Unearthed (2016–…): Season 6, Episode 8 - Ghosts of the Wild West - full transcript

The gunfight at Tombstone's OK Corral turned Wyatt Earp into an American folk hero, and to find what really happened here, experts use the newest tech to discover what caused the fatal ...

Tombstone, arizona.

Site of the legendary
shootout at the o.K. Corral.

Today, this is a quiet
law-abiding town...

With few surface signs
of what makes tombstone

So notorious
in wild west history.

What really happens here
140 years ago, and why?

Everything you've seen
about the city of tombstone

In the movies and on television
is completely wrong.

Now new evidence
from secret tunnels

Can reveal what triggers

The spectacular rise
and catastrophic fall

Of the ultimate frontier town.

We're down 100 feet right now
below the surface.

And modern-day weapons
analysis can expose the truth

Behind the wild west's
most famous gunfight.

With all those 30 rounds
shot in 28 or so seconds,

Why only three people killed?

To solve tombstone's mysteries,

We'll deconstruct the streets
of this wild west town

To uncover hidden fortunes

And break down
the o.K. Corral gunfight

Second by second,
shot by shot...

To unearth the true story

Of this frontier outpost's
most famous moment.

EP - 8 - Ghosts of the Wild West

In the heart of
arizona's high desert

Sits the ultimate
wild west town...


It's the site of the most famous
gunfight in cowboy history...

The shootout at the o.K. Corral.

But what's the truth
behind the tale?

Today, investigators

Are examining new facts
behind the legend

And how it affects the fortunes
of this frontier town.

For 140 years,
the legend of tombstone

Has overshadowed the true facts
and the true story.

To be quite honest,
that true story

Is so much more interesting

Than anything hollywood
has put out to date.

The story of tombstone
begins in 1877,

As pioneering settlers push
forward the american frontier.

In only three years,

They turn a barren plateau
into a boom town...

...That boasts grand theaters,
a bowling alley,

14 churches
and gambling halls...

And over 100 saloons.

A horse stable
called the o.K. Corral

Becomes the site
of the most famous shootout

In the wild west.

The deadly duel catapults
tombstone to instant fame

That lasts to this day.

But nearly a century and a half
since the bloodshed,

What's the truth
behind the legend?

City historian don taylor
wants to find out.

But finding tombstone's
original locations

Requires detective work...

Because two major fires

Destroyed most of the town's
earliest buildings.

The fire in 1881

Actually started
right across the street here.

It started when a bartender

Went to check
a barrel of whiskey

To see if it had soured.

He stuck his head in there
with a lit cigar in his mouth,

And... Boom.

The o.K. Corral

Is just one of the businesses
that burns,

So is there any hope of finding
this legendary location today?

Luckily, one crucial remnant
of pre-fire tombstone

Still remains...
The street plan.

What you see today
is exactly the same layout

That was here when
wyatt earp and doc holliday

Were here in the 1880s.

You're walking the same streets

That all these famous men
walked on.

Don uses an original map

To match up 1880s tombstone
with today's buildings,

Searching for the site
of the o.K. Corral.

You've got
the oriental saloon here,

The crystal palace saloon here,

Different saloons
and restaurants and stores

Right along here.

The hardware store here.

And as we head down
allen street,

Here is the o.K. Corral
on the map,

Which is right across the street
from where I'm sitting now.

When a visitor
would come to tombstone,

They would check their horse,
if you will.

Stables and corrals were
the parking lots of the day.

They would take their horses
and put them in here.

According to legend,

The infamous gunfight
unfolds on allen street,

Outside the o.K. Corral.

But no guns are fired here.

Inside the corral,

The open space is perfect
for a shootout.

But no shots
are fired here, either.

The true location
of the gunfight

Is behind the corral
in a narrow, vacant lot.

Here, lawmen and outlaws
are poised barely 10 feet apart

For the most famous 30 seconds
in wild west history.

But if the gunfight didn't
even take place in the corral,

What else might be myth?

To find out, researchers
need to start at the beginning,

To unearth what triggers
the town's notorious shootout.

Nancy sosa examines
the town's newspapers

In search of answers.

