Earp Vendetta Ride
The Earp Vendetta Ride was a search from March 20 to April 15, 1882 for vengeance led by Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, who pursued outlaw Cowboys that had ambushed his brothers Virgil, maiming him, and then killed Morgan. The Earps had been attacked in retaliation for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881, in which the Earps and Doc Holliday killed three Cowboys. The federal posse searched southeast Cochise County, Arizona Territory for suspects in both Virgil's and Morgan's attacks whom the court had freed, owing in some cases to legal technicalities and in others on the strength of alibis provided by Cowboy confederates. Up to this point, Wyatt had relied on the legal system to bring the Cowboys to justice. Now he felt he had to take matters into his own hands.
On March 20, two days after Morgan's murder, Wyatt, his brothers Warren and James, Doc Holliday, and two other deputies were escorting Virgil and his wife Allie to a California-bound train in Benson, but heard that Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell were in Tucson. Wyatt changed plans and stayed with Virgil through to Tucson. After Virgil boarded the train, Wyatt spotted two men they thought were Clanton and Stilwell lying in wait near the train. He and several men chased Stilwell down and killed him. The Tucson Justice of the Peace issued warrants for the arrest of the five men suspected of shooting Stilwell. The next day, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan attempted to detain the Earps' federal posse in Tombstone, but they brushed him aside and rode out of town to find the other Cowboys implicated in the attacks.
At the same time deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp was leading the federal posse, Behan formed a Cochise County sheriff's posse consisting of deputies Phineas Clanton, Johnny Ringo, and about twenty other Arizona ranchers and Cowboys, with the purpose of serving the Stilwell murder arrest warrants against five members of the federal posse. The Behan posse came close to but never engaged the much smaller Earp posse, which not only received help from local businessmen and ranchers, but at one point during the pursuit even wrote a letter to a Tombstone newspaper taunting Behan and his men. Carrying arrest warrants for Curly Bill Brocius and others, the federal posse ultimately killed four men, beginning with the shooting of Stilwell and ending with the killing of Brocius. The ride ended April 15 when the Earps and their associates rode out of Arizona Territory and headed for New Mexico Territory.
- 1 Background
- 2 Stilwell shooting in Tucson
- 3 Earp posse pursues Outlaw Cowboys
- 4 South Pass shooting
- 5 Gunfight with Curly Bill
- 6 Earp extradition sought
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
After a long-simmering feud and increasing animosity and threats, Tombstone town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday confronted outlaw Cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. The 30-second gunfight is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. After the lawmen killed three of the Cowboys during the gunfight, the Cowboys retaliated.
Attempted assassination of Virgil Earp
At about 11:30 pm on December 28, 1881, just over two months after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, three men ambushed Virgil Earp as he walked from Schieffelin Hall back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the Earps had moved for mutual support and protection. He was hit in the back and upper left arm by about 20 buckshot pellets, shattering his humerus, forcing Dr. George Goodfellow to remove 5.5 inches (140 mm) of bone. Wyatt, believing that Virgil was dying, telegraphed U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory Crawley Dake the next day:
VIRGIL EARP WAS SHOT BY CONCEALED ASSASSINS LAST NIGHT. HIS WOUNDS ARE FATAL. TELEGRAPH ME APPOINTMENT WITH POWER TO APPOINT DEPUTIES. LOCAL AUTHORITIES ARE DOING NOTHING. THE LIVES OF OTHER CITIZENS ARE THREATENED. WYATT EARP
Commenting on Earp's request to Dake, the Weekly Arizona Miner wrote on December 30, 1881 about the repeated threats received by the Earps and others. "For some time, the Earps, Doc Holliday, Tom Fitch and others who upheld and defended the Earps in their late trial have received, almost daily, anonymous letters, warning them to leave town or suffer death, supposed to have been written by friends of the Clanton and McLowry boys, three of whom the Earps and Holliday killed and little attention was paid to them as they were believed to be idle boasts but the shooting of Virgil Earp last night shows that the men were in earnest."
Wyatt deputizes posse
Dake replied affirmatively by telegraph, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp deputized, along with Warren Earp and Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Jack "Turkey Creek" Johnson, Charles "Hairlip Charlie" Smith, Daniel "Tip" Tipton, and John "Texas Jack" Vermillion to protect the family and pursue the suspects, paying them $5.00 a day.
McMaster and Johnson were known as tough men who knew how to use their guns. McMaster had seen service with the Texas Rangers in 1878-1879 when his unit captured and held Curly Bill Brocius prisoner for five months. In Tombstone, McMaster had also been accused of stealing U.S. Army mules and robbing a stage with outlaw Charles "Pony" Diehl. Fluent in Spanish, McMaster used his inside knowledge of the Cowboys to assist the Earps in their search. He also liked fine horses.
Jack "Turkey Creek" Johnson, whose real name according to Wyatt Earp was John William Blount, was a native of Missouri who was raised in the lead mining area of Neosho. Blount was forced to flee Missouri in 1877 after he and his brother were involved in a violent street battle. In Arizona during May 1881, his brother Bud killed a man in a quarrel in Tip Top, Arizona Territory, and was sent to Yuma Territorial Prison. John Blount adopted the alias Jack Johnson and went to Tombstone seeking Wyatt Earp's help to get his brother pardoned. Wyatt helped by writing a petition to Governor Fremont, whom Wyatt knew, and Bud Blount was eventually freed. As a way to repay his debt, Johnson joined the posse.
"Hairlip Charlie" Smith had a long-time connection to the Earp family, and was fluent in Spanish after spending several years in Texas working in saloons. While in Fort Worth he had been associated with barman James Earp, and participated in at least two gunfights there, and was seriously wounded in 1878. Arriving in Tombstone in 1879 with Robert J. Winders, Smith immediately became associated with the Earps. Winders and the Earps partnered on the Mountain Maid mine. Daniel "Tip" Tipton arrived in Tombstone in March 1881. He had a shady reputation earned during the early days of the mining boom in Virginia City, Nevada Territory. Tipton, a former Union seaman in the Civil War, was tattooed on his hands and forearms, and took up mining and gambling after the war. In 1879 he was in the Gunnison district of Colorado before traveling to Tombstone at the request of his friend Lou Rickabaugh, also a friend of the Earps. Smith and Tipton were gamblers who supplemented their income with mining ventures.
John "Texas Jack" Vermillion, a Virginian, joined the vendetta ride after the killing of Frank Stilwell, and thus was never indicted for that act, but he was with the Earps at the killing of Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Although closer to friend and fellow Southerner Doc Holliday than the Earps, Vermillion stood by Wyatt Earp's side during the shootout at Iron Springs with Curly Bill Brocius. A veteran of the Civil War on the Confederate side who rode with J.E.B. Stuart's Virginia cavalry, Vermillion was an accomplished horseman and pistoleer.
U.S. Marshal Dake visited Tombstone in late January 1881 with acting Governor John J. Gosper. Dake had previously and unsuccessfully requested financial assistance from the United States Attorney General, Wayne McVeagh, to help track down and arrest the Cowboys. Dake's superior told him he must reduce his official debt below the penalty bond of $20,000 before an additional appropriation could be made.:119 In September 1881, Governor Gosper told Secretary of Interior Kirkwood that Arizona contained "a small army of outlaws well armed and fully able to cope with the ordinary civil powers of our counties.":120 Not believing that the federal bureaucracy would provide funds, Dake borrowed $3,000 from Wells, Fargo & Co., promising that the Department of Justice would repay it. He deposited money, variously reported as either $300 or $3000,:238 to an account in the Hudson & Company Bank, minus $15, for use "to arrest all parties committing crimes against the United States." The following day John Thacker from Wells Fargo went with Wyatt to the bank to authorize his use of the funds.:238 Dake was later accused, although not convicted, of spending $300 on gambling and whores while in Tombstone and misappropriating most of the rest of the money.:123
Outlaw Cowboy warrants
In January 1882, Wyatt Earp sought and received warrants from Judge William H. Stilwell for the arrest of the men thought responsible for ambushing Virgil. Judge Stilwell was among a number of Cochise County citizens unhappy with Sheriff Behan's inability to stop the Cowboys' ongoing criminal activity.:239 On January 23, Wyatt led his newly deputized posse, consisting of his brothers Morgan and Warren, Doc Holliday, "Texas Jack" Vermillion and four others, towards Charleston, Arizona where Ike Clanton, his brother "Phin", and "Pony" Diehl were known to stay.:239
On January 17, 1882, Johnny Ringo and Doc Holliday had traded threats, resulting in their arrest by Tombstone's chief of police, James Flynn. Both were fined and Judge Stilwell noted that charges were still outstanding against Ringo for a robbery in Galeyville. Ringo was rearrested and jailed on January 20.:238 When Ringo heard on January 23 that the Earps had warrants, he arranged for bail. Sheriff Behan released him before Ringo's bail arrived and Ringo rode ahead to warn his Cowboy friends in Charleston. James Earp immediately filed an affidavit saying Ringo was "an escaped prisoner" and charged that Ringo intended to interfere with Wyatt's execution of the warrants. Before being rearrested in Charleston, Ringo warned the Clantons and Diehl, who left town.
On the way to Charleston, Earp's posse was joined by thirty more riders from Tombstone. They found Ben Maynard, a known Cowboy associate, outside Charleston and arrested him. With Maynard in front, the posse took over the small town and went door-to-door looking for the Clantons and Diehl. The next day the posse scouted the countryside, eventually stopping at a camp near Tombstone known as "Pick-em-up". Complicating matters, a Tombstone deputy sheriff rode out to Pick-em-up and served a warrant on McMaster, who was accused of stealing two horses from the Contention mine. The Earp posse rode back into Tombstone where Sherman McMaster made bail. He and Charlie Smith took a room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel near the Earps.
On January 30, the Clanton brothers surrendered to Wells Fargo guard Charley Bartholomew and were jailed in Tombstone. They learned they were not arrested for armed robbery as expected, but for "assault with intent to commit murder, the specific offense being the waylaying and shooting of Virgil Earp some weeks ago.":240
On February 2, the Clantons were put on trial before Judge Stilwell. Ike's hat had been found at the scene and McMaster testified that he had been in Charleston the evening of the shooting. He said that when Ike learned that Virgil had survived the shooting, Ike said he "would have to go back and do the job over.":240 However, Charleston constable George McKelvey, saloon owner J. B. Ayers and five others testified that Ike Clanton had been in Charleston and could not have taken part in the shooting. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Wyatt said later that Judge Stilwell told him, "Wyatt, you'll never clean up this crowd this way; next time you'd better leave your prisoners in the brush where alibis don't count.":241
Ike Clanton refiled murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday in Contention, Arizona for their killing of his brother and the McLaury brothers. When he could not provide new evidence, the charges were dismissed. On February 13, Wyatt mortgaged his home to lawyer James G. Howard for $365.00 (about $8,920 today), but was never able to repay the loan and in 1884 Howard foreclosed on the house. On February 17, the Earp posse left Tombstone heavily armed and with a warrant for the arrest of "Pony" Diehl, who was suspected in a January 1882 stage robbery. Unsuccessful, they returned to town a few days later, hearing rumors that the Cowboys were plotting further revenge.
Morgan Earp assassinated
On Saturday evening, March 18, 1882, Tombstone's Scheifflin Hall was host to Stolen Kisses, a play by William Horace Lingard and Company. Wyatt warned against going, but Morgan, Doc Holliday, and Dan Tipton attended. Benjamin Goodrich cautioned the men, "You fellows will catch it tonight if you don't look out." Afterwards, Doc went to his room and Morgan and Tipton headed for Hatch's Saloon and Billiard Parlor, which had become their unofficial headquarters after the Oriental Hotel was sold. Morgan came upon Virgil's wife Allie while she was out shopping for her convalescing husband, and escorted her back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Upon returning to Hatch's Saloon, Morgan and Bob Hatch began a game of pool. Wyatt, Tipton, and McMaster watched them play at a pool table near the back door.:244
At 10:50 pm, Morgan Earp was waiting for Hatch to line up a shot when two bullets were fired through the windows of the back door. One bullet first struck Morgan, who fell to the floor, then lodged in the thigh of George A. B. Berry. Another bullet struck the wall over Wyatt's head. Wyatt, McMaster and Tipton pulled Morgan out of the line of fire while Hatch dashed outside looking for the shooters. Morgan had been struck on the left side, the bullet shattering his spine then passing through his right kidney and liver, and emerging from his right side.:244 Morgan Earp died within the hour.
The next day, Sunday, March 19 (Wyatt's 34th birthday), he and brother James Earp and a group of friends took Morgan's body to the railroad station in Contention. After loading his remains onto the train, James and five close friends accompanied it to Colton, California. Morgan's wife was already in Colton, where she had traveled for safety before Morgan was killed. James and his guard arrived in Colton with Morgan's body on March 21.
Cowboy suspects identified
While Wyatt and James were traveling to Contention with Morgan's body, Coroner Dr. D.M. Mathew held an inquest into Morgan's death. During the Coroner's Inquest, Pete Spence's wife, Marietta Duarte, implicated her husband and four other men in Morgan's murder. She testified that along with her husband, Frank Stilwell, a man named "Fries" (later identified as Frederick Bode), and two Indians later identified as Hank Swilling and Florentino Cruz took part in the killing.:248:206:176 She testified that four days before the shooting she and her mother were standing at Spence's house when Morgan walked by. "The Indian then started down the street, & got ahead of him to get a good look at him.":248 She also stated that on the night of the shooting she and her mother heard the shots, and a few minutes later Stilwell and "Charley" came into her home, followed shortly by Spence, Bode and the other Indian.:248
Marietta Duarte recalled that the men were excited, and the next morning her husband threatened her with violence if she told what she knew. "Spence didn't tell me so, but I know he killed Morgan Earp", she said.:248 Additional witnesses said they saw Frank Stilwell running from the scene. The coroner's jury concluded that Spence, Stilwell, Frederick Bode, and Florentino Cruz were the prime suspects in Morgan Earp's death.:250 Spence immediately turned himself in so that he would be protected in Behan's jail.
Wyatt seeks revenge
When Wyatt Earp learned of the judge's ruling, he felt he could not rely on the court system for justice. Stilwell had previously been acquitted of two homicides and a stage robbery, and in Wyatt Earp's opinion, he and other Cowboys had gotten away with murder again. Wyatt decided to take matters into his own hands, concluding that the only way to deal with Virgil's and Morgan's attackers, and the continued threat against the entire Earp family, was to kill the responsible Cowboys.
Stilwell shooting in Tucson
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Wyatt made arrangements to escort Virgil and Addie to the train in Contention. On Monday, March 20, Wyatt received information that Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, and another Cowboy were watching the passenger trains in Tucson with the aim to kill Virgil. He thought getting the still invalid Virgil through to Tucson safely would require extra help. Wyatt, accompanied by Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson, and Sherman McMaster, took Virgil and Allie to nearby Contention City, where they stabled their horses and picked up an extra wagon. They rode in the wagon to the rail head in Benson, where they caught the next train to Tucson. In Tucson, Virgil and Allie would connect with a train for California.
Nathan W. Waite of Ash Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains was on the train with the Earp party. He said the Earp men were all armed and McMasters was wearing two cartridge belts.
Upon their arrival in Tucson, they were greeted at the train station by Deputy U.S. Marshal J. W. Evans. Virgil later reported that they saw Stilwell and other Cowboys at the train station, but when they saw how well guarded Virgil was, withdrew from the station platform. Witness J. W. Evans saw Holliday deposit two shotguns at the railroad station office.
The group had dinner at Porter's Hotel near the station and returned to the train. Holliday asked someone to get his shotguns. Wyatt escorted Virgil and Allie aboard the train. A passenger told Virgil he saw men lying on a flatcar near the engine. Wyatt saw them too and slipped between the tracks, looking for the men. When the train pulled away from the Tucson station, gunfire was heard. Witnesses gave differing accounts but Frank Stilwell's body was found the next morning about 100 yards (91 m) from the Porter Hotel alongside the tracks riddled with two buckshot and three gunshot wounds.
The Tombstone Epitaph reported the next day that Stilwell had been shot six times. This included a round of buckshot in his chest that struck him at such close range that six buckshot left holes within a radius of 3 inches (76 mm), leaving powder burns on his coat. The coroner reported that Stilwell had been shot by five different weapons and had received a shotgun wound to the leg and a second shotgun wound to the chest. Many years later, Wyatt told his biographer Flood that he and his party had seen Clanton and Stilwell on the tracks with weapons, and he had shot Stilwell.
They looked hard for another man, whom Wyatt identified as Ike Clanton, but he got away. Ike claimed in a newspaper interview afterward that he and Stilwell had been in Tucson to respond to a federal subpoena for interfering with a U.S. mail carrier when he allegedly robbed the Sandy Bob line of the Bisbee stage on September 8, 1881. The federal charges had been filed by Virgil Earp after Stilwell was acquitted for lack of evidence on the state charges of robbery.
Clanton said he had heard that the Earps were coming in on a train to kill Stilwell. According to Clanton, Stilwell left the hotel and was last seen walking down the railroad tracks away from the Porter Hotel, towards where his body was later found on the tracks. Virgil later told the Examiner, "One thing is certain, if I had been without an escort they would have killed me."
Earp posse pursues Outlaw Cowboys
After killing Stilwell in Tucson and verifying that the train was on its way to California with Virgil, the Earp party was afoot. They walked 9 miles (14 km) southeast back along the Southern Pacific tracks out of Tucson to the Papago freight stop. (The station was later renamed Esmond and was the site of a head-on train crash in 1903 at the current location of the Desert Sky Middle School in Tucson.) At the Papago stop they flagged down the night-freight train back to the terminal in Benson. Once in Benson they hired a wagon back to Contention where they picked up their stabled horses. They rode into Tombstone around 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 21. Once in Tombstone they learned of Marietta Duarte's testimony during the coroner's inquest into Morgan's death and the names of the accused Cowboys. They returned to their temporary headquarters at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where they had lived since the first attack on Virgil in December.
They were now wanted men because the Coroner's Jury in Tucson reported that Stilwell had been killed by Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Texas Jack, and Sherman McMasters. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for the five men and sent a telegram to Behan in Tombstone asking him to arrest them. The telegraph office manager was a friend to the Earps showed the message to Wyatt. The operator agreed to delay delivering the message to Behan long enough to allow the Earps and their associates to make ready to leave town Tuesday evening.
Early in the evening Behan received the delayed telegram. He found the Earp lawmen in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, heavily armed, getting ready to leave town. Cochise County Sheriff Behan told Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt he wanted to see him. Wyatt replied "Johnny, if you're not careful, you'll see me once too often." One of Behan's deputies, Billy Breakenridge, claimed Wyatt and his men resisted arrest and even pulled their guns on Behan and Dave Neagle, one of Wyatt's friends, to prevent their arrest.
Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnson and McMaster were now joined by "Texas Jack" Vermillion, Dan Tipton, Charlie Smith, Fred Dodge, Johnny Green, and Louis Cooley to form a federal posse under Wyatt's authority as the deputy federal marshal. Continuing to ignore Behan, the Earp posse rode out of town the same evening of Tuesday, March 21.:63
Tucson, where the Earps had killed Stilwell, was in the jurisdiction of Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul. Paul was a friend of the Earps and failed to execute the warrant. Although Tucson was outside Behan's jurisdiction as Sheriff of Cochise Country, Behan formed a posse consisting of a number of deputized Cowboys, friends of Frank Stilwell and Ike Clanton, including Johnny Ringo, Phineas Clanton, Johnny Barnes and about 18 more men. They rode after the federal posse and the five men wanted for Stilwell's murder.
South Pass shooting
On the morning of March 22, a portion of the Earp posse including Wyatt, Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster and "Turkey Creek" Johnson rode about 10 miles (16 km) east to Pete Spence's ranch and woodcutting camp off the Chiricahua Road, below the South Pass of the Dragoon Mountains.
According to Theodore Judah, who witnessed events at the wood camp, the Earp posse arrived around 11:00 am and asked for Pete Spence and "Indian Charlie" Cruz. They learned Spence was in jail and that Cruz was cutting wood nearby. The followed the direction Judah indicated and Judah soon heard a dozen or so shots. When Cruz didn't return the next morning, Judah went looking for him and found his body full of bullet holes.
One account says that after the party recognized Cruz, they chased him down and a gunfight ensued. The party manage to capture Cruz and he confessed to have taken part in Morgan's murder, and that he identified Stilwell, Hank Swilling, Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo as other of Morgan's killers. During that time, Wyatt allowed Cruz to keep his revolver to "give him a chance to fight like a man." After the confession, Wyatt told Cruz to draw, challenging him to a duel, and the posse counted to three before Wyatt gunned Cruz down.
On Thursday, March 23, Smith and Tipton left the main body of the posse to obtain information and money in Tombstone. The rest of the posse rode west about 12 miles (19 km) and on the night of March 23, stayed in a campsite northwest of Tombstone, between Contention and Drew’s station. Behan saw Smith and Tipton in town and arrested them for “resisting arrest and conspiracy.” The men immediately paid their bond. Smith left Tombstone to rejoin the federal posse but Tipton remained behind. When Smith rejoined Earp, he asked him to return to town and raise $1,000 to cover the posse's expense. Earp later said he told Smith, “Meet us at Iron Springs, and don’t lose any time. We’ll be waiting there.”
On March 27 Smith and Tipton were brought before Judge A.J. Felter in Tombstone. The defense asked the judge to dismiss the charges because Behan lacked a warrant and the judge agreed, freeing the men.
The Arizona Weekly Star had previously identified "Florentino Saiz" as "the 1878 murderer of Deputy U.S. Marshals Cornelius Finley and John Hicks Adams on September 2, 1878, and Cruz and Saiz may have been the same person.
On Friday, March 24 in Tombstone, Dr. George Goodfellow, acting as coroner, examined Cruz's body. At the coroner's inquest, Goodfellow testified that he found four wounds in Cruz: one shot through his right temple entering the brain; a "slight flesh wound to the right shoulder"; a third entering his right side and existing to the right of his spine; and the fourth hitting him in the left thigh and exiting "seven or eight inches above the point of entry." :354 He stated that either the first or third were sufficient to cause death. The coroner's jury ruled that Cruz had been killed by Wyatt and Warren Earp, Sherman McMaster, Jack Johnson, Doc Holliday, Texas Jack and two other unnamed gunmen (Dan Tipton and Charlie Smith).
On the day of the inquest, Arizona Territory Governor Tritle arrived in Tombstone to look into the "sad state of affairs here.":361 On the same day, the two remaining members of the Earp family departed Tombstone. The Tombstone Epitaph reported that both James Earp's wife Bessie and Wyatt's common-law wife Mattie were departing for Colton, California, where the rest of the Earp family had moved.
Gunfight with Curly Bill
On Friday, March 24, the Earp posse including Wyatt, Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters, and Texas Jack, rode west about 12 miles (19 km) from their overnight campsite about half-way between Contention and Drew's Station. The federal posse rode westerly up a wash towards a prearranged meeting place at a springs, where they expected to meet Smith, who was to bring $1000 from Tombstone, about 20 miles (32 km) to the east.
The springs was identified by Wyatt Earp as "Iron Springs," but the location was reported the next day by The Tombstone Epitaph as "Burleigh Springs", and was possibly later renamed Mescal Springs. The spring was located in the Whetstone Mountains west of Tombstone.
With Wyatt and Doc Holliday in the lead, the six lawmen surmounted a small rise overlooking the springs and were surprised to find nine Cowboys already there: Curly Bill, Pony Diehl, Johnny Barnes, Frank Patterson, Milt Hicks, Bill Hicks, Bill Johnson, Ed Lyle, and Johnny Lyle, all camped around the springs, cooking a meal, less than 30 feet (9.1 m) away down an embankment. Once again, the odds were not in the lawmen's favor.
Curly Bill's death
Recognizing Earp, Curly Bill fired his shotgun without warning at Wyatt but missed. Eighteen months earlier, Wyatt had protected Curly Bill against a mob ready to lynch him for killing Tombstone Town Marshal Fred White, and then provided testimony that helped spare Curly Bill from a murder trial. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday left the only record of the fight. Earp dismounted, shotgun in hand. "Texas Jack" Vermillion remained cool under fire and stuck close to Wyatt during the fight. Lacking cover, Doc, Johnson, and McMaster retreated.
The Cowboys fired a number of shots at the Earp party but the only casualty was "Texas Jack" Vermillion's horse, which was struck and killed. Wyatt's long coat was punctured by bullets on both sides. Another bullet struck his boot heel and his saddle-horn was hit as well, burning the saddle hide and narrowly missing Wyatt. Firing his pistol, Wyatt shot Johnny Barnes in the chest and Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys' gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him gain cover. Wyatt had trouble remounting his horse because of a cartridge belt that had slipped down his legs. He was finally able to get on his horse and retreat. McMaster was grazed by a bullet that cut through the straps of his field glasses.
The Tombstone Epitaph reported on March 27 that Wyatt "received seven shots through his clothes," and that McMasters clothing was shot through once, that Texas Jack's horse had been killed, and the pommel of one of the horses had been shot off. They stated that Curly Bill had been killed, though they noted the repeated denials by the Cowboys. Dick Wright and Tony Kraker insisted they had seen the Cowboys near Drew's Ranch below Contention, who had reported that they had shot the pommel off Wyatt's horse, and he had shot at them without effect.
In an unpublished 1926 biography of Wyatt Earp by John H. Flood, Vermillion (as "Texas Jack") is described several times as being a relative stranger to the Earps, although he had been one of Virgil's city deputies. Wyatt was reportedly impressed by Vermillion's steadfastness in helping to avenge his brothers.
Wyatt told Flood that Brocius's friends buried Curly Bill on the Patterson ranch near the Babocomari River. Frank Patterson was in the Cowboy party, and this ranch, close to the original McLaury ranch site (before the McLaurys moved to the Sulphur Springs Valley in late 1880) is believed to have originally belonged to Frank Stilwell and is located on the river about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Fairbank. An unknown individual who claimed to be on his way to meet the Earp posse, possibly Kraker or Wright, wrote the Tombstone Nugget on March 26 that they had seen a wagon arrive and carry Curly Bill's body away.:474 Henry Hooker wrote that Wells Fargo agent John "Thacker, himself, went to the place where Curly Bill had been buried and had the body dug up. Thacker identified Curly Bill's body, and saw that it was reinterred.":474
Johnny Barnes recovered somewhat after the shooting but later died of his wound. Wells, Fargo & Co. undercover agent Fred Dodge, riding with the Cowboys, wrote that Barnes had told him that he had shot Virgil Earp.:38 Dodge wrote in the 1920s that Barnes had told him that Wyatt Earp had killed Brocius.
You will recollect that J.B. Ayers kept the saloon in Charleston that was the headquarters for all the outlaw and rustler element. This man, Ayers, for personal reasons that would take too long to tell supplied me with reliable information. Thru him I got in touch with several others. Johnny Barnes, who you will recollect was in the fight at Iron Springs, gave me much information, not only of that, but of many other things before he was killed. Afterwards, all that they said with reference to Curly Bill was corroborated by Ike Clanton himself!
Prominent businessman murdered
Representing the danger of the Cowboys to the business owners and citizens, on Saturday, March 25, Martin R. Peel of the Tombstone Milling and Mining Company near Charleston was murdered by two masked men. They simply walked in on the mill superintendent, Peel, and a third man,:361 and shot Peel through the heart at such close range that his clothing was set on fire. The others in the room with him when he was attacked fled. The person who discovered his body and extinguished the flames found him 30 minutes after the attack.
The crime sent reverberations through Tombstone and Cochise County. His father, respected Judge Bryant L. Peel, sent an open letter to the Epitaph stating that the citizens needed to take the law into their own hands.:256
Perhaps I am not in a condition to express a clear, deliberate opinion, but I would say to the good citizens of Cochise County there is three things you have to do. There is a class of cut-throats among you and you can never convict them in court. You must combine and protect yourselves and wipe them out, or you must give up the country to them, or you will be murdered one at a time, as my son has been. B. L. Peel.:137
Earp posse pursued by Behan posse
On Saturday, March 25, the Tucson Grand Jury indicted Pete Spence, Frank Stilwell, Florentino Cruz, Frederick Bode, and "John Doe" Fries for Morgan Earp's murder. Pete Spence's trial began on April 2, but ended on April 5 when the prosecution called Marietta Spence to repeat the testimony she had given at the Coroner's Inquest. The defense objected that her testimony was hearsay and that as a spouse she could not testify against her husband. Without her testimony, the prosecution had insufficient evidence. They dropped its case against Spence and Bode and the court dismissed the charges.
On the same day, the Earp party arrived from Iron Springs to an area outside Tombstone and met with supporters, including "Charlie" Smith and Dan Tipton. They were hoping to receive $1,000 contributed by mining owner and Earp supporter E.B. Gage from Charlie Smith, but after he was arrested by Behan, Tony Kraker and "Whistling Dick" Wright were picked to carry it, and they had not returned. Gage had meanwhile learned of his mother's death and had left town for the east coast. Later that day the Earp party rode north towards Henderson Ranch near where they ate and fed their horses. Cochise County Deputy Sheriff Frank Hereford was at the ranch but didn't show himself in fear of his safety, although the Earp party had only "the greatest respect" for him.
On March 26, the Behan posse left Tombstone and searched east of Tombstone for a while before returning to town. On Sunday March 27, Behan led a posse totaling 15 men from Tombstone at 6:30 a.m., headed for the Dragoon Mountains. The Earp posse camped Sunday night, March 26 a mile north of Henderson Ranch and left at 7:00 a.m. the next day for the Sierra Bonita Ranch of Henry C. Hooker, a wealthy and prominent rancher.
On April 5 The Tombstone Epitaph printed a letter from an unknown member of the Earp party that recited some of the group's actions after leaving Tombstone and revealed that they were still in the area. The writer said the Wyatt posse left Tombstone on the evening of March 25 and camped 6 miles (9.7 km) north of town. The next day they headed for Dragoon Summit Station where they awaited the train and a messenger. They stopped the eastbound train at 1 p.m. and searched the carriages but found nothing. It is not known what they were hoping to find.
When they arrived at Hooker's ranch, he congratulated Earp on killing Curly Bill Brocius. He fed the men and their mounts. When Behan's posse was spotted in the distance, Hooker suggested Wyatt make his stand there, but Wyatt moved into the hills about three miles distant near Reilly Hill. When Sheriff Behan and his posse arrived at the Sierra Bonita Ranch on Tuesday morning, March 28, at 7:00 a.m., Hooker refused to provide Behan any information and "damned the officers and the law they represented." Upon payment, he provided Behan's posse and horses with food and water, but would not supply them with fresh horses. Behan and undersheriff Woods sought the assistance of Indian Scouts under the command of Colonel Biddle at Ft. Grant, but was unsuccessful, even upon offering a $500 reward for assistance. They rejoined the remainder of the posse who had lost the Earp's posse trail and went to Eureka Springs. One report said Hooker told Behan where to look for the Earps but the posse left in the opposite direction. The Nugget reported that the Behan posse did not return until Friday.
Early that same morning, Dan Tipton arrived in Willcox on the morning train, rented a horse, and started north, presumably towards the Earp's location and carrying the $1,000 from E.B. Gage for the posse. The Nuggett reported that Tipton left on the 5 o'clock stage to catch up with the party.
The Earp posse also received some money from Louis Cooley, a stage driver and an employee of Wells Fargo, who gave funds from the express company. On April 15, Cooley traveled to Contention and Benson on business for Wells Fargo, where he met General Superintendent J.J. Valentine. When he arrived in Willcox to complete his business, Behan was there to arrest him. Behan's warrant accused Cooley of "aiding and abetting the Earps." The Tombstone Epitaph labeled the charges as "frivolous" and said a lawsuit would be filed against Behan. Judge Wells Spicer dismissed the charges.
Earp posse leaves Arizona Territory
On April 3, The Tombstone Epitaph reported that the Earp posse had eaten breakfast in town on March 27, and had been spotted six days later on April 2 20 miles (32 km) north of Hooker's ranch, and that the Albuquerque Journal and San Francisco Daily Report had reported on March 28 that the Earp party had already passed through Albuquerque. It also noted that Virgil Earp and his wife were in Los Angeles that week. The newspaper commented, "This is the wisest course they could pursue. Their lives were not safe for a moment in Tombstone, even if they gave themselves up to the authorities, for the sheriff is inimical to them, and the felt that in his hands they would be entirely at the mercy of the cowboys."
But on April 5, a member of the Earp party told The Tombstone Epitaph that they were still in the Arizona Territory on April 4. This anonymous member of the party reported that from Hooker's ranch they rode 5 miles (8.0 km) north to Eureka Springs where they camped for the night. They spotted the Behan posse from that location but avoided drawing their attention. They stayed near Cottonwood the next night, possibly a mill site near the southwest end of the Whetstone Mountains, from which they picked up the trail of fugitive Frank Jackson. The Tombstone Epitaph reported that he was wanted on a $2,500 reward. The Earp posse arrested Jackson on April 4 and turned him over to Detective Jack Duncan.
A week later The Nugget reported on April 12, 1882, that Wyatt and his fellow "fugitives" were reported to be camped in a canyon near the Sierra Bonita Ranch. Wyatt is quoted as publicly challenging Cochise County Sheriff Behan to come find him there.
Sometime in the middle of April, the group headed east out of Arizona. They stopped at Camp Grant before they left the Arizona Territory and Wyatt signed some property over to his sister. Colonel James Biddle told the Earps that warrants had been issued for their arrest and he would have to hold them. He invited them in for a meal. When they finished the meal, they found fresh horses ready for them to continue their ride east.
They rode east again the next day and stopped in Silver City, New Mexico Territory. They spent one night in the home of a friend, and the next day sold their horses and saddles before taking a stage to Deming. They then took the train to Albuquerque, where they remained for two weeks. Wyatt and Holliday had a disagreement and the group split. They were leaving the uncertain justice of the American Frontier for the more defined justice of the federal and state court system. Holliday headed to Pueblo and then Denver. The Earps, Sherman McMaster, and "Texas Jack" headed for Gunnison, Colorado, where they set up camp on the outskirts of town. They rarely went into town at first, except for supplies. Eventually, Wyatt took over a faro game at a local saloon.
In Tombstone, rumors flew about the activities of the Earp party. The Tombstone Nugget printed a story on May 13, 1892, reporting that a rumor that Wyatt had been killed was probably true. They cited the a citizen who had seen Wyatt at Henry Hooker's Sierra Bonita Ranch during the previous week, and that Wyatt had been killed there "presumably by parties who have been following him since he left this place."
Wyatt Earp first wrote down the story about the shootout at Iron Springs more than 11 years after the incident. Wyatt told his story about the shootout at the springs a number of times during his life, and details like getting his saddle pommel shot off, pulling up his cartridge belt, and exactly when he helped "Texas Jack" Vermillion out from under his horse, the distance when they initially encountered the Cowboys, how far Earp dismounted from "Curly Bill"—all of these items varied between different versions of the story. Doc Holliday also left his own accounts of the gunfight before his death in 1887, which credited Wyatt as the killer of the two casualties of the gunfight.
Earp extradition sought
On May 16, 1882, the sheriff of Arapahoe County, Colorado notified Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan that he had Wyatt and Warren Earp in his custody, along with Doc Holliday. Behan applied to the governor for money to go to Colorado to bring the Earps back, but Governor Fremont instead gave the funds to Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul. Paul had received word on the same day from Denver that the sheriff there had five of the Earp party in custody. When Paul arrived in Denver, he served a warrant for Doc Holiday's arrest on charges that he killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson. Wyatt Earp, also in Denver, feared for Holiday's life if he was returned to Tombstone. He asked his friend and Trinidad, Colorado Sheriff Bat Masterson to help get Holiday released. Sheriff Masterson appealed to Governor Frederick W. Pitkin and succeeded in getting Holliday released from jail. Paul also knew of warrants for the Earp's arrest, but he was a friend of the men and never served the warrants.
Behan loses popularity
While Behan sought to arrest the Earps, his reputation among some citizens was very negative. On May 27, 1882, a "strong Democrat" was quoted in a letter in the Yuma, Arizona The Arizona Sentinel describing the events following the "murder of the noted desperado Frank Stilwell." Readers may want to know "how these so-called Republican outlaws are regarded by decent, law-abiding people in Tombstone, regardless of politics." The writer was of the opinion that Sheriff Behan wanted the requisition from Governor Fremont with the "object was to have them assassinated... Neither the Sheriff nor any of his deputies have ever turned a hand to find the murderers" of Morgan Earp. "There is no hope for any honest man to get justice here against these scoundrels as long as Behan is in office." On May 29, 1882, Governor Pitkin finally refused to honor the Arizona extradition request, allowing Earp and the others to leave the state.
Johnny Ringo's death
On July 14, 1882, Johnny Ringo was found dead in West Turkey Creek Valley, near Chiricahua Peak, with a bullet hole in his right temple. The book, I Married Wyatt Earp, supposedly written by Josephine Marcus Earp, reported that Wyatt Earp and Holliday returned to Arizona to find and kill Ringo. Actually written by Glen Boyer, the book states that Holliday killed Ringo with a rifle shot at a distance, contradicting the coroner's ruling that Ringo's death was a suicide. However, Boyer's book has been discredited as a fraud and a hoax that cannot be relied upon.:489 In response to criticism about the book's authenticity, Boyer said the book was not really a first-person account, that he had interpreted Wyatt Earp in Josephine's voice, and admitted that he could not produce any documents to vindicate his methods.
Official records of the Pueblo County, Colorado, District Court indicate that both Holliday and his attorney appeared in court there on July 11, 14, and 18, 1882. Author Karen Holliday Tanner, in Doc Holliday, A Family Portrait, speculated that Holliday may not have been in Pueblo at the time of the court date, citing a writ of habeas corpus issued for him in court on July 11. She believes that only his attorney may have appeared on his behalf that day, in spite of the wording of a court record that indicated he may have appeared in person—in propria persona or "in his own person". She cites this as standard legal filler text that does not necessarily prove the person was present. There is no doubt that Holliday arrived in Salida, Colorado, on July 7 as reported in a town newspaper. This is 500 miles (800 km) from the site of Ringo's death, six days before the shooting.:295–5
In an interview with a reporter in Denver in 1896, Earp denied that he had killed Johnny Ringo. He then flipped his story, claiming he had killed Ringo. In 1888, he was interviewed by an agent of California historian Hubert H. Bancroft, and then Frank Lockwood, who wrote Pioneer Days in Arizona in 1932' He told them that he killed Johnny Ringo as he left Arizona in 1882. However, Earp included details that do not match what is known about Ringo's death. Earp repeated that claim to at least three other people.
Long after the gunfight, Johnny Behan continued to spread rumors about the Earps. On December 7, 1897, he was quoted in a story in the Washington Post, reprinted by the San Francisco Call, describing the Earp's lawbreaking behavior in Tombstone. After referring to the highly controversial Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight that Wyatt Earp was referee for, the article quoted Behan.
The Clanton brothers and the McLowrys were a tough lot of rustlers who were the main perpetrators of the rascailly rife in that region. Between them and Earps rose a bitter feud over the division of the proceeds of the looting. The Earp boys believed they had failed to get a fair divide of the booty and swore vengeance. They caught their former allies in Tombstone unarmed and shot three of them dead while their hands were uplifted." Behan went on to say, "They were hauled up before a Justice of the Peace... Warrants were issued for their arrest, and, summoning a posse, I went out to bring the Earps in. They were chased entirely out of the country and Tombstone knew them no more."
Wyatt's action in taking justice into his own hands, became one of the most well known examples of American frontier justice in American history. Wyatt Earp became the archetypal image of a real-life anti-hero.
For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done over again, I would do exactly as I did at that time. If the outlaws and their friends and allies imagined that they could intimidate or exterminate the Earps by a process of murder, and then hide behind alibis and the technicalities of the law, they simply missed their guess. I want to call your particular attention again to one fact, which writers of Tombstone incidents and history apparently have overlooked: with the deaths of the McLowerys, the Clantons, Stillwell, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill, and the rest, organized, politically protected crime and depredations in Cochise County ceased.
On March 20, 2005, the 122nd anniversary of the killing of Frank Stilwell by Wyatt Earp, a life-sized statue of Holliday and Earp by the sculptor Dan Bates was dedicated by the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum at the restored Historic Railroad Depot in Tucson, Arizona, at the approximate site of the shooting on the train platform.
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