Died At Age: 40
Also Known As: Joseph Isaac “Ike” Clanton
Born in: Callaway County, Missouri
Famous as: Member of Brigand Group - The Cowboys
father: Newman Haynes Clanton
mother: Maria Sexton Clanton
siblings: Billy Clanton, Phineas Clanton
Died on: June 1, 1887
Joseph Isaac “Ike” Clanton was an American outlaw and a member of the notorious group of brigands who called themselves ‘The Cowboys’. One of the near-mythical figures of the American Old Wild West, he was present at the infamous 30-second shootout known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Clanton grew up in the frontier areas of Missouri and later moved with his family to Tombstone, Arizona before it was a town or even a mining community. There, the family set up the Clanton ranch, which in time became hugely profitable. The Clantons gained notoriety for their reckless behaviour, cattle rustling, and their long-standing rivalry with the Earp brothers. Ike particularly harboured deep animosity against Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. After the event at the O.K. Corral, where he lost one of his brothers, he filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. But they were later acquitted due to the inconsistencies in Clanton’s statements. He was killed six years later while trying to flee from a lawman who was trying to arrest him for cattle rustling charges. Clanton’s life has been the subject of numerous literary works, and he has been portrayed on both films and TV shows by the likes of Grant Withers, William Tannen, Stephen Lang, and Jeff Fahey.
Childhood & Early Life
Ike Clanton was born in 1847 in Callaway County, Missouri to parents Newman Haynes Clanton or Old Man Clanton and Mariah Sexton Clanton, née Kelso. He had three brothers and two sisters. His mother died in 1866.
Clanton joined his family as they relocated to Tombstone in about 1877. His father, also a significant figure in the history of American Wild West, held various jobs, including that of a day labourer, gold miner, and farmer. By the end of the 1870s, Newman had emerged as a prominent cattle rancher.
The Clanton ranch was located at Lewis Springs, a picturesque place about 12 miles away from Tombstone. Ike, who previously had owned a small lunch counter at the Tombstone Mill site, was working alongside his brothers at the ranch by 1881. That year, a tragedy occurred in the family. On 13 August, Old Man Clanton perished after being ambushed with several members of his posse by Mexican Rurales in what came to be known as the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre.
The ranch gradually turned into a very successful enterprise and the Clantons became affluent and powerful members of the town’s community. Their income was further augmented by illegal cattle rustling. Known collectively as ‘The Cowboys’, the Clantons and their ranch hands garnered a reputation for reckless behaviour. Besides cattle rustling from across the U.S.–Mexico border, they allegedly committed banditry and murder.
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Ike Clanton and his associates, namely "Curly Bill" Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and the McLaury brothers, soon found themselves in conflict with Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan Earp and Holliday. The Earps had moved to Tombstone in the 1870s when there was a silver boom going on in the town. All three brothers held various positions at law-enforcement and often were threatened with violence by The Cowboys.
The Earps, within a couple of years of their arrival, had become remarkably influential in the boomtown and competed with the Clantons for political, legal, and economic power. The animosity was on a personal level as well, as both families truly disliked the other. In the November 1880 election, the Cowboys stood behind the incumbent Sheriff Charles Shibell, while the Earps were vocal in their support for his main opponent, Bob Paul.
Clanton’s personal reputation left much to be desired. He was known to regularly boast in public, as well as drink and gamble heavily. Moreover, he had a bad temper and often got into trouble for talking too much.
After Wyatt Earp arrived in Tombstone in 1879, he had a horse stolen by the Clantons in November. About a year later, he and Holliday rode to Charleston, near the Clanton ranch, to retrieve the animal. Later, in a court testimony, Earp revealed that 18-year-old Billy Clanton, Ike’s younger brother, met him and spoke to him insolently, asking if he had any other horse to “lose”. However, he did give the horse back to Earp without even seeing the ownership papers, making it clear to Earp that Billy knew whose horse it really was.
According to Sheriff Johnny Behan, who was a close ally of the Clantons, the incident made Ike furious. It had the same effect on Earp as well. He had lost the election for the position of undersheriff to Behan and feared that he would lose the next Cochise County election to him too.
