This infamous event has been immortalized in popular culture and remains a source of fascination to this day.
In this blog post, I will take a closer look at the life of Ike Clanton, from his early life to his eventual legacy.
Introduction to Ike Clanton
Ike Clanton was born in 1847 in Callaway County, Missouri. He was the eldest son of Newman Haynes Clanton, a successful cattle rancher and trader, and his wife, Mariah Sexton. Ike was the eldest of nine children and the only one to survive to adulthood.
Ike was a tall, lanky man with a slender frame and a wild demeanor. He was known for his quick temper, rebellious attitude, and love of guns.
He was an avid gambler and loved to show off his gun-slinging skills. He had a penchant for heavy drinking and was known to be something of a womanizer.
Ike was also notorious for his involvement with the Cowboys, a loosely organized gang of outlaws who operated in the Arizona Territory during the late 19th century.
He was a close associate of the gang’s leader, Johnny Ringo, and the two were often seen together.
Ike Clanton’s Early Life
Ike Clanton was raised on a cattle ranch in Missouri, where he learned the trade of cattle herding and ranching at an early age.
After his mother's death in 1866, he and his brothers stayed with their father. The family moved to Tombstone, Arizona, in 1877.
By 1881, he was working on his father's ranch at Lewis Springs, about 12 miles west of Tombstone and 5 miles from Charleston.
It was during this time that the Clantons and the others who worked at the ranch became known as the Cowboys. They would often cross the United States border and rustle cattle. Their reputation as bandits and murderers would follow.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
In October of 1881, Ike and the Cowboys were involved in an infamous gunfight with a rival gang, the Earp brothers, at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
The gunfight was the result of an escalating feud between Doc Holliday, The Earp brothers, and the Cowboys.
Ike was the primary antagonist, who had been drinking much of the night and throughout the day. In his drunken stupor, he began to cause problems. His brothers heard of his behavior and arrived in town to defend their brother.
This would set off a chain of events that led to the infamous gunfight that resulted in three deaths which included Ike's brother, Billy Clanton.
Clanton's Testimony Against The Earps and Doc Holliday
Clanton took the stand against the Earps and Doc Holliday, who he had accused of murder during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Clanton proved a better witness for the defense than the prosecution. He said that Doc Holliday, Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Morgan Earp had all confided in him that they had actually been involved in the stage robbery.
He further claimed that Holliday had told him that Holliday had "piped off" money from the stage before it left (although no money was missing, and the stage had not been successfully robbed). Clanton also said Holliday had confessed to him about killing the stage driver.
Murder was a capital offense, and given their relationship, it was unlikely Holliday would confide in Clanton. Clanton testified that Earp had threatened to kill his confederates because he feared they would reveal his part in the robbery.
Clanton said he feared that Wyatt wanted to kill him because he knew of Wyatt's role. These and other inconsistencies in Clanton's testimony lacked credibility.
By the time Clanton finished his testimony, the entire prosecution case had become suspect.
Judge Spicer exonerated the lawmen. In his ruling, he noted that Clanton had the night before, while unarmed, publicly declared that the Earp brothers and Holliday had insulted him and that when he was armed, he intended to shoot them or fight them on sight.
On the morning of the shooting, Virgil Earp had arrested him for carrying a revolver. At the gunfight, he was unarmed.
Spicer noted that Clanton had claimed the Earps were out to murder him, yet on both occasions that day, the Earps had not killed him and allowed him to escape unchallenged during the fight.
the great fact, most prominent in the matter, to wit, is that Isaac Clanton was not injured at all and could have been killed first and easiest.
After the trial, Virgil Earp was shot, leaving him with a crippled left arm. Soon after his shooting, Morgan Earp was shot and killed while shooting pool at Hatch's Saloon in Tombstone. In each of the shootings, Clanton and those he associated with were accused.
Wyatt Earp then took matters into his own hands and gathered a posse to kill them.
Wyatt would never locate Clanton but did kill Frank Stillwell along with three other Cowboys.
Ike Clanton’s Final Years
Clanton continued his outlaw ways after Tombstone. Those he was associated with killed a rancher named Isaac Ellinger. This would trigger Isaac's brother William Ellinger to use his vast amount of resources to put an end to Ike Clanton
The gang continued their murderous ways when they shot and killed Jim Hale.
In April 1887, the Apache County Stock Association met and hired a Pinkerton detective to track down the outlaws. They also hired Jonas "Jake" V. Brighton as a “secret service” officer. Brighton was a constable in Springerville and a range detective.
In April 1887, Phin Clanton was arrested for rustling and jailed in St. Johns. During May and June 1887, several grand jury indictments were brought against the Clantons and their friends. The indictments included charges of cattle rustling and murder for the death of Isaac Ellinger.
Brighton pursued Clanton. After three days, he spent the night of May 31, 1887, at Jim "Peg Leg" Wilson's Ranch on Eagle Creek, south of Springerville.
The next morning, Clanton rode up, and Brighton recognized him. Clanton turned his horse to run and drew his rifle from his scabbard. Brighton fired his rifle first, shooting Clanton through the left side, the bullet exiting out the right.
Clanton died before he hit the dirt.
He was dead at the age of 39.
Ike Clanton’s Legacy
Ike Clanton is primarily remembered for his feud with Wyat Earp and his brothers. His involvement in the O.K. Corral gunfight made him a well-known figure, as that event is still studied.
He is remembered as a cruel outlaw who lived by his own code of justice. His rebellious attitude and wild demeanor made him a symbol of the lawlessness of the era.
Ike’s legacy lives on in popular culture, with his life and exploits being depicted in films, books, and television shows.