Photo credit: KWWL.com
By Mike Keleher
I just read a marvelous story on Ammoland.com written by Dean Weingarten about a “gunfight” which took place in a mobile home park in Hiawatha, IA last May, at tobacco spitting distance, between two opposing groups which strongly reminds me of the shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ back in 1881, and the story is chock full of opportunities to “Teach Yourself” how to avoid getting shot in a trailer park or any old corral.
All I know of this shooting was published by The Linn County Attorney’s Office, a county prosecutor level office which recently published their very well written “Investigation into the Shooting Death of Joshua Lathrop” online after they reached their prosecutorial decisions on January 29, 2021, and the story could have been published in the old Tombstone Epitaph (or opposing paper the Tombstone Nugget) just as easily 140 years ago.
On May 30, 2020, local police officers responded to shots fired calls from the Sunset Village Mobile Home Park, north of Cedar Rapids, IA around 11:40 PM. Upon arrival found four males suffering from gunshot wounds. “Numerous bystanders in high state of emotion had gathered at the scene.” One victim was deceased and lying in the street.
Back in Tombstone, three rural livestock maintenance technicians died in the street, with three wounded on the opposing force – a lawman named Virgil Earp, his two brothers, and an ad hoc “temporary” policeman for the day, a local Dentist of mixed reputation named Holliday. Both shooting incidents in Iowa and Arizona took place in about 30 seconds with many shots fired.
Virgil Earp photo credit: ok-corral.com
In Tombstone, a silver mining boom town, the eventual shoot out came after a simmering feud between a loose association of rough cowboys and rustlers who kept coming into contact with rough lawmen and gamblers- three brothers named Earp who originated in Illinois, and their friend Doc Holliday.
On the day of the OK Corral shooting, threats had been made against the Earps and the cowboys were purportedly seen at the OK Corral wearing guns in violation of the town ordnance. Town Marshal and also Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp went to sort the cowboys out. He was accompanied by his two brothers Morgan and Wyatt, who he purportedly deputized on the walk over to the narrow lot next to C.S. Fly’s Photographic Studios on Fremont Street. The Earps were accompanied by their local non-practicing Dentist who may or may not have been sworn in on the fly. Virgil handed Holliday a shotgun just prior to the shooting and Holliday stood with his friends.
In the Iowa trailer park, a female resident (name omitted), told roommates she had been attacked by two unknown males while she walked in the trailer park. One roommate armed himself with a knife and began looking for the unknown males. That knife wielding vigilante did not locate the attackers and retreated from the field of honor and potential combat among residences with their wheels removed.
The female also called her boyfriend (who lived with her in the park and hereafter called “Boyfriend”) about the purported attack. Boyfriend and his twin brother (Twin) drove to the trailer court. Twin had a valid Iowa Concealed Carry Permit and two handguns in his vehicle. Like many stories involving mobile homes and shootings, one of the handguns was a 9mm Hi-Point semi-automatic pistol. Also, like many other stories about the ultra cheap $200 Hi-Point pistol, it fired many bullets, some to fatal effect.
The brothers walked the dusty trails of the mobile home park in search of the unknown attackers, and tenants reported seeing one brother with a pistol openly displayed in the waistband. The mobile vigilante brothers circled the area yelling they were “Gonna get somebody” and according to the prosecutor’s recount, Boyfriend-the brother who did not have a concealed carry permit, put a firearm back in his vehicle.
In Tombstone, as the Earp brothers and Holliday proceeded towards Fremont street County Sheriff and Tax Collector Johnny Behan tried to stop the confrontation and said he had already disarmed the cowboys or was going to disarm the cowboys.
In Iowa, local resident, let’s call him “Deceased”, was told about two men walking in the park with guns. Deceased yelled to other residents and proceeded to look for the men. He was described by witnesses as “Shit faced and, in the mood, to fight.” Deceased’s blood alcohol content was later found to be .21 – nearly two and a half times the .08 level for intoxication in Iowa.
In Tombstone, local cattle relocator and hot head, Ike Clanton fanned the flames of hatred and made death threats against the Earps and Holliday in the hours before the shootout. He was temporarily derailed after Virgil Earp clunked Ike on the head with a pistol barrel about 1:30 PM and drug him over to see the judge for a $25 fine for carrying loaded weapons in town. Outside the court, Ike’s friend Tom McLaury appeared in an agitated state, which suddenly ended when Wyatt Earp hit McLaury over the head with yet another Earp pistol barrel. Shortly thereafter, the Earps heard Clanton, two McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton, were still armed and gathered at the OK Corral.
In Iowa, Intoxicated self-appointed vigilante committee of one Deceased yelled at the twin brothers back in the trailer park demanding to know what they wanted. Onlookers warned Deceased again about the brothers being armed, but he proceeded to go face to face with the brothers and was heard arguing for several minutes with the brothers. Deceased was heard demanding to know why Twin (the permit holder) had a gun and demanded to see it. Twin apparently did not bow to Deceased’s self-appointed position as protector of the relocatable housing realm, and said he did not need to show it and had a legal permit. Twin was heard saying he was trying to leave but Deceased blocked the way to Twin’s vehicle.
The level of intoxication and shouting, of course drew additional local residents to the scene, including one female with an aluminum bat and her nephew, let’s call him “Forty Cal” who brought his .40 S+W pistol along to back Deceased in the middle of the street. Another witness to the confrontation “Nine Mil” became alarmed when he heard Twin make reference to having a gun.” So, with all this excitement going on, Nine Mil retrieved his own 9mm S+W pistol from his trailer and approached Twin from behind.
At that point, all the armed combatants and Deceased (armed only with alcohol and righteous indignation) were in a straight line with Forty Caliber behind Deceased, Deceased facing Twin and Nine Mil was behind Twin. Boyfriend, the unarmed brother of Twin then ran to assist his brother. The fuse was lit.
Back in 1881, when the Earps and Holliday rounded the corner they saw Ike Clanton, Claiborne and the McLaurys with their hands by their sides with holstered revolvers quite visible. Later testimony by Sheriff Behan attributed Wyatt Earp stating aloud “You sons of bitches, you have been looking for a fight, well now you can have it.” The cowboys went for their pistols and Marshall Virgil Earp was heard to say “I have come to disarm you! I don’t mean that!” Shooting became vigorous after that for 30 seconds.
In Iowa, with all combatants assembled, the fateful ignition came when the intoxicated Deceased punched Twin in the face, knocking him backwards. One witness said he saw Deceased reach for and struggle with Twin for the pistol. The prosecutor’s summary advises witness accounts began to materially diverge after that point in the events- as it often does when several witnesses and participants are present at any dramatic event.
With numerous witnesses at the Tombstone shooting there were also numerous divergent sworn statements and courtroom testimony about “who shot first” and in Iowa the prosecutor’s office said they could not determine the same issue due to several different witness/participant stories.
The concealed weapon permit holder Twin, said when he was punched, he saw 40 Cal running in his direction holding a gun and was afraid he was going to be shot and pulled his concealed 9mm weapon and “may have fired once” and was hit by gunfire.
Nine Mil said he saw Twin shoot Deceased and said shots were fired at him and his baseball bat toting aunt. Nine Mil emptied his 14-round magazine (called a “clip” by the prosecutor’s office…sigh) then retired to his trailer while “bullets were flying everywhere” and placed his pistol in the trailer.
Nine Mil said he was grazed in the leg by a bullet (the report believes it may have been from Forty Cal as all parties were in a straight line.) Nine Mil fell to the ground and returned fire towards Forty Cal who was behind Deceased. Unarmed Boyfriend was hit by gunfire but did not know who shot him.
A call to 911 recorded two volleys of shots fired. 14 shots were fired in rapid succession and then 29 seconds later 11 more shots were fired. 14 shots were attributed to 40 Cal’s mag dump and 11 fired by Twin and Nine Mil. Forensics showed the mortally wounded Deceased was hit in the chest by Twin’s bullet and one from Forty Cal was found in Deceased’s arm.
All parties told their stories to investigators and claimed self-defense. Quite amazingly, the prosecutor’s office did not charge anyone in the shooting. They found the shooters were voluntarily involved in mutual combat, and under the description of Iowa law, each shooter was involved with their own particular self-defense. They responded with deadly force in response to deadly force threats and they were not charged for the shootings. Imagine if this story happened in Chicago- somebody is going to jail in Illinois. Boyfriend, (the non permit brother, who put his pistol back in the car before the shooting) was charged with carrying a firearm in a public place without a legal permit.
Back in Tombstone, at the end of 30 seconds of gunfire, the two McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton lay dead. Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were all wounded and Wyatt was unharmed. This is the most studied gunfight in history, with many excellent volumes published and a number of Hollywood movies-and no clear conclusion can be reached about whether Wyatt Earp or Billy Clanton shot first.
Temporary lawmen Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were arrested the next day based upon warrants sworn out by Ike Clanton and Sheriff John Behan. The charges were dismissed by judge Wells Spicer following a month-long preliminary hearing.
TEACHABLE ITEMS FROM THE IOWA STORY:
1. Call the police to report criminal activity like someone attacking the female resident. Having a concealed carry permit does not grant you vigilante justice authority.
