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Billy Claiborne

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In the Tombstone Novel:

Born October 21, 1860, to an excellent family; Billy arrived in Tombstone around 1877 and went to work as a cowhand for John Slaughter who was a friend of Billy's family. He originally met up with Slaughter, who later became sheriff of Cochise County, in Texas where he signed on at the Slaughter spread. His family had moved to Texas when he was pretty young and he accompanied John Slaughter to Arizona in 1879 as an 18 year old cowhand and remuda rider (making sure the string of horses used by the cowmen were kept together during a cattle drive. According to Viola Slaughter's memoirs, Billy saved Johns life when a mean bull dropped John's horse and was about to charge into John when Billy rode right in front of John and jumped the bull by the horns. Slaughter himself called Billy a "top hand". Texas John soon became Billy's role model. With the professions of minor and gambler, he's listed in the 1880 U.S. Census, Pima County, as an assistant amalgamator out of Charleston. In 1880 He also worked in Globe in 1880 and Charleston/Millville for the TM&M mill as a smelter and rock crusher in 1881. At the time of the gunfight he was he was a buggy driver for Col. (honorary title) William Herring who was the famous attorney (Wyatt's attorney in the OK Corral shootout) in Tombstone and later congressman for the Arizona Territory, and a smelter operator for the Neptune Mine which Herring also owned. He registered to vote on July 26th 1882 where he lists himself as a cattleman and living in Tombstone although he seems to have been working at the Bisbee Copper Mine at the time.

In early October of 1881 Billy was arrested for the killing of John Hickey in Charleston. He was arrested by Mr. Shearer and Ed Clark and was placed in jail by Virgil Earp. Billy managed to escape on a horse provided by Johnny Ringo who then hired the most expensive lawyer in Tombstone to defend Billy. The Kid was acquitted in November of the killing when the lawyer proved that Hickey was armed and it was a case of self-defense. Due to the regret he felt at the killing, Billy stopped carrying a handgun. Over the next few months Ringo loaned the Kid books from his on collection of classics and helped him pull himself together. The Kid became totally devoted to Ringo.

On October 26, 1881, Claiborne was with the other four cowboys when the shooting started. Being unarmed, he backed away from the shooting until Johnny Behan grabbed him and dragged him into Fly's Photographic Studio. Even though he never participated in the gunfight, Wyatt Earp took a shot at him but missed. When asked why he didn't run right away he said, "Because I thought there was more danger in running than standing there."

Billy stayed in Tombstone until the death of Johnny Ringo oh July 13, 1882. He was condemned for not lending a hand on the side of the cowboys during the gunfight. It affected him so much he started drinking seriously. Not wanting to stay in Tombstone without Ringo, Billy then moved to Globe where he took on some work trying to make new start. After the deaths at the OK Corral and Ringo's, Billy changed from a carefree sort to a hard drinker. Dispirited, Billy returned to Tombstone.

Claiborne was shot and killed in front of the Oriental Saloon by sometimes Earp supporter Buckskin Frank Leslie on November 14, 1882 who claimed that Claiborne had been making threats against him as related to the death of Johnny Ringo. Although Leslie, a friend of Wyatt Earps, shot Billy 5 times in the back, he was cleared of murder charges in Claiborne's death. Right after Billy was shot, Leslie walked up to him and Billy said, "Don't shoot me anymore I'm killed." Billy's friends picked him off the ground and took him to the hospital. Dr. Goodfellow's tried to give Billy morphine for the pain but he refused. Cursing Leslie until he was too horse to speak, Billy finally asked for a priest. Told that none was available, he gathered his last bit of strengh to speak his final words, "Frank Leslie killed John Ringo. I saw him do it." Billy Claiborne then died died six hours after he'd been shot.

Laurie McLaury gave me this picture taken at the Slaughter Ranch outside of Douglas, AZ.

It was outside this very saloon I met with my untimely end at the hands of Frank Leslie. (Photo was taken by the author in July 2003).

From this door Frank Leslie exited on his way to end my life. He knew what he was going to do and he knew he'd come out ahead. Not hard when he knew exactly where I was standing. (Photo taken by author July 2004)

My final resting place in Row 2 of Boothill not far from my friends the McLaurys and Billy Clanton. (Photo taken by author April 2002)

This banner has one of the images said to be of me.

Brewery Gulch in Bisbee was a hard charging place and perfect for any of us cowboys.

This is just a piece of a rarely published photo. I appear in the right upper corner.

For helping them out on their ranch, the McLaury's gifted me with a beautiful paint not unlike this one.

American West

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The Io Effect - Out of Print
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Wild West

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