`One-eyed' Luke's poetic showdown at the OK Corral, Tombstone Luke's showdown with a poem at the OK Corral and the Shoot-out at the OK Corral Aubergine eyes aubergine eyes aubergine eyes aubergine eyes

SINCE a prayer would not have been appropriate, the Bounty Hunters' Association began its first national convention last week with an ode by "One-eyed" Luke Dudley, Tombstone's "cowboy poet emeritus".

Some 800 Americans make their living from bounty-hunting - tracking down and capturing absconded defendants. A good bounty-hunter will make $60,000 (£40,000) a year.

It is a privatised style of law enforcement that sits well with the Republicans' notion of getting away from big government and returning to the old-fashioned American virtues of individualism and self-reliance.

Mr Gingrich, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, has met with the bail industry's representatives and promised to defend them against efforts by the Clinton administration to shift the bail business into federal hands.

The venue for the first ever bounty hunters convention was the Bella Union, an opera house-cum-saloon founded in 1881, the year of the shoot- out at the OK Corral. The defining drama in the history of Tombstone, heart of the Old West, took place around the corner from the Bella Union, within easy range of Wyatt Earp's Smith and Wesson 45.

But the spot where Wyatt, his brothers Virgil and Morgan and John "Doc" Holliday faced down and slew three members of the infamous Clanton gang was not, in fact, the OK Corral, as Bob Burton, the bounty hunters' president and master of ceremonies, pointed out. "It really took place in an empty lot next door but `the shoot-out at the empty lot' just doesn't have it, does it guys?"

The guys cackled. On looks alone the Clanton boys would have taken all of them to their black hearts. There was Ray Hawkins from California - black hat, black jeans, black waistcoat, black boots, black beard, black pony-tail, crushed nose, moll in tow with stiletto heels; Ken Bishop, world champion chicken-plucker from Colorado, red braces, red face, Kentucky- fried belly.

Then there was Hank Hustus from Tucson, six foot four, built like a house, melancholy Earp brothers' moustache; Mel Barth from Virginia, beefy Vietnam vet who flew planes over Nicaragua for the Contras, was arrested and testified at the Iran-Contra hearings; and "Bad" Bob Burton himself, a burly old rogue in a bushy white beard who, among a host of dubious accomplishments, spent six months in the late Seventies teaching the South African and Rhodesian security forces the techniques of "improvised hostile interrogation".

Tough nuts all, to a man they fell silent when "One-eyed" Luke took the stage. Luke was the real thing: save for the patch over his right eye, the spitting image of Virgil Earp.

Gaunt, grey, straight-backed, Luke touched the peak of his black Stetson hat and began, gravel-voiced, to recite his poem: "Predators stalk the night/Innocent nervously feed upon the land/The game is not a game/When man is hunting man...Instinct lengthens life/This is nature's plan/Instinct is the keenest/When man is hunting man."

The dream faded when the first speaker informed the assembled hunters, 70 in total, that they were on the cutting edge of Newt Gingrich's Republican revolution.

It dissolved altogether when speaker number two elaborated on the paramount importance of knowing the regulations required by USAIR, Delta and Continental to carry firearms on board. "One problem is that some airlines won't let you escort a prisoner cuffed."

What does America's late 20th century bounty hunter do? "This," said Hank Hustus, "is how it works: a judge charges an individual and sets bail; the individual goes to a bail bondsman who'll come up with the bail in exchange for assurances of collateral - like a car, a house - and an undertaking that in the end he will get 10 or 15 per cent of the bail amount in commission. Then the guy doesn't show up in court on time and this is where we enter the picture.

"The bail bondsman, who would rather avoid paying the, say, $10,000 than dealing with the collateral, contacts one of us to track the fugitive down.

"We'll normally get 10 per cent of the bail amount, more if the guy is very dangerous. But no body, no booty. If you don't find your man, you don't make a cent."

Bob Burton, who has carried out more than 3,000 arrests in 23 countries during a career spanning 27 years, is confident that history is on the bounty hunters' side. He believes they provide a valuable service conducted - free of charge to the taxpayers - with a minimum of violence.

Which is not to say that "Bad" Bob dislikes his image. A sign on the entrance to his Tombstone home reads: "If you come through this door you will be killed". He has pictures on his wall celebrating his feats in South Africa and Vietnam, where he served as a marine sergeant. In one photograph he poses with Robert De Niro, whom he coached for his bounty hunter's role in Midnight Run.

"Yet the truth is that this job requires more brains than anything else. My phone is my main weapon. I've shot at a few people. I've punched and kicked and knocked people out.

"But those are the exceptions. We always survey a scene before we pop a guy, I mean catch him. We literally choreograph the arrest to minimise the risk - one reason why we get sued far less times than the police.

"You've got to be smart. Once I arrested a guy by posing as a rabbi. This Jewish guy skipped bail who'd been doing a big money scam out East.

"I went to his mother's house in West Hollywood dressed as a rabbi, praying she wouldn't speak Yiddish to me because I'm a good Catholic boy. She was taken in, she actually called me `rabbi', and through a few tricks I got her son's phone number in Vegas.

"I phoned a friend who got me the address. Next morning I drove there, saw him outside his condo and I arrested him. Easy. In less than 24 hours I made $8,000 on an $80,000 bail."

"Bad" Bob won't make that sort of money in Tombstone, a town of 1,500 people with one of the lowest levels of crime in the United States. No one has been murdered since 1987. Daily re-enactments of the OK Corral showdown for the tourists offer the nearest thing to street violence nowadays.

The bounty hunters went out to watch on Thursday afternoon. "One-eyed" Luke gave the show a miss. He was out on the range, breaking in a mule.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
Ministry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Richard Dawkins is known for his outspoken views
people
Life and Style
L’Auberge du pont de Collonges (AFP)
food + drinkFury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Arts and Entertainment
Bourne's New Adventures dance company worked with 27 young Londoners to devise a curtain-raiser staged before New Adventures' performance of Edward Scissorhands
theatreStar choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links