`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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there