A political bloodbath

  • Jon Kelly
  • 16 Sep 08, 01:44 PM GMT

The gunfight at the OK Corral is one of the defining tales of the American West. According to popular legend, the shoot-out erupted on 26 October 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, when Wyatt Earp and his fellow lawmen attempted to disarm the cattle-rustling Cowboy gang.

This story of a man doing what he had to do and cleaning up a lawless town has inspired countless films, books and songs. What I hadn't realised, though, was that the real-life shoot-out was actually a pitched battled between Republicans and Democrats.

Re-enactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral"You think this election is vicious?" chuckled local historian Ben Traywick, 81. He took me on a tour of the town and told me about a time when a political bloodbath wasn't just a figure of speech.

In 1881, John P Clum, the Republican mayor of Tombstone, represented the Eastern mining interests who wanted to make the area safe for commerce. He hired Wyatt Earp's brother Virgil as the local chief of police. The Earps were also Republicans, and several of them had served on the Union side in the Civil War.

The Cowboys, by contrast, made sure that the countryside under their control voted Democrat. Many had fought for the Confederacy before moving west, and resented northern plutocrats telling them what to do.

Of course, the platforms of both parties have changed radically since then. But gun control, law and order and the influence of big corporations are still hot issues.

What actually happened on that day is hotly debated, and many historians have given the Cowboys a sympathetic reading.

Ben TraywickBut I was interested in how the myth of the Earps and Doc Holliday doing the right thing and facing down the bad guys might have shaped American politics - in particular, when it came to foreign policy.

Ben told me he was a conservative Republican, so I asked him whether he felt the spirit of Wyatt Earp was alive in America today. He frowned.

"We've given up on the last three wars we've gotten into because the media and politicians told us they weren't working," he said. "We don't have anyone standing up for the people any more."

We walked on through Tombstone. Its main strip still resembled an 1880s frontier town, except that all the stores sold postcards and souvenir stetsons. I wondered what the gunfight's participants would have made of their town earning its living not from silver mining nor cattle-rustling, but tourism.

Tim FattigEvery day a group of actors re-enacts the gunfight. I went along to watch them square off against each other. Afterwards, I got talking to Tim Fattig, 31, who played Frank McLaury, one of the Cowboys. He told me he tended to vote for Democrats, although not the sort that the real-life McLaury would have recognised.

"It's not a popular position around here," he smiled.

"But John McCain says he wants to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years. I don't think that's a good idea at all."

At least he and Ben weren't trying to kill each other. As for me, I was grateful to Tombstone for putting the present-day animosity between red and blue America into context.


  • Comment number 1.

    We (in the US) have a term for that style of settling disputes: cowboy diplomacy

    By the way, "Stetson" is a brand name, hence capitalized.

  • Comment number 2.

    Jon Kelly

    Our cultures and politics are more complex than this but maybe you can see how we are both divided and united by our common history.

  • Comment number 3.


    John McCain did not say he WANTED to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years, he said he was WILLING to keep troops in for that long.

  • Comment number 4.

    Are you kidding me? Harleys and guns? WHo created your travel itinerary? The National Rifle Association? What about visiting with migrant agricultural workers? Visitors to our National Parks?

    I fear the rest of your trip accross the US will consist of gun shows, motorcycle rallys and Klan meetings!

    I'm from the East but I've been to the southwest many times and I think your trip, so far, poorly represents the bredth of our culture.

  • Comment number 5.

    two days on the gun theme.......IRAQ (look at all the conflicts over the last 40 yearsthere are still troops there, how many British forces are still in the Falklands,) the idea was good, get rid of the dictator but Bush and Blair did not have forward planning and we are in the mess 5 years later, how much will change with a change of President I suspect nothing will change....

  • Comment number 6.

    As a person a member of the United States Military, if we have to be here a hundred years so be it as long as we get the job done!
    Mr. Treywick is right our country has lost it's never due to the Media and coward politicians who think it is in there best interest to not finish something.

