Play connects Wild West dots from Iowa to Arizona

Key players from Gunfight at the OK Corral have roots in Belle Plaine, Pella

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The Earp lawmen and the McLaury outlaws who faced off in the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., were a long way from their Iowa roots.

History aficionados in Belle Plaine and Pella don’t want that home-state connection to get lost in the dust, so they’re staging an original radio play in both towns this month.

“Tombstone Trial” will play out at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Cox-Snow Center at Central College in Pella, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Longfellow School Auditorium in Belle Plaine.

On the side of the law were Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil, a U.S. marshal, and Morgan, along with John “Doc” Holliday. The Earps called Pella home for 14 years, moving there from Monmouth, Ill., in 1850, when Wyatt was 2. The family traveled west with other settlers in 1864, and Earp’s boyhood home still stands in Pella’s Historical Village.

The outlaw gunmen known as the Cowboys included Frank and Tom McLaury, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Billy “The Kid” Claiborne. The McLaurys grew up in Belle Plaine and died in the shootout, along with Clanton. Virgil and Morgan Earp were injured, but survived.

A trial the stuff of legends ensued.

The longest preliminary hearing in Arizona history — Arizona was a territory at the time — dragged on for a month before murder charges against the Earps and Holliday were dropped. In later ambushes, however, Morgan was killed and Virgil was permanently crippled. Wyatt reportedly tracked down and killed at least three men who attacked his brothers. For more of their story, go to Pellahistorical.org/exhibits.

The radio play zeros in on trial details scoured from the internet and newspaper transcripts, and offers background information on the Earps and McLaurys. Several of their descendants are planning to attend the performances, said Wendi Winkie of Belle Plaine. She brainstormed the radio project with her sister, Dusti, under the auspices of the Wallace Winkie Foundation, which furthers their late father’s commitment to lifelong learning. The sisters collaborated with Valerie Van Kooten, director of the Pella Historical Society & Museums, and received a $500 mini grant from Iowa Humanities, as well as support from the Iowa Arts Council.

An all-volunteer effort, the cast features 18 residents from Pella and Belle Plaine, as well as crew members from the area and director Dean Bostian of La Porte City. They met in Grinnell for rehearsals.

Audiences will hear from the prosecution witnesses in the first act and the defense witnesses in the second act. In the final segment, Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer will render his ruling.

The Iowa connections continue with Spicer, whose family moved to Tipton when he was about 9; Doc Holliday’s common-law wife, Mary Katherine Horony, whose family emigrated from Hungary in 1860 and settled in Davenport when she was 12; and Wyatt Earp’s common-law wife, Celia Ann Blaylock, who was born near Fairfax in 1850.

“While the history of the shootout is known, not everyone knows that the Earps were from Pella and even fewer know that the McLaurys were from Belle Plaine,” Winkie said. “We saw this as an opportunity for people to learn a little bit about local history and state history, as well, and an opportunity for the community to be involved, because lifelong learning is also about community involvement.”

IF YOU GO

What: “Tombstone Trial,” a radio play

When & Where: 7 p.m. Saturday, Cox-Snow Music Center on the Central College campus, 812 University St., Pella; 2 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Longfellow School Auditorium, 707 Seventh St., Belle Plaine.

Admission: Free, donations accepted.

Details: Facebook.com/wallacewinkiefoundation/

Foundation Info: Parkitvirtualmuseum.com/wallace-winkie-foundation.html

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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