Tensions ran high that summer. We were always alert. It was a violent time.
Behan was sheriff and the cowboys ran wild. There were countless incidents. Worst of all was their slaughter of an entire mule train of Mexicans transporting silver through Rattlesnake Canyon. They dressed as Apaches, thinking to deflect their shame by further compounding it. Every man was killed, save a boy who escaped back across the border to Mexico. The only ranchers able to hold against them were John Slaughter and John Hooker, who had enough tough and loyal men to protect their ranges from the wholesale rustlers the cowboys had become. The source and sale and price of beef was almost a running joke in the newspapers. And there were the hold-ups still of the silver and payrolls to and from the mines. I cannot begin to enumerate the rate of crime or the legitimate fear that good honest hard-working men held for their lives, livelihoods and families. In addition to such organised crime, they would drink and fight amongst themselves or with others for sport, threatening anyone in the vicinity.
And they hated us because we stood up to them. Even alone, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, who were the lawmen, and even Jim, who had the saloon, were constantly faced with jeers and threats of the murder and destruction of all they held dear. And I too. Wyatt bid me stay my hand, or I never would have stood to accept such things. It was a kind of pride – to stand nonchalant and utter bland conversational denials to the increasing menacing confrontations. I would have killed them outright for saying such things, insulting our honour and threatening our lives and the lives of those we loved. But Wyatt was more subtle, more far-seeing, cooler, with plan and purpose. He believed political office would give him power to break the cowboys, and his word was my bond, in that it bound me. I was still and cool. Wyatt was head of the Citizen’s Committee to fight the cowboys. They would not have me.
Still regarded with loathing and suspicion, I walked the streets bearing the malevolence of all. And it harmed Wyatt too, surely for my sake – it outraged him to see me innocent and so vilified – but also now for himself and his brothers. Everyone blamed me for the Philpott murder and botched stage robbery still – Wyatt’s friends and Wyatt’s foes, though some of the latter knew the truth and were concocting the tale, making it worse with each telling, and throwing Bob Paul, Wyatt, Morgan, and even Williams, the Wells Fargo man into the plot to take the stage.
I did not know it then, but Wyatt had a plan to arrest the true robbers and clear our names, especially mine, which was in most jeopardy. Even before the trial, he had set what he believed would be a trap. Billy Leonard was my friend and still at large. He would need to be captured and Wyatt left me from his plan for the sake of my loyalty.
He made a deal with a cowboy named Ike Clanton to betray them and bring them in. Ike was a near-cretin, as far as I was concerned, treacherous and if he had been even slightly cleverer he would have been villainous. As it was, he was essentially a worm, albeit one with a bullhorn. I despised him. He was both stupid and uncontrollable, and unjustifiably swaggering and boastful at the same time. His father had the largest spread of the outlaws, and they were a lawless and relatively powerful family, in their way.
Wyatt made a deal with Ike Clanton for the head of my friend.
The deal was that Ike would lure Billy, along with Head and Crane, who were hiding out on a ranch just into New Mexico, to come out of hiding to rob another rich stage with him and the McLaury brothers. Then Wyatt could capture them and give Ike and company the Wells Fargo reward, which was $3600. And they would clear my name and with it his, and he would be a hero. Ike and his cronies were cowards as well as traitors though, and wouldn’t try to capture Billy and his friends themselves. They were afraid, as they should have been, of their own comrades killing them in turn.
Ike had Wyatt send for a telegram confirming that Wells Fargo would pay the money for Billy and co. ‘alive or dead,’ because of course he was hoping they would be dead and therefore easier to bring in. He was hoping my friend and his would be dead. Williams was the Wells Fargo man and he received the telegram to give to Wyatt.
The deal never came to fruition. The cowboys were trying to steal some land from some brothers named Hazelett that they wanted for another ranch. They went up to kill them – Billy and Head among them, but the Hazletts fought back and both were killed. The cowboys came down then and killed the Hazletts in revenge, raining bullets down on them in a silver storm until they were both shattered. Crane was killed along with Ike’s father rustling cattle up from Mexico. Some Mexicans had killed them in reprisal for the Rattlesnake Canyon massacre. Of course the cowboys then killed fourteen Mexicans in exchange for that. They would have killed Ike had they known he was a traitor.
One would have thought that with the deaths of the stage robbers that it would have been over. And for Wyatt it was. He would never extract confessions or clear our names in that way after they all were dead. But it was not closed. Ike Clanton was a quaking coward, yet treacherous as he was, he could expect no better from others.