    The politics of Tombstone haven't changed much, there is still political corruption going on by the city council, the marshall is bought off as is the city attorney.

    things should be settled the way there where then with a 45 long colt and guts, not back room politics and bribes.

  • Comment number 7.

    So many complaints about bias. He was in the LA area for 3 days, and now that hes spending time in the country people start complain. :(

  • Comment number 8.

    excuse me meant 2 days.

  • Comment number 9.

    baltimoremike (#4), I don't think Jon Kelly has stated an intent to "represent the bredth (sic) of our culture," nor does he have any obligation to. It's his blog and he can put in it whatever he likes.

    For me, I find his recent posts to be interesting reading. That's all that they need to be.

  • Comment number 10.


    Were those comments just a little snarky?

    In the Western past 'cowboy diplomacy' was often useful. Now it is merely a DINOSAUR that should be laid to rest.

    Incidentally, I have had the same Stetson hat for more than 40 years. They are quite durable.

  • Comment number 11.


    Thanks for your comments.

    I live here and I am wondering also who set up the itinerary. Are we to be shown as religion obsessed, gun crazed idiots and one issue voters. Or will Jon seek out some other information, perhaps from our Latinos, our Native Americans, our ranchers, our family farmers etc. I am beginning to feel just a little insulted.

  • Comment number 12.


    Interesting? Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    Addendum to Garyahill

    Have you been appointed to illustrate spelling errors? It was most likely a typo. Also some of us may not be native English speakers so in writing we may not be perfect.

  • Comment number 14.

    Good novels on the American West are Owen Wister's 'The Virginian', and of course the O.Henry cowboy stories.
    Theodore Roosevelt's 'Winning of the West' is always useful too.
    As a child my favorite writers were O.Henry and Damon Runyon- musts for British travellers.

    It would be lovely if you were to do a post on American local Libraries for example.

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 aquarizonagal


    Interesting? Why?"

    You seem to have a lot of comments (5 out of 13) about something that bores you.

    I wonder what you'll do now... stop reading and walk away out of boredom, or comment back with more evidence that you're actually enthralled by the topic of conversation?

    John, as a Scot living in American for most of my life I have to say I'm interested in your articles.

    PS. please send me an IRN BRU when you get back to Scotland. I miss them terribly.

  • Comment number 16.

    aquarizonagal (#10), snarky? No. "Snarky" means short-tempered or irritable, which I was not.

    Pick another adjective.

  • Comment number 17.


    I am neither bored nor enthralled. I live here and I would like to see a more balanced presentation of my state especially for those reading this blog that may never have been here.

    I love the Southwest, the desert, the varied history and culture. This is my home. I would like to see more than one facet of it displayed. Is that so hard for you to understand?

  • Comment number 18.


    Sorry, I forgot the 'word police' were with us today and my comment IS 'snarky.'

    It is interesting that you pick at things like this rather than respond to what I have said in my posts.

    Thanks for the link but I have many dictionaries that I use because I am not a native English speaker so forgive my errors, sir.

  • Comment number 19.

    These blogs just are not particularly enlightening,its just stating the obvious and confirming prejudices regarding the standpoints of republicans and democrats,its a waste of time and money for the bbc to so frivolously squander british peoples money on a minority interest such as american politics.
    As for the gunfight at the
    "ok corral"being one of the "defining tales"of the american west,that is just palpably nonsense and anglo saxon american revisionist mythology,what about the persecution and ethnic cleansing of the native american indians?,which is another fundamental issue you have failed to raise amongst many others on your sojourn over there seems to me the bbc is failing in its remit to bring us accurate,impartial reporting particularly neglecting such important issues as racism,injustice,poverty which are hugely prevelent in the u.s.,
    you have taken the safe route jon and its been documented many times before,you should have gone off the beaten track jon and shown us the hidden america ie;visited penitentiary's,reservations,deprived inner city ghettos,that would have been much more interesting and been a truer, more accurate portrayal of american society than you have shown us so far.
    I have'nt learnt anything i didnt know already which is a real shame and a missed opportunity,british television is saturated with american imports portraying all aspects of the diversity in american life so i can no longer see the relevance of these poor mans alistair cook postcards.

