An original screenplay
March 15, 1993
ROLL PROLOGUE OVER MAIN TITLE: a collage of old photos, prints, etc., and silent
live-action vignettes, all dark and heavily shadowed like a dimly-remembered
dream. The first images show the opulence of the Gilded Age, the epic vistas
of the west, cattle drives and cowtowns with all their violence....
"The economic explosion following
the Civil War created an
unprecedented nation-wide market
for beef. Previously worthless
cattle running wild throughout
Texas were gathered into herds
And driven north to the railheads
In Kansas. Fortunes were made as
Cowtowns sprang up on the
Prairies, wide-open centers of
Commerce and vice, their streets
Choked with heavily-armed young
Men fresh from the cattle drives.
In those days the correct term
For a cowhand was 'drover'.
'Cowboy', like 'cowpoke', was
originally an insult implying
deviant sexuality and was rarely
used. But these invading drovers
were a wild breed for soon
shootings and wholesale drunken
riots became so frequent that
ordinary citizens literally could
not walk down the street. In fact
at their height the cowtowns had
higher murder rates than modern
New York or Los Angeles and there
Was no law but that of the gun."
A dashing FIGURE in a Prince Albert coat appears, long locks tumbling down his
shoulders, twin Navy Colts thrust into a red sash at his waist, a tin star on
his chest. Next we see him in action, downing barroom opponents at once, pistols
FLASHING around the room like a strobe light:
"Straight-up at 75 yards or eye-
to-eye at point-blank range, the
greatest gunman of all time was
an Illinois abolitionist farm boy
named James Butler Hickok, better
known as Wild Bill, the Prince of
Pistoleers. But Wild Bill worked
His trade on the side of justice
And as marshal of cowtowns like
Hays City and Abilene he became a
Legend, the one man who stood
Between law and chaos."
Now Hickock sits facing us, playing poker as a shabby-looking FIGURE with a
gun steals up behind him and FIRES.....
"Wild Bill's fame spread nation-
wide but his end came quietly in
the spring of '76 when a strange
cross-eyed little drifter put a
bullet through the back of his
head, apparently for no other
reason than he wanted to kill a
Now a group of cowhands carouse a streetcorner, raising hell as 2 mustachiod
young LAWMEN walk up, trying to quiet them down.
"In Dodge City meanwhile, Wyatt
Earp and Bat Masterson were
Becoming known as fast-guns. But
Their fame had nothing to do with
Seeing it's hopeless, the lawmen whip out their pistols and start clubbing the
drover's making them stagger and grimace, holding their heads....
"Earp and Masterson operated more
like modern policemen, using
teamwork and persuasion to keep
order. Still, sometimes things
got out of hand."
An ARMED DROVER creeps up behind the lawmen, about to fire....
"But Wyatt had a guardian angel."
A REED-THIN FIGURE with a sawed-off shotgun steps from the shadows behind the
drover and FIRES. The huge blast WHITES-OUT the screen for an instant, making
the drover seem to disappear. The lawmen spin around. The thin man breaks the
shotgun open then calmly holds out his wrists to be cuffed. Earp looks at him
in shock, mouthing the word "thanks".
"John Henry 'Doc' Holliday was
the son of an aristocratic,
highly cultured southern family.
Trained in Philadelphia, he had
Embarked on a career as a society
Dentist when he contracted
Tuberculosis. Advised to practice
In the west where it was thought
The climate and clean air would
Prolong his life, Doc soon
Realized it was all only a matter
Of time and gave up dentistry to
Become a professional gambler and
The scene shifts to an elegant Victorian home: a stern Jewish patriarch orders
his darkly beautiful DAUGHTER upstairs as her weeping mother looks on. The girl
huffs up the stairs followed by her little white dog. Next, the girl and dog
are seen escaping through a window to the street below and a waiting cab.
"Others headed east. Bent on
becoming an actress. Josephine
Marcus defied her wealthy and
Very proper San Francisco Jewish
Family to run away with a
Traveling theatrical company,
Braving the perils of the
Frontier on her own. Dangerous as
This might seem, it was another
Age and women were so rare, their
Presence so cherished that they
Could travel virtually anywhere
In the west in perfect safety."
Now we see HORSEMEN silhouetted against the night sky, a hand knocking on a
door, figures conferring in darkness, then more riders, moving west in restless
haste toward the rising sun....
"At about this time the Texas
Rangers, having eliminated the
Commanche threat, turned their
Attention to the outlaw gangs
Marauding along the Rio Grande,
Cleaning up the border strip in 4
Years of hard riding. Those they
Could not indict or convict the
Rangers put down in their Black
Book, letting it be known that
They could either leave Texas or
Face summary execution. This
Resulted in the mass migration of
The absolute dregs of the Texas
Underworld to the most dangerous,
Uncivilized part of the entire
Country, the southeast corner of
The Arizona Territory."
