Fremont Street Factoids - the Famous Gunfight
I don't really wish to give a sequential account of that day. It has been done and done again. I am told it is re-enacted each year. To glorify sorrow, I suppose. To cast blame upon us over and over. Nevertheless, it needs to be addressed, so here are a series of facts to the best of my memory. Thirty seconds move very quickly. And they changed everything

1. I whistled as we walked down the street. Dixie. I am proud I can whistle.
2. I walked next to Morgan. Morgan told me, "Let them have it." I answered, "All right."
3. I traded my cane to Virgil for a shotgun, so he wouldn’t look so threatening.
4. When I shot Tom McLaury with the shotgun pointblank I thought it had not worked and threw it away in disgust.
5. I did not shoot or draw first. I did not even take out the revolver until I had thrown away the shotgun.
6. Addie Bourland recognised me but not the Earps. I had helped her in the town-site war. She was Josie’s friend.
7. Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury fired first. Then Wyatt.
8. Frank Clanton’s bullet grazed my hip.
9. It was only thirty seconds and it is all people remember of my life.
10. Afterwards Josie came to Wyatt on a wagon so hurried she had forgotten to wear a bonnet.
11. I was sleeping during all the events of the morning and only rose in time for the gunfight itself.
12. Wyatt said, “This is our fight. There’s no call for you to mix in.” I answered, “That’s a Hell of a thing to say to me.” But he was trying to protect me.
13. Frank said before he shot me, “I’ve got you, you son of a bitch.” I said, “You’re a Daisy if you have.” And I killed him. Morgan killed him at the same time.
14. Morgan was hit high in the back, very near his spine. Virgil was hit in the leg.
15. Behan or Claibourne was shooting at us from the photography studio. I fired at them and whichever of them was firing ceased. Cowards.
16. Ike behaved in typical Ike fashion – starting everything then running away. I tried to shoot him but I was too late.
17. At the end of the fight, our guns were all empty.
19. The vigilante committee, led by Wyatt’s friend Clum, was coming up the street afterwards and we all thought it was the outlaws, for nerves and dust. And our guns were empty.
Why do I say ‘Sacrifice?’
It is an equation.
Everyone has something they hold highest – something for which they will do anything. Aware or not, everyone has a hierarchy within him. For most, the pinnacle position is held by their lives. Thus the old hold-up equation Your money or your life. Most would hand over the money. It is sacrifice of one thing for another. This is the reason that Wells Fargo employs men like Wyatt, like Morgan and like Bob Paul. They hold loyalty and pride higher than threatened loss of life. They calculate equations second by second as shotgun barrels near or turn infinitesimally away; as fingers move from triggers or tense around them; as an eye looks aside or narrows to aim. Such men are weighing the moment when duty becomes folly and threat becomes probable death. No stage was ever successfully robbed with Wyatt riding shotgun, so that turning moment never arrived because he would, even at that point, have gambled on the faulty aim of any highwayman. But if he had died that way, it would have been a sacrifice of life for duty.

I had lost my life already. But there was something I still held highest. Even such as Bat Masterson and Fred Dodge, who essentially despised me, could see it as clearly as if I shouted it to everyone I met. To quote them both: Sterling loyalty to his friends was the single tenet of his perverted creed. And perhaps it was at this that they were looking in hindsight: I sacrificed, in that tension-filled and dangerous time, the peace, safety and reputations of Wyatt and his brothers for the memory of Billy Leonard. My friend. It was not vengeance, but my holding above everything else my own honour - my duty to stand by Billy, even deceased, even desperate as he had been in life.

Causality is a complex web beyond our ken. The simple action of goading Ike and heaping proverbial burning coals upon his pathetic head over his betrayal of Billy cost me everything. Yet I could have done nothing else. Is that why Bat called me selfish? Because I had no regret? Though Morgan lost his life and we lost the infinitely precious wisdom, companionship and joie de vivre that was Morgan; though Virgil lost his arm; though Jim’s Hattie lost her sweetheart, even unworthy as he was; though Wyatt lost his good name and the solid surety of his feet set on the path of law; though I, even I who had who had so little, lost my friend, my latter family, my freedom and any lingering hopes I had of a sense of home. Did Bat call me that because I still kept my head erect; still averred I had done my best? Because I refused to lose that tiny grain of virtue by refraining from a single action; because I would not sacrifice that but held it in balance against all else?

Ultimately, we cleansed the territory. And the murders and hold-ups, the rustling and thieving were over. And the fear that paralysed and brought low the genuinely honest ranchers was broken.

We killed and killed, and Morgan died, and what we lost was incalculable.

I still do not apologise. I still do not regret my actions. Even looking back at everything I wrought, I cannot see that, given what I knew at the time, I could have honestly done anything else. I do not regret. But I mourn.
john_h_holliday: (eyes)
( Mar. 19th, 2008 11:03 pm)
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.
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I was generally reviled by both camps.