  • Comment number 20.


    In Jon Kelly's defense, the purpose of his journey was to experience America (or the parts he could travel to in 38 days) for himself, and as stated at the top of his blog: Hello, I’m Jon Kelly and this is my blog. I’m on the BBC election bus, travelling across the US asking where Americans want their country to go.

    No where in Jon's initial blog entry (which explains his reasons for the journey; I'm not going to copy and paste all of that) does Jon state: My mission is to flush out all evil in the US, travel to every disenfranchised destination and DISPLAY (ah ha!) for all the world to see (because they already know!) that the US is bad, its entire population is poor and the US is NOT the land of opportunity. Sorry, that was never his intention, nor did he mislead us to think that.

    And with respect, let me say that all of the US is not as you are portraying it (land of ghettos, reservations, prisons...etc). The "Magic Bus" has a set travel route. It travels from point A to point B and so forth.
    The bus stops. Jon exits the bus and begins engaging the people he meets. It's as simple as that, and as stated above his agenda was never revealed to be PORTRAIT OF HIDDEN AMERICA--We Euros told you it was real!!

    Let the man blog about the places he visits and people he meets. What's interesting about the journey is viewing the US from an outsider's eyes. Some may not agree with Jon's interpretation of what he's seeing and who he's meeting, but at least show his viewpoints some respect.

    As to the OK Corral being "....nonsense and anglo saxon american revisionist mythology..." do you have the documentation to prove your view?

  • Comment number 21.

    Looks like people are complaining about your itinerary and your fixation with guns.

    Hi-jack that bus and follow some of the scenic routes! It might be a tough on the driver, but you will see some amazing country!

  • Comment number 22.

    Hello Jon,

    Thanks for the great read. Disregard the belligerent comments of people your particular post doesn't represent. I appreciate you interviewing people and going to place that are unique and interest but don't normally find themselves in the spotlight. I'm sure you'll find non-whites, ranchers, family farmers, city workers, etc. to talk to. I'll enjoy it as it comes.

    To those who don't like: If a particular post that is too "red" for you, you'll find many blog post in "blue" by visiting "Justin Webb's America".

    I agree with Ben Traywick. Media has belittled our military during these past wars. Then the politicians jump on the bandwagon to ride the movement generated and hope to get up on top.

    I noted the biased BBC video (note I don't mind that it's biased- we all are) interviewing US troops which were all demoralized ("i feel this a complete waste of time"). Now, why would voluntary personnel be demoralized that this point of time (we've made great progress recently)? My personal fear is it is the lambasting of media indirectly affecting the military's moral. Besides hearing and reading all the negative "Left" propaganda while abroad, they are greeted with coldness from most people which have been affect by media.

    I'm glad (I know it sound odd on a British site) that we didn't have this kind of deriding during our Independence war. We would've never recovered from the media criticizing us about dressing up Indian at the Boston Tea Party.

    As a center-right on certain issues, I don't want my country with a commander-in-chief (military position that is) which otherwise never be in any kind of military leadership. No, you don't have to blood loving war-monger to be in the military. But I can't imagine Barrack going far up the chain of command if he was in the military.

    Totally off-topic: What up with the Bush Doctrine thing? Nobody except those in DC knew what it was and the media expected Palin not to be dumbfounded. If we could go back 24 hours before the ABC interview, 98% of media wouldn't know what the Bush Doctrine is. The mere phrase sounds like it comes from the left. And from what I understand of it, these types of policies have been running around for decades, not just the Bush years.

