Tensions grow in Tombstone, Arizona, after a stage coach robbery - HISTORY
Year
1881

Tensions grow in Tombstone, Arizona, after a stage coach robbery

On this day in 1881, tensions near the breaking point between the Earp brothers and the Clanton-McLaury families, the two major power centers in Tombstone, Arizona.

Two days earlier, a stagecoach had been robbed and the Tombstone sheriff formed a posse that included Morgan and Wyatt Earp to find the culprits. On the basis of a boot print found in the dust, the posse arrested Frank Stillwell, a sometimes deputy of the Cochise County Sheriff, John Behan. Stillwell’s actual guilt or innocence aside, two of the leading Cochise County ranching families, the Clantons and McLaurys, saw the arrest as a deliberate attack by the Earps on their continued control of the county.

Many country-living ranch families like the Clantons and McLaurys deeply resented the city folks who increasingly dominated law and politics in Tombstone–especially the ambitious Earp brothers: Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil and James. The ranch families maintained tenuous control over the wide-open country surrounding Tombstone, thanks in large measure to the sympathetic support of Cochise County Sheriff Behan. Sheriff Behan detested the Earps–a sentiment that was entirely mutual–and made a point of ignoring their well-founded complaints that the Clantons and McLaurys were stealing cattle and horses. Likewise, while the Earps often acted as law officers and posse members, Behan and the ranchers knew the brothers were not above ignoring the law when it came to their own questionable dealings in the Tombstone gambling and saloon business. So when the Tombstone sheriff and the Earps arrested one of Behan’s own deputies for the stagecoach robbery, the Clanton and McLaurys claimed they were being unfairly harassed and warned the Earps that they would retaliate.

Both sides publicly accused the other of corruption and collusion with criminals, leading the governor of Arizona Territory to report later that month, “Many of the very best law-abiding and peace-loving citizens [of Tombstone] have no confidence in the willingness of the civil officers to pursue and bring to justice that element of out-lawry so largely disturbing the sense of security…[The opinion] is quite prevalent that the civil officers are quite largely in league with the leaders of this disturbing and dangerous element.”

The governor was right, and the situation would not be resolved without violence. The Earp brothers and Clanton-McLaury families were headed for a showdown at the O.K. Corral in October.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The guillotine falls silent

At Baumetes Prison in Marseille, France, Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of murder, becomes the last person executed by guillotine.The guillotine first gained fame during the French Revolution when physician and revolutionary Joseph-Ignace Guillotin won passage ...read more

The Battle of Lake Erie

In the first unqualified defeat of a British naval squadron in history, U.S. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry leads a fleet of nine American ships to victory over a squadron of six British warships at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.The battle was closely contested for ...read more

Smith to lead Jamestown

English adventurer John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia–the first permanent English settlement in North America. Smith, a colorful figure, had won popularity in the colony because of his organizational abilities and effectiveness in dealing with local ...read more

Guernica returned to Spain

On September 10, 1981, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s monumental anti-war mural Guernica is received by Spain after four decades of refugee existence. One of Picasso’s most important works, the painting was inspired by the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the Nazi ...read more

First drunk driving arrest

On this day in 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi driver named George Smith becomes the first person ever arrested for drunk driving after slamming his cab into a building. Smith later pled guilty and was fined 25 shillings.In the United States, the first laws against operating a ...read more

President Kennedy gets mixed signals

Maj. Gen. Victor Krulak, USMC, Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Joseph Mendenhall of the State Department report to President John F. Kennedy on their fact-finding mission to Vietnam.The president had sent them to ...read more

Rod Laver wins Grand Slam

On this day in 1962, Rod Laver defeats fellow Australian Roy Emerson in four sets to win the U.S. Open. With the victory, Laver became the first man to win the tennis “Grand Slam”–four major tournaments in the same year–since Don Budge in 1938.Having already won the first three ...read more

Stephen Jay Gould is born

Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Panda’s Thumb and other popular essay collections, is born on this day.Gould grew up in Queens, New York, the son of a court stenographer without a college degree. Although Gould grew up to be a prominent paleontologist and biologist, he kept the ...read more

Halle Berry wins Emmy for Dandridge

On this day in 2000, Halle Berry wins an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her portrayal of the actress Dorothy Dandridge in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge, the star of 1954’s Carmen Jones, was the first African-American performer to ...read more

Jets collide over Zagreb

Two jets collide in mid-air over Zagreb, Yugoslavia, killing 176 people on this day in 1976. Errors by an air-traffic controller led to this deadly collision.During the Cold War, flights between Europe and the Far East were routed around the nations of the Soviet bloc. This made ...read more

Serial-killing couple meets

Charlene Williams meets Gerald Gallego at a poker club in Sacramento, California, resulting in one of the worst serial killing teams in American history. Before they were finally caught, the Gallegos killed and sexually assaulted at least 10 people over a two-year period.Within a ...read more

Crime boss Salvatore Maranazano is murdered

Crime boss Salvatore Maranzano is shot and stabbed to death in New York City by four men working for Charles “Lucky” Luciano, one of the flashiest figures in organized crime. At one time, Luciano was living at the Waldorf Astoria and taking in over a million dollars a year, while ...read more

Hungary allows East Germans refugees to leave

In a dramatic break with the eastern European communist bloc, Hungary gives permission for thousands of East German refugees to leave Hungary for West Germany. It was the first time one of the Warsaw Pact nations-who were joined in the defensive alliance between Russia and its ...read more