Her research overturns
one big hollywood myth...

That gunfights
are a constant feature

Of tombstone's early days.

People think of tombstone,

And they think that we were
a violent community

And there was a death every day.

One of the most famous sayings

Is tombstone had a man
for breakfast every morning.

Well, if that was the case,

Then we wouldn't
have had a population.

Innocent people were not
being killed every day.

But nancy's analysis
of newspaper obituaries

Shows that there is
a marked spike in violent deaths

In tombstone
in a two-year period,

Coinciding with when
the o.K. Corral gunfight

Claims its three victims.

There's approximately 27 people

Who died from gunshot wounds

Or knife wounds or murder...

27 to 30 people

That die by interesting means
in that short period of time.

This spike in violence

Causes panic
among the law-abiding

Businesspeople of tombstone.

And they couldn't have chaos.

They couldn't have
what was going on.

The city records
reveal that around this time,

Virgil earp, a member
of one of the most famous

Families in wild west history,

Is appointed
tombstone's marshal.

The five earp brothers are born

Into a farming family
in the midwest.

Like many americans at the time,

They leave home
and follow their fortunes,

Chasing money
and the expanding frontier.

By 1880, the earp brothers
reach tombstone.

They make money running saloons
and dealing cards.

But three of the brothers
have higher aspirations...

To become men of the law.

The men who hire the earps

Are desperate to restore calm
to tombstone's streets.

The scene is set
for the most famous gunfight

In wild west history.

The earps' backers are the
town's biggest business owners.

They were the ones
that were responsible

For tombstone's lifeblood...

What role does silver play

In tombstone's
legendary gunfight?

And what could a hidden tunnel
beneath the town's grand hotel

Reveal about tombstone's
rapid rise from the desert?

Tombstone is
the ultimate wild west town.

The legendary location
of a 30-second shootout...

The gunfight
at the o.K. Corral...

...The most notorious incident
in an outbreak of violent deaths

In and around the town.

But what triggers this carnage?

A big clue lies buried
beneath the town's main street.

Beneath big nose kate's saloon

Is the basement
of the old grand hotel,

Sitting on the entrance
to a mysterious tunnel

That burrows
deep into the bedrock.

It's only one of
the many passageways

Crisscrossing 300 miles
under tombstone.

Their purpose?

To access tons of precious
silver buried beneath the town.

How does tombstone turn
hard rock into hard cash?

Historical mining expert
robert davenport

Investigates the silver rush

That transforms
the barren plateau

Into a boom town.

It all starts with
prospector ed schieffelin

In 1877.

He decides to survey for silver
in dangerous apache territory,

Sparking a warning from locals.

They told him, "the only stone

You're ever gonna find out there
is your own tombstone."

Well, that's what he named his
first claim when he found it.

Some of the rocks
he probably found

On the surface
were the chrysocolla.

is usually an indicator

Of copper, lead, zinc,
silver, and gold.

So this is probably
what ed was looking for.

Once ed confirms
the rocks contain silver,

He digs tombstone's first mine.

Okay. This is the silver
that they were looking for.

What they would do is they
would follow the ore bodies.

Using basic tools,

Miners chase the seams of ore
wherever they lead.

Back in the day when
ed schieffelin was down here,

This was before
they had hardhats,

Before they had lamps,
so what they would do

Is they would use
a candlestick holder,

Put it into the wall,
put the candle in,

And these are the tools
of the trade back in the day.

This is a drill steel...
130 years old...

And a 4-pound sledgehammer.

So it was a major process
getting this done.

Tombstone's miners
work 10-hour shifts.

They chisel holes
in the tunnel walls

Then fill them with dynamite.

After the blasting...

...It takes a couple of hours
for the dust to settle

Before the next crew
clear away the ore.

They load the ore into carts

And run it back up to
the surface for processing.

Massive silver mills
then refine the ore

Into giant 180-pound ingots,

Impossible for thieves
to easily snatch.

Everything in this mine
that you walk through,

You go through, that's void,
was silver.

rich ore-bearing rocks

Produce over 1,000 tons
of pure silver.