    Everybody likes to shoot the Lame Duck. Bush was the best choice we got, more than Kerry or Gore. End of. I don't see myself whining about I-can't-keep-my-zipper-up Clinton. If it was about voting for the perfect candidate, I'd either never vote or would very quickly find out he/she isn't the ideal/perfect candidate to represent me.

  • Comment number 23.

    well its not an accurate representation of a cross section of your society out there tiptop is it?
    im not asking the bbc to concentrate on the less pleasant sides to the usa but in the interests of balance it would be only right that disenfranchised sections of american society were covered and they are blatantly not,it is all safe middle of the road,middle america we are hearing from and that by its very nature is totally unrepresentative of the state your country is in today,
    as with the ok corrall,it is merely an anglocentric version of events,and if you noticed jon uses wikipedia as a reference source to back up the legitimacy of events at the ok corrall!,wikipedia being a notoriously unreliable agency when seeking fact and impartial readings of events.
    Tiptop,you show me one version of your history and i'll show you another perspective on the same event,a version not manufactured by the victor,(which is what you believe)and what is taught in your schools,but by the defeated and the oppressed on the wrong side of the tracks,THEN YOU TELL ME WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH!

  • Comment number 24.

    #22 Wrote" But I can't imagine Barrack going far up the chain of command if he was in the military."

    But, can you imagine Bush doing that??

    I believe he had difficulty finding the door at one stage!

  • Comment number 25.

    We are a complicated society of 300 million people tracing roots to all corners of the world. Come to Portland, Oregon, the end of the Oregon Trail, and you will see a whole different sort of America.

  • Comment number 26.

    Aqua I agree with you, these blogs haven't represented every facet of your exremely large and diverse state. Nobody has said that's what the intention is. Isn't it a little bit ridiculous to think that your states entire history could be represented in a few pages. He's not writing a book, he's only been in America for what? a week?

    I just think it's funny that you're spending so much time on a topic you don't think is "interesting". You must have some interest in it... you're here dominating the comments section.

  • Comment number 27.

    I absolutely DID not say that the topic of my state was not interesting to me. I do not expect every facet to be covered. I feel that the focus was too much guns and 'Wild West' but I suppose that is what readers want. So, no more from me on this thread.

    I live here and I love it so one day I do hope readers will visit and see for themselves.

    Enjoy your evening.

  • Comment number 28.

    I like Tombstone. It is a giant show, though. The politics of the Earps vs. Clanton's actually has little to do the main issue of the Tombstone region, the problems along the border.
    It is the only place a developed and developing country meet.
    Union vs Confederate did shape much of what went on in Arizona. We had a Civil War skirmish forty miles North of Tucson at Picacho Peak. (You passed it on I-10, near Rooster Cogburn's Ostrich Farm).
    Tucson was prevented from being the territorial capital because the Anglo population was pro-Confederate.

    No rational American denies we have problems. Isn't the point of the trip how different areas are effected by the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election.
    If Jon does visit a poor neighborhood, what would you have him do there?

  • Comment number 29.

    Mr. Kelly, I have found both of your blog entries that I have read to be interesting and worthwhile. I am an American citizen, but I like to read the perspectives of those not born and raised in the U.S. You picked an especially interesting year to be touring America, but the Presidential election is skewing event-coverage by the media here. Also, the partisan team-cheering mood in America is at a fever pitch in this election, with each side convinced their team simply must win, or the U.S. will falter. This is blather. Neither candidate will be as good as they think they will be, or as bad as their opponents' operatives say they will be. But, Lord knows, we do need a shakeup of leadership here.

  • Comment number 30.

    well well well.

    If Cowboy recreation actors are representative of the Arizona electorate, interviewing them about international affairs would seem very deep and informative. Sadly, interviewing grown men who play cowboys and indians FOR A LIVING doesn't exactly convince the reader of the authors seriousness. Especially when the author was in a State with a very politically hot and bloody international border to the south... where there are REAL gunfights every week, going to Tombstone seems purposefully ignorant (however innocent the mistake was in fact).

