|Born||William F. Claiborne
October 21, 1860
Yazoo County, Mississippi, United States
|Died||November 14, 1882
Tombstone, Arizona Territory, United States
|Cause of death||Gunshot|
|Occupation||Ranch hand, drover, miner, gunfighter|
|O.K. Corral gunfight|
William F. Claiborne (October 21, 1860 – November 14, 1882), was an American outlaw Cowboy, drover, miner, and gunfighter in the American Old West. He killed James Hickey in a confrontation in a saloon, but it was ruled self-defense. He was present at the beginning of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but was unarmed and ran from the shoot out. Only a year later, while drunk, he confronted gunfighter "Buckskin" Frank Leslie and was killed.
Life in Texas and Arizona
Claiborne was born in Yazoo County, Mississippi. As worked as a cowhand and remuda rider for John Slaughter and helped him drive cattle from Texas to the Arizona Territory in 1879. In Tombstone, he worked on the amalgamator at mines in Charleston, and as a slag cart driver at the Neptune Mining Company smelter in Hereford, Arizona.:269
Claiborne was a heavy drinker and hothead. He became friends with Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. On October 1, 1881, Claiborne had a confrontation with James Hickey in the Queen’s Saloon in Charleston. Hickey had been drinking for three days when Hickey and Claiborne got into an argument. Claiborne drew his pistol and shot Hickey in the cheek below his left eye, killing him instantly. Hickey was not well-liked and Claiborne was found to have acted in self-defense. He was tried and released.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
On the morning of October 26, Ike Clanton was carrying his rifle and revolver in violation of a city ordinance. At about 1:00 pm, Virgil and Morgan Earp surprised Ike on 4th Street and Virgil buffaloed him from behind. Disarming him, the Earps took Ike to appear before Judge Wallace. Wallace wasn't in the courthouse, and Wyatt waited with Clanton while Virgil went to find Judge Wallace.
Wyatt spotted Tom McLaury outside the courthouse and thought he was armed. Wyatt confronted McLaury, demanding to know, "Are you heeled or not?", but McLaury denied it. Wyatt later testified that he saw a revolver in plain sight on the right hip of Tom's pants. As an unpaid deputy town marshal, assisting his brother and Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Wyatt habitually carried a pistol in his waistband, as was the custom of that time. Witnesses reported that Wyatt drew his revolver from his coat pocket and buffaloed Tom McLaury with it twice, leaving him prostrate and bleeding on the street.
At around 1:30–2:00 pm, Ike's 19-year-old younger brother Billy Clanton and Tom's older brother Frank McLaury arrived in town. They stopped at the saloon in the Grand Hotel on Allen Street. Claiborne told them about their brothers' beatings at the hands of the Earp brothers within the previous two hours. The incidents had generated a lot of talk in town. Angrily, Frank said he would not drink, and he and Billy left the saloon immediately to seek Tom and Ike. By law, both Frank and Billy should have left their firearms at the Grand Hotel. Instead, they remained fully armed.:49:544:190
Frank and Billy found Ike and Tom. They went to Spangenberg’s gun shop, where Frank and Billy purchased ammunition. Ike wanted to buy a gun, but seeing the bandage on Ike's head, the proprietor refused. The McLaurys left to collect some money due them for cattle they had sold. Claiborne and Billy Clanton went to get Clanton’s horse. They met the others a few minutes later at the O.K. Corral. Witnesses overheard them threatening the Earps.
Virgil Earp was told by several citizens that the McLaurys and the Clantons had gathered on Fremont Street, were threatening the Earps, and were armed. He decided he had to act. Meanwhile, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, a friend to the Cowboys, had heard of the trouble and he immediately went looking for the Cowboys.
In Hafford's Saloon, Behan found City Marshal Virgil Earp, who asked Behan to help him disarm the Cowboys. Instead, Behan offered to talk to the Clantons and McLaurys on his own to see if they would give up their arms. Behan left and Virgil waited several minutes when local furniture dealer John Fonck told Virgil that the Cowboys were on Fremont St. Virgil said he did not want to interfere if they were on their way out of town, but if they were armed while in town he would have to arrest them. Fonck responded, "Why, they're all down on Fremont Street now."
At about 2:30 pm the Earps and Holliday found Frank and Tom McLaury and Ike and Billy Clanton gathered near the front of an empty lot off Fremont street, next to C.S. Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio. Behan said he attempted to persuade Frank McLaury to give up his weapons, but Frank insisted that he would only give up his guns after City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers were disarmed.
The Earps and Holliday walked north on Fourth Street and then west, down the south side west of Fremont Street, looking for the Cowboys. They passed the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral and then Bauer's butcher shop.
Sheriff Behan saw the Earps and Holliday approaching. He left the Cowboys and went to the lawmen, though he looked nervously backward several times. Virgil testified later that Behan told them, "For God's sake, don't go down there or they will murder you!" Wyatt said Behan told him and Morgan, "I have disarmed them." Behan testified afterward that he'd only said he'd gone down to the Cowboys "for the purpose of disarming them," not that he'd actually disarmed them.
Wyatt testified afterward that he saw "Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton standing in a row against the east side of the building on the opposite side of the vacant space west of Fly's photograph gallery. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne and a man I don't know [Wes Fuller] were standing in the vacant space about halfway between the photograph gallery and the next building west." Wes Fuller was towards the back of the lot.
When the shooting commenced—nobody could be certain who fired first—Ike Clanton ran to Wyatt and pleaded that he didn't have a gun. Wyatt, exclaiming that he was unarmed and did not want a fight. To this Wyatt said he responded, "Go to fighting or get away!":164 Clanton ran through the front door of Fly's boarding house and escaped. Johnny Behan ran in before the shooting began and grabbed Billy Claiborne. They scrambled out the way towards the back of the lot, in the space between Fly's boardinghouse and the photography studio at the rear.
After testifying at the O.K. Corral inquest, Claiborne made little trouble until after the Earps left for California in April 1882. Disappearing for several months, Claiborne returned to Tombstone on November 14, 1882, his reputation having taken a backward spiral because of his non-participation in the O. K. Corral shootout.
He became involved in an argument with noted gunfighter "Buckskin" Frank Leslie, after Leslie refused to refer to Claiborne as "Billy the Kid". Later that night, Claiborne returned to the Oriental Saloon, where he drunkenly called out Leslie, awaiting him outside the saloon with a rifle. Leslie followed Claiborne out a side-door onto the street and mortally wounded him in the ensuing gunfight with a single shot to the chest. As Leslie raised his gun for a second shot, Claiborne allegedly said to him, "Don't shoot me anymore, I'm killed". Leslie lowered his gun. Claiborne was taken to a doctor by friends, where he died six hours after being shot. His last words were reportedly, "Frank Leslie killed Johnny Ringo, I saw him do it". He was buried in Tombstone's Boothill Cemetery.
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