of Fort Worth, Texas, and have two grown sons.

THE LAST GUNFIGHT: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral – And How It Changed the American West

Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Price: $27.00
ISBN: 9781439154243
E-book: 9781439157855