    The State of Arizona is actually BUILDING A WALL to try and stem uncontrolled immigration and smuggling across it's border with Mexico. Surely it occurs to the BBC Editors that they should send their man in the field to the INTERNATIONAL BORDER to the south of the State, rather than interviewing pretend Cowboys? This lack of seriousness is very unlike the BBC, and I'm sorry to see you guys descend to tabloid/factoid coverage, as this type of story just degrades the BBC brand and the BBC News divisions reputation for intelligence. (The Editors had better crack the whip over acceptable content, or we'll start hiding Mickey Mouse whenever the BBC bus drives by Disneyland... Just to keep the BBC from kidnapping the guy in the costume and putting him on "Straight Talk" as representative of American opinion! "Tell me, mr. Mickey Mouse, why Americans smell of rancid cheese!!!!")


    A. Scott Crawford

  • Comment number 31.


    I also enjoy your state and am looking forward to returning there this winter.

    The desert, saguaros and other cactii are alien to me, but there is a refreshing excitement about the place. It must be the colours, sunsets, cotton fields, mountains and also good old vitamin D from the sun.

    As a visitor limited to six months each year, I look forward to the next six months. It appears that Jon is limited to travelling on the Inter-states, we should make sure he returns for a more in depth visit. Maybe in his life-time he will learn all about your country!

  • Comment number 32.


    I am enjoying your blog. I am learning more about the U.S.

    It is a truly grand country and you will know well enough that it can take some time to learn about a country and its population.

    The people I have met are very friendly and, as I have said before, the geography is amazing. There are vast expanses of scenery that are spellbinding.

    You should plan to return and explore!!!

  • Comment number 33.


    As a native-born citizen of the USA, and long-time observer of people (retired police officer), I enjoy reading your blog for your observations, and also for the reader comments. They illustrate the gamut of beliefs and idiosyncrasies which make our country such a circus. I imagine it's the same in most countries. At any rate, it looks like you are having fun, and getting paid to do it, so I envy you, sir!

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm not sure why but I feel you're spending a majority of your time talking to republicans. There's a whole other part of the country out there. I feel this may be because Republicans champion themselves as the only true Americans, and true patriots, that is nothing short of false. Thomas Jefferson is the one who said that "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Lets hear what all Americans have to say, not just the ones with guns. I hear about them too often, you know, after they kill someone. Maybe a piece about families who have been victims of gun violence, they're American too.

  • Comment number 35.

    This was one of the weaker articles on the trip. Both men had their facts wrong, Traywick falsely claims we have given up on the last 3 wars, when it was only Viet Nam that the Congress turned it's back on.
    Fagiss wrongly states that McCain wants to stay in Iraq for one hundred years.
    But I have been pleased with most of your work.
    See you tomorrow.

  • Comment number 36.

    Jon did not get to choose the route he is taking! Therefore, he has no say over how many Bible thumpers or tree huggers he has to visit with. Even if he had a whole year, and free reign of the country, he would never be able to compile an accurate portriat of America. If you think that he is maybe taking the route that leans towards the right, then blame BBC. They are the ones funding the bus and they chose the route through the, admittedly, conservative south.

  • Comment number 37.


    I find your blog great reading. If you want America, do what you are doing. As the person above commented you are not on the east coast. NYC and Hollywood are not truly American. Go see real people. find an old guy outside a small town drug store and pick his brain. You will find that there are people of both parties running around and some who think for themselves. I see you are preoccupied with guns a bit. I would also suggests you tell people how much crime is displayed in those areas. Not much. America is more than cowboys and guns. Here is hoping you find what you are looking for. As for baltimoremike, Take a gun if you are going into that cesspool. Good luck and safe journey.

  • Comment number 38.

    Okay, so more commentary on the commentary from me.

    1) SPELLING: Grow up people. This is a blog. Get over the spelling thing.

    2) JON'S BLOG POSTS BEING BLAND: Again, in case anyone reading has become confused, this is a blog. Whatever interests Jon is what he should blog about. Also, about him not blogging on the big issues like prisons and victims of gun violence and such... These are 'front page news' items and there is no shortage of stories on them. Go to any of the big American news outlets websites and go crazy; seriously, read your little heart out...
    Blogs are supposed to be smaller and more personal.

    3) JON'S ROUTE: As I understand it he goes where the bus goes... It shouldn't be this complicated people; you're killing me here.

    4) THE WAR AND THE MEDIA: This one amuses me on almost a daily basis...
    In the beginning of the Iraq debacle, in America, the Iraq invasion was turned into the biggest and bloodiest reality TV show ever. (I know, I watched it every night on CNN.)
    Washington seemed more than happy to oblige the news media back then. Later, after the country and the world realized it was LIED to, and had something to say about that, the media was no longer Washington's friend. Americans have notoriously short memories.


  • Comment number 39.

    I have to agree with @baltimoremike - you are consistently hitting the "narrowminded European top 10 myths of America" in your posts. I am originally from he East (New York) and currently reside in the West, and your portrayal is about as fair and balanced as FOX News.

    Please try to step outside your preconceived views an actually SEE the country and it's people. Why bother with the usual propaganda?

  • Comment number 40.

    @coffeennicotine - we criticise Jon's posts because he is doing a p*ss poor job of seeing the country and depicting it's people. Other than taking a load of photos of great scenery - he might as well have stayed in the UK.

    Basic standards of journalism still apply to professional news blogs.

    We still read because we are annoyed at the disinformation - it's almost worthy of the Bush camp really. Except painting us all with the same wrong color.

  • Comment number 41.

    No, @iceph03nix, I was plenty annoyed by his glancing and wildly inaccurate LA columns too - just hadn't bothered to register so that I could respond. Now that I see it is a pattern - I post.

    I realize that the route is planned, and that there is limited time to get off the bus and talk to people - but come on, this is getting ridiculous. No one who has travelled or lived in the West is being represented realistically here.

  • Comment number 42.

    Wait until he gets to Texas where you can legally shoot a man. Of course he needs to be on your property holding on to something that is not his.

  • Comment number 43.

    Cattle rustling means cattle-stealing. I doubt Wyatt Earp would have liked having the town's economy be based on it.

  • Comment number 44.

    to ice phoenix,

    even though I dont think McCain will win, If he did, I dont see how he could keep the troops in Iraq for a hundred years when he might not even live to see the next 4 years given his advanced age and hopeless health condition. and I dont think the iraqis will be sitting down allowing themselves to be occupied. they are very smart people you know.

  • Comment number 45.

    #20-I agree Lisa. Unable to get uncensored, unbiased, unspun news of America in America, I turn to the BBC to view America with an outsiders eyes.

    This is my first comment in any blog.
    I agree with Sam Clemmens when he wrote: "Better to remain silent and be THOUGHT a fool, than to open your mouth and REMOVE ALL DOUBT.

    Silent and reading

  • Comment number 46.

    The truth might be that in USA these people love their violent past, their fools, their scoundrels, their shoot em up movies, and if that doesn't do it, they will invent them in Hollywood.

    Perhaps that is why they love the likes of that pitbull with lipstick, Sarah Palin. She reminds them of what the West used to be like, and in many cases, it still is!

    The only thing I have to say to Jon Kelly is, what is a nice guy like you doing in a place like this? Aren't you afraid you might end up selling your soul to the devil like most people here do! It's very simple, really. All you have to do is to embrace the Republican Party!

  • Comment number 47.

    As one who was drafted during the Korean War and stay to fight in the Vietnam War (Vietnam-the war GW Bush deserted from along with the entire Dick Cheney GOP administration), I can truly say that if I ever find myself in a firefight again, I would rather be with Barack Obama than the entire GOP Palin/McCain/Dick Cheney Administrations of lying cowards!


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