Some of it was so dense,

It actually assayed out at over
$8,000 to the ton of silver.

So it made it some of the
richest in the united states.

Why does the silver
spark the trouble

That culminates
in the o.K. Corral gunfight?

Metal worker spencer edgerton
is an expert in silver...

And why there is so much demand
for the metal

At this particular time.

It is relatively rare,
and it was valued worldwide,

And, of course,
it can be polished to a really high luster.

So those made it valuable
in jewelry.

Spencer demonstrates

What makes silver
so sought after.

What we're doing today
is casting silver

Using the sand-casting
method of casting.

Inside of this container
is silver.

We're gonna be heating it up to
probably close to 2,000 degrees

And pouring it into this mold.

Like gold, silver
is a relatively inert metal.

You can see it's already
starting to melt.

It doesn't corrode quickly,

Making it perfect
to turn into coins.

At this time, silver forms
the basis of the u.S. Currency,

So demand for these
silver dollars is huge.

In just four years,
tombstone's mines produce silver

Worth the equivalent of nearly
a billion dollars today.

A dusty desert town

Becomes a rich,
sophisticated metropolis.

But the wealth and prosperity

Also attracts troublemaking
outlaws to the frontier town...

...Sparking conflict
with mine owners

Determined to protect
their untapped fortunes.

Buried underground

Is the ultimate result
of this conflict...

The victims of the carnage
at the o.K. Corral.

Tombstone, arizona,

Booms on the back
of its silver mines.

But the town's fame today

Comes from the legendary
gunfight at the o.K. Corral.

Can evidence
hidden in this graveyard

Reveal who was actually fighting
and why?

This was tombstone's
first city cemetery,

And it started in 1880.

By 1884, it was full.

This is boothill cemetery,

So-called because many buried
here die with their boots on.

Historian don taylor
investigates what this place

Can reveal about the true
story of the o.K. Corral.

This cemetery fell
into complete disrepair.

In fact, at one point in time,
this was the garbage dump.

We have no records
of who's buried really where.

On the surface,
the cemetery holds few clues,

But the story belowground
is very different.

Tombstone's legendary boothill
is the resting place

For more than 250
of the town's dead.

Many are killed in cold blood,

Murdered in acts of revenge,

Or victims of affairs
that turn sour.

Among the dead, three cowboys...

28-year-old tom mclaury...

32-year-old frank mclaury...

And 19-year-old billy clanton...

The three victims of the
gunfight at the o.K. Corral.

But who are they,
and how do they end up

Dying on the streets
of tombstone?

Don taylor searches for answers
in cochise county,

The vast scrubland
that surrounds the city.

In the 1880s, it's the lair

Of a particular breed of men...
The cowboys.

Although mining was
the primary economic factor

In cochise county
back in the day,

As you can see, with the wide
open land that we have here,

Ranching also played
a key factor.

Today I'm outside of tombstone

And looking at the different
types of country

Where the cowboy ranches
would have been back then.

The word "cowboy" today

Means almost anyone associated
with cattle in the wild west,

But in this part of arizona,

It refers to members
of a very specific gang

Indelibly associated with
the o.K. Corral gunfight.

The word "cowboy" in
cochise county in the 1880s

Meant an outlaw.

The cowboys specialize
in one particular crime...

International cattle theft.

They form raiding parties

And sneak across
the mexican border

25 miles south of tombstone.

Under cover of darkness,
they drive cattle

Back across the border,
avoiding stiff import taxes.

The cowboys fatten up
their illicit herds

On the grasslands
around tombstone

And sell them
for a hefty profit.

Much of the meat
ends up in tombstone.

The butchers and restaurants
don't ask questions

About the source
of their steaks.

And as the town
of tombstone grows,

There's an insatiable demand
for the cowboys' stolen beef.

The demand for beef
in tombstone was growing

As exponentially
as the population.

The butchers
would buy their beef

For less than market value

Because, obviously, the cowboys
had nothing invested in it

Other than a few days
of rustling.

But mexican ranchers
start to shoot cowboys on sight.

So the outlaws are forced

To steal cattle
closer to tombstone,

Setting them on a path
that will eventually

Trigger the gunfight
at the o.K. Corral.

But the cowboys face a problem.

A brand marks each cow

That shows which specific ranch
they belong to.

So to steal cattle successfully,

The cowboys have to create
a top-secret tool,

A way to change one brand
into another.

Metal worker pete brown
is going to forge

This illicit instrument
known as a running iron.

They were very dangerous
tools to carry around

If you were a rustler
because it's obvious

What you were up to...
Stealing cattle...

And being caught in possession
of a running iron

Might lead to you
hanging from a tree.

It's a delicate operation.

The tool has to be small enough
to conceal from lawmen...

...Yet versatile enough

To change almost any brand
into another existing brand.

I'm making the business end
of the running iron.

This has to be slightly thinner

So that it matches the existing
brand on the cattle.

And that's a completed
running iron.

Now pete puts his
finished tool to the test.

First he brands a piece of wood
with an original "u" brand.

Next, he uses the running iron

To create a modified
"7-up" brand.

First thing I'm gonna do
is put the wings on the "u"

To make it into
a flying "u" brand.

Now I'm gonna adapt
the flying "u" into a "7-up."

If I was doing that
on the cattle,

Nobody would ever know
where those cattle came from.

Cowboys use
running irons just like this

To disguise stolen cattle
as non-local brands.

But when they come to tombstone
to sell their illicit meat,

They bring trouble...

...Spending ill-gotten gains

In brothels, bars,
and gambling dens...

...Sparking much of
the violent behavior

That threatens the prosperity
of the silver mines.

Don taylor believes tensions

Between rich mine owners
and the out-of-town cowboys

Boil over on October 26, 1881.

A group of cowboys
gather in a vacant lot

Behind the o.K. Corral.

They're openly carrying weapons,
in violation of local law.

In accordance to
city ordinance number 9,

It was illegal to carry guns
in tombstone back then.

Marshal virgil earp
confronts the cowboys.

Alongside him
are three deputies...

His brothers
morgan and wyatt earp...

And legendary gunslinger
doc holliday.

People saw
they had guns in their hands,

And they knew something
was about to happen.

What triggers the first shot?

And once the carnage begins...

...How does anyone escape alive?

Tombstone's legendary
gunfight at the o.K. Corral

Is the most famous 30 seconds
in wild west history.

But what really happens
during this iconic shootout?

Local historian don taylor

Wants to separate fact
from fiction.

In hollywood, it's
always a beautiful sunny day.

That day, it was cloudy, cold,
blowing rain and snow.

The lawmen...

Three earp brothers,
plus doc holliday...

Spot six outlaws...

Billy clanton and his brother...

Two mclaury brothers...

And two other members
of the cowboy gang...

In an 18-foot-wide vacant lot.

The lawmen confront
the armed outlaws.

Initially there were 10 men
and 2 horses in this space.

Virgil said, "throw up your
hands, boys. I want your guns."

And then all hell broke loose.

As they square off,

Cowboys outnumber lawmen
six to four...

And virgil earp is armed
only with a walking stick.

Before a shot is fired,
two cowboys flee.

Virgil swaps his walking stick
for a hidden pistol,

Evening the odds.

As shots start to fly,
a third cowboy escapes.

Cowboy tom mclaury
can't reach his rifle,

Making it four against two.

28 seconds later,
three men are dead.

But how do four people manage
to survive the carnage?

At this shooting range
near phoenix,

Historic weapons expert win ames

Investigates how
most of the gunfighters

Escape with their lives.

What does come to mind is,

With all those 30 rounds
shot in 28 or so seconds,

Why only three people killed?

Win believes
the gunfighters' shooting style

May hold a clue.

With all the lead flying around
and all the activity going on

And the fear of death
at any second,

I don't believe anyone really
took the time to aim and fire.

They were grabbing their
pistols, and they were shooting.

Pull pistol, shoot.

You're pointing it
at the target.

You're not aiming it
at the target.

That's the big difference.

The shooters
are going to investigate

The difference in accuracy

Between point firing
and aimed firing.

First, the shooter
fires five shots

Pointing at the target
from waist height.

