Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848–January 13, 1929) was an American farmer, teamster, sometime buffalo hunter, officer of the law in various Western frontier towns, gambler, saloon-keeper, miner, and boxing referee. He is best known for his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, along with Doc Holliday, and two of his brothers, Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp. He is also noted for the Earp Vendetta.
Wyatt Earp has become an iconic figure in American folk history. He is the major subject of various movies, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction.
On March 4, 1856, Nicholas sold his farm and returned to Monmouth, Illinois, but was unable to find work as a cooper or farmer. Faced with the possibility of not being able to provide for his family, Nicholas decided to run for the position of and was elected municipal constable, serving at this post for about three years. He also had a second source of income from the selling of alcoholic beverages, which made him the target of the local Temperance movement. Subsequently, he was tried in 1859 for bootlegging, convicted and publicly humiliated. Nicholas was unable to pay his court-imposed fines, and, on November 11, 1859, the Earp family's property was sold at auction. Two days later, the Earps left again for Pella, Iowa. Following their move, Nicholas made frequent travels back to Monmouth throughout 1860 to confirm and conclude the sale of his properties and to face several lawsuits for debt and accusations of tax evasion.
During the family's second stay in Pella, the Civil War broke out. Newton, James, and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11, 1861. Only thirteen years old, Wyatt was too young but later tried on several occasions to run away and join the army, only to have his father find him and bring him home. While Nicholas was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, Wyatt—with the help of his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren—was left in charge of tending an eighty-acre crop of corn. After being severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, James returned home in the summer of 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later returned.
On May 12, 1864, the Earp family joined a wagon train heading to California. The 1931 book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake, tells of the Earps' encounter with Indians near Fort Laramie and that Wyatt reportedly took the opportunity at their stop at Fort Bridger to hunt buffalo with Jim Bridger. Later researchers have suggested that Lake's account of Earp's early life is embellished, since there is little corroborating evidence for many of its stories.
In the spring of 1866, Earp became a teamster, transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. His assigned trail for 1866–1868 was from Wilmington, California, to Prescott, Arizona Territory. He worked on the route from San Bernardino through Las Vegas, Nevada Territory, to Salt Lake City. In the spring of 1868, Earp was hired by Charles Chrisman to transport supplies for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. This is believed to be the time of his introduction to gambling and boxing; he refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.
On January 10, 1870, in Lamar, Missouri, Earp married his first wife, Urilla Sutherland (1849 - c.1870), the daughter of William and Permelia Sutherland, formerly of New York City. The marriage was short-lived. Urilla is believed to have died either a few months or about a year later. There are two reported versions of her cause of death: one version claims she died of typhus, the other that she died in childbirth.
In August 1870, Wyatt bought a house and land for $50. In November, he resold the house for $75. The later event has been used to estimate the death of Urilla, based on presumption that a widower has less need of permanent residence than a married man expecting children. That November, Earp ran for and won his constable's post, beating his older half-brother, Newton, 137 votes to 108.
On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri filed a lawsuit against Earp and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar, with the collected monies intended as funding for local schools; Earp was accused of failing to deliver the collected money. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against Wyatt, alleging he falsified court documents referring to the amount of money Earp had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgment. To make up the difference between what Earp turned in and Cromwell owed (and claimed he had paid), the court seized Cromwell's mowing machine and sold it for $38. Cromwell's suit claimed Earp owed him $75, the estimated value of the machine. On April 1, Earp was one of three men (along with Edward Kennedy and John Shown) facing accusations for horse theft. On March 28, the accused reportedly stole two horses, "each of the value of one hundred dollars", from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6, Earp was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal J.G. Owens for the charges. The arraignment of the charges against him was read to him by Commissioner James Churchill on April 14. Bail was set at $500. On May 15, the indictment against Earp, Kennedy and Shown was issued. Anna Shown, wife of John Shown, claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life in order to earn his assistance. However on June 5, Edward Kennedy was acquitted while the case against Earp and John Shown remained. Faced with two lawsuits and a criminal trial, Earp apparently chose to flee the state of Missouri. An arrest warrant was issued.
Both lawsuits and the horse theft case were eventually dropped, in part because of the disappearance of Earp. Researchers do not have enough evidence to conclude whether he was guilty of the criminal charges; however, the acquittal of one of his co-defendants may have been enough to cause the authorities to lose interest.
He is generally considered to have first met his close friend Bat Masterson around this period, on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. Nevertheless, the discovery of contemporary accounts that place Earp in Peoria, Illinois, and the surrounding area during 1872 have caused researchers to question these claims. Earp is listed in the city directory for Peoria during 1872 as living in the house of Jane Haspel, who operated a bagnio (brothel) from that location. In February 1872, Peoria police raided the Haspel bagnio, arresting four women and three men. The three men were Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. Wyatt and the others were charged with "Keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame." They were later fined twenty dollars plus costs for the criminal infraction. Two additional arrests for Wyatt Earp for the same crime during 1872 in Peoria have also been found. Some researchers have concluded that the Peoria information indicates that Earp was intimately involved in the prostitution trade in the Peoria area throughout 1872. This new information has caused some researchers to question Lake's accounts of Earp hunting buffalo in Kansas in 1871-74.
In Frontier Marshal, Lake also claimed that while in Kansas, Earp met such notable figures as Wild Bill Hickok. Lake also identified Earp as the man who arrested gunman Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, on August 15, 1873. However, Lake failed to identify his sources for these claims. Consequently, later researchers have expressed their doubt about Lake's account. Diligent search of the available records has uncovered no evidence that Wyatt Earp was in Ellsworth at the time of Thompson's trouble there. Proponents of Earp's arrest of Thompson, or even Earp's presence in Ellsworth in August of that year, point to unsubstantiated recollections that Earp registered at the Grand Central Hotel there. Research has shown Earp did not check into the hotel that summer.
In particular, the activities of Benjamin Thompson during the year of his arrest were covered in detail by the local press without ever mentioning Earp. Thompson published his own accounts for the events in 1884, and he did not report Earp as the man responsible for his arrest. Deputy Ed Hogue of Ellsworth actually made the arrest, after Billy Thompson accidentally shot and killed Sheriff Chauncey Whitney, a friend to the Thompson brothers. Billy Thompson was later acquitted in the case, which resulted in an increase of violence in Ellsworth against visiting Texas cowboys. John "Happy Jack" Morco, a corrupt Ellsworth police officer, was a central character in those events. Due to the violence erupting in Ellsworth during that time, had Earp been there, it would have been documented, which it was not.
Earp received several public acclamations while in Wichita. He recognized and arrested a wanted horse thief (having to fire his weapon in warning but not hurting the man) and later a group of wagon thieves. He had a bit of public embarrassment in early 1876 when a loaded single action revolver dropped out of his holster while he was leaning back on a chair and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. The bullet went through his coat and out through the ceiling. It may be presumed from Earp's discussion of the problem in Lake's biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal (published after Wyatt's death) that Wyatt never carried a single-action with six rounds again. In Lake's version, Earp did not admit he had first-hand knowledge of this error.
Earp also had his nerves tested in Wichita in a situation which was not reported by the newspapers but which occurs in the Lake biography and is substantiated in the memoirs of his deputy Jimmy Cairns. Wyatt angered drovers by acting to repossess an unpaid-for piano in a brothel and forcing the drovers to collect the money to keep the instrument in place. Later, a group of nearly fifty armed drovers gathered in Delano, preparing to "hoorah" Wichita across the river. ("Hoorah" was the Old West term for out-of-control drunken partying). Police and citizens in Wichita assembled to oppose the cowboys. Earp stood in the center of the line of defenders on the bridge from Delano to Wichita and held off the mob of armed men, speaking for the town. Eventually, the cowboys turned and withdrew, peace having been kept without a shot fired or a man killed.
Years later Cairns wrote of Earp: "Wyatt Earp was a wonderful officer. He was game to the last ditch and apparently afraid of nothing. The cowmen all respected him and seemed to recognize his superiority and authority at such times as he had to use it."
In late 1875, the local paper (Wichita Beacon) carried this item:
Wyatt's stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876, when Earp took too active an interest in the city marshal's election. According to news accounts, former marshal Bill Smith accused Wyatt of wanting to use his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Wyatt responded by getting into a fistfight with Smith and beating him. Meagher was forced to fire and arrest Earp for disturbing the peace, the end of a tour of duty which the papers called otherwise "unexceptionable." When Meagher won the election, the city council was split evenly on re-hiring Earp. With the cattle trade diminishing in Wichita, however, Earp moved on to the next booming cow-town, Dodge City, Kansas.
Dodge City, Kansas became a major terminal for cattle driven from Texas along the Chisholm Trail from Texas after 1875. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City, under Marshal Larry Deger, in 1876. There is some indication that Earp traveled to Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, during the winter of 1876-77. He was not on the police force in Dodge City in the later part of 1877, although he is listed as being on the force in the spring. His presence in Dodge as a private citizen is substantiated by a July notice in the newspaper that he was fined $1.00 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell, who (according to the papers) "...heaped epithets upon the unoffending head of Mr. Earp to such an extent as to provide a slap from the ex-officer..." Bell spent the night in jail and was fined $20.00, while Earp's fine was the legal minimum.
In October 1877, Earp left Dodge City for a short while to gamble throughout Texas. He stopped at Fort Griffin, Texas, where, according to Wyatt's recollection in the Stuart Lake biography, he met a young, card-playing dentist known as Doc Holliday.
Earp returned to Dodge City in 1878 to become the assistant city marshal under Charlie Bassett. Holliday moved to Dodge City in June 1878 and saved Earp's life in August. While Earp was trying to break up a bar-room brawl, a cowboy drew a gun and pointed it at Earp's back. Holliday yelled, "Look out, Wyatt", then drew his gun, scaring the cowboy enough to make him back off.
In the summer of 1878, Texas cowboy George Hoy, after an altercation with Wyatt, returned with friends and fired into the Comique variety hall, outside of which stood police officers Wyatt Earp and Jim Masterson. Inside the theater, a great number of .45 bullets penetrated the plank building easily, sending Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, comedian Eddie Foy and many others instantly to the floor. Masterson, Foy, and the National Police Gazette later all gave accounts of the damage to the building and danger to those inside, but no one was hurt. (Foy noted that a new suit, which remained hanging up, had three bullet holes in it.) The lawmen, both inside and outside the building, returned fire, and Hoy was shot from his horse as he rode away, with a severe wound to the arm. A month later, he died of the wound. Whose bullet struck Hoy is unknown, but Earp claimed the shot. James Masterson, a gunman in his own right and the lesser known brother to Bat Masterson, was standing with Earp during the shootout, and many believed it was actually his shot that downed Hoy.
Earp claimed that Robert Wright then hired gunman Clay Allison to kill Earp, but Allison backed down when confronted by Earp and Bat Masterson. Allison was also a moderately famous character of the Old West, but current research cannot confirm the tale of Earp and Masterson confronting him. Bat Masterson was out of town when Allison tried to "tree" (scare) Dodge City. Stories from the day, both by accounts given through Earp's biographer and by Earp, state that Wyatt Earp and his friend Bat Masterson confronted Allison and his men in a saloon, and that Allison backed down. However, Masterson was not known to be in town at the time, the event taking place on September 19, 1878. There is no independent evidence that an altercation took place between Allison and Earp. Like Earp's unverified claim (as reported in the Lake biography) that he arrested gunman Ben Thompson, the claim that Earp outfaced Allison did not surface until after Allison's death.
Reports from the day reflect a cattleman named Dick McNulty and the owner of the Long Branch Saloon, Chalk Beeson, intervened on behalf of the town and convinced the cowboys to surrender their guns. In addition, Charlie Siringo, who was a cowboy at the time but who later became a well known Pinkerton Detective, gave a written account of the incident, as he had witnessed it. He also claimed it was actually McNulty and Beeson who ended the incident, and that Earp did not come into contact with Allison.
Beeson also left a written recollection of the incident. Beeson said it was actually Texas cattleman Richard McNulty who faced down Allison, although others give Beeson more credit than he gave himself. According to Beeson, Earp was "working behind the lines". A distant cousin of Earp has speculated it may be that the incident both Siringo and Beeson remembered happened at another time, but no account of another incident has yet come to light.
Celia Anne "Mattie" Blaylock, a former prostitute, had arrived in Dodge City with Earp. She became Earp's companion until 1882. Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1878 and headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico, with Blaylock.
According to the newspaper stories, five men were dispatched as a posse to capture the assassin: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, a very young Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and William Duffy. Earp shot the man’s horse, and Masterson wounded the assassin, who was James "Spike" Kenedy, son of Texas cattleman Miflin Kenedy. The Dodge City Times called them "as intrepid a posse as ever pulled a trigger."
It is very likely that Dora’s murder and the tracking down of her assassin were the events which caused Ned Buntline to bestow the gift of the "Buntline Specials." Earp’s biography claimed the Specials were given to "famous lawmen" Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown by author Ned Buntline in return for “local color” for his western yarns. This is technically inaccurate since neither Tilghman nor Brown was a lawman then. Further, Buntline wrote only four western yarns, all about Buffalo Bill. So, if Buntline got any “local color", he never used it.
Lake spent much effort trying to track down the Buntline Special through the Colt company and Masterson and contacts in Alaska. It was a Colt Single Action Army model with a 12-inch (30 cm) barrel, standard sights, and wooden grips into which the name “Ned” was ornately carved. Of those guns awarded, Earp was the only one who kept his the original length that it had when it was awarded to him. Masterson and the others cut the barrel down for easier concealment.
Eventually, in the summer of 1880, younger brothers Morgan and Warren Earp moved to Tombstone as well, and in September, Doc Holliday arrived.
On July 25, 1880, U.S. Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp accused Frank McLaury, a "Cowboy", (often capitalized in papers as a local term for a cattle-dealer that often was synonymous with rustler) of taking part in the stealing of six Army mules from Camp Rucker. This was a federal matter because the animals were federal property. The McLaurys were caught changing the "U.S." brand to "D.8." by the Army representative and Earp. However, to avoid a fight, the posse withdrew on the understanding that the mules would be returned. They were not. In response, the Army's representative published an account in the papers, damaging Frank McLaury's reputation. This incident marked the beginning of animosity between the McLaurys and the Earps.
About the same time, Wyatt was appointed deputy sheriff for the southern part of Pima County, which was at that time the surrounding county containing Tombstone. Wyatt served in the office only three months.
On October 28, 1880, as Tombstone town-marshal (police chief) Fred White was trying to break up a group of late revelers shooting at the moon on Allen Street in Tombstone, he was shot in the groin as he attempted to confiscate the pistol of "Curly Bill" William Brocius, who was apparently with the group. The pistol was later found to be loaded except for one expended cartridge. Morgan and Wyatt Earp, along with Wells Fargo agent Fred Dodge, came to White's aid. Wyatt hit Brocius over the head with a pistol borrowed from Dodge and disarmed Brocius, arresting him on a deadly weapon assault charge. (Virgil Earp was not present at White's shooting or Brocius' arrest.) Wyatt and a deputy took Brocius in a wagon the next day to Tucson to stand trial, possibly saving him from being lynched. Brocius waived the preliminary hearing to get out of town faster, probably believing the same. White, age 31, died of his wound two days after his shooting, changing the charge to murder.
On December 27, 1880, Wyatt testified in Tucson court regarding the Brocius-White shooting. Partly because of Earp’s testimony (and also a statement given by White before he died) that the shooting had not been intentional, the judge ruled the shooting accidental and set Brocius free. Brocius, however, remained a friend of the McLaurys and an enemy of the Earps.
Wyatt Earp resigned as deputy sheriff of Pima County on November 9, 1880, just twelve days after the White shooting, because of an election vote-counting dispute. Wyatt favored the Republican challenger Bob Paul, rather than his current boss, Pima Sheriff Charlie Shibell. Democrat Shibell was initially determined to be the winner. He appointed Democrat Johnny Behan as the new undersheriff for the south Pima area to replace Earp. Subsequently, after Shibell's victory was found to be due to ballot-box stuffing by area cowboys, Paul was declared the winner of the Pima County sheriff election. By that time, however, it was too late for Paul to replace Behan with Earp as undersheriff, because the southern portion of Pima County had been split off into Cochise County and was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Pima County sheriff.
Both Earp and Behan were applicants to be appointed to fill the new position of Cochise County sheriff. Wyatt, as former undersheriff and a Republican in the same party as Territorial Governor Fremont, assumed he had a good chance at appointment, but Behan had political influence in Prescott. Earp later testified that he made a deal with Behan that if he (Earp) withdrew his application, Behan would name Earp as undersheriff if he was appointed sheriff. Behan testified there was no such deal, but acknowledged that he had indeed promised Wyatt the undersheriff job. When Behan did get the appointment in February 1881, however, he did not appoint Earp undersheriff, choosing Harry Woods, a prominent Democrat, instead. According to Behan, he broke his promise to appoint Earp because of an incident that occurred shortly before his appointment.
The incident arose after Wyatt heard that one of his branded horses, which had been stolen more than a year earlier, was in the possession of Ike Clanton and Billy Clanton. Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse. On the way, they overtook Behan, riding in a wagon. Behan was also heading for the ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike Clanton. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Wyatt later testified that when he arrived at the Clanton ranch, Billy Clanton gave up the horse even before being presented with ownership papers. According to Behan's testimony, however, Earp and Holliday put a scare into the Clantons by telling them that Behan was on his way with an armed posse to arrest them for horse theft. Whatever the effect of the incident on Wyatt's relationship with Behan, it certainly damaged the Clantons' reputations and convinced the Earps that the Clantons were horse thieves.
Losing the undersheriff position left Wyatt Earp without a job in Tombstone; however, Wyatt and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area. In January 1881, Wyatt Earp became part owner, with Lou Rickabaugh and others, in the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon. Shortly thereafter, in Earp's story, John Tyler was hired by a rival gambling operator to cause trouble at the Oriental to keep patrons away. After losing a bet, Tyler became belligerent, and Earp took him by the ear and threw him out of the saloon. It was around this time period that Earp is alleged to have saved gambler Mike O'Rourke, aka "Johnny behind the deuce", from being lynched after the latter was arrested for murdering a miner. This incident would later add to Earp's legend as a lawman.
Tensions between the Earps and both the Clantons and McLaurys increased through 1881. In March 1881, three cowboys attempted an unsuccessful stagecoach holdup near Benson, during which the driver and passenger were murdered in the gunfire. There were rumors that Doc Holliday, who was a known friend of one of the suspects, had been involved, though the formal accusation of Doc's involvement was started by Doc's companion Mary Katherine "Big Nose Kate" Horony after a drunken quarrel, and she later recanted after she sobered. Wyatt later testified that in order to help clear Doc's name and to help himself win the next sheriff's election, he went to Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury and offered to give them all the reward money for information leading to capture of the robbers. According to Earp, both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton agreed to provide information for the capture. Subsequently, all three cowboy suspects in the stage robbery were killed in unrelated violent incidents. Clanton then accused Earp of leaking their deal to either his brother Morgan, or to Holliday.
Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased with the holdup of another stage in the Tombstone area (September 8), this one a passenger stage in the Sandy Bob line, bound for nearby Bisbee. The masked robbers shook down the passengers (the stage had no strongbox) and in the process were recognized from their voices and language as Pete Spence (an alias) and Frank Stilwell, a business partner of Spence who was also at the time a deputy of Sheriff Behan's. Spence and Stilwell were friends of the McLaurys. Wyatt and Virgil Earp rode with the sheriff's posse attempting to track the Bisbee stage robbers, and during the tracking, Wyatt discovered the unusual print of a custom repaired boot heel. Checking a shoe repair shop in Bisbee known to provide widened bootheels led to identification of Stilwell as a recent customer, and a check of a Bisbee corral turned up both Spence and Stilwell. Stilwell was found with a new set of wide custom boot heels matching the prints of the robber. Stilwell and Spence were arrested by sheriff's deputies Breakenridge and Nagel for the stage robbery, and later by Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp on the federal offense of mail robbery.
Released on bail, Spence and Stilwell were re-arrested by Virgil for the Bisbee robbery a month later, October 13, on the new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier. The newspapers, however, reported that they had been arrested for a different stage robbery that occurred (October 8) near Contention city. Occurring less than two weeks before the O.K. Corral shootout, this final incident may have been misunderstood by the McLaurys. While Wyatt and Virgil were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearing, Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp, telling him that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or the McLaurys again.
Virgil Earp requested that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday support him and Morgan Earp in preparation for the gunfight. They were both deputized for the occasion. Wyatt spoke of his brothers Virgil and Morgan as the "marshals" while he acted as "deputy."
Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and other Cowboys had been spoiling for a fight, and the Earps and Holliday were determined to give it. Martha J. King, who was in Bauer's Butcher Shop on Fremont Street when the Earp party passed, testified to hearing one of the Earps [Morgan] on the outside of that party look around and say to Doc Holliday, "Let them have it!" to which Holliday grimly replied, "All right! When the Earp party reached the alley between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House, the Cowboys came out to meet them, so that both parties were drawn up in rough lines facing one another at extremely close range. According to one witness, Doc Holliday drew his pistol and shoved it into Frank McLaury's belly then took a couple of steps back.
Virgil Earp, who was not counting on a fight and indicated this fact by carrying Doc Holliday's cane in his right hand, immediately commanded the Cowboys to "throw up your hands!" But as guns were drawn, he had to yell to his own men, "Hold! I don't mean that!" Almost immediately, however, general firing commenced. According to Tombstone old-timers, Doc Holliday fired first, hitting Frank McLaury in the belly, and Morgan Earp fired almost immediately after, hitting Billy Clanton, probably in the right wrist, who nonetheless kept his feet and shifted his pistol to his left, returning fire left-handed. The two shots were so close together that they were almost indistinguishable. Almost immediately a shot was fired from behind the Earp party in ambush by Ike Clanton, Johnny Behan, or Behan's friend, Will Allen, drawing the entire Earp party's attention to the unidentified assailant behind them. At this opportunity, Tom McLaury sneaked a shot over the horse he was hiding behind, hitting Morgan Earp in the back, but Doc Holliday stepped clear of McLaury's horse, and having holstered the pistol with which he had shot Frank McLaury, emptied both barrels of Virgil Earp's sawed-off shotgun into Tom at close range. Mortally wounded, Tom McLaury then half-ran and half-staggered into Fremont Street, where he died.
The firing continued then, with Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury wounded. Either Billy or Frank hit Virgil Earp in the calf, and Virgil, though hit, put his next shot into Billy Clanton. Frank and Doc squared off and Frank hit Doc in the left hip, but the shot was deflected by Holliday's leather holster, and he suffered only a bruise. Morgan Earp was back up and still firing, and he, Doc and Wyatt all attested to firing at Frank, with Morgan and Doc each thinking he had fired the killing shot.General firing continued and did not end until Billy Clanton finally went down (probably from the bullet to his left breast). He thus lived up to his reputation as "one of the finest [gunfighters] in the land". According to Josie Marcus, the Earp brothers said what was necessary at the hearing to counter the lies of Sheriff Johnny Behan and the Cowboys. Wyatt's lover and later-to-be common-law wife minced no words in this regard, just as she confirmed the truth of Martha J. King's testimony about the exchange between Morgan and Doc on the way to the fight. Wyatt's testimony at the Spicer indictment hearing was in writing (as was permitted by law, which allowed statements without cross-examination at pre-trial hearings) and Wyatt, therefore, was not cross-examined. Wyatt testified that he and Billy Clanton began the fight after Clanton and Frank McLaury drew their pistols, and Wyatt shot Frank in the stomach while Billy shot at Wyatt and missed. No witnesses confuted the testimony of Wyatt Earp that Ike Clanton had run up to him and protested that he was unarmed. To this protest Wyatt had responded, "Go to fighting or get away! This incident proved that there was no intent on the part of the Earps to kill unarmed men. Thus, the unarmed Ike Clanton escaped the shooting unwounded, as did the unarmed Billy Claiborne. Wyatt was not hit in the fight, while Doc Holliday, Virgil Earp, and Morgan Earp were hit. Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury were killed.
Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury were openly armed with pistols in gunbelts and holsters, and used them to wound Virgil, Morgan and Doc Holliday. No gun was found on Tom McLaury after the gunfight. The Cowboys claimed he was unarmed, but some of the Earps believed he was armed and credited him with at least one shot over the back of the horse. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Sheriff Johnny Behan may have removed his gun from the scene. Josie Marcus said flatly that someone spirited Tom's pistol away after he dropped it, probably Johnny Behan. Interestingly enough, Behan stated in his own testimony that his own search of Tom McLaury for a weapon prior to the gunfight was not thorough, and that McLaury might have had a pistol hidden in his waistband and covered by his long blouse and vest worn over his trousers, and not tucked in. In his testimony, Wyatt stated that he believed Tom McLaury was armed with a pistol, but his language contains equivocation. The same is true of Virgil Earp's testimony. Both Earp brothers left themselves room for contradiction on this point, but neither one was equivocal about the fact that Tom had been killed by Holliday with a shotgun.
Because of Allen's and Behan's testimony and the testimony of several other prosecution witnesses, Wyatt and Holliday's lawyers were presented with a writ of habeas corpus from the probate court and appeared before Judge John Henry Lucas. After arguments were given, the judge ordered them to be put in jail. By the time Ike Clanton took the stand on November 9, the prosecution had built an impressive case. Several prosecution witnesses had testified that Tom McLaury was unarmed, that Billy Clanton had his hands in the air and that neither of the McLaurys were troublemakers. They portrayed Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury as being unjustly bullied and beaten by the vengeful Earps on the day of the gunfight. The Earps and Holliday looked certain to be convicted until Ike Clanton inadvertently came to their rescue.
Clanton's testimony repeated the story of abuse that he had suffered at the hands of the Earps and Holliday the night before the gunfight. He reiterated that Holliday and Morgan Earp had fired the first two shots and that the next several shots also came from the Earp party. Then under cross-examination, Clanton told a story of the lead-up to the gunfight which did not make sense. It told of the Benson stage robbery conducted to cover up stolen money that was actually not missing. Ike also claimed that Doc Holliday and Morgan, Wyatt, and Virgil Earp had all separately confessed to him their role in either the pre-robbery of Benson stage money, the Benson stage holdup, or else the cover-up of the robbery by allowing the robbers' escape. By the time Ike finished his testimony, the entire prosecution case had become suspect.
The first witness for the defense was Wyatt Earp. He read a prepared statement detailing the Earps' previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys, and explaining why they were going to disarm the cowboys, and claiming that they fired on them in self defense. Because Arizona's territorial laws allowed a defendant in a preliminary hearing to make a statement in his behalf without facing cross-examination, the prosecution was not allowed to question Earp. After the defense had established doubts about the prosecution's case, the judge allowed Holliday and Earp to return to their homes in time for Thanksgiving.
Two witnesses, with ties to neither party, gave critical evidence that swayed Justice Spicer to acquit the Earps and Doc Holliday. One of these was the dressmaker, Addie Bourland, who observed the fight from her residence across Fremont Street from Fly's Boarding House. She testified that from the start both sides were facing each other, that the firing was general, that no one had held his hands up, and that she saw no one fall. This testimony from a disinterested party confuted most of the testimony of Sheriff Johnny Behan, Ike Clanton and the other Cowboy witnesses. The other witness was Judge J.H. Lucas of the Probate Court of Cochise County, Arizona Territory, whose office was in the Mining Exchange Building, about from the shootout. Lucas' testimony confirmed that of Addie Bourland, in that Billy Clanton was standing throughout the fight and firing. Only when he went down at the end did the general firing cease.
Justice Spicer eventually ruled that the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law (with Holliday and Wyatt effectively having been deputized temporarily by Virgil), and he invited the Cochise County grand jury to reevaluate his decision. Spicer did not condone all of the Earps' actions and he criticized Virgil Earp's choice of deputies Wyatt and Holliday, but he concluded that no laws were broken. He made special point of the fact that Ike Clanton, known to be unarmed, had been allowed to pass through the center of the fight without being shot.
Even though the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputation was tarnished. Supporters of the cowboys (a very small minority) in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as robbers and murderers. However, on December 16, the grand jury decided not to reverse Spicer's decision.
On December 28, while walking between saloons on Allen Street in Tombstone, Virgil was attacked by shotgun fire. His left arm and shoulder took the brunt of the damage. Ike Clanton's hat was found in the back of the building across Allen street, from where the shots were fired. Wyatt wired U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake asking to be appointed deputy U.S. Marshal with authority to select his own deputies. Dake responded by granting the request. In mid-January, Wyatt sold his gambling concessions at the Oriental when Rickabaugh sold the saloon to Milt Joyce, an Earp adversary. On February 2, 1882, Wyatt and Virgil, tired of the criticism leveled against them, submitted their resignations to Dake, who refused to accept them. On the same day, Wyatt sent a message to Ike Clanton that said he wanted to reconcile their differences. Clanton refused. Also on the same day, Clanton was acquitted of the charges against him in the shooting of Virgil Earp, when the defense brought in seven witnesses that testified that Clanton was in Charleston at the time of the shooting.
After attending a theater show on March 18, Morgan Earp was assassinated by gunmen firing from a dark alley, through the door window into the lighted pool hall. Morgan was hit in the lower back while a second shot hit the wall just over Wyatt's head. The fatal shot fired at Morgan passed clean through and bedded in the thigh of a pool hall patron. The Doctor was summoned to the hall and Morgan was moved from the floor to a nearby couch. The assassins escaped in the dark, and Morgan died forty (40) minutes later.
On Sunday, March 19, the day after Morgan's murder, Wyatt, his brother James, and a group of friends took Morgan's body to the railhead in Benson. They put Morgan's body on the train with James, to accompany it to the family home in Colton, California. There, Morgan's wife waited to bury him.
The next day, it was Virgil and his wife Allie's turn to be escorted safely out of Tombstone. Wyatt had gotten word that trains leaving from Benson were being watched in Tucson, and getting the still invalid Virgil through Tucson to safety would be more difficult. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Holliday, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, and Sherman McMasters took Virgil and Allie in a wagon to the train in Benson, leaving their own horses in Contention City and boarding the train with Virgil. As the train pulled away from the Tucson station in the dark, gunfire was heard. Frank Stilwell's body was found on the tracks the next morning.
What Stilwell was doing on the tracks near the Earps' train has never been explained. Ike Clanton made his case worse by giving a newspaper interview claiming that he and Stilwell had been in Tucson for Stilwell's legal problems and heard that the Earps were coming in on a train to kill Stilwell. According to Clanton, Stilwell then disappeared from the hotel and was found later, blocks away, on the tracks. Wyatt, many years later, in the Flood biography, said that he and his party had seen Clanton and Stilwell on the tracks with weapons, and he had shot Stilwell.
After killing Stilwell in Tucson and sending their train on its way to California with Virgil, the Earp party was afoot. They hopped a freight train back to Benson and hired a wagon back to Contention, riding back into Tombstone by the middle of the next day (March 21). They were now wanted men, because once Stilwell's killing had been connected to the Earp party on the train, warrants had been issued for five of the Earp party. Ignoring Johnny Behan and now joined by Texas Jack Vermillion, the Earp posse rode out of town the same evening.
On March 22, the Earps rode to the woodcamp of Pete Spence at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains, looking for Spence. They knew of the Morgan Earp inquest testimony. Spence was in jail, but at the woodcamp, the Earp posse found Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Earp said to his biographer Lake that he got Cruz to confess to being the lookout, while Stilwell, Hank Swilling, Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo killed Morgan. After the "confession", Wyatt and the others shot and killed Cruz.
Two days later, in Iron Springs, Arizona, the Earp party, seeking a rendezvous with a messenger for them, stumbled upon a group of cowboys led by "Curley Bill" William Brocious. In Wyatt's account, he had jumped from his horse to fight, when he noticed the rest of his posse retreating, leaving him alone. Curley Bill was surprised in the act of cooking dinner at the edge of a spring, and he and Wyatt traded shotgun blasts. Curley Bill was hit in the chest by Wyatt's shotgun fire and died. Wyatt survived several near misses from Curley Bill's companions before he could remount his horse and was not hit. During the fight, another cowboy named Johnny Barnes received fatal wounds.
The Earp party survived unharmed and spent the next two weeks riding though the rough country near Tombstone. Ultimately, when it became clear to the Earps that Behan's posse would not fight them, nor could they return to town, they decided to ride out of the territory for good. In the middle of April 1882, Wyatt Earp left the Arizona Territory.
Slowly all of the Earp assets in Tombstone were sold to pay for taxes, and the stake the family had amassed eroded. Wyatt and Warren joined Virgil in San Francisco in late 1882. While there, Wyatt rekindled a romance with Josie Marcus, Behan's one-time mistress and probably commonlaw wife . In the meantime, Wyatt's commonlaw wife, Mattie, a former prostitute and laudanum addict (although her addiction has never been proven, her death is attributed to an overdose of laudanum from the coroners death report), waited for him in Colton but eventually realized Wyatt was not coming back. (Wyatt had left Mattie the house when he left Tombstone.) Earp left San Francisco with Josie in 1883, and she became his companion for the next forty-six years. Although no marriage certificate has been found, they represented themselves as man and wife, which in the Old West was all that was necessary for a commonlaw marriage (and still is today in "Western" law states such as Colorado). Earp and Marcus returned to Gunnison where they settled down, and Earp continued to run a faro bank.
Earp, many years later, claimed Hoy was attempting to assassinate him at the behest of Robert Wright, with whom he claimed an ongoing feud. Earp said the feud between himself and Wright started when Earp arrested Bob Rachals, a prominent trail leader who had shot a German fiddler. According to Earp, Wright tried to block the arrest because Rachals was one of the largest financial contributors to the Dodge City economy. In 1883, Earp returned, along with Bat Masterson, to Dodge City to help a friend deal with a corrupt mayor. What became known as the Dodge City War was started when the Mayor of Dodge City tried to run Luke Short first out of business and then out of town. Short appealed to Masterson who contacted Earp. While Short was discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick in Kansas City, Earp showed up with Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green. They marched up Front Street into Short's saloon where they were sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog" Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. Short's Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without a shot being fired.
Earp spent the next decade running saloons and gambling concessions and investing in mines in Colorado and Idaho, with stops in various boom towns. In 1884, Earp and two younger brothers entered the Murray-Eagle mining district in Idaho. Within six months their substantial stake had run dry, and they departed the Murray-Eagle district for greener pastures. In approximately April 1885, Wyatt Earp joined a band of claim jumpers in Embry Camp, Washington, modernly known as Chewelah. It is said that Earp also jumped the Old Dominion claim further North in Colville, Washington.
In 1886, Earp and Josie moved to San Diego and stayed there about four years. Earp ran several gambling houses in town and speculated in San Diego's real estate boom. He also judged prize fights and raced horses.
The Earps moved back to San Francisco during the 1890s so Josie could be closer to her family and Wyatt closer to his new job, managing a horse stable in Santa Rosa. During the summer of 1896, Earp wrote his memoirs with the help of a ghost writer (Flood). On December 3, 1896, Earp was the referee for a high-profile boxing match. During the fight Bob Fitzsimmons, clearly in control, allegedly landed a low blow against Tom Sharkey. Earp awarded the victory to Sharkey and was accused of committing fraud. Fitzsimmons had an injunction put on the prize money until the courts could determine who the rightful winner was. The judge in the case decided that because fighting, and therefore prize fighting, was illegal in San Francisco, that the courts would not determine who the real winner was. The decision provided no vindication for Earp.
In the fall of 1897, Earp and Josie joined in the gold rush to Alaska, where for the following few years Earp ran several saloons and gambling concessions in Nome. While living in Alaska, Earp may have met and become friends with Jack London. However, this connection is questionable, because London took part in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, whereas the Nome Gold Rush occurred several years later when London was known to have been elsewhere. Controversy continued to follow Earp, and he was arrested several times for different minor offenses.
By 1906, Earp and Josie had settled in the Sonoran Desert town of Vidal, California where he staked claims in both copper and gold mines near the Whipple Mountains. Although it never actually boasted a town, the townsite of Earp, California is located at the site of those mining claims.
Earp eventually moved to Hollywood, where he met several famous and soon to be famous actors on the sets of various movies. On the set of one movie, he met a young extra and prop man who would eventually become John Wayne. Wayne later told Hugh O'Brian that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp. And one of Earp's friends in Hollywood was William S. Hart, a well-known cowboy star of his time. In the early 1920s, Earp served as deputy sheriff in a mostly ceremonial position in San Bernardino County, California.
Wyatt Earp died at home in the Earps' small apartment at 4004 W 17th Street, in Los Angeles, of chronic cystitis (some sources cite prostate cancer) on January 13, 1929 at the age of 80. Western actors William S. Hart and Tom Mix were pallbearers at his funeral. His wife Josie was too grief-sticken to attend. Josie had Wyatt's body cremated and buried Wyatt's ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery (Josie was Jewish) in Colma, California. When she died in 1944, Josie's ashes were buried next to Wyatt's. The original gravemarker was stolen in 1957 but has since been replaced by a new standing stone.
Several other films and television episodes depict Earp as a character or use the legend as inspiration: