|Virgil Walter Earp|
Virgil Walter Earp
July 18, 1843|
|Died||October 19, 1905
|Occupation||Union soldier, constable, Deputy U.S. Marshal, town marshal, farmer, rail construction, stagecoach driver, sawyer, mailman, prospector, saloon-keeper|
|Known for||Deputy U.S. Marshal, Tombstone, Arizona, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral|
Alvira "Allie" Earp (common-law wife)
|Parent(s)||Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey|
|Relatives||Wyatt, Morgan, Newton, Mariah Ann, James, Martha, Warren, Virginia Ann, and Douglas Earp|
|O.K. Corral gunfight|
Virgil Walter Earp (July 18, 1843 – October 19, 1905) was both Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone, Arizona City Marshal when he led his brothers Morgan and Wyatt and Doc Holliday in a confrontation with outlaw Cowboys at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. They killed brothers Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. All three Earp brothers had been the target of repeated death threats made by the Cowboys who were upset by the Earps' interference in their illegal activities. All four lawmen were charged with murder by Ike Clanton, who had run from the gunfight. During a month-long preliminary hearing, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated the men, concluding they had been performing their duty.
But two months later on December 28, friends of the slain outlaws retaliated, ambushing Virgil. They shot him in the back, hitting him with three shotgun rounds, shattering his left arm and leaving him permanently maimed. The Cowboys suspected were let off for lack of evidence.:242 His brother Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882. Charges against those suspected were dismissed on a technicality. Wyatt Earp concluded he could not rely on civil justice and decided to take matters into his own hands. Wyatt assembled a posse that included their brother Warren Earp and set out on a vendetta to kill those they felt were responsible. Virgil left Tombstone to recuperate from his wounds in Colton, California where his parents lived.
Virgil married before he left to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. When he returned, his wife and child had left. He held a variety of other jobs throughout his life, though he primarily worked in law enforcement. His younger brother Wyatt, who spent most of his life as a gambler, became better known as a lawman because of writer Stuart N. Lake's fictionalized 1931 biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal and later portrayals of him in movies and fiction as Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day." In 1898, Virgil learned that his first wife Ellen Rysdam and their daughter were living in Oregon and reestablished contact with them. After suffering from pneumonia for six months, Virgil died on October 19, 1905.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal
- 3 Later life and death
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Marries Ellen Rysdam
In February 1860, while living in Pella, Iowa, 16-year-old Virgil eloped with 17-year-old Dutch immigrant Magdalena C. "Ellen" Rysdam (November 25, 1842 in Utrecht, Netherlands – May 3, 1910 in Cornelius, Oregon). One report states that they saw each other only occasionally and kept their marriage secret until Ellen was about to deliver their first child. When her parents Gerrit Rysdam and Magdalena Catrina Van Velzen learned of the marriage, they were furious, as they preferred that she marry a man who was also Dutch. Virigil's father thought he was too young to marry. Both parents wanted to get the marriage annulled. One source reports that Rysdam was successful, but another says her father failed because Virgil and Ellen refused to reveal where they had been married. They also claimed they had used false names, which would have made the marriage invalid in any case.
Virgil and Ellen remained together for a year in spite of his and her parents' disapproval. On July 26, 1861, Virgil enlisted at age 18 in the Union Army. Ellen had a daughter named Nellie Jane, variously reported as having been born January 7, 1862 or in July 1862. Virgil was mustered in to the Illinois Volunteer Infantry for three years on September 21, 1862.
Serves in Civil War
Virgil served with the 83rd Illinois Infantry on August 21, 1863. The 83rd was primarily on garrison duty in Tennessee. Virgil was court martialed for a minor offense and docked two weeks pay as punishment.
In the summer of 1863 while Virgil was on active duty, Ellen's father told her that Virgil had been killed in Tennessee. In early 1864, Ellen married John Van Rossum, and in May of that year they joined a large group who were relocating from Pella, Iowa, to the Oregon Territory.
In 1868, Nicholas Earp took his family east again, eventually settling in Lamar, Missouri. When Earp was discharged from the military on June 26, 1865, he returned to Iowa but could not find his wife and daughter. Virgil worked on a local farm and helped operate a grocery store before leaving for California to join the rest of the Earp family. He married Rosella Dragoo (born in France in 1853) on August 28, 1870 in Lamar, Missouri. His father as justice of the peace married them, but there are no further records of Rosella.
