The Years before Tombstone
In 1840 Nicholas Porter Earp married Virginia Cooksey. He had already one son; Newton.
During the next few years he got; Jim, Virgil (1843-1905), Wyatt (1848-1929), Morgan (1851-82) and Warren (1855-1900).
Jim, Virgil and Wyatt arrived in Tombstone in November 1879 together with Doc Holliday. Morgan joined them in January 1880. Wyatt had already got a reputation as a deputy marshal in several other cities. So let examine his early career.
1872: Meeting the brothers Ed and Bat Masterson. Thus begins a lifelong friendship. The same year he was appointed deputy marshal in Ellsworth. The reason was that he, in the presence of the mayor, said that they should arrest Ben Thompson.
Ben has made it possible for his brother Bill to escape after he shot a man. Contemporary, he has mobilized several cowboys from Texas, and created a "cold war atmosphere". We don’t know what Wyatt did, but Ben surrender and there was no more bloodshed. Wyatt is offered the position permanently, but he declines when Ben only receives a small fine.
1874-76: Is the deputy marshal in Wichita. Occupies the same position in Dodge in 1876 before he takes a break. Return in 1878. Then he was appointed assistant Marshal.
In 1877 was Ed Masterson was appointed as town marshal with Charlie Bassett as his deputy. Bat Masterson was the sheriff.
Notably, in 1878 Clay Allison dropped having a duel against Wyatt. The episode is one example of how Wyatt operated as a marshal. Wyatt was the one that confronted the criminal face to face, while Bat Masterson served as backup.
Virgil lived in Prescott before he came to Tombstone. In Prescott, he had worked as diligence driver and constable.
As diligence driver he got he had become acquainted with the politician John Gosp and U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake. That was one of the reasons he got the job as a deputy U.S. Marshal in the Tombstone district (Chaput, 1992, p. 51). He was offered the job 2/11-1879.
We can’t be sure whether it was Virgil or Wyatt who suggested moving to Tombstone.
According to Stuart Lake Wyatt said that it was Virgil's idea, but Virgil's wife, Allie believes that it was Wyatt’s idea (Chaput, 1992, p. 51).I would say the following; Both Wyatt and Virgil moved out often ; they did not stayed in a place for a long time.
Wyatt moved often to a boom towns. He usually had a clear vision of where the money was to earn. Boom towns Wyatt moved to were Wichita, Dodge, Tombstone and Nome (in Alaska).
Morgan had previously worked as marshal in the Dodge. We do not know much about him. Just before he came to Tombstone, he killed Billy Broooks in a duel in Montana.
Doc Holliday (John Henry Holliday) was born in Waldosta (Georgia) in 1852. Parents were Henry B. Holliday and Alice Jane McKey Holliday (1829-66). Mother died 16/9-1866, when Doc was 14 years old.
Next year the father married a new woman, something Doc despised of.
Therefore, he later went to Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery where he was educated to be a dentist, hence the name "Doc". In 1873, he completes the course after three years. The same year he goes to the doctor to get healed from the bleeding he suffer of. Thus, it was discovered that he had tuberculosis (Jahns, 1979, p. 37). He is told that he can live longer by moving to warmer areas (Billy the Kids mother, Catherine McCarthy got the same advice).
The father sells a property in Griffin so Doc can afford to go to Dallas (Jahns, 1979, p. 38). Later the rest of the property is sold since it is unlikely that Doc will survive the father. This happens 25/3-1873 (Jahns, 1979, p. 43).
Another consequence of the disease is that the love relationship to cousin Mattie is broken, but she remains his only penpal (Jahns, 1979, p. 24).
1/10-1883 she became nun (according to the Records of St. Vincent's Academy, Savannah in Georgia).
Subsequently he moves to Dallas (1875), Denver (1876), Fort Griffin (1877), Dodge (1878) and Las Vegas (1879). The only murder we know for sure that Doc did before he came to Tombstone happened in Las Vegas .
Chasing Dave Rudabaugh Wyatt meets him in Fort Griffin (Rudabaugh later rode with Billy the Kid).