A jagged, moonlit landscape, a lone prospector and his burro moving along a
ridge, a pick digging into a rocky ledge, an ore car emerging from a mine shaft,
finally a hilltop cluster of tents becoming the skeletal wood-frame beginnings
of a town....
"Harsh and inhospitable, savaged
in turn by the Apache and Mexican
bandits, this had always been an
accursed place, a virtual hell on
earth where it was thought life
itself could never prosper, much
less civilization. Then in 1879,
a prospector named Ed Schiefflin
set off alone into the Dragoon
Mountains. Friends told him he
Was crazy, that the only thing
He'd find in this Godforsaken
Place would be his tombstone.
Instead he found silver, lots of
It, and overnight the town of
Tombstone sprang up. Mining
Taking out millions in ore. Land
Value shot sky-high and
Speculators and gamblers and
Opportunists of all nations
Scrambled in by the thousands to
Make Tombstone queen of the
Boomtowns, so rich that the
Latest Paris fashions, hard to
Find even in the biggest cities,
Were sold there by the wagonload
From the makeshift storefronts."
An engraving of a stagecoach holdup, herds of cattle moving north, a newspaper
story of a massacre in Mexico, congressmen railing at each other, shaking their
"Meanwhile, the exile Texans had
banded together to form the
nucleaus of an organized gang.
Seizing controp of the
Surrounding countryside they
Robbed stagecoaches at will while
The big absentee business
Interests employed them as tax
Collectors and strongarm men. But
The backbone of their trade
Remained border rustling,
Periodic raids into Mexico to
Steal cattle while engaging in
What was described as a virtual
Orgy of murder and violence. The
Raids became so frequent and so
Bloody that the Mexican
Government formally protested to
U.S. President Chester A. Arthur,
Prompting heated debate in
Congress. General Sherman
Declared that the only possible
Way of bringing order was to send
In the army but in the wake of
Civil War Reconstruction federal
Intervention in civilian affairs
Was politically impossible."
Pounding hooves, flowing manes, a pack of night-riding HORSEMEN kicking hell-for-leather
across the desert moonscape....
"With only some 100 members, the
gang was an elite body of gunmen,
known by the red silk sashes they
wore around their waists.
Fiercely proud of their
Terrifying reputation and
Answerable to no one, they were a
Law unto themselves, finally
Emerging as one of the earliest
Examples in American history of
Full-scale organized crime."
END MAIN TITLE as the screen fades to an ominous black and....
"They called themselves the
EXT - SONORA DESERT/CANYON ENTRANCE - DAY
Burning daylight, hard reality. A squad of uniformed MEXICAN RURALES rides through
the Sonora desert, sabres glinting in the sun. Approaching the mouth of a rocky
canyon their hard-bitten CAPTAIN signals them to stop, leaning down to study
a jumble of hoofprints on the ground. He turns to the anxiouslooking YOUNG RURALE
on his right, speaking in Spanish via subtitle:
It's them, only an hour north.
But this is the border.
You saw what those animals did at
That rancho. You think a border
Is going to stop me? No, I'm
Going to see them suffer for what
They did! I swear it on my soul!
The Captain spurs his horse and they ride on at a gallop, plunging into the
EXT - SKELETON CANYON - NIGHT
The full moon throws fantastic shadows across the high walls of the canyon as
the Rurales ride through. At the bend the Captain halts them. The young one
starts to speak but the Captain shushes him, peering into the darkness. A few
Turn around! Fast! Now!
But suddenly GUNFIRE erupts from the shadows all around them, blasting them
from the saddle, each powder flash lighting up the canyon for an instant, freezing
each victim in the moment of his death. Then, just as abruptly the firing stops,
leaving only the Captain, the young Rurale, and a 3rd Rurale alive. Dazed and
bloody, they struggle to their feet as 6 armed FIGURES emerge from the shadows,
walking into the moonlight toward them. With broad-brim hats swept up in front,
silk scarves and red sashes, high boots and silver-studded gunleather, they
look like 17th century pirates. These are the Cowboys: OLD MAN CLANTON, the
ageless, white-bearded leader; CURLY BILL BROCIUS, 2nd-in-command, smiling,
bullnecked; IKE and BILLY CLANTON, the old man's sons; FLORENTINO, a Mexican
half-breed; and JOHNNY RINGO, dark, Byronic, with an air of something very strange.
The Old Man nods to Florentino:
OLD MAN CLANTON
Tell 'em to get on their knees.
Florentino does so in Spanish. The others kneel but the Captain remains on his
feet, steely-eyed, defiant.
He will not kneel. He is proud.
So how'd you like our little
Carry-on over at that rancho?
Kinda hit the spot didn't it?
OLD MAN CLANTON
Hey, somebody get that stick on
Curly Bill casually FIRES his shotgun into the Captain's legs, dropping him
into a splayed lotus position. Curly Bill knods.
OLD MAN CLANTON
They call me Old Man Clanton. I'm
What you might call the founder
Of the feast. Now maybe you ain't
Heard, but we skylark through
Your dingy little country just
About any time we damn well
Please and big-hat, crummy -
Lookin' free-holes stumblin'
Around in the dark ain't allowed.
Messican po-lice, huh? Think
You're bad medicine, don't you?
Hell, I've let stronger stuff run
Down my leg. So next time we come
Better step aside. Get in our
Hair again, we'll saw your prods
Off with butter knives and stuff
'em in your gobs. Ain't kiddin'
neither. You been told. Now git.
The others rise and dash away but Curly Bill stops the Captain:
Hold up, jefe. Got a joke I wanna
The Captain speaks grimly in Spanish. Florentino smiles.
He say he know you killing him.
Now how'd he figure that out?
He say he is no' afraid, someone
Will revenge for him. A sick
A sick horse? What the hell...
Scattered chuckles from the others but we notice Ringo frown and draw his pistol
as the Captain repeats the words.
Something, I don't know, he talk
Fancy, you know, like a priest.
Is like, "a sick horse who sits---"
That's not what he said, you
Ignorant wretch. Your spanish is
Worse than your English. Come on,
Let's get it over with.
Ringo takes aim. The Captain sneers, suddenly in English:
You go to hell!
EXT - ARIZONA DESERT - DAWN
GUNSHOTS as the Cowboys fire their pistols and shout, running their stolen herd
out of a draw into a clearing where the McLaury brothers wait: FRANK, older,
edgy; and TOM, younger, easy-going.
Looks like you had a party!
Oh, we had a big time!
The Old Man, Curly Bill, and Ringo rein up and look out at the sun rising magnificently
from the desert floor. The Old man stretches his legs in the stirrups, taking
out a whiskey flask.
OLD MAN CLANTON
Ain't that sweet? That's why I
Stay out here. Thank you, God.
He raises the flask and drinks. Curly Bill turns to Ringo:
What'd the Messican mean, a sick
Horse's gonna get us? Didn't make
He was quoting the bible,
Revelations: "Behold a pale horse
And the one that sat on him was
Death and Hell followed with him."
Well now that's a little more
EXT - TRAIN STATION PLATFORM/TELEGRAPH OFFICE - DAY
A BLACK HORSE, a fabulous thoroughbred stallion, rears and neighs on an open
flat-car where it's tethered with 4 near-identical geldings. A small boy tries
to pet it as a strong-featured, fair-haired MAN appears, quieting the horse.
Tall and slim in a black frock coat and black flat-brim hat, he moves with assurance
and grace, a man in control. This is WYATT EARP.
"Dear Governor Gosper-in re
yours directing action against
Cowboys, stop. Beg to inform have
Twice sent deputies to serve
Warrants on Cowboy suspects,
Stop. Nothing to show for it but
2 dead deputies, stop. Short of
deputizing U.S. Army am at loss-
(points at Wyatt)
The tall man over there, Marshal.
I'm not sure but I think that's
Wyatt Earp? Oh, right, Dodge City.
Back down the platform Wyatt strokes the stallion gently, looking up as Dake
Mr. Earp? My name's Dake, Crawley
Dake. I'm the U.S. Marshal for-
I said forget it, answer's no, I
Don't want the job and that's
Final. I'm going to Tombstone and
Nothin' short of dyin's gonn
Stop me. Good day.
But wait, you don't understand-
No Marshal, you don't understand.
I'm through with lawing, I'm
Through with the whole
Proposition. Forever. I did my
Duty, now I'd like to get on with
My life. That is if you don't
Mind. Jesus. Good day now.
I see, off to strike it rich,
Huh. All right, fine, wish you
Luck. Tell you this though, never
Was a rich man yet didn't wind up
With a guilty conscience.
Already got a guilty conscience,
Might as well have the money too.
Dake retreats. Wyatt turns back to his horse testily. Suddenly:
Boy, I'd know that sour face
Wyatt turns. His brothers stand behind him, smiling. Though VIRGIL is a little
older and heavier. MORGAN a little younger and slimmer, they're otherwise identical
to Wyatt, right down to their style of dress. Wyatt breaks into a grin, hugging
them both, his cool replaced with an almost boyish enthusiasm.
Well how do we look?
Hey! Virgil! My God! Morgan! Hey,
Boy! You look great! Both of you!
Virgil's blonde wife ALLIE, small, fierce, and Irish, steps up with Morgan's
fair, cameo-lovely young LOUISA in tow.
Wyatt, you remember Allie
Good God, well he better.
(hugs her, laughing)
Allie-girl...And Louisa! You're
So lovely. I'm at your feet,
Darlin'. Just at your feet.
(turns to Morgan)
Guess it's only right. Ma always
Said you were the prettiest.
But she doted on the frowner
Wyatt's handsome blonde wife MATTIE enters from the street:
Wyatt, I couldn't find a single
Store that had laudanum any-
Mattie, they're here! Folks this
Is Celia Ann but you can call her
Mattie. Or even Mrs. Earp if you
Mrs. Earp? Land O' love, it finally
happened! Mattie it's a Pleasure!
All exchange greetings and hugs. Wyatt positively beams:
Boy, I sure been dreamin' about
This. God! Since forever! Wait!
He turns them toward the stationhouse window, arranging them in a group and
pointing to their reflection.
There, look at that! God
Wyatt smiles, shaking his head. Morgan's starts to speak, but:
Don't talk, just...yeah.
They stand silently, studying themselves, together as a family. Wyatt still
shaking his head happily, drinking it in. Finally:
All right, now let's go make our fortune.
EXT - WAGON - MAGIC HOUR
A large woman, Wyatt's black horses tied to the rear, crosses the majestic,
forbidding Arizona desert with its red volcanic rocks and the giant saguaro
cactus dotting the landscape so mysteriously, like huge, spiny hieroglyphics....
EXT - CAMP BY RIVER - NIGHT
A camp by the river under a clear night sky dripping with stars. After dinner.
The women, Virgil, and Morgan sit by the fire. Morgan petting his dog, a sweet
little foxhound. Louisa sits behind him, twirling his silky blonde hair, turning
Don't you love their hair? They
All have the same hair.
Just then Wyatt appears on his stallion, galloping across the moonlit plain
toward them, sitting his horse like a centaur. It's clear he's a magnificent
horseman. Virgil smiles:
Look at him go, will ya? I tell
You, that's the real Wyatt, born
In the saddle.
Oh, he can go all right.
Can he then?
Rather ride than eat.
The women cackle lasciviously. Virgil groans at Allie:
Try to be a lady, will you?
Wyatt rides up and dismounts, unsaddling the horse.
Give him some good exercise? Sure
Some stud. Some string in fact.
What're you gonna do, race 'em?
Hope so. Clean up with this boy.
Louisa turns to Mattie, fishing in her bag:
Mattie hon', did you say you
Needed some laudanum? I have a
Bottle right here. Just be
Careful. It's full of hop.
You're a lifesaver! Don't worry,
I just get headaches sometimes.
As Wyatt leads the horse away the women get up, Allie and Louisa going to the
river with dishes, Mattie crossing to the wagon. Virgil and Morgan watch her
Mighty fine. Wonder where he
Found her. Same place we found
At the other end of camp Mattie climbs into the wagon and lies down. Wyatt appears
and starts to stroke her head.
Come up to the fire, honey.
I think I'll just lie down awhile
A coyote starts HOWLING from the far darkness. Mattie shudders:
Long as I live I'll never
Get used to that sound.
They're just lonely is all. Hell,
I howl myself sometimes.
You get lonely?
She seems genuinely surprised. Wyatt looks genuinely confused. Over at the fire,
Morgan hugs and mashes Louisa playfully.
Come up, Lou. Come up here, girl.
She fights loose. Wyatt walks up, sits, shaking his gold watch.
Look at that. Busted. Brand new
Money Ward, too. 33 years old
And I don't even have a decent
Watch. 'Bout time I started
Lookin' out for myself.
Well here we are a family again.
Been so long plain forgot how
Good it feels. Want to thank you
For that, Wyatt. All your doin'.
We're gonna do it, boys. Gonna
Get ours. Feel it in my bones.
All we have to do is keep our
Eyes on that brass ring.
Boy, look at all those stars. Bet
You can see every star there is.
Practical touch 'em. Kinda makes
You think, you know? I mean you
Look up and you think God made
All that but he still remembered
To make a little speck like me.
Kinda flattering really. Hey,
Wyatt, you believe in God? No,
Come on, really, do you?
Maybe, yeah. Hell, I don't know.
Well what do you think happens
When you die?
Got me. Somethin'. Nothin'. I
I read this book, book on
Oh, God, here he goes...
...said a lot of people, when
they're dyin', they see this
light, like in a tunnel. They say
it's the light leading you to
Really? What about hell? They got
A sign or what?
Hey, Wyatt, God damn it, I'm serious!
Well that's your problem. Hey
Virge, see anything of Doc while
You were in Prescott?
Hit a streak when we left. Him
(from the stream)
Uh, that woman.
I miss Doc. I miss that ol' rip.
Neither do I.
He makes me laugh.
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