Inside the Violent Feud Between Rival Tombstone Reenactment Troupes

After flaring tempers reached a fever pitch among actors fighting for tourist dollars, one man faces the courts; another sees darkness. Meanwhile, a showdown with the law approaches
278

Their revolvers were packing blanks but their fighting words were fully loaded.

Minutes before High Noon on April 14, members of the O.K. Corral troupe, costumed in full “black-and-white” lawman regalia as the famous Earp brothers: Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil, were volleying with a lone hawker from a rival gunfight reenactment troupe among several that perform in the tourist town, entertaining visitors with daily shows that cost about $10.

“We’re the only gunfight in town,” the shortest member of the four deep O.K. Corral posse belted. “Don’t listen to those fake cowboys!”

The insults quickly drew throngs to what was an unscripted standoff. Shopkeepers who vend everything from tchotchkes to ice cream scoops peered out as if on cue for a Western showdown movie scene just before bullets start flying. The pint-sized provocateur, identified in a police report exclusively reviewed by LAMag as Roger Moffit Sr., 44, ridiculed his casually-clad, white-whiskered rival.

“Don’t believe the old man in the blue jeans!” he was heard saying. “Don’t listen to Blue Jeans.”

The target of the verbal tarring was 60-year-old Tony “Chicago Tony ” Adamaitis, who didn’t hold his tongue. “If you want a war, we can go to war.”

That’s when none other than Wyatt Earp, portrayed by 31-year-old Robert Fields, countered: “I’ll beat your ass, old man.”

Other witnesses heard the shorter cowboy directly threaten “Blue Jeans” [Adamaitis] with, “I’ll come down there and kick your ass.”Adamaitis dished back: “If you’re man enough.” He went on to challenge each to physical combat, according to witness accounts in the report.

“Meet me in the parking lot with your fag-y friends and I’ll kick your ass,” Adamaitis told the wild bunch.

The factions parted without a punch thrown or shot fired—fake or real. But as the O.K. Corral crew began to mosey back to their theater, two members yelped one last plug: “The one and only world-famous O.K. Corral!”

Months later, Fields told LAMag that confrontation was a misguided attempt to one-up the other. But the row back in April had wider consequences for him, the O.K. Corral and for Tombstone.

“The worst kind of people I’ve ever met are in Tombstone,” Fields says. “[and Adamaitis is] the worst person I’ve met in my entire life.” 

                                                                      ***

Tombstone is a sun-chapped hamlet (Pop. 1,205) in the desert hills naped between the San Pedro Valley to the west and the Dragoon Mountains to the east. It was founded after the Civil War by a young prospector and Indian scout named Ed Schieffelin.

Back in 1877, Schieffelin discovered floating ore in what was the Arizona territory while stationed at his Fort Huachuca post. Hunching there was a silver claim, he searched in hopes of hitting the motherlode; this prompted a fellow trooper’s jab: “The only stone you’ll find out there will be your tombstone.” Indeed, Shieffelin found the valley was bursting with silver—to the tune of $85 million.

A year later, the desert known for warring Apache was creaking with wagons and crawling with fortune hunters seeking a piece of the southeast Arizona silver boom. Tombstone carved a rep as the “Town Too Tough To Die!” (the first newspaper was aptly titled The Tombstone Epitaph) for its draw of not only silver rushers but outlaws. With their arrival came deadly knife squabbles and shoot-’em-ups. This laid the foundation for the most famous gunfights in American lore.

On Oct. 26, 1881, the brothers Earp and a near-pickled drunk gambling gunslinger named Doc Holliday, fought two pairs of brothers—the Clantons and the McLaurys—in the rear of the O.K. Corral horse stable.

Wyatt Earp at 39 years old.

The Clantons and the McLaurys were members of 100 Texas rabble-rousers calling themselves “The Cowboys”— one of the first known organized crime syndicates in America. Ike Clanton’s “hard words” with Holliday at the Alhambra Saloon ignited their beef and led Clanton to return to fight Holliday armed with a shotgun, according to the Arizona Weekly Citizen. Ike’s brother, William, accompanied by Frank and Thomas McLaury and Billy Claiborne, entered Tombstone and the Earps along with Holliday at the ready. At around 3 p.m. the Earps and Holliday stood down the Clanton-McLaury gang in a vacant lot in the rear of the O.K. Corral horse stables, at the end of Fremont Street.

