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Old 8th August 2019, 09:02 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Doc Holiday's mystery shotgun: October 26, 1881 OK Corral

On this date in a small town in Arizona named Tombstone, in a 30 second shootout, mysteries of the Wild West unfolded in an otherwise insignificant event becoming one of the most heralded in that history.

It was called the gunfight at the OK Corral, even though it was not even in that nearby location, it lasted only seconds, and it has never been clear who fired the first shot, nor how it all took place. Yet there have been so many books, movies, articles on this event and its characters than most other of those times.

One of the most confounding mysteries has been exactly what type guns were carried by the figures in this dramatic gunfight, and most notably, the shotgun used by 'Doc' Holiday.

We know that Virgil stopped by the Wells Fargo office and grabbed a 'coach gun' on the way to the confrontation, it was said he was concerned Doc might not effectively shoot if something happened, as his health was pretty bad.

From most accounts, Doc did not especially care for shotguns, but took it anyway. When the fight broke out suddenly, in the exchange of fire Doc fired one blast which hit Tom McLaury in the side. McClaury had been standing next to Billy Clanton's horse reaching for the rifle in the scabbard. With only one shot of the 'guage' Doc threw it down and pulled his Colt out of his pocket to fire again.

The question has been....just what type of shotgun was this. We know it was a 'coach gun' from the Wells Office, so then in 1881, what kind of gun would that have been?

Both Wyatt and Virgil had been employed at times by Wells Fargo as 'shotgun messengers' (guards) so were familiar with the guns.
One account I read claimed the gun Doc used was a 10 gauge by Wm. Moore & Co. but all other accounts say the gun type (other than 'coach gun') remains unknown.

In reading through material on Wells Fargo & Co. I found that it was held the 10 gauge was a bit unwieldy so 12 guage more likely used. One reference claimed the shot in McLaury corresponded to 12 guage.

Apparently ALL guns used by Wells Fargo were purchased from San Francisco dealers as this was their headquarters. From 1860s, coach guns were all muzzle loaders, and thus until mid 1870s. By 1874, E. Remington &Sons introduced a cartridge breech loader and by 1880s other makers such as Parker Bros. and L.C. Smith were making these, 12 ga.
As it was 1881, it seems likely that one of these Remington's may have been the type we might consider.

Naturally, a locally acquired gun might have been obtained, but these were standard length shotguns (coach guns were 18-24" barrels). Not every coach had a shotgun guard, only those with valuable Wells Fargo shipments.
Also, there were not that many 'official' Wells Fargo 'messengers' (guards) at this time. Given the number of stage robberies in the time there, both Wyatt and Virgil may have simply filled in.
Still, I would suspect that Well Fargo might have furnished a coach gun for use as required.

I acquired an old coach gun years ago, 12 guage, and has markings
This name is not an actual maker but a spurious name (alluding to the famed Westley Richards in England) often used as a 'brand' in Liege, who made many guns for the American west.

The barrel is 18" so within the 'coach' specifications.
This is probably about an 1890s version produced in Connecticut by the Crescent Firearms Co.. This firm was taken over by H.D. Folsome in 1893, and they imported many weapons from Liege, so that would account for the W. Richards name.
By this time, these 'coach' guns were still used by guards, but mostly with shipments on train cars.

Just an example, but of 'the type' we are seeking for Doc Holliday in 1881.

Photos are : Tombstone in 1881; Doc Holiday; the W. Richards coach gun; and Wells Fargo shipment (in wagon, many did not ride in coaches) with the men all 'shotgun messengers'.
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Last edited by Jim McDougall : 8th August 2019 at 09:16 PM.
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