Classic Gunfights

Shoot-Out at Cottonwood Springs?

Wyatt Earp vs. Curly Bill Brocius.

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March 24, 1882

Wyatt Earp and his men take breakfast north of Contention, Arizona, on the San Pedro, then ride south toward the Babocomari River to scout out possible hiding places of various criminals.

Leaving his brother Warren on the trail to meet a courier, Wyatt, Doc Holliday, Sherm McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson ride up a rocky canyon into the Whetstones. Seeing no sign of recent riders, Earp loosens the gunbelt around his waist. Horses and men are weary and hot.

The trail they are on is about 100 yards from the waterhole, and it cuts across a deep, sandy shelf. They can only see the tops of the cottonwood trees, as the 15-foot-high bank hides the springs from their view. Across this sandy stretch, Wyatt rides, coat unbuttoned, six-guns sagging low, Winchester in the saddle boot, Wells Fargo shotgun and ammunition belt looped to the saddle horn.

At the scent of water, Wyatt’s horse quickens and Wyatt lets him make his gait. Fifty feet from the spring, intuition brings Wyatt up short. He swings out of the saddle, loops the reins in his left hand with his shotgun in his right hand and walks forward. Texas Jack and Sherm ride behind Wyatt, with Doc and Turkey Creek Jack much farther to the rear. Another step gives Wyatt a full view of the hollow. Two cow-boys jump to their feet, one yanking a sawed-off shotgun to his shoulder, while the other breaks for the cottonwoods.

“Curly Bill!” Sherm yells in astonishment, before wheeling his horse and retreating.

Wyatt later remembers shooting at nine cow-boys who each “had a rifle at his shoulder, and every rifle...

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