PHOENIX – A missing handwritten transcript from a coroner’s inquest done after the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral has resurfaced in a dusty box more than 125 years after the most famous shootout in Wild West history.
The document had been missing for decades – last seen when it was photocopied in the 1960s.
It was found when court clerks stumbled on the box while reorganizing files in an old jail storage room in Bisbee, about 20 miles south of Tombstone, the Arizona frontier town where the gunbattle took place.
Stuffed inside the box was a modern manila envelope marked “keep” with the date 1881.
The inquest was done after lawmen Wyatt Earp, his two brothers and Doc Holliday confronted a gang of drunken outlaws, sparking a 30-second gunbattle in the streets of Tombstone that killed Frank and Tom McLaury and Bill Clanton.
It made folk heroes of Earp and Holliday and inspired numerous movies about the untamed Old West.
Officials showed off just one page of the transcript on Wednesday – a thick sheet of paper with blue lines and sloppy cursive writing in dark ink. It appeared to contain the beginning of testimony by William Claiborn, identified by a historian as a friend of the three dead outlaws.
“I was present on the afternoon of Oct. 26th ’81 when the shooting commenced between outlaw parties,” the testimony reads.
Court officials have turned the document over to state archivists. Experts will immediately begin peeling away tape, restoring the paper and ink, and digitizing the pages.
The first pages could show up on the library’s website for historians to review as soon as next week.
The document is legible, but the paper has darkened to an amber beer color and is brittle like a potato chip, said Cochise County Court Clerk Denise Lundin. The handwriting can be difficult to read because the court reporter was rapidly taking notes, she said.
Lundin is convinced that in her courthouse are records of the inquest for Johnny Ringo, another legendary outlaw.
“These things aren’t something you can go search for,” she said. “You really just have to watch for them.”