On a quiet morning in the fall of 1882, a couple of hours after sunrise, the sound of gunfire echoed through the streets of Tombstone, Arizona, ending a bitter argument between two men.  

Tombstone Shooutout 

Earlier in the day, a drunk and verbally abusive Billy Floyd Claiborne got into a shoving and shouting match with gunman Buckskin Frank Leslie at the Oriental Saloon over politics. Leslie, the bartender, tried to calm him down and told Claiborne to leave, according to bartender E.H. Dean.

Others say the core of the argument centered on Claiborne’s insistence Leslie and others call him Billy the Kid. Leslie flatly refused. 

For reasons never clarified, Claiborne decided to assume the nickname after the Kid was killed in the summer of 1881. Reports circulated Claiborne supposedly killed three men who refused to use his adopted nickname, but no such evidence existed. 

Those who knew Claiborne considered him arrogant. He had left Tombstone a year earlier under a bit of a cloud.

The Clantons and McLaurys recruited Claiborne to join their gang to help even the odds in their ongoing dispute with the Earp brothers. But Claiborne didn’t quite uphold his end of the bargain when the two sides met in the confrontation known as Gunfight at the OK Corral.

On October 26, 1881, Claiborne followed Ike and Bill Clanton along a narrow lot a few doors from the rear entrance to the corral, flanked by Tom and Frank McLaury.

When the group, known as the Cowboys, drew closer to the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, shots rang out in the vacant lot at the end of Fremont Street.

Claiborne fired twice at Virgil Earp, missed, and then fled the gun battle along with Ike Clanton to the safety of C.S. Fly’s photo studio.

Claiborne tried downplaying his role in the gunfight, contending he wasn’t armed at the time.

Although he ended up testifying at the OK Corral inquest, his reputation suffered because he ran from the scene of the shootout. When he returned to Tombstone a year later, Claiborne tried going by the name of Billy the Kid. 

He and Leslie drank and argued for most of the day. And the words turned bitter. According to the bartender, an angry Claiborne threatened Leslie and then marched out of the saloon.

“The next I hear was a man came running in telling Mr. Leslie that Claiborne was outside with a rifle to kill him,” said bartender Dean. Leslie left through a side door and spotted Claiborne with a Winchester.

“Billy, don’t shoot,” Leslie warned. “I don’t want you to kill me, nor do I want to have to shoot you.”

Claiborne ignored the advice and fired from about fifteen feet away but missed.

Leslie, who had a reputation as a cold-blooded killer, drew his revolver and snapped off a couple of shots, hitting Claiborne at least once. 

Claiborne died within a half-hour. According to a statement made by Leslie, Claiborne raised the rifle and shot first. A witnessed backed up the story.

William Henry Bush, a local boot black, told the Tombstone Epitaph “I saw him raise the gun to shoot Mr. Leslie, and I seen the gun go off, the bullet striking the sidewalk.” Authorities ruled the killing justified because Claiborne tried to ambush Leslie. 

Claiborne, the wannabe Billy the Kid, died in the streets of Tombstone at age 22. The simple epitaph on his grave marker in Row 2 of Tombstone Cemetery reads, WM.Claiborne Shot by Frank Leslie 1882


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6 comments to “THE OTHER BILLY THE KID”

  • Adele Embrey

    Hi Tom,
    I have heard a bit about Billy the Kid.
    He sounds like a typical 22 year old full of his own importance.
    I saw the gunfight at the OK corral many years ago now but forget most of it.
    Don’t see many westerns on TV much any more. Shame really.Don’t like any of this SCI-FI stuff.

  • Hi Adele– Hope things are going well. Billy Claiborne (The Other Billy the Kid) was a bit of an ass. Unfortunately, his mouth overloaded his brain and cost him his life. There are still a lot re-runs of Westerns on TV here, which is nice. And I have trolled the internet on occasion to find a good Western.

  • Another fascinating story, Tom. Like Adele says there is lack of good modern Western movies, although a few great ones have popped up recently. A hunt on You Tube will find quite a few of the old classic.

  • Thanks, Martin. And you are right. good hunt will pay dividends as far as the classics.

  • Adele Embrey

    Hi Tom,
    I think I will have to get up early and go looking for some Western Movies as we have bonus internet that never gets used as we don’t have much to use it on so maybe some movies will fix that.-Adele

  • Good luck with your search. You may find a gem or two.

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