shootout at OK Corral cartoon Wyatt Earp sending text message they won kicked Clantons' butt standing next to big pile of bad guy bodies

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the most famous shootout in the history of the Old West. It took place in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, on October 26, 1881.

The Earps won, the Clantons lost.

The real gunfight– not the one you see in the movies– teaches some important lessons. The lessons are the same, no matter what product or service you offer.

1. Legend (and the movies) say the Earps were the good guys. It’s more muddled than that. Muddled enough that the Earps were tried (and acquitted) for murder after the shootout.

Lesson: Don’t be quick to judge, to immediately categorize people (clients, customers) as good or bad. Use good sense, judge people by their actions over time. Keep an open mind, and give people a chance. You might just pick up a loyal friend and customer for life.

2. The entire gunfight lasted about 30 seconds.

Lesson: Be prepared for a life- or career-defining moment. Be alert for a window of opportunity, and seize the moment. Such windows may be open for only a very short time.

3. Wyatt Earp was the only “good guy” who wasn’t hit in the shootout. He outlived everyone else in the fight, and died at age 80 in 1929.

Lesson: Sometimes you get lucky. But it’s also true that you make your own luck. You do it largely by being there, being in the arena. You work hard, put in the time, gain experience, sharpen your skills. If and when your big chance arrives, you’re ready– ready to “get lucky.”

4. The gunfight did not actually take place at the O.K. Corral. It took place in a narrow lot next to Fly’s Photographic Studio, six doors west of the rear entrance to the corral.

Lesson: Never take “facts” for granted. The client may be mistaken, misinformed, using the wrong terms, and/or doing some wishful thinking. Be proactive: do the research, ask questions, fill in client knowledge gaps. In short, bring your expertise to bear. It’s part of the job, and crucial to successful results.

5. Town Marshall Virgil Earp deputized Doc Holliday on the morning of the gunfight. It was Virgil, his brothers Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and Holliday who faced off against the Clantons.

Lesson: Know when to ask for help– and ask for it. You need to make connections, and stay in touch. You’re ready to help them, they’re ready to help you.

6. Two members of the Clanton gang ran from the fight when the shooting started.

Lesson: Speaking somewhat facetiously: they recognized they were not a good match for the job, and turned it down. That’s excellent advice. We all have our specialties. It’s a mistake to try to be all things to all people. Recognize when a job is a bad match for you, and politely decline. If you can, recommend a colleague who is a good match for the job. Perhaps said colleague will return the favor one day.
7. The gunfight did not become famous until 1931, when author Stuart Lake published a largely fictitious biography of Wyatt Earp. Movies and television have since raised the gunfight to the level of myth.

Lesson: You never know when something’s going to go viral. You never know when you and your work might be discovered. Be ready. Practice, put in the time, stay optimistic, and always, always do the best work you possibly can.

Originally published on Mark Armstrong Illustration.