Earp needed to do something drastic to tip the scale in his favour. So, he reached out to Clanton on June 2, 1881, to help him catch the robbers of the Benson Stage incident, offering him not only the Wells, Fargo & Co. reward but also money from his own pocket. But ultimately all that planning amounted to nothing as all the suspects were killed in unrelated incidents.
Clanton came close to duelling a gambler named “Denny” McCann on June 9, 1881, but Tombstone marshal Virgil Earp arrived in time and stepped between them to stop them from shooting each other.
Despite becoming one of the most successful ranchers in America, the Clantons never bothered to register a brand in either Cochise or Pima County, which was needed to breed and raise cattle at the time. Furthermore, The Cowboys, who were basically a disorganized group of outlaws, crossed the border into Mexico and brought stolen cattle into America. The Mexican government had put high tariffs on the goods that got transported across the border, which turned smuggling into a lucrative business.
Tombstone Gunfight & Aftermath
Ike Clanton also came close to duelling Holliday on October 25, 1881, after he spread rumours that Holliday and the Earps had been involved in the Benson stagecoach robbery. Virgil put a stop to this one as well. Clanton was arrested for entering into the town armed on 26 October and was brought before Judge Wallace who fined him $25 plus court costs. His guns, which were earlier confiscated, were later returned to him.
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Within the next few hours, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton arrived in Tombstone. They were all armed. Tom was pistol-whipped by Wyatt, and when Frank and Billy learned that their respective brothers had been abused by the Earps, they became enraged. Several witness informed the Earps that Frank and Billy had been seen buying cartridges. Ike enlisted Billy Claiborne, a fellow Cowboy who had garnered a reputation as a gunfighter.
The gunfight took place at about 3:00 pm, and despite its name, not within or next to the O.K. Corral. In reality, it happened in a narrow lot on the side of C. S. Fly’s photographic studio on Fremont Street, which was six doors west of the O.K. Corral’s back entrance.
When the shooting began, Claiborne, who didn’t have his weapons with him, ran off immediately. And Ike drove at Wyatt’s feet, claiming that he was unarmed as well. Wyatt famously replied, “"Go to fighting or get away!" Ike got up and ran into Fly’s place and hid there until the gunfire stopped. Billy, Tom, and Frank were killed in the incident.
Despite having been shown clemency, witnesses stated that Clanton kept threatening the Earps and Holliday. He later unsuccessfully brought murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. During the trial, he unwittingly helped the defence’s case with his inconsistent testimonies. Subsequently, the lawmen were cleared of all charges.
Later Life, Death & Legacy
In the years after the Tombstone gunfight, Ike Clanton along with his brother Phineas continued to cattle-rustle in Arizona. He was charged for the crime by detective Jonas V. Brighton, who, on June 1, 1887, killed Clanton at Jim Wilson's Ranch on Eagle Creek, south of Springerville, Arizona, after he resisted arrest and tried to flee into the desert.
According to a reporter who corresponded with Brighton a few weeks later, Clanton was given “as decent a burial as circumstances would admit” although some accounts state that his body was left lying where he died and was later buried by Mormon ranchers in an unmarked grave.
While he never had any children himself, many of his relatives, including several of his brothers, went on to have numerous children whose descendants still reside in Arizona.
In Popular Culture
There is a considerable amount of literature on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, including writings of people who were present in Tombstone at the time of the incident. Billy Breakenridge, who had served as deputy sheriff under Behan and was close to Clanton, published his account, as did Josephine Earp, Wyatt’s common-law wife.
In the 1946 classic ‘My Darling Clementine’, Clanton was portrayed by Grant Withers. Lyle Bettger played him as a brutal thug in ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ (1957), while Robert Ryan portrayed him as a highly sophisticated personality in ‘Hour of the Gun’ (1987).
In ‘Tombstone’ (1993), which starred Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Stephen Lang was cast as Clanton. Actor Jeff Fahey appeared as Clanton in Kevin Costner starrer ‘Wyatt Earp’ (1994). Clanton is also a character in the ‘Dr Who’ story ‘The Gunfighters’ (1966), portrayed by William Hurndell.
In June 1996, a family descendent petitioned for exhuming what he considered to be Clanton’s remains; the petition was declined.