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The Wild West

Premier :: 2006-03-02

on BBC Two

Genre :: Documentary

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Given Hollywood’s fascination with the Old West, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s been no stone left unturned in depicting some of the era’s most colourful characters; many of the truths have been distorted by myth - until now. "The Wild West" is the docudrama series that re-evaluates three of most famous figures of the time – Colonel Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn, Billy the Kid and the role that Wyatt Earp played in the gunfight at the OK Coral. "The Wild West" presents the facts, uncovering secrets and twists, proving once and for all, fact can be a lot interesting than fiction.

Latest Episode

Series 1 - Episode 3 - The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Aired - 09 March 2007

Episode summary:

The gunfight at the OK Corral was the classic Western shoot-out. It eventually turned one man into a great American hero and a symbol of the nation. His name was Wyatt Earp. But after the smoke cleared on that fateful day in Tombstone in the autumn of 1881 with Tom McLaury, his brother Frank and Billy Clanton lying dead in the dusty street, Wyatt Earp wasn’t seen as a hero but a villain. The legendary lawman was arrested and put on trial for murder. And the prosecution were so sure of victory that they pushed for the ultimate penalty – death. The resulting court case was one of the most dramatic in American history and its outcome helped shape the nation. The most famous of a new breed of lawmen, Wyatt Earp had himself been a notorious gunfighter. But when he came riding into Dodge City in 1876, the mayor hired him to be the peacekeeper. The gun-slinging drunken cowboys had met their match. Earp was tougher and meaner than they were. But he understood that you couldn’t end the violence, you could only keep it at bay – keep it away from the community you were trying to protect. He was given full control and immediately created the famous ‘deadline’ – a border into town beyond which no one could carry a gun. Anywhere outside the ‘deadline’ it was every man for himself, anything went. Inside the town, Wyatt Earp was in control and he made the rules. Tombstone, his next town, had a similar ‘deadline’. The gunning down of three men by three Earp brothers and their psychotic friend ‘Doc’ Halliday symbolised a lawless world, but the fact it led to a trial is vital, symbolising how the rule of law would eventually take over from the rule of the gun. Ironically, the trial spared Wyatt’s life, but the law was not able to protect his brothers, gunned down in the following year by the McLaury clan. So in a final bloody climax, Wyatt abandoned his badge, and hunted down and killed the killers. This film recreates what happened in the 30 seconds of mayhem at the OK Corral, and the burning resentment of the 24 hours that led up to it. Drama – based on court records, letters and press reports – recreates the fevered sense of excitement, punctuated by expert testimony and detailed ballistic testing. If any single episode of history can be said to embody the Wild West, it is this: the true story of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

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