Ike was afraid and, as I say, almost a cretin. He had a secret now – that he had made a deal with the enemy. So, instead of keeping it close, as Wyatt did, who would have had nothing to lose by its divulgence, he came to many people, drunk, and asked them if they had been told of his secret. Virgil was the first of these. He had not heard of it, but of course Ike told him everything. He was not pleased to learn of it, as indeed I would have been worried as well. The second person he spoke to was Williams, the Wells Fargo man who was also drunk. And Williams apparently told that he had requested the confirmation telegram of the reward for Wyatt. I am usually drunk myself, so it may seem disingenuous to criticise them, but a gentleman can hold his liquor, and I never told a secret drunk or sober.
I myself spent a great deal of time out of town on the circuit. Wyatt was home and Wyatt was in Tombstone, but my presence truly did harm him, despite his generosity and forgiveness at the courthouse. The summer passed and most of autumn. There was a festival just over the line in Mexico, and I went down at the end of September with Morgan. Travel took a great deal more time then, and we stayed afterwards in Tucson and Benson, for cards were good and we worked well together. Almost brothers, as I said.
Alighting from the stage October 22, Wyatt was waiting for us, which was no surprise as we had telegrammed that we would be returning. But at his side was Ike Clanton, an enemy and idiot. And that was surely unexpected.
Without preamble Wyatt asked, “Did I ever tell you that Ike Clanton and I were in a deal together?”
“No,” I replied, completely mystified.
“Ike says I did.”
Thereupon Ike, incredibly, told me about their deal, assuming still that I knew, and that I approved, close as Wyatt and I were. Somehow he managed to overlook the fact that what he was telling me was that he had traded for my friend’s head. He hadn’t the wit to think of my own loss and mourning, with which Wyatt had been gentle, or to anticipate that I might react. And of course he didn’t just say it, but added bull-headed belligerence, threats and accusations, heaping them on my head.
He said I had told the cowboys. He said I was laughing at him all along. He said Wyatt had no intention or honouring the deal. He said Wyatt and Virgil and Morgan and Jim and Williams and Bob Paul and I and were all in it together against him. He may have also mentioned Shibell, the territory marshal and Gospers, the acting-governor, with whom I had lived in Prescott. Blood was singing in my head by this time as any one statement would have been unforgivable, and I cannot clearly remember every word. He said that if any of us tried to pin the betrayal on him or put it about town that he had been involved, he would kill us all. When he said he was nobody’s fool I went for his throat. Figuratively, for Wyatt’s sake.
I told him just what a low coward he was, treacherous, stupid ignorant, uncontrollable and worthless, how full of air he was, exactly how much less than human he was. I tore him to pieces, in vicious intense tones. I was controlled, unlike Ike, and it was plain and clear. I swore, as I never had before, and that is saying something. I laughed his threats to scorn and let him know I could kill him as easily as look at him, but for Wyatt. A full fifteen minute diatribe for all to hear, enumerating his worthlessness, stupidity and treachery, colourful, scurrilous, as Wyatt said, and well-articulated, though I say it myself. He started to yell, back-pedal and protest still swearing death and dismemberment to me and mine. As well as his condemnation, at which I could only laugh. And I did laugh, long and cruelly, shaming him in front of all the town.
The scene was repeated at the Alhambra lunch counter on October 26 where Morgan and I were taking our evening meal. I was disinclined to stand for such abuse from the likes of him. And he had, with all intent, meant to kill my friend. I finally lost patience and went for him, but he was unarmed and of course a coward. Morgan held me off. But weak and frail as I am, I was a laughable threat also, albeit a game one. Virgil came out of the Occidental at the commotion, and Wyatt explained that I did not want to fight but only explain I had not been party to any of his schemes, whereas Ike was threatening me but unarmed. Virgil understood perfectly. We separated, Morgan went home, and Wyatt and I to our respective Faro tables.
Later Ike sought Wyatt out again and again reiterated his intention to kill me, and all the Earps. Such conversations were nothing new and Wyatt took it as seriously as he usually did, calmly and with disinterest and contempt, gathering information. Ike bothered him at his game until ironically going to join Virgil where he was playing poker in the Occidental Saloon with Behan and Tom McLaury to keep an eye on them.
It was my custom to retire about four and arise at noon, going out at two, so in the morning, after the Faro games, Wyatt met me and walked home together.
The next day was October 26, 1881, when we would meet in gunfire outside Fly’s photographic studio. And men would die. And everything would turn on that pivot – all our lives and reputations.