He hit once out of five shots.

Now, if someone
was shooting back at him,

Like they had
at the o.K. Corral,

He wouldn't have hit even once.

Next, the shooter
uses the gun's sight

To line up his target.

He hit the target
five out of five shots.

In the rush to return fire,

It's likely no one takes
the time to aim properly.

And win believes basic chemistry

Can shed more light
on why so many shots miss.

In 1881, the only powder
available was gunpowder,

Or what we call today
black powder.

Until the beginning
of the 20th century,

Most pistols use
this chemical mixture.

This is black powder.
This is an explosive.

What we want to show you
is what happens

By pouring a little gunpowder
on this steel plate

And lighting it.

- Okay, guys. Ready?
- Ready.

One, two, three, go.

That was 30 shots

In I'm gonna guess
less than 28 seconds.

Got a little smoke
on that one, didn't it?

The shootout takes
place in a cloud of smoke.

Accurate aiming
is extremely difficult.

It's no longer a surprise

That four out of seven shooters
survived the short-range battle.

But it's the three cowboys
who die...

And the lawmen who emerge
as gunfighting heroes.

They all survive.

Do the earps deserve
their legendary reputation?

Or do they just get lucky?

gunfight at the o.K. Corral.

Four lawmen, including
wyatt earp and doc holliday,

Shoot it out with six outlaws
from the cowboy gang.

Three die... all cowboys.

Do the lawmen
deserve their reputation

As legendary gunslingers?

Of the 30 shots fired
in the vacant lot,

Up to 7 hit the cowboys.

Three bullets strike
billy clanton.

They hit his wrist...

His stomach...

And, fatally, his heart.

Frank mclaury reportedly
gets hit in the stomach...

The chest...

And with a lethal shot
to the brain.

Tom mclaury ends up
on the wrong end

Of doc holliday's shotgun.

The buckshot blows
a hand-sized hole in his chest,

Killing him instantly.

All the lawmen survive.

Is this due to luck
or great gunfighting?

At this shooting range
near phoenix,

Win ames investigates
whether the lawmen deserve

Their great reputation.

A key factor in their favor
is their choice of weapon.

Initially concealed
in his long coat,

Doc holliday
is carrying a shotgun.

Let's look at the difference
in patterns.

This is a shotgun blast.

This is also a shotgun blast.

Now, if we move over here
to these other target,

These are revolver blasts.

That's why a lot of lawmen
carried shotguns...

Primarily because
you can barely point it

In the right direction,

And the chances of hitting
your target are excellent.

His choice of weapon
means doc holliday

Instantly kills
cowboy tom mclaury.

At the o.K. Corral,
it was very tight quarters,

So a shotgun
was an excellent choice.

Three of the lawmen
are also shot,

But could the position
of their wounds be evidence

Of superior gunfighting skill?

Morgan earp,
for example, took a shot

That went between his
shoulder blade and the skin,

Past across his back,
and out the other side.

Morgan's unusual injury...

A single bullet through
both shoulder blades...

May be the result of
a deliberate shooting posture.

He would have had
his pistol forward...

And he would have had his
right foot forward, as well,

Which turns his body.

Now, at this point, his body
is gonna be at an angle

In such the bullet
would be at a straight angle

To come straight
across his back.

A sideways stance
presents a smaller target,

Protecting vital organs.

Thanks to a potentially
superior stance

And their better weapon choice,
the lawmen emerge victorious.

A month-long hearing
before a judge

Clears the earps
of any wrongdoing.

But the cowboy gang
want revenge.

In December 1881,

They set up an ambush
to kill virgil earp...

...Who, miraculously,
survives his injuries.

In March 1882,

They shoot morgan earp
in a tombstone saloon.

Despite efforts to save him,
he dies that evening.

Enraged by the shootings,

Wyatt earp kills
four cowboys in vengeance.

He then flees tombstone,
never to return.

But does this end
the violence in tombstone

And swap chaos for the stability
the silver mine owners crave?

Researcher nancy sosa

Investigates what happens
immediately afterwards.

After wyatt's vendetta
ride for the assassination

Of his brother morgan,

The town needed
to get back to normal.

They needed to represent

That they were a metropolis
in the desert.

They needed the silver investors
for the silver mines.

This is
the cochise county courthouse.

Its construction starts
10 months after the gunfight.

The grand brick structure
is a deliberate copy

Of imposing
east coast buildings.

The courthouse is
synonymous with law and order.

It showed how far
tombstone came as a community.

We went from being a village
of shacks and tents

To being adobe structures and
subsequently brick buildings.

The courthouse
symbolizes the end of an era.

Justice no longer comes
from the barrel of a gun.

The cowboy gang breaks up.

Tombstone regains
stability and prosperity.

But can the town survive

A greater threat
to its survival...

One that imperils the
money-making mines themselves?

Tombstone, arizona.

The gunfight
behind the o.K. Corral

Triggers the downfall
of the outlaw cowboy gang.

The town's silver industry
thrives in the aftermath.

But tombstone's population today

Is a fraction
of its early years.


Mining historian
robert davenport

Searches for clues
in the old silver-mining area

South of the town.

What we're doing now
is we're opening up

Several of the other mines.

It's pretty neat being
down here and seeing things

That people haven't seen
for decades

And in places where people
haven't been in decades.

In the same year
as the o.K. Corral gunfight,

Miners make
a surprising discovery

In one of the deeper
mine shafts.

Matter of fact,
they were clear down

To the 520-foot level.

They actually started
hitting water.

It starts as a trickle of water.

It's fantastic news, at first.

Water softens the rock,
making it easier to mine.

But a trickle
turns into a flood.

Water starts slowly coming up.

Well, then they realize that
they had hit a water table

And they were gonna
have to do something with it.

To keep the money flowing,

Mine owners order
two giant pumps.

Each extracts half a million
gallons of water every day.

The pumps work 24/7,
keeping tombstone's mines dry...

...And allowing miners
to dig deeper and deeper.

The mine owners even find a way

To turn the water
into greater profit.

North of tombstone
lies superstition mountain,

Home to an historic
mega machine.

This is a 20-stamp mill.

The purpose of a stamp mill
is to crush ore

So that we can get at
the precious minerals

Trapped inside that ore,
to refine it further.

Everything on here
is heavy and dangerous.

Ken grieger's team
has rebuilt this mill

To a working state.

He knows how vital water is
to this monster machine.

As soon as the mill
is up and running,

Water flushes over silver ore
as it's being crushed.

The stamp will
crush it until it's ready,

And then the water will push it
out of the mortar box

Into our collection trough.

After the stamps,
chemicals and heat

Separate out
the precious silver.

Water was very important,

Not only in operating
the machine,

But in operating
the power source,

Which was a wood-fired
steam engine.

They needed water to,
of course, feed the boiler

To keep this machine running.

Processing a ton of ore

Requires over 1,000 gallons
of water.

So, when water
is discovered in tombstone,

Plans are made to build stamp
mills right beside the mines.

But disaster strikes.

In may 1886,
a fire starts above a mineshaft.

It quickly spreads,

Setting alight
a steam engine and hoist

And destroying
the huge water pump.

With the city
illuminated by flame,

The residents of tombstone
can only watch

As fire consumes the most
productive mine in the area.

But then another disaster.

In 1900, the u.S. Government

Stops using silver
as a form of currency.

The metal's value plummets.

Thousands leave the boom town.

They had to shut down the mines,

And that pretty much
shut down tombstone.

To this day,
the mines lie dormant,

But current estimates suggest

Two-thirds of tombstone's silver

Still lies untapped
beneath the ground.

is still sitting on silver.

Silver was used for a lot
of things back in the day,

But today it's used for
electronics, used for medicine,

Used for many different things.

And what can it be used for
in the future?

We don't know, but tombstone's
sitting on the silver.

This sleepy town
lies waiting for a chance

To recapture the wealth and buzz
of its wild west days.

Until then, tombstone,
the town too tough to die,

Holds a powerful place
in america's history...

A boom town built on silver

And home of the shootout
at the o.K. Corral,

The most famous 30 seconds
in the wild west.