Meets Allie Sullivan
Virgil later met Alvira "Allie" Sullivan from Florence, Nebraska in 1874. They never married but remained together the rest of his life. During the remainder of his life, Virgil worked at a variety of jobs, including sheriff, farmer, rail construction in Wyoming, stagecoach driver, sawmill sawyer in Prescott, Arizona Territory, mailman, and later in life, prospector. The Earp brothers were close and often moved together, seeking a better life.
Virgil spent time in Dodge City, Kansas in 1877 with his younger brother Wyatt, though it is not certain if Virgil ever held any law enforcement position there. From Dodge City, Virgil and Allie moved to Prescott in July 1877, the capital of the Arizona Territory. In October 1877, Yavapai County, Arizona U.S. Marshal "Little Bill" Standifer and Yavapai County Sheriff Edward Franklin Bowers attempted to arrest John Tallos and an accused murderer named Wilson. Virgil ran after the posse that pursued the two men to the edge of town, where a gun fight broke out. Virgil shot one of the robbers through the head with a Winchester rifle, killing him.
Virgil was shortly afterward offered a job as a driver for Patterson, Caldwell & Levally, a local freight company, during which he met John J. Gosper, Secretary of the Arizona Territory, and usually acting in the place of Governor John C. Frémont, who was usually absent. When Crawley Dake was appointed U.S. Marshal, he and Virgil became friends. In 1878, Virgil was appointed as Prescott's night watchman, which paid $75 a month. In November 1878, he was elected as town constable, for which he received fees for issuing licenses, collecting fees, and serving summonses. While constable, Virgil wrote his brother Wyatt about the opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. In September 1879, Wyatt resigned as assistant marshal in Dodge City. Accompanied by his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim and his wife Bessie, they left for Arizona Territory.:18:30–31
Appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal
Following Virgil's time as a night watchman and constable, U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake appointed him on November 27, 1879 as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the eastern portion of Pima County. He was instructed by Dake to move to Tombstone to help resolve ongoing problems with outlaw Cowboys. But the job didn't pay much. He was mostly on call helping county and city officials.:113
In an interview after he left Tombstone, Virgil said that "The first stage that went out of Prescott toward Tombstone was robbed. Robberies were frequent and became expensive." Virgil and his brothers Wyatt and Jim and their wives arrived together in Tombstone on December 1, 1879.
On October 30, 1880, after town marshal Fred White was accidentally shot and killed by outlaw and gunman "Curly Bill" Brocius, Virgil was also appointed acting town marshal of Tombstone. Virgil now held both the more powerful local town marshal position and the prestigious federal law enforcement appointment. As town marshal, Virgil earned a regular salary of $100 a month plus a percentage of city taxes he collected.:114
But Virgil didn't hold the job for long. The city held a special election on November 13, and Tombstone city policemen James Flynn and Ben Sippy competed for the job. But then Flynn dropped out of the race and Sippy beat Virgil for the office, 311 votes to Earp's 259. On January 4, 1881, the city held its first regular election, and Virgil lost to Sippy once again.
However, Sippy was known to be in financial trouble. He requested a two-week leave of absence on June 6, 1881, and the city council once again appointed Virgil as temporary city marshal. On June 22, the center section of Tombstone was devastated by a fire. Virgil kept looting under control and chased off lot jumpers who tried to take over property. On June 28, it was learned that Sippy had left about $3,000 in bad debt and financial improprieties in his office. Virgil was appointed by Tombstone Mayor John Clum as the permanent city marshal and paid $150.00 per month.
Conflict with Cowboys
To reduce crime in Tombstone, the City Council enacted an ordinance in April 1881 that prohibited anyone from carrying a deadly weapon in town. Everyone was required to deposit their weapons at a livery or saloon soon after entering town. A long-simmering feud between the Earps and some of the Cowboys played a big role in a gunfight that broke out when Virgil decided to enforce the ordinance on Wednesday, October 26, 1881.
Virgil was told by several concerned citizens that several Cowboys, who had been threatening the Earps for several months, were in town and armed in violation of the ordinance. Assisted by his deputy Morgan Earp and temporary deputies Wyatt Earp and John "Doc" Holliday, Virgil went to disarm Frank and Tom McLaury, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Billy Claiborne. That confrontation turned into a shootout now known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
The gunfight and later media portrayals made Wyatt Earp a legend. He is often depicted as the central lawman, but he was only Virgil's temporary assistant. Wyatt had acted as city marshal the week prior when Virgil was out of town. Virgil was the city marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal. Although Wyatt had previously served in Wichita, Kansas, and Dodge City as a lawman, Virgil had three years of Civil War service, which had given him more combat and shooting experience. He had also served as a lawman off and on since the war.
