Tom McLaury was killed in the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
"Born Thomas McLaury in Meredith, New York, he was two years old when his family moved to Belle Plaine, Iowa. Both he and his older brother Frank McLaury studied pre-law, and their oldest brother William McLaury eventually became a judge in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1878 he and Frank moved to Hereford, Arizona, where they first met Ike Clanton and became associated with the Clanton family. At the time, the Clanton family owned one of the largest cattle operations in the Arizona Territory, although their success was based at least in part on stealing cattle from Mexico Rancheros and later U.S. ranches.
By 1879 the two brothers cattle business was growing and they purchased land and built a house at Soldiers Holes. Their ranching operation was near the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, as its population exploded due to the silver rush. They became associated with "Curly Bill" Brocius. On October 27, 1880, the two brothers were briefly detained when Brocius accidentally shot and killed Tombstone Town Marshal Fred White.
On July 25, 1880, U.S. Army Captain Joseph H. Hurst asked Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp to assist him in tracking Cowboys who had stolen six U.S. Army mules from Camp Rucker. Virgil requested the assistance of his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams, and they found the mules at the McLaurys' ranch. McLaury was a Cowboy, which in that time and region was generally regarded as an outlaw. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers. They found the branding iron used to change the "U.S." brand to "D.8." Stealing the mules was a federal offense because the animals were U.S. property.
Cowboy Frank Patterson "made some kind of a compromise" with Captain Hurst and persuaded the posse to withdraw with the understanding that the mules would be returned. The Cowboys showed up two days later without the mules and laughed at Captain Hurst and the Earps. In response, Capt. Hurst printed a handbill describing the theft, and specifically charged McLaury with assisting in hiding the mules. He also reproduced the flyer in The Tombstone Epitaph, on July 30, 1880. McLaury angrily printed a response in the Cowboy-friendly Nuggett, calling Hurst "unmanly," "a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, and a malicious liar," and accused Hurst of stealing the mules himself. Capt. Hurst later cautioned Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan that the cowboys had threatened their lives. Virgil reported that Frank accosted him and warned him "If you ever again follow us as close as you did, then you will have to fight anyway." A month later Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him if he ever followed them as he had done before, they would kill him.
By October 1881, tensions between the Earp brothers and Cowboys had increased dramatically. Ike Clanton, a good friend of Tom's, had repeatedly threatened the Earps. On October 26 he been drinking most of the previous night and that morning. He was armed and told others he was looking for Holliday or an Earp. At about 1:00 pm, Virgil and Morgan Earp surprised Ike on 4th Street and Virgil buffaloed (pistol-whipped) him from behind. Disarming him, Virgil took Ike to appear before Judge Wallace for violating the city's ordinance against carrying firearms in the city. While Wyatt waited with Clanton, Virgil went to find Judge Wallace so the court hearing could be held.
On the morning of October 26, 1881, the McLaury brothers were in Tombstone and armed in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting carrying weapons in town. It is not known who started shooting first. Accounts by both participants and eye-witnesses were contradictory. Those loyal to one side or the other told conflicting stories and independent eyewitnesses who did not know the participants by sight were unable to say for certain who shot first.
Most witnesses reported the first two shots were so close together that they could barely be distinguished. Some witnesses testified that Morgan and Doc fired across one another at Billy and Frank, respectively. Wyatt later testified that he and Billy Clanton fired the first two shots. Virgil said one of the first shots was Billy Clanton's. All witnesses agreed that general firing almost immediately commenced. Witnesses could not agree on whether Tom McLaury was armed."
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