“Throw up your hands, boys, I intend to disarm you,” Marshal Virgil Earp declared.

Over about 25 seconds, 30 rounds were fired leaving Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers dead; Virgil and Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded in the melee, but survived.

                                                                 ***

One-hundred and forty-one years after that notorious street battle, Tombstone is a preserved Old West Mecca, of sorts, and a tourist attraction where hundreds of thousands come annually to escape back in time. Young and old immerse themselves in cosplay gunslinging reenactments (think PG-rated Westworld) that cap off daily.

Among the handful of acts, there’s the O.K. Corral’s replaying of that notorious 1881 shootout, the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park’s comical skits in a converted Army cavalry barracks, the Oriental Saloon (which started gunfights 3 ½ years ago) featuring Wyatt Earp (who ran the Oriental’s gambling concession for a spell), Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson and Luke Short.

The Vigilantes, a nonprofit troupe, are the original players, who have put on gunfighting spectacles and mock hangings since the mid-1940s. In 2015, a Vigilantes skit ended with one member shooting the other in the crotch with a live round from a .45 caliber pistol. A ricochet grazed a woman bystander near the famed Bird Cage Theater nightclub.

That pre-Rust shooting incident made national headlines and caused the U.S.-Mexico border town to fortify its mock gunfight ordinance.

Longtime Tombstone Mayor Dusty Escapule, re-elected in August, and the Common Council moved within months to regulate all guns, staff armorers to inspect artillery, as well as load and dispense all blank ammunition. It also required each reenactment gun show to secure a permit and a $1 million insurance policy.

“It’s the only time in our history that I know of that it’s ever happened,” Steve Reeder, a longtime member of the Vigilantes, tells LAMag.

The group has since been using three rotating armorers who he said “load our guns” and “oversee and watch what’s playing each day.” Every Vigilante show is roped off and Reeder maintains that every gun “gets checked.”

“It’s our job to police ourselves,” he said.

Such increased safety measures were crucial for Tombstone’s survival.

“We put in the ordinance to protect the gunfighters and the tourists,” Escapule tells LAMag. But he’s at loss on how to broker peace between feuding gunfight troupes.

“It’s a hell of a juggling act for me to keep everything rolling in one direction and keep everybody from fighting,” he explains. “They tend to fight with themselves quite a bit.”

                                                            ***

The near window-shattering shoutfest between the performers back in April culminated with two members of the O.K. Corral hauled off to jail. The quarreling was witnessed by visitors and over a dozen merchants, and fellow gunfighters.

Adamaitis told Marshal Adams in the police incident report that he was hawking to reel in customers to the Old Tombstone Western Theme Park when the O.K. Corral gunfighters “started yelling at him, his customers, and over him, such that he had to try to escort the customers away…They chastised him for donning “blue jeans” and accused him of “lying about the authenticity of the show” he was hawking. Adamaitis, who also runs the Tombstone tattoo parlor, Gallows Pole, declined to comment when reached out to by LAMag.

Some witnesses described the shorter O.K. Corral member, Roger Moffit, as the instigator. Suzy Necessary was serving up sweets at U Scream 4 Ice Cream to customers. Necessary likens the hawkers to “barkers”—as in carnival barkers.

“I thought they were going to duke it out,” she tells LAMag. “It was just a lot of hollering and swearing back and forth.” She said she’s seen Adamaitis “flip off” the same “young men” from the O.K. Corral in the past for “harassing him.”

David Kelly, a Western Themepark gunfighter who was hawking at the same corner as Adamaitis that day, told Marshal Adams the O.K. Corral gunfighters were “hawking louder than normal” and yelling, “Don’t listen to those fake cowboys.” He said Adamaitis called the O.K. Corral crew “cowards,” according to the report.

A week later, Marshal Jim Adams investigated what led to the verbal affray. Adams and his deputy approached the O.K. Corral with their bodycams on, looking to speak with Roger Moffit and Robert Fields. When they were finished with their final gunfight battle, seven performers, both Cowboys and the Earps filed into a backstage area. The lawmen told the Cowboys they could leave.

They stayed put.

Marshall Adams and his deputy requested Moffit, standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 140 pounds, join him outside for a chat. That’s when Fields, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound Wyatt Earp, intervened.

“This is one of my guys, I’m gonna keep him in here,” Fields said before raising his hand to halt Moffit, according to the report—which paints Fields as “argumentative” and accuses him of trying to “dictate the course of the official police investigation.”

“Sir, can I have you come outside with me,” Marshal Adams asked Moffit.

He wrote that Fields and a woman, identified as an O.K. Corral manager named Heady Strong, shielded Moffit. The marshal warned Fields that he was “getting ready to go to jail” and Strong told him, “This isn’t happening like this,” according to the report.

Adams then ordered Moffit out of his chair: “Sir, I need you to come over here.”

Moffit remained seated.

The marshal described the situation as becoming “highly contentious.” So he walked over to handcuff Fields and had to use what he described as “empty hand control to overcome [Fields’] resistance.” As Fields and Moffit were being perp-walked through the O.K. Corral courtyard and gift shop, fellow gunfighters “removed” Fields’ gun from his holster.

Even after the arrests, the antagonizing continues.

“They come and approach Tony again and again,” says Necessary, the ice cream parlor worker.

Asked about the ongoing rows between Adamaitis and the O.K. Corral performers, Marshal Adams acknowledged: “It’s certainly possible but it’s not come to my attention.”

(Courtesy: The Tombstone Vigilantes)

                                                                         ***

Fields admits he was Wyatt Earp when he crossed paths with Adamaitis and was later handcuffed by Marshal Adams. To hear him tell it, he was protecting Moffit.

Since the arrest, Fields said he has personally apologized to the marshal. But the owner demoted him from his manager’s perch and now he says that he thinks everybody he tried to protect has abandoned him. He’s currently working as an axe-throwing coach.

The fact is, the pair had a history. And Fields suspects he was superior at projecting his voice.

“He threatened me on Allen Street while I was Wyatt Earp,” Fields said. “He’s threatened me countless times and pulled weapons out against me…Just for getting loud and hawking over him… “There were times when we’re advertising shows and he’s getting loud and he’s talking over me and I would just outdo him,” he said.

Nobody is armed with a megaphone or microphone, he explains.

“We use our diaphragm,” said Fields. “And having done this for 10 years—not to brag—but I have a powerful voice.”

The one-upmanship apparently took a toll.

“So I would outdo him and shut him up and he would lose his mind. Lose. His. Mind!” he recalls. 

He saw Adamaitis jump into battle station mode whenever he walked to the Smoke Signals shop for a stogie.

“He would run to his tattoo shop and come back with a big stick thing and his dead eyes looking right at me and say ‘Come on man!’ or ‘Anytime buddy.’ I just smile. I laugh.”

Fields says he tried reasoning with the elder: “I’d tell him, ‘You’re older than me. Let it go. We’re all trying to make money out here.’”

He has labored for a variety of Tombstone saloons, but he always returned to the O.K. Corral. The starting pay was $13 an hour. When Fields ended his tenure, it was up to $15.50. So the gunfighters rely on tips.

When Tombstone’s humming, the troupe would perform in five shows each day. The actors might take home $80 extra. But on “super slow days” around summertime–you’d be lucky to collect $20.

But it wasn’t the money that had Fields playing cowboys or lawmen: “The days I was Wyatt Earp, I would portray Wyatt as I saw him: stoic, bold chest out, a strong physical man.”

Staying true to the character was critical.

“We want to give them something that is as historically accurate as we could,” he says. “I would give them the best Wyatt Earp from what I’ve been told and what I’ve read.”

When he was in cowboy mode, he tried some other tricks.

“As Ike Clanton—the main antagonizer and the opponent of Wyatt Earp, I would do my best to be as aggressive and in Wyatt Earp’s face, but drunkenly comical to the audience,” he recalled. “I was keeping everyone on their toes.”

He watched tragedy repeat itself whenever a performer suited up as Doc Holliday.

“Whoever gets the Doc Holliday role—it always goes to their head,” he said laughing. “They put on the Doc Holliday and think, ‘I get the girls!’ and they think ‘Everyone is thinking Doc Holiday is so hot!’”

It may have just been a gig, but Fields is aware that Tombstone means the world to some.

“I’ve had older war vets crying to me, thanking me for getting to check off their bucket list,” Fields said. “They say, ‘I’ve finally been able to see the O.K. Corral and see Wyatt Earp…’”

Fields and his crew would pride themselves on their Western garb, which runs well over $1,000.

“There’s the frock coat, vest, cravat, pants, boots, and then hats–we’re very meticulous about the hats,” he said.

On the day in question, Fields was Wyatt Earp. He and his brothers in their attire and armed with their prop guns were hawking over Adamaitis.

“Tony turned to me and yelled at me and I told him, ‘Take your blue jeans and go to your corner and do your job, we’ll do ours.’”

“He yells across the street, ‘At least I can wear my blue jeans like a man.’”

Fields said all that Roger Moffit did was laugh. Then Adamaitis challenged Fields to “meet at a parking lot so he would beat me up and my faggot friends—implying my coworkers.”

Since his arrest and exit from town, Fields has lost what was his life. 

“I loved it,” he said. “It just wasn’t fun anymore.” He admits that he failed to show some of the grace he’d garnered after playing Wyatt Earp for so many years. “I was way too impulsive,” he said. “I should have been a lot calmer and displayed more leadership qualities that day.”

Tim Fattig, a showrunner at Wyatt Earp’s Oriental Saloon, hired Fields in the past and thinks “he has head screwed on.” But he says the gunfighters in town need to learn how to flip a switch.

“Mickey [Mouse] leaves his head at the park,” he said. “I’m sure the outsized nature of our history and its cultural shadow affects the way people put on their clothes—at one point do the clothes put on you?”

The historian and author, who wrote a 1000-page biography on Wyatt Earp, adds that he hopes everyone dueling for dollars can leave the drama on the stage.

“We need a whistle to blow at a certain time—and people take off their Wyatt skin or their Doc skin and go back to being Billy Bob or Tommy or whoever they are,” he said.

The Oriental Saloon (Courtesy: Tim Fattig)

                                                                    *** 

Both Fields and Moffit were hit with formal criminal charges.

On Sept. 1, Tombstone Magistrate Judge Keith Barth signed a motion order, reviewed by LAMag, dismissing Fields’ case with prejudice (meaning the charges can’t be brought again in this court). 

Meanwhile, Moffit’s bench trial remains on the docket for Nov. 17, records show.

Compounding the arrests is a lawsuit filed on July 18, by an attorney representing the O.K. Corral. It blames Marshal Adams for barring its members from hawking their respective gun show and essentially picking their pocket of profits. The suit also calls out the marshal for “selectively enforcing” an ordinance intended to limit “off-premises solicitation within the Historic Preservations District.”

Adams, they say, has stopped their staple “Walkdowns” on Allen Street in the historic district of Tombstone.

O.K. Corral used to send out actors “throughout the day” and 15 minutes before each gun show to “reenact the historical walkdown… when they made their way to the O.K. Corral prior to the gunfight on Oct. 26, 1881, as shown in the 1993 film, Tombstone,” according to the civil complaint.

“Everybody feels they’re subsisting on problems and that can lead to bad blood, and it shouldn’t. But that’s human nature.”

Since Nov. 13, 2021, the papers say that “no Walkdowns have occurred” and this shows bias because “other gun shows in Tombstone are permitted to do similar Walkdowns.” 

The document mentions the marshal’s two arrests for “non-solicitation violations” that were “designed to and have the effect of restricting speech” and have caused the O.K. Corral to have suffered damages.

When reached by LAMag, the attorney representing O.K. Corral in the case declined to comment. Neither the mayor nor Marshal Adams would discuss the lawsuit either, deferring LAMag to the city attorney. Messages left with the city attorney weren’t returned. 

                                                                     ***

Tombstone’s currency is tourists. Whenever the country is in a financial pinch, this bygone cattle town feels a punch.

Fattig, the author and saloon runner, remembers many prior lean times.

“Being here two decades and looking at trends, I can certainly say after 9/11, when tourism really contracted badly, there was a lot of tension between the gun shows,” he said. “Certainly going through that now reminds me of the immediate feeling like it was after 9/11. “Economic activity is down and yeah, there’s less meat on the bone and the dogs get a little snippy with one another.”

He sees how the brinkmanship has brimmed over.

“Everybody’s shooting for their share of the pie,” Fattig added.

And in Tombstone, there’s not only a frenzy for a slice but for each pepperoni.

“Everybody feels they’re subsisting on problems and that can lead to bad blood, and it shouldn’t. But that’s human nature,” Fattig continued.

Lee McKechnie is Adamaitis’ boss and has run Old Tombstone Western Theater since 1996. He said he’s tried breaking bread with other outfits.

“The pie is getting too thin,” he said.

(Photo: Lee McKechnie)

In 2007, McKechnie headed a roundtable where every gunfighting show in Tombstone (save for one) tried to create a set of ground rules. He said the groups came to a detente: They would limit hawking to their respective territories and all agreed to do away with “negative advertising.”

As far as Adamaitis and his run-ins with the O.K. Corral gunfighters—McKechnie said he tries to “keep him in check.”

“I tell Tony, ‘you’re gonna lose your job if I hear one thing from the marshal.’ He can’t bite his tongue like most guys; when someone does him wrong he will toss it back at him.”

To McKechnie, Adamaitis “fell into their trap.” It wasn’t always gunfighter outfits warring with each other.

“The O.K. Corral guys used to be some sweet guys who would walk around and not say anything,” McKechnie recalled. They exchanged fun-filled banter. “We’d kind of nod and we’d say, ‘Oh, here come those Earp brothers… We better get off the street!’ – and it was always fun.”

Those salad days are long gone.

“What’s happened in the last year or so is the O.K. Corral are a bunch of young bucks that are walking through town and telling Tony, ‘Whatever he’s telling you is a lie! We’ve got the O.K. Corral over here’ and saying all this stuff.”

Not so, said Heady Strong, manager of the O.K. Corral. It’s McKechnie’s crew and others who fail to stay on their own turf and don’t show common courtesy.

“We keep to ourselves and do our jobs here,” she said, assuring LAMag that the central troublemaker is Adamaitis.

“There’s that one guy out there who talks some trash,” she said. “If they got rid of the one guy down there it would probably be better for everybody.” Other gunfight shows have taken liberties by not only moving off their territories to hawk their shows, she adds, but keep disparaging the O.K. Corral.

“We have customers and guests that come here and they’ve been misled,” she said. “They wanted the O.K. Corral gunfight. So we ended up giving tickets for free for them because we don’t want this town to have a bad name.”

And once the reputation is tarnished, Strong fears the worst. “People will stop coming.” he says.

Marshall Adams says he’s tried everything short of hocus pocus to “engage all parties in dialogue and to foster some peace and goodwill.” But in this unforgiving desert, olive branches are hard to come by.

“Everybody understands we’re all looking out for the same dollar,” Adams says. “But everybody has to be fair about this.”

The marshal chalks it up to “poor chemistry” and that his hands are tied for the most part.

“There’s no simple solution to this. There may not be a solution to this. But we do the best we can to dial it down so that it’s a little bit more manageable and people can act like adults.”

The since-departed Robert Fields is clear-eyed about what’s crippling Tombstone.

“It’s a barstool town,” Fields says. “You got the old war vets and the old drunks and the first thing they do is wake up and go to the bar and drink all day and look at the pretty girls that come into town.”

Tourists clamoring for a good Old West adventure “have no clue what they’re getting into,” Fields says. His solution? Wall off the town so it becomes a bonafide theme park.

“You won’t have the five gunfights at each other’s necks,” he surmised.

Still, the town that is fueled by Old West nostalgia may simply be fated to clash. 

When the settlement on a ridge in what was known as Goose Flats drove out the original Indian settlers, Mayor Dusty Escapule’s great-grandfather passed down the story of a vengeful Apache shaman who more than a century ago cast a curse saying, “No two white men shall live together here in peace.” He believes that the curse is “still in effect” throughout the town. 

Fields also senses something dark is haunting Tombstone, he says.

“From Charleston Bridge to the heart of Allen street—I believe it’s evil,” he said. “I’m not very superstitious and I’m kinda iffy when it comes to ghosts—but the pit of me believes it’s evil out there.”

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.