Before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt had been in only one shootout and Morgan had never been in any gun battles. Billy Claiborne had been in one gunfight prior to the shootout and was the only member of the Cowboy faction that had prior gunfighting experience (not counting the Skeleton Canyon massacre, in which the McLaurys and Clantons took part). Doc Holliday, despite his reputation, had no documented gunfights to his credit, other than a couple of drunken brawls, and only his own tales of fights with unnamed men he claimed to have shot. Both Tom and Ike had spent the night gambling, drinking heavily, and without sleep. Now they were both out-of-doors, both wounded from having been pistol-whipped by the Earps earlier that morning, and at least Ike was still drunk.:138
Virgil initially avoided a confrontation with Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, who had arrived in town early that morning and had not yet deposited their weapons at a hotel or stable soon after their arrival, as required by ordinance #9. But around 1:00 p.m.,a miner named Ruben F. Coleman told Virgil that the Cowboys had left the Dunbar and Dexter Stable for the O.K. Corral and were still armed, and Virgil decided he had to disarm them.
Virgil testified after the shootout that he thought he saw all four men, Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury, buying cartridges at Spangenberg's gun shop beforehand. He went by the Wells Fargo office around the corner on Allen Street and picked up a 10- or 12-gauge short, double-barreled shotgun.:185 It was an unusually cold and windy day in Tombstone, and Virgil was wearing a long overcoat. To avoid alarming Tombstone's public, Virgil hid the shotgun under his overcoat when he returned to Hafford's Saloon.
Virgil, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday confronted the Cowboys in a narrow lot on Fremont Street. Virgil was not expecting a fight. He later testified that when he saw the Cowboys, he immediately commanded them to "Throw up your hands, I want your guns!" But general shooting broke out almost immediately. Witnesses were conflicted about who fired first. During the gunfight, Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Virgil was shot through the calf (he thought by Billy Clanton). Three days after the O.K. Corral gunfight, the city council suspended Virgil as city marshal pending outcome of the preliminary hearing. Virgil was eventually exonerated of wrongdoing, but his reputation suffered thereafter.
After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral the Earps relocated their families to the Cosmopolitan Hotel for mutual support and protection. At about 11:30 pm on December 28, 1881, three men hidden in an unfinished building across Allen street from the hotel ambushed Virgil as he walked from the Oriental Saloon to his room. Virgil was hit in the back and left arm by three loads of double-barreled buckshot from about 60 feet (18 m). The Crystal Palace Saloon and the Eagle Brewery beyond Virgil were struck by nineteen shots; three passed through the window and one about a foot over the heads of some men standing by a faro-table.:317 George Parsons wrote that he heard "four shots in quick succession." Critically wounded, Virgil staggered into the hotel.
Dr. George E. Goodfellow removed 4 inches (100 mm) of shattered humerus bone from Virgil's left arm, leaving his arm permanently crippled, and twenty buckshot from his side. While the doctor worked on his arm, Virgil told his wife Allie, "Never mind, I've got one arm left to hug you with." Virgil was also shot through the back above the hip, which penetrated his body and lodged near the hip bone above the groin.
George W. Parsons, who had been treated by Goodfellow for an injury he received, was staying in Goodfellow's office while he recuperated. He kept a journal, in which he recorded:
Longitudinal fracture, so [Virgil's] elbow joint had to be taken out today and we've got that and some of the shattered bone in room. Patient doing well. It is surmised that Ike Clanton, Curly Bill [Brocius] and [Will] McLaury did the shooting. Bad state of affairs here. Something will have to be done.
- Tombstone, Arizona Territory, December 29, 1881
- 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 the telegram received by Dake, the Weekly Arizona Miner wrote 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." The Los Angeles Herald reported on December 30 that the "Doctor says there are four chances in five that he will die." It said that "Judge Spicer, Marshal Williams, Wyatt Earp, Rickabaugh and other are in momentary danger of assassination." It noted that the "The local authorities are doing nothing to capture the assassins so far as is known..."