I worked for peace, order and safety, as always the good citizen, treating ladies gently and men squarely, fighting natural and unnatural emergencies. I worked with Wyatt and indeed Virgil, who were as generally regarded as the town’s salvation. Nevertheless, my presence was considered a blight.

I was an insouciant Southerner with my softer accent, occasionally still marred by a slight hiss from my cleft palate. I was ill, coughing and shaking, taken by fever and weakness at what were often inconvenient times. Though tuberculosis is not contagious, it was mentioned by some that it was unseemly to show myself. I drank for ease, for companionship, for steadiness, or for some small measure of peace. I was a gambler, dealing Faro, sitting for days at poker and, unforgivably, winning. There was Kate, who was apparently my consort but more closely resembled a proverbial millstone. She had saved my life in Fort Griffin and it was thus my duty to humour her, as a gentleman, though she was a perfidious whore, as you will see – not that I would or should condemn anyone for her profession. I was an associate of Billy and his friends. As if all this were not enough, I was unapologetic, proud, courteous and intelligent. I was not to be borne by ‘decent citizens.’ I was not welcome even at church, which ought to have been doing its best to save my soul.

To the cowboys, on the other hand, I was a Southerner who rode with Wyatt against Texans and therefore a traitor. I was a former outlaw associating with present outlaws and thus a probable spy, and though my words and reputation should have told them otherwise, they were suspicious. I had rights they did not have, as a lawman, and because with guns and Wyatt’s protection I was to some degree untouchable, they scorned me as a cheat hiding illegitimately behind the law. I was, again, a successful sporting man and more than competent with guns and knives, which only made them jealous, as did the fact that I was truly a gentleman. And of course anything I had I did not deserve.
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Tombstone. If Ed Schieffelin did not find his grave as was predicted when he first prospected for the fabulous silver-strike, there were good men who did, and the town was aptly named.

It was a child's fistfuls of bare board and adobe buildings, along with a few more opulently appointed establishments. These had been tumbled onto the seemingly endless desert that indifferently featured mountains, washes and valleys, punctuated occasionally by vague landmarks and springs, some of which were alkali, and inhabited by rattlesnakes, and the odd itinerant or Apache. It was so dry a whisper would blow dust to coat your cheeks and eyelashes. A whisper. It was frequently windy and one alternately burned and froze, fever aside. In short, it was healthy, even gradually cauterising, though I was grateful for the filter of my mustache.

And with that, the stage has been set and the major players introduced - at least those I care to have you meet; those that shine like stars for me in this drama.
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Friendship means more to me than anything. It is the virtue I hold highest. Loyalty.

Ill and so eventually discouraging to patients, I opened the Holliday Saloon, and due to disputes I eventually left Las Vegas. I despised the people I found around me. They despised me, and I was hot-headed enough to give them reason. I drank to excess then, thought to make a reputation, and sought to throw away my life. I had lost Mattie, my childhood love, I had lost my home and family, my profession – everything, and every chance. I thought. And Billy Leonard was my friend. We were of one mind. But it was I who was forced to leave.

I found my way to Fort Griffin and fell in with Wyatt. I saw something better, some chance to live though I was dying, some chance to live for others and for a better world. Right is Might we said, and I resurrected my lost intentions. Wyatt saved me, from myself and from Hell.
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john_h_holliday: (Default)
( Mar. 19th, 2008 10:57 pm)
Once upon a time, I was a dentist.

It was in a small town, not in Nevada, but in New Mexico. Las Vegas. It was the last time I was a dentist, though I always claimed it as a profession. Dentistry was not as brutal as you think it, even in those days. There were so many ways to lessen and take pain from the patients. Fillings were gold, thin sheets of foil, patiently coiled and smoothed into cleaned cavities with tiny instruments. They were works of art, minute detailed sculptures, designed for comfort, for beauty, with as much perfection as one might offer. I was proud.

For these fillings I needed gold. I needed to melt gold, to mold it, to meld it, to create wires and sheets, and something called gold crystal, which compressed into cavities in some difficult cases. And I needed to make the moulds. There was much I needed to do.

Las Vegas boasted hot springs, to ease my breathing, my bones, to warm me in cold stages of fever, and it attracted others with my malady from across the country. And one of these men was Billy Leonard, a jeweller. He had need of a similar workshop, and we shared that and illness. He was from the South as I was and we shared the war and loss of country. We were both professionals – exiled gentlemen thrown into the violence and chaos of the wild west. And into the dry stark desert from the rich moist warmth of home.

Like me, he believed in his strength of will and morality beyond that of law. Like me, he was dying and we comforted one another through the ebbs and flows of illnesses and despairs. And we drank together, and talked. We played cards. We taught one another the techniques of our metalwork. We visited and saw the shows, we took dinner together. We laughed and coughed and sometimes wept.

Billy Leonard was my friend.


john_h_holliday: (Default)


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