2. Don’t look for trouble. Everyone in this story looked for it and found it. If you are at home or afield and have a firearm, protect yourself and loved ones from harm- don’t actively seek it out. People responding to the street argument arrived readily and armed, but did not know what was going on-yet chose to get involved. Protect yourself-don’t get in the middle of other people’s unknown problems-especially when alcohol is involved. Why it seems like just the other day the Dean of Students at Faber University told me “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to live your life.” Words to live by Dean Werner.
3. Keep your gun concealed while in public. If you have a permit to carry, then keep it concealed and a secret from others. This story said one brother was carrying openly in a waist band and one or both were yelling about having a gun. If you have a legally concealed weapon it is your secret. Don’t give up the tactical element of surprise. The intoxicated victim in this story was drawn to it- in a fatal manner.
4. If other people have guns or are being openly aggressive-leave the area. Retreat is a tactical solution and is a whole lot cheaper than having to hire lawyers later. Remember every bullet has a lawyer attached to it and a chance to lose your freedom and liberty even if you think you are right. Two gunmen- Nine Mil and Forty Cali were drawn into this situation after hearing about men with guns in the street. They chose to go see what was going on or defend “something” instead of staying indoors and calling the police. They were in little danger while staying home.
5. Cover and Concealment were omitted in this “gunfight” as they were in Tombstone. Standing flat footed in the open is a terrible way to start a gunfight. Also, the middle of a gunfight, is a terrible time to try and learn to use cover. Cover can stop bullets. Anything less is merely concealment and can obscure your profile but not as good as real cover.
6. If you have no cover available, then movement is your friend. Move quickly and laterally to gain cover. In the Iowa story, everyone and the Deceased were all in a straight line. Bullets flew from both ends of the line- lateral movement, even a single side step moves your heart and several other favorite organs 12 to 18 inches immediately off the obvious target trajectory. Street gunfights that look like shooting range lane practice are rare-humans tend to bend, run and weave with amazing agility if given the opportunity. Move. Get gone.
7. Marksmanship still wins the day. If you choose to carry a gun then by God practice with it and be a good marksman. 25 bullets were fired at very close range with only a single center mass hit-which not so coincidentally killed the person we now call Deceased. High-capacity guns often lead to lots of shooting and very few hits. The rest of the trailer park must have been quite well ventilated. Remember the Be Aware of Your Backstop and Beyond? Lots of potential innocent victims in a small space.
8. Be deliberate if you are going to shoot. Hit what you aim at. The first center mass bullet is most often the end of the fight. Good or bad and certainly sensationalized in the media, Wyatt Earp has been quoted about the need to be deliberate and accurate in a gun fight.
“When I say that I learned to take my time in a gunfight, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for the time to be taken was only that split fraction of a second that means the difference between deadly accuracy with a sixgun and a miss. It is hard to make this clear to a man who has never been in a gunfight. Perhaps I can best describe such time taking as going into action with the greatest speed of which a man’s muscles are capable, but mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry or the need for complicated nervous and muscular actions which trick-shooting involves. Mentally deliberate, but muscularly faster than thought, is what I mean.”
Wyatt Earp photo credit: ok-corral.com
9. Pistols are not magic wands which cure social problems or render bad guys instantly dead like on TV. They make really bad, short clubs, have a limited amount of ammunition and very short effective distances. Survivability of pistol shootings in America is over 85%. A center mass double tap or controlled pair of rounds increases 9mm, .40 or .45 APC lethality- but still less than 70% of the time. A rifle or shotgun is ultimately preferable to a pistol if available. If you carry a pistol then think of carrying a spare magazine as mandatory equipment-never leave the house without your spare magazine. In the Iowa story there is at least one complete mag dump of .40 rounds and the shooter then left the field. If you have to fight, that spare magazine could be your key to continued birthdays…and how long do you have to reload Uncle Mike? The rest of your life.
10. If you are involved in a shooting it will probably be one of the most important events of your life. The aftermath will certainly be the most important and most critically reviewed event of your life. Police and prosecutors have months or even years to examine split second events. The well reasoned Linn County prosecutor’s written decision to not charge the shooters still took 8 months to process. In the event you are in a self defense shooting, the police are going to gather the evidence and it is all well and good to tell the truth, but in this instance take a time out and state, “I will be glad to explain what happened, but I would like to speak with an attorney first to ensure my rights will be protected.”
11. Bonus Point: If you get the chance, always take a friend like Doc Holliday with you….and maybe wear a historic mustache.
Doc Holliday photo credit: ok-corral.com
“…he was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long, lean, ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun I ever knew.” Wyatt Barry Stapp Earp quoted by Stuart Lake.