Friendship is sealed when Doc saves Wyatt´s life while they both live in Dodge. If this has happened is discussed. Wyatt claimed that in any case. According to historian Patricia Jahns (1979, p. 133) could also Allie Earp (Virgil wife) confirm it. In 1879, they go to Tombstone when they hear about the silver discoveries there.
First years in Tombstone
The brothers came to Tombstone in order to be rich, not to work as sheriffs or marshals. It would be tempting to believe that as Tombstone was one of the last areas in the wild west to be ruled by laws.
Wyatt Earp became deputy sheriff in Pima county (for William Shibell). Tombstone and Tucson were parts of Pima county. Since Shibell lives in Tucson Wyatt work pretty independent of him.
Among Virgils duties is to investigate matters that are considered to be Federal crimes (crimes that are directed against the State of Arizona). The salary depends on what he gets done. At the same time is also Wyatt is also employed as a guard in the Oriental saloon in addition being hired by Wells Fargo.
Now there are two groups in Tombstone; the Earps and the cowboys.
As mentioned, the Tombstone is one of the last areas where criminals could do as they wanted to. Many of these were employed as cowboys of ranchers as Newman Haynes Clanton (Old man Clanton) and McLaury- brothers Frank and Tom (They were good shooter, but they had no reputation to be a gunslinger). Cowboys were quite popular when they were a kind of insurance against the Apaches and because they could provide cheap meat through the cattle theft in Mexico.
Following events created tensions:
1880: McLaury brothers steals six mules from theArmy. An army posse track up the mules. Several people, including Frank McLaury is about to mark the mules.Frank Patterson negotiate on behalf of the cowboys that they can avoid bloodshed if they can deliver mules later. They agree to do it in Charleston next day. Two days later the cowboys says to Lieutenant Hurst that they did it just to avoid a confrontation with Earps. Frank McLaury accuse even Hurst to be thief. Not surprisingly, the mules were never delivered back to the army.
The same year city marshal Fred White was shoot by Curly Bill Brocius. He is arrested by Wyatt who hit him with a gun. Wyatt stopped the vigilantes from hanging Curly Bill. After a few months in custody in Tucson, he is acquitted. Mainly because it was an accident (the shot was fired when Fred tried to disarm Curly Bill).
The same year Wyatt Earp also saves the player Johnny-behind-the-Deuce from being hung. He had shot a man in self-defense.
Johnny Behan come to Tombstone with ambition of being sheriff. It has been decided that Tombstone and the surrounding area should be a separate judicial district, Cochise county. He made a deal with Wyatt; Wyatt will not be a candidate for the sheriff position. He will continue as deputy and drop the paper work. They will share the taxes equally, but Behan brooked his promise.
1881: Some criminals try to rob the Wells Fargo diligence. Luther King is arrested, later he manages to escape from Behan’s prison. But before that happened, he revealed names of three accomplices. The three other are Harry Head, Jim Crane and Bill Leonard (Leonard was a friend of Doc Holliday, they had the office next to each other in the Dodge. Leonard was jeweller). The three were members of the cowboy clan.
Ike Clanton (son of Old man), Frank McLaury and Wyatt Earp made a deal. Frank and Ike should help Wyatt Earp to find out where the robbers are. Wyatt and Virgil will be the heroes while Ike and Frank gets the reward ($ 6000). Thus Wyatt Earp get better chances to win the next sheriff election. Moreover, he can get Doc's cleared of some accusations.The rumour says that Doc was one of the diligence robbers.
At the same time, Ike and Frank will get the reward without having to think about what the other members of the cowboy clan will think.
This agreement fails as Ike and Bill Haslett shoot two of the guilty ones. The last one, Jim Crane is killed by mexicans in Guadelupe canyon. Then he and several other cowboys, including Old Man Clanton tried to bring some Mexican cattle over the border. This happen August 13th.
Anyway, now Wyatt has as a weapon that is more dangerous for Ike and Frank than any gun ever have been.
During the autumn the fronts are getting stronger. Josephine leaves Behan and became Wyatt´s new girlfriend. Deputy sheriff Frank Stilwell participates in a robbery of the diligence. But he is acquitted in the first instance.
Ike Clanton believe that one of Earp-brothers have talked about the secret agreement; he fear that Doc know that he has betrayed Bill Leonard. It does n´t help that the Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams say some ambiguous statements.
Wyatt send Morgan to get Doc from Tucson. Wyatt asks Doc if he knows something about Ike´s accusations, and Doc answer he does not know anything. But Ike is not convinced. This is 22th October.
25th october William Breakenridge and Dave Neagle ( Behan´s best deputies) start chasing escaping prisoners. Behan must thus survive on his own, something he is not accustomed as he is more accustomed to collect taxes than to enforce the law.
The night begin, and more confrontations between Ike and Earp-brothers takes place.
First is Doc arguing with Ike on Alhambra. Later Ike meet Virgil. Ike is drunk and he continues to make threats before he is arrested. The charge is that he carries weapons, something that is not legally within the city limits.
Virgil slaps Ike and hence Ike needs medical attention. Judge Albert Wallace he imposed a fine of $ 25. The weapons can be collected at Grand Hotel.
Wyatt tries to convince Tom McLaury that the latter should n´t try to fight against him. He slapped Tom after the latter said that he can fight with Wyatt anywhere if Wyatt wants a fight. This he said after Wyatt had asked if he was armed.
Later, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton comes to town. Billy Claiborne is there already and helps Ike reaching the doctor. People also look Ike sending a telegraph. Rumours says that he sends messages to Phin Clanton and other cowboys. The McLaurys Ike, Billy and Billy Claiborne gathers at the OK Corral.
Virgil Clanton hear of John L. Fonck that the cowboys are making threats. Fonck also says that he can offer him 10 armed men, but Virgil declines the offer. He says that he will not do anything as long as cowboys stay at the OK Corral. Then John mentions that the cowboys is in Fremont Street. Virgil Earp meets his brothers and Doc.
Behan meets the Clantongang; he tries in vain to disarm them. Frank McLaury said that they will only surrender their weapons if Earp-clan does the same.
Behan speaks with Virgil Earp. What was said between them is uncertain, but the result were certainly not that Earp-clan backed off. They now meets the Clanton-gang.
What happened is highly uncertain; it depends on who You believe. In any case the testimonials differs a lot.
The following things is certain:
- The witnesses agree that there are two gun shots fired almost simultaneously started the fight. That is the statement to those witnesses who cannot be clearly linked to the Clanton-gang or the Earp-clan.
- Billy Clanton, Frank Mclaury and Tom McLaury dies.
- All in Earpklanen are wounded but Wyatt.
- Ike Clanton escapes from the battlefield.
- Tom McLaury is shot by a shotgun.
- Wyatt claims that he and Billy Clanton fire at the same time (Tefertiller, 1997, p. 144) (Marks, 1996, p. 224), and that they started the gunfight.
- The Cowboys (Billy Allen, Billy Claiborne and Ike Clanton) claims that Doc Holliday shot first with a nickel-plated pistol. Johnny Behan suggests it too.
The problem with Wyatts statement is that only Virgil and a neutral witness (HF Sills) confirms it. No other witnesses can confirm it (Marks, 1996, p. 225). The second is an contradiction in Wyatt's own explanation; he argues that he never drew a gun before he saw Billy did the same. According to Marks (1996, p. 224) this is not possible if the first two shoots were fired simultaneously.
The problem with the cowboy's statement is that Holliday carried a shotgun in while his revolver was in the pocket.
We know for sure that he hit Tom McLaury with a shotgun before he used the revolver (doctors found shotgun bullets in Toms body, Addie Borland claimed had Docs firearms was dark bronze coloured. In addition, the Doc got the shotgun of Virgil before the gunfight).
Why the cowboys told that Doc started the fight is not good to answer, but the historian Tefertiller (1997, p. 133) has a hypothesis. Docs reputation made him a weak point in the defence. The rumours said Doc was a bank robber (Tefertiller, 1997, p. 88) (Marks, 1996, p. 161). In addition, the attorney of the Earp-clan, Tom Fitch, did not put Doc at the stand as a witness in Wells Spicer hearing.
Anyway, my main conclusion is that both the cowboys and Wyatt lied about who fired first.
The Ok corral inquest
The court records are reproduced in the book The OK Corral Inquest published by Alfred Turner.
First started a preliminary hearing. 28th and October 29th October a number of witnesses was called in by coroner HM Matthews.
Thus it was decided to charge Earp brothers and Doc Holliday for murder.
The perhaps most interesting thing to note in the preliminary hearing is that Ike Clanton said that Doc and Morgan had started to shoot and that there was an agreement between him and the Earp brothers (C). The quote is as as follows: "I never had any previous trouble with the Earp. They do not like me. We had a transaction-I mean myself and the Earp - but it had nothing to do with the killing of these three men" ( OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 34).
The main inquest started on November 1st. Wells Spicer was in charge of the hearing.
In the beginning Earp's enemies succeeded . The Accusers testimonials (Billy Allen, Johnny Behan, Billy Claiborne and West Fuller) was so convincing that Wyatt and Doc had to stay in custody (Virgil and Morgan were too badly injured to be in prison). The turning point was Ike Clanton´s testimonial.
November the 9th , he said nothing about the agreement but said: "Yes sir, there was a difficulty between Holliday and Morgan Earp and I" to the question whether there was any trouble between him and the accused (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 97) .
Concerning the confrontations with Wyatt he changed his explanation several times:
In the preliminary hearing he said that he pushed Wyatt and runned into Flynn Gallery (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 34).
November the 9th Wyatt was among the first who shot and he had said " 'You son of a bitch, you can have a fight'" (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 95-96).
November the 12th Ike said "The only thing he said was to, throw up your hands" (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 111) and Wyatt was not among the first to shot (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 111-112 ).
The other thing he said was that the Earp-brothers had confessed to him that they had been robbed the diligence and killed Bud Philpott. Therefore, they would kill Ike.
Two questions arises immediately. Is this true? If so, why / why not?
We know that the brothers came to Tombstone to get rich, but it can hardly have been any good motive to get them to rob the diligence. According to Marks and Tefertiller the Earp-brothers earned enough of money in legal way. In addition, they had social positions to defend (Virgil was town marshal and US marshal, Wyatt disposed gambling concessions and owned some mines). Would they risk this?
Another thing is that neither Virgil nor Wyatt had never been accused of such serious things(Wyatt had not been charged after 1872).
Finally, later Virgil received a medal from Wells Fargo (the diligence firm)for long and loyal service (Chaput, 1996). Wells Fargo also supported the brothers during the whole the trial.
Surely Ike and Wyatt had been on in touch with each other before October 26th , but criminals do not normally tell secrets to anyone. Tom Fitch also asked: "Did James Earp also confess to you that he was robbing a stage and murderer?".
Then it is more likely that there was an agreement between Wyatt and Ike; Ike should betray the diligence robbers.
Anyway, Ike had confirmed that there was an agreement between he and Earp-brothers.This he had done in the first explanation he gave to the law officer (according to the Nugget 30.10.1881, a newspaper that was released by Behans deputy sheriff Harry Woods). Nugget did also repeat this claim the 17.11.1881 (Jahns, 1979, p. 133).
Why does Ike change explanation? No clear answers have been given, but I have a hypothesis.
Ike knows that it is dangerous to work against the cowboys; Brocius Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo killed the men who killed Wiliam Leonard(Haslett – brothers).Therefore he cannot let it be known that he planned to sell three cowboys to the Earps, but he cannot conceal that he had been in touch with them. So he tries to exploit Doc Holliday´s reputation as a badman.
The rumours says that Doc Holliday killed the diligence driver Bud Philpott. As Doc is a close friend of Wyatt Ike tries to make people believe that it was the Earps who organized the robbery.
The reason why they contacted him was that they wanted help, they feared that those who were indicted (King, Leonard, Crane and Head) would tell on them. After they are all dead, they have only one problem left, Ike.
When he was questioned about why he did not mention it in the first interrogation was the answer that he had given Earps a promise. Judge Spicer could hardly believe what he heard (they had shot his brother, Billy Clanton).
Finally, Ike came up with two explanations for how he was in touch with Wyatt at the gunfight. According to the first version (9th November), it was possible for Wyatt to shoot. It was not possible in the other explanation.
Later Wyatt read a finished edited explanation. Then he avoided a cross-examination (this was possible in a preliminary hearing). The explanation also included signed statements from the citizens of Wichita and Dodge that had been prepared on the occasion of the trial.In addition we also know that the testimonials of HF Sills, Julius Kelly and Ned Boyle favoured the Earps.
Ned Boyle verified the threats that Ike had made in advance of the gunfight (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 174). In addition, Boyle said that Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton had a reputation for being good shooters (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 175).
Julius Kelly had also heard the threats (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 203). RJ Campbell could say the same with regard to the shooting skills, and threats (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 204).
HF Sills said that Wyatt and Billy Clanton fired at the same time (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 182). It must be said that it is likely that Sills made a mistake (many citizens of Tombstones had difficulty in distinguishing Morgan and Wyatt). In addition, he had heard that Ike Clanton had threatened Virgil (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 182).
The climax came with the testimony of Winfield Scott Williams (he had recently been appointed assistant district attorney). He claimed that Behan had lied. Behan said that Earps or Holliday drew first (probably Doc Holliday). Previously, Williams had been with Behan when the latter confirmed that Frank McLaury drew first (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 63).That statement had also been written in both Epitah and Nugget (27th October). Nugget was published by Behan´s deputy sheriff Harry Woods.
A testimony that was crucial was the one Addie Borland said.
Allen, Claiborne, Behan and Clanton (all supported the cowboy gang) claimed that Doc Holliday had begun the showdown with his nickel-plated revolver. Addie Borland argued November the 28th that the colour of Hollister Days firearms was dark bronze (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 208 ) and that none of the cowboys stood with hands in the air (and if they had done so, would the Earps been so silly that they had shot at them at daytime with several several witnesses present?). What was clear was that Holliday used a shotgun before he used the revolver.
In addition, in Nugget (27th october) it was mentioned that Doc had shot Tom McLaury with a shotgun in the beginning of the gunfight. Another indication is that HM Matthews November the 11th found out that Billy Clanton died of shotgun bullets(OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 134). So Doc had to have done some incredible artistic movements before he shot Tom if he had initiated the gunfight with a revolver. Martha King could also confirm that Doc carried a rifle or a shotgun on his way to the gunfight(OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 66).
The result of the hearing was not a surprise. Everyone in Earp-clan were acquitted of murder charges.Wells Spicer even used Behan´s testimonial against the cowboys. To require that legally appointed policemen to surrender their weapons was a horrible proposal, according to him (James Kehoe could confirm that Frank McLaury refused to let themselves be disarmed (OK Corral Inquest, 1981, p. 68)).
It was peaceful the first time after the gunfight, but December the 28th one could smell the powder. At this stage could Virgil who had been so well of his damage that he could work as marshal shot. He was hit twice; in the left arm and at one side of the upper body. The result was that he was crippled.
Ike and Phin Clanton were charged.One reason was that a hat with the name of Ike had been found in the building where it was shot from. Later when he was questioned about the assault, Ike said that he had to go back to finish the job. Sherman McMasters (a cowboy who later joined Wyatt´s gang) confirmed this statement.
However, several witnesses confirmed Ike´s alibi. Then did Wyatt and his supporters understood how difficult it would be to get the criminals convicted. They had to catch the criminals in the act.
18/3-1882 was Morgan shot. Then started Wyatt a vendetta. Virgil and his wife Allie travelled with the train from Contention to Tucson. There was Frank Stilwell, Ike Clanton, and any other cowboys seen. Frank Stilwell was shot february the 19th (actually Wyatt´s birthday).
Behan got the arrest warrants he wanted from Tucson Judge Charles Meyer and appointed a large number deputies; Johnny Ringo, Phin Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius etc.
On the other hand; U.S. Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp (appointed by U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake after the assault against Virgil) employed likely Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters, Warren Earp, Texas Jack Vermillion and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson to be his deputies (this is unverified).
Two posses started chasing. One was led by Curly Bill. Before Curly Bill´s posse surprised Wyatt, Wyatt managed to kill Florentino Cruz march 22th (Indian Charlie) who was accomplished in the killing of Morgan.
March 24th attacked Curly Bills and his companies attacked Wyatt and co at Iron Springs. Wyatt´s deputies made a retreat while Wyatt took up the fight (he leaped off the horse when the shooting had started). Partially protected by the horse he shot Curly Bill before he managed to escape. Johnny Barnes, another cowboy, confirmed the death of Curly Bill to Fred Dodge (employed by Wells Fargo).
After this the vendetta ended. Behan tried to arrest Wyatt and Doc. Colorado Governor Frederick Pitkin refused to extradite them. Arizona governor Frederick Tritle had forgotten to sign the papers. Moreover, had Bat Masterson as a town marshal issued arrest warrants for Doc. This made it impossible for Behan to get Holliday back to Arizona.
The Years after Tombstone
Wyatt moved to San Francisco and was also involved in the gold rush in Alaska as a saloon owner and the gambler. He maintained contact with Bat Masterson, George Parsons and John Clum (first post master and the Mayor of Tombstone).
John D. Holliday died 8/11-1887 in the sanatorium in Glenwood Springs (Colorado). Virgil died of pneumonia in 1905.
Ike Clanton continued to be a rustler and was shot in connection with a raid in 1887. Johnny Ringo committed suicide in 1882. It is not entirely certain that it was suicide, but he was found two days after Doc was seen in the Pueblo (far from Cochise county where Tombstone was the capital).Wyatt was also in Colorado then.
Behan did n´t manage to win the next sheriff election of Cochise County election. Later he was appointed to be the director of the prison in Yuma.
Whether Doc met Wyatt after 1882 is uncertain. According to Jahns (1979, p. 133) this did not happen. Josephine Marcus Earp claims those two met each other in Denver in 1885 (Tefertiller, 1997, p. 278-279).
Was Wyatt was a "mankiller"? When he stayed in Ellsworth, Wichita and Dodge he had killed one man. He preferred to prevent noise and to stun people. The citizens of Wichita and Dodge were satisfied with him. The statements he received from them in connection with the Wells Spicer hearing (and they were not obliged to send them) proved that.
When living in Tombstone he shot four people, three of them after he had lost faith to the justice system could work (cowboys could obtain alibi for any possible act since they so many). The fourth was shot in a face to face duel.
He also stopped vigilantes from hanging Curly Bill Brocius after he had shot Fred White. Another he prevented from being lynched was “Johnny was behind the Deuce”.
Tefertiller, Casey (1997). Wyatt Earp: The life behind the legend. - New York: John Wiley & Sons, c1997. - 403 p. -
The OK Corral Inquest (1981) / edited Alfred E. Turner; introduction by Stuart N. Lake; preface by Glenn G. Boyer; illustrated by James H. Earle. - College Station (Tex): Creative Publishing. - 256 p. - ISBN 0-932702-14-7
Marks, Paula Mitchell (1996). And die in the west: the story of the OK Corral gunfight. - Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, c1989. - 480 p. - ISBN 0-806128-88-7
Chaput, Donald (1996). Virgil Earp : Western peace officer. - Norman; London : University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, c1994. - 255 p. - ISBN 0-806128-81-X
Jahns, Patricia (1979). The frontier world of Doc Holliday : faro dealer from Dallas to Deadwood. - Lincoln [Neb.] ; London : University of Nebraska Press. - XIII,305 p. - ISBN 0-803275-50-1
Horan, James D.(1964).Det vilde vesten i ord og billeder / af James D. Horan og Paul Sann.-København : Fremad.-254 p.
Duell i Tombstone:Louis Masterson`s reise til vestens mest berømte by. -p. 32-40
In: Actionmagasinet.-no.4 (2000)
Swinhart, Nick J.-1996.-URL: http://users.techline.com/nicks/earp.htm Swinhart, Nick J.-1996.-URL: http://users.techline.com/nicks/earp.htm
©2010 Jan Frode Kjensli