© Arizona Historical Society/Tucson
Dusty PagesWhen Bonnie Cook and Michelle Garcia were cleaning out an old jail storage space, they probably figured it was just another day at work. That is, until they came across an envelope that read "Keep." It was dated 1881.
By David Schwartz
''The Earps had just passed down the street with their guns. I passed from their [sic] down to my house … and I was their [sic] when the shooting commenced."
Sitting in her office at the Cochise County Courthouse, Denise Lundin paged through the handwritten account by miner C.H. Light and others that she found in the manila envelope. It was as if the Holy Grail itself had been plunked down on her desk.
Sixteen double-sided, amber-colored pages, held together with dark tape as brittle as a potato chip, chronicled the 1881 coroner's inquest into arguably the most famous shoot-out in the history of the Wild West — the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
"It was almost like time had stopped; it was very, very moving," says Lundin, the former superior court clerk. "It was like touching time gone by."
The documents, offering eyewitness accounts of the 30-second burst of violence between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on one side, and the Clantons and McLaurys on the other, had not been seen since the 1960s, when they were photocopied. Some feared they were gone forever. That is, until clerks Bonnie Cook and Michelle Garcia were cleaning out a jail storage space at the Bisbee courthouse on March 31, 2010. Amid the dusty boxes, they came across one envelope that read "Keep." It was dated 1881.
In short order, the documents were whisked to Lundin, who would lock them in a small safe and put it into a thick-walled vault for safekeeping. The next day — April Fool's Day — she called her friend, state archives director Melanie Sturgeon, to arrange a handover of the documents.
It took about a month to complete the meticulous process of scanning the hand-written documents into the computer system and painstakingly make them more readable for researchers and curiosity seekers. There also was a typed transcript available.
"It was important that we get them online, because the documents could not have withstood any handling," Sturgeon says. "People now have the opportunity to see them as they were all those years ago."