The suspected shooters were later identified as Phin Clanton, Ike Clanton, Johnny Barnes, Johnny Ringo, Hank Swilling and Pete Spence. On Tuesday, January 31, 1882 Ike and Phin were brought before Judge William H. Stilwell on suspicion of shooting Virgil. The district attorney asked that bail be set at $5,000, but the judge released both men on $1,500 bond, indicating he thought the prosecution's case was weak.:241
Although a hat that Wyatt later claimed belonged to Ike Clanton was found near the shooting, the evidence was circumstantial. Sherman McMaster provided the most convincing evidence. He testified that he saw Ike later that night in nearby Charleston. He said he asked Clanton "about the shooting, at which Clanton replied that he 'would have to go back and do the job over.'" On February 2, Clanton's attorney brought in seven witnesses who provided an alibi for Clanton. They all testified that Clanton had been in Charleston at the time of Virgil's shooting. Spicer was compelled to release Clanton.:242
Departs for California
After his shooting, Virgil spent the next three months recuperating. He was just starting to get back on his feet when on Saturday, March 18, 1882, Virgil's younger brother Morgan Earp was killed in another ambush. On March 19, Wyatt's 34th birthday, he and James accompanied Morgan's body to Benson, where it was loaded aboard a train for California, watched over by James and two or three friends. They took Morgan to the Earp family home in Colton, California. It was not practical, given Virgil's injuries, to transport him and his wife Allie out of Tombstone at the same time as Morgan.
On Monday, March 20, Virgil and Allie left Tombstone for California under heavy guard. They were escorted by Wyatt and deputies Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, and "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson. Wyatt reported later that he received word in Contention that Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, and another cowboy were watching the passenger trains in Tucson with the aim to kill Virgil. The group drove two wagons to the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad terminal 25 miles (40 km) away in Benson and boarded the train to Tucson. Virgil was so weak he had to be carried up the steps of the train.
Wyatt and his deputies had initially planned to travel only as far as Benson, but when they learned that Stilwell and others were looking for Virgil, they remained with Virgil and Allie through to Tucson. The men were well armed with pistols, rifles and shotguns. McMaster wore two cartridge belts. Allie wore Virgil's pistol belt during the journey so it would be handy. Virgil told the San Francisco Examiner two months later that upon getting off the train in Tucson, "Almost the first men we met on the platform there were Stilwell and his friends, armed to the teeth." "They fell back into the crowd as soon as they saw I had an escort, and the boys took me to the hotel to supper." Guarded by his brothers and the deputies, Virgil and Allie had dinner at Porter's Hotel in Tucson. Their guards helped them board the train for California, and once they were safely seated, kept a watch for the Cowboys.
As Virgil's train was pulling out of Tucson on its way to California, gunfire was heard. Witnesses gave contradictory accounts about the number of men seen near the tracks and numbers of shots fired. Some said the Earps were armed after leaving Porter's Hotel and others said they were not. Witnesses saw men running with weapons but could not identify anyone in the dark. Wyatt said later that he and his deputies spotted Frank Stilwell and another man he believed to be Ike Clanton armed with shotguns lying on a flatcar.
When Wyatt and his men approached, the two men ran. Stilwell may have stumbled or been wounded, allowing Wyatt to reach him. Wyatt later said he shot Stilwell as Stilwell attempted to push the barrel of Earp's shotgun away. Wyatt, quoted in the Denver Republican, said "I ran straight for Stilwell. It was he who killed my brother. What a coward he was! He couldn't shoot when I came near him. He stood there helpless and trembling for his life. As I rushed upon him he put out his hands and clutched at my shotgun. I let go both barrels, and he tumbled down dead and mangled at my feet."
He said Stilwell cried "Morg!" before he was killed. Stilwell's body, riddled with buckshot from two shotgun rounds, one in his leg and the second in his chest with powder burns, and four other bullet wounds, was found the next morning near the tracks. Ike Clanton got away. When the Tucson sheriff learned who was responsible for Stilwell's death, he issued warrants for the lawmen's arrest.
Clanton gave an interview afterward to the newspapers in which he claimed that he and Stilwell had been in Tucson to respond to federal charges about interfering with a U.S. mail carrier, stemming from his alleged involvement in robbing the Sandy Bob line of the Bisbee stage on September 8, 1881. Clanton said that they had heard that the Earps were coming via the train and they had plans to kill Stilwell. According to Clanton, Stilwell disappeared from the hotel before he was found several blocks away, shot dead by the tracks.
Later life and death
After receiving his injuries in Tombstone, Virgil spent the next two years recovering from his injuries, primarily at his parents' home in Colton, California. He sought treatment for his wounds in San Francisco and was interviewