Morgan Earp

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Morgan Seth Earp
Morgan Earp
Morgan Earp, about 1881, in Tombstone
Born (1851-04-24)April 24, 1851
Pella, Iowa
Died March 18, 1882(1882-03-18) (aged 30)
Tombstone, Arizona
Occupation Marshal and Deputy
Known for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Opponent(s) William Brocius, Frank McLaury
Spouse(s) Louisa Houston (common-law)
Parent(s) Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey
Relatives Siblings Newton, Mariah Ann, James, Virgil, Martha, Wyatt, Warren, Virginia Ann, and Douglas Earp

Morgan Seth Earp (April 24, 1851 – March 18, 1882) was the younger brother of Deputy U.S. Marshals Virgil and Wyatt Earp. Morgan was a deputy of Virgil's and all three men were the target of repeated death threats made by outlaw Cowboys who were upset by the Earps' interference in their illegal activities. This conflict eventually led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which Morgan was wounded. All three lawmen along with Doc Holliday were charged by Ike Clanton, who fled the gunfight, for murdering brothers Tom and Frank McLaury along with his own brother Billy Clanton. During a month-long preliminary hearing, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated the men, concluding they had been performing their duty.

Virgil was gravely wounded in an ambush on December 28, 1881, and Morgan was assassinated on March 18, 1882 by a shot through the window of a door while he was playing billiards. The Cowboys suspected were let off on technicalities or lack of evidence. Wyatt Earp felt he could not rely on civil justice and decided to take matters into his own hands.[1] He concluded the only way to get justice for his murdered brother was to avenge his death.[2] Wyatt assembled a posse that included their brother Warren Earp and set out on a vendetta to kill those they felt were responsible.

Early life[edit]

Morgan Earp was born in Pella, Iowa, to Nicholas Porter Earp (1813–1907), a cooper and farmer, and his second wife Virginia Ann Cooksey (1821–1893).

When elder brothers Newton, James, and Virgil went off to the American Civil War, they left their young teenage brothers Wyatt and Morgan to tend the family farm. James and Morgan grew up close, with a shared wish for adventure and a dislike of farming. Before adulthood, teen-aged Morgan followed James Earp up to Montana for a couple of years. Later he was with Wyatt on the Western frontier.

In 1875, Morgan departed the Earp clan living in Wichita, Kansas, and became a deputy marshal under Charlie Bassett at Dodge City. In late 1877, Morgan took his common-law wife Louisa A. Houston to Montana, where they lived until March, 1880.

At different times in Arizona, both Wyatt and Morgan worked as shotgun messengers for Wells Fargo & Co., deputy sheriffs for Pima County, and as deputies under Tombstone's Chief of Police Virgil Earp, their older brother. During early 1882, Morgan was appointed to the federal position of Deputy U.S. Marshal, an office subservient to Wyatt Earp, who had been given the position by the U.S. Marshal C. Dake, after Virgil was wounded, and had authority to deputize.

Morgan has gained an undeserved reputation for being a hot-tempered man, but this appears to be on the basis of incidents related in the book The Earp Brothers of Tombstone purportedly written by Virgil Earp's wife Allie. However, the incidents in the book involving Morgan, like much else in the book, are almost certainly fabricated.[3] From the rest of what is known of Morgan's life, he normally showed the same even temper and cool reactions to danger as did his brothers.

Gunfight at the OK Corral[edit]

On Wednesday, October 26, 1881, the tension between the Earps and the Cowboys came to a head. Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and other Cowboys had been threatening to kill the Earps for several weeks. Tombstone city Marshal Virgil Earp learned that the Cowboys were armed in violation of a city ordinance and had gathered near the O.K. Corral. Morgan was a deputy to his brother Virgil and on October 26, 1881, responded with Virgil and Wyatt to reports that Cowboys were armed on the streets of Tombstone. Ike Clanton had repeatedly threatened the Earps and he was backed up by Cowboys Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, and Billy Clanton. Virgil asked Wyatt and Morgan and Doc Holliday to assist him, as he intended to disarm them. At approximately 3:00 p.m. the Earps headed towards Fremont Street where the Cowboys had been reported to be gathering.[4]

They confronted five Cowboys on Fremont Street in an alley between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio, the two parties were initially only about 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) apart. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled the gunfight. Tom and Frank McLaury, along with Billy Clanton, were killed. Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back that nicked both shoulder blades and a vertebra, although he was able to continue to fire his weapon. Virgil was shot through the calf and Holliday was grazed by a bullet.[4]


The Longhorn Restaurant is located in what used to be the Bucket of Blood Saloon, the Holiday Water Company, and the Owl Cafe and Hotel. Virgil Earp was shot from the second floor.[5]

Louisa Houston was Morgan Earp's common-law wife. After Morgan's murder, she married Gustav Peters in 1885 and died in 1894 in Long Beach, California.

Two months after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in December 1881, Virgil Earp was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt that left him with a permanently crippled left arm. By February 1882, Morgan grew wary of the danger to the Earps in Tombstone and sent his common-law wife Louisa Houston Earp to live with his parents in Colton, California. However, Morgan remained in Tombstone to support his brothers and continued to work in law enforcement.

At 10:50 p.m. on Saturday, March 18, 1882, Morgan was ambushed after returning from a musical at Schieffelin Hall. He was playing a late round of billiards at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor against owner Bob Hatch. Dan Tipton, Sherman McMaster, and Wyatt watched, having received threats that same day.[6]:38

The assailant shot Morgan through the upper half of a four-pane windowed door. The bottom two windows had been painted over. It opened onto a dark alley that ran through the block between Allen and Fremont Streets. Morgan, about 10 feet (3.0 m) from the door, was struck in the right side and the bullet shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and entered the thigh of mining foreman George A. B. Berry.[7] Another bullet lodged in the wall near the ceiling over Wyatt's head.[1] Several men rushed into the alley but found the shooter had fled.[7]

After Morgan was shot, his brothers tried to help him stand, but Morgan said "Don't, I can't stand it. This is the last game of pool I'll ever play."[8]:97 They moved him to the floor near the card room door. Dr. William Miller arrived first, followed by Drs. Matthews and George Goodfellow. They all examined Morgan. Even Goodfellow, recognized in the United States as the nation's leading expert at treating abdominal gunshot wounds,[9] concluded that Morgan's wounds were fatal.[8]:97

Wyatt was quoted by Lake in Frontier Marshal as saying[10]:233 that Morgan, before dying, whispered to Wyatt, "I can't see a damned thing." Wyatt said that they had promised each other to report visions of the next world when at the point of death.[11]:2 They moved him to a lounge and Morgan's brothers—Wyatt, Virgil, and James, along with Allie and Bessie, were with him. Warren Earp was out of town.[12] Morgan died less than an hour after he was shot.[1][13]

Goodfellow described Morgan's wounds:

He was in a state of collapse resulting from a gunshot, or pistol wound, entering the body just to the left of the spinal column in the region of the left kidney emerging on the right side of the body in the region of the gall bladder. It certainly injured the great vessels of the body causing hemorrhage which, undoubtedly, causes death. It also involved the spinal column. It passed through the left kidney and also through the loin.[14]

Morgan was laid out in a blue suit belonging to Doc Holliday. The Earps took his body by wagon the next day to the New Mexico and Arizona railroad station in Contention.[15] From there, his older brother James Earp accompanied Morgan's body to Colton, California where Morgan's wife and parents were waiting. Morgan was first buried in the old city cemetery of Colton, near Mount Slover. When the cemetery was moved in 1892, Morgan's body was reburied in the Hermosa Cemetery in Colton.[16]


While Wyatt and James were traveling to Contention with Morgan's body, Coroner Dr. D. M. Mathew organized a Coroner's Jury to conduct an inquest into Morgan's death.

Wyatt seeks personal justice[edit]

Main article: Earp Vendetta Ride

Wyatt Earp finally concluded that he could not rely on the court system for justice and decided to take matters into his own hands.[1] He concluded that only way to deal with Virgil's shooters and Morgan's murderers was to find and kill the Cowboys he believed were responsible. He gathered a band of loyal men and deputized them. They rode out to find those responsible.[2]

Accused go free[edit]

While Wyatt was out of town, Pete Spence's wife, Marietta Duarte, was ready to talk to the Coroner's Jury.[14] She had been abused by her husband and may have had motivation to implicate him. She testified that the day before, her husband and Indian Charlie were on the front porch, when they saw Morgan Earp walk by. She said Pete Spence told Indian Charlie; (Florentino Cruz[17]) "That's him; that's him," and the Indian walked ahead of Earp to get a good look at him. The night of the shooting, her husband was away. Around midnight, Indian Charlie and Frank Stilwell showed up, armed with pistols and carbines, and her husband arrived soon after with Freis[18] (Frederick Bode[17]) and a fifth unidentified man, all carrying rifles. They talked in low and excited tones.[14] The next morning, her husband struck both her and her mother, and threatened to shoot Marietta if she told what she knew.[19] Witnesses said they saw Frank Stilwell running from the scene.

The Coroner's jury concluded that Spence, Stilwell, Frederick Bode, and "Indian Charlie" were the prime suspects in Morgan Earp's death.[20]:250

Morgan Earp... came to his death in the city of Tombstone on the 18th day of March, 1882... by reason of a gunshot or pistol wound inflicted at the hands of Pete Spence, Frank Stilwell, a party by the name of Freis, and two Indian half-breeds, one whose name is Charlie, but the name of the other not ascertained.[17]

When the prosecution called Marietta Duarte to testify at the preliminary hearing, the defense objected because her testimony was hearsay and because a spouse could not testify against her husband.[2]The judge agreed and the charges were dismissed.

Cowboys in jail[edit]

Unknown to Wyatt, three of the men he sought were in Behan's jail. After the Coroner's Jury ended, Spence immediately turned himself in, protected in Behan's jail. On the day of the inquest, two of Behan's deputy sheriffs arrested two of the suspects for other reasons. Cochise County Deputy Sheriff William Bell brought Indian Charlie from Charleston and placed him under arrest in the Tombstone jail for shooting a man in Charleston. Separately, Cochise County Deputy Sheriff Frank Hereford arrested "John Doe" Freeze [sic].[21] They were all later released.[17]

The Earp Vendetta ride killed two of the following alleged men involved in Morgan Earp's death and one suspect in Virgil Earp's Wounding:

  • Frank Stilwell killed March 20, 1882
  • Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz killed March 23, 1882
  • Johnny Barnes killed March 24, 1882

In regard to the other alleged suspects in the shootings of Virgil and Morgan Earp:

In movies[edit]

The actor Ray Boyle played Morgan Earp in fifteen episodes between 1956 and 1961 of the ABC/Desilu Productions western television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp.[23] Bill Paxton played Morgan Earp in the 1993 movie Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt, Sam Elliot as Virgil, and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.[24] In the 1994 film Wyatt Earp, Morgan is portrayed by actor Linden Ashby, with Kevin Costner as Wyatt, Michael Madsen as Virgil, David Andrews as James, Dennis Quaid as Doc, and Jim Caviezel as Warren Earp.


  1. ^ a b c d WGBH American Experience: Wyatt Earp, Complete Program Transcript. January 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ Barra (1998) book postscript
  4. ^ a b Linder, Douglas (2005). "The Earp Trial: A Chronology". Famous Trials. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "The Longhorn Restaurant - Tombstone, Arizona - Great Family Dining". Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  6. ^ Dodge, Fred; Lake, Carolyn (1999). Under Cover for Wells Fargo The Unvarnished Recollections of Fred Dodge. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 336. ISBN 978-0-8061-3106-1. 
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Paul Lee. The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona : an O. K. Corral obituary (1st ed.). Denton, Tex.: University of North Texas Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-1574414509. 
  8. ^ a b O'Neal, Bill. Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. ISBN 978-0-8061-2335-6. 
  9. ^ "Dr. George E. Goodfellow". Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Barra, Allen (1998). Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-0685-6. 
  11. ^ Ruffin, C. Bernard (2006). A Dictionary of Deathbed Quotations. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-2552-5. 
  12. ^ "The Assassin at Last Successful in His Devilish Mission Morgan Earp Shot Down and Killed While Playing Billiards". The Tombstone Epitaph. March 20, 1882. 
  13. ^ "Morgan Seth Earp B. 04/24/1851 D. 03/18,1882". Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Paula Mitchell Marks (1989). And Die in the West: the Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-671-70614-4. 
  15. ^ "Contention City and It's Mills". Wyatt Earp Explorers. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Morgan Earp at Find a Grave
  17. ^ a b c d Boardman, Mark. "BBB's Blog". True West Magazine. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  18. ^ DeArment, Robert K. Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8061-2221-2. 
  19. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  20. ^ Barra, Alan (December 1998). "Who Was Wyatt Earp?" 49 (8). American Heritage Magazine. 
  21. ^ "Arizona weekly citizen. (Tucson, Ariz) 1880-1901, March 26, 1882, Image 2". 
  22. ^ "Arizona citizen. (Tucson, Pima County, A.T. [i.e. Ariz.]) 1870-1880, August 09, 1878, Image 1". 
  23. ^ "Ray Boyle". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  24. ^ tfrizzell (25 December 1993). "Tombstone". IMDb. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Barra, Allen (1998). Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-0685-6.  Barra takes a look at the Earp legend and does the most thorough analysis of its evolution over time, and its place in American mythology, fiction, and film.

External links[edit]