His short life ended at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral after having run-ins with Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp.
Life and Criminal Activity
Billy Clanton followed in his father and brother's footsteps and took up horse rustling and living a hard life, but prior to living the life of a criminal, he lived with his two parents until the death of his mother towards the end of the Civil War. This resulted in his father moving to Arizona.
Billy Clanton and his brother Ike often went into Tombstone on weekends, and he did business in Tombstone associated with the ranch alongside the two McLaury brothers.
By most accounts, Ike was not well-liked in and around Tombstone because he was a drunkard and obnoxious.
Billy participated in horse thievery throughout his life. He most likely got his start with his Old Man, who would steal horses in Mexico and then cross the border and sell them in the United States.
One of the more famous incidents involved Wyatt Earp, who arrived in town with a prize horse only to have it stolen. After a year, Wyatt saw the horse being ridden by the Clantons and stabled in the corral. He sent a telegraph to his older brother, James Earp, to send him the papers.
Warren Earp brought the papers out that night. Earp testified in a later court hearing,
While I was waiting for the papers, Billy Clanton found out that I was in town and went and tried to take the horse out of the corral. I told him that he could not take him out, that it was my horse. After the papers came, he gave the horse up without the papers being served and asked me if I had any more horses to lose.
Murder and Death
In 1879, Billy Clanton became much more aggressive in his outlaw activity.
According to Johnny Ringo, Old Man Clanton and his sons were involved in the killings of several people in Sonora, Mexico.
This resulted in the Mexican Rurales coming across the Mexican border into Arizona and being ambushed. Two years later, Mexican Rurales would do the same to Old Man Clanton, which would result in his death.
On October 25, 1881, Ike, Billy, and the McLaury brothers headed to Tombstone after working to gather scattered cattle lost during an earlier Apache raid. The events that transpired over that night and the next day have various versions.
After multiple run-ins with the Earp brothers and Ike roaming through the town at all hours of the night drunk and causing problems, Billy Clanton, along with others, rode into Tombstone to defend their brother.
When the Earps tried to peacefully disarm the outlaws, they resisted, and a shootout occurred.
Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled the scene while Billy Clanton emptied his pistol, and Tom and Frank McLaury stood their ground. However, that did not help them.
After the dust settled, Billy Clanton, along with Tom and Frank McLaury, lay dead in the street.
The funeral was a political affair as 300 followed the hearse while 2,000 citizens watched the procession from the side.
Billy Clanton is well-known because the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is well-known. If it had not been for that moment, he would not have had the same recognition.
Due to the popularity of the event, his character has been part of many movies about the shootout, with the most popular being Tombstone.