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Thomas Clark McLaury

Birthdate: (28)
Birthplace: NY, USA
Death: October 26, 1881 (28)
Tombstone, AZ, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Houston McLaury and Margaret McLaury
Brother of Frank McLaury and Judge William McLaury

Managed by: Private User
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About Tom McLaury

Killed by Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holiday in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, October 26, 1881 along with his brother Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton


Tom McLaury (1853-1881) - The tenth of eleven children, McLaury was born in Korthright, New York on June 30, 1853. Two years later the family moved to Iowa where they settled in Belle Plaine. In 1878, Tom, along with his brother, Frank, moved to Hereford, Arizona and met the Clanton family. Three years later they would find themselves embroiled in the bitter dispute between the Clantons and the Earps in Tombstone , Arizona. On October 26, 1881, during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tom McLaury shot Morgan Earp in the shoulder. Doc Holliday instantly countered, blowing McLaury away with blasts from both barrels of his shotgun. His brother, Frank, was also killed in the gunfight. Both are buried at Tombstone's Boothill.

Tom McLaury (June 30, 1853 - October 26, 1881) and his brother Frank owned a ranch outside Tombstone, Arizona, Arizona Territory during the 1880s. He is best known for being a member of group of outlaw Cowboys that had ongoing conflicts with lawmen Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp. The McLaury brothers repeatedly threatened the Earps because they interfered with the Cowboys' illegal activities. On October 26, 1881, Tom and Frank were both killed in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona Territory. He was not a gunfighter and the Tombstone shootout was his first and last gunfight.

Early life

Born Thomas McLaury in Kortright Center, New York, he was only two years old when his family moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa. Both he and his older brother Frank McLaury studied pre-law, and their oldest brother William McLaury eventually became a judge in Fort Worth, Texas.

Move to Arizona

In 1878 he and Frank moved to Hereford, Arizona, where they first met Ike Clanton, and became associated with the Clanton family. At the time, the Clanton family owned one of the largest cattle operations in Arizona.

By 1879 the two brothers were experiencing success in the cattle business, and they purchased land and built a house at Soldiers Holes, near Tombstone Arizona, which was just beginning to see its population explode due to the silver rush. They also, along this time, became associated with "Curly Bill" Brocius. While with Brocius, on October 27, 1880, the two brothers were briefly detained following Brocius accidentally shooting and killing Tombstone Marshall Fred White. The shooting occurred when White attempted to disarm Brocius and the pistol held by Brocius discharged, striking White in the abdomen. White stated before his death that the shooting was not intentional, and Brocius, who liked White, regretted the shooting greatly by accounts written afterward.

However, when arrested for the shooting, Brocius had been "pistol whipped" by Wyatt Earp, which only escalated an already tense dislike that had developed between members of the "Cowboy" faction and the Earp faction. Although there is no direct evidence that the McLaury brothers ever participated in any illegal acts, their association with Brocius and the Clanton's put them at odds with the Earp's. They likely had at one time or another dealt in the selling of stolen cattle, but that has never been confirmed and they were never arrested. In early 1881, a stolen horse was recovered on their ranch, with allegations that the tip to law enforcement that the horse was there came from Ike Clanton. Whether Clanton told law officials the horse was on their ranch or not has never been confirmed. They were, however, not arrested for possessing the horse, as the suspect in that horse theft was Sherman McMasters, a Cowboy who later supported Wyatt Earp.

Shootout in Tombstone

By that point, the tension between the Earp and Cowboys had reached a boiling point. On October 26, 1881, the McLaury brothers took part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and by accounts afterward it was his brother Frank along with Billy Clanton who first drew their weapons, although that has been disputed in other reports of the shootout.

Earlier in the day, Ike Clanton had been arrested, after which Tom McLaury had arrived to get Ike. Wyatt Earp and McLaury had a heated exchange outside the courtroom that led to Wyatt hitting Tom over the head with his pistol as Tom stepped towards him. A short while later, Tom was found to have left a pistol in a nearby saloon, showing he was indeed carrying it in violation of city law at the time of his altercation with Wyatt. Both Frank and Tom McLaury were killed in the gunfight that followed, along with Billy Clanton. They were buried in Tombstone's Boot Hill cemetery. Their brother William McLaury spent most of his finances in pursuing charges against the Earp's and Doc Holliday.

During the trial that followed the shootout, emphasis was given to why Tom McLaury had $3,000 on his person when the gunfight took place. His brother William stated in a letter that his brothers had just sold off their cattle herd, and were planning on leaving Tombstone and coming to Fort Worth to be with him. Billy Clanton, according to William McLaury, was going to accompany them. He also claimed in his letter that the two brothers were in Tombstone that day on business. He further stated that his brothers had been working with rancher Edwin Frink, whose ranch was near them, to gather several head of cattle scattered after an Apache raid a few weeks before. It has been suggested since that the brothers were in business with the Bauer & Kehoe Market to drive several hundred head of cattle.

Was Tom McLaury armed?

When the gunfight ended, no gun was found near Tom McLaury or on his body. There is evidence to suggest the Cowboys lied in an effort to have the Earps convicted, but also evidence to support that the Earp faction and Doc Holliday lied to protect themselves from being convicted. At the time, there were two newspapers in Tombstone, the Epitaph and the Nuggett. The Epitaph was pro-Earp, while the Nugget was pro-"Cowboy", and their versions of the testimony during the trial varied greatly. During the Spicer hearing after the gunfight, she reported to the San Diego Union that only two of the Cowboys were armed. Saloon owner Andrew Mehan testified that an hour before the gunfight Tom McLaury had checked his pistol with him at Mehan’s Saloon.

Wyatt Earp testified that Tom McLaury fired one or two rounds at them from behind a horse, and that if he was unarmed he did not know it. In an 1896 interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Earp further claimed that Tom McLaury had shot Morgan Earp from behind the horse. In two of Wyatt Earp's three biographies he indicated that Tom McLaury fired the first shots. However, some historians have suggested that Wyatt Earp's claims about his deeds were often flawed and could not be corroborated.

One eye witness, Mrs. J.C. Colyer, was only a short distance away sitting in a buggy when the shootout took place. Although never called to testify at the subsequent inquest, her account of the shooting was published in the Epitaph a few weeks after the event. In her recount of the events she witnessed she said that it was in fact the Cowboys who fired first, and in that interview she said that one Cowboy used a horse as a barricade, firing from under the horses neck. It has since been confirmed that neither Billy Clanton nor Frank McLaury ever came near a horse during the shootout, so if her statement is to be believed, it could only have been Tom McLaury to which she was referring. She knew none of those involved, and was only in Tombstone to visit her sister, therefore making her an unbiased witness.

Another eye witness, laundryman Peter H. Fellehy, stated that he saw Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday shooting at a man who was using a horse to barricade himself, and once shot the man fell. During that statement, Fellehy claimed the man still held his pistol in his hand. Although he never said he saw him shoot, he does indicate that Tom McLaury was armed.

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Tom McLaury's Timeline

June 30, 1853
October 26, 1881
Age 28
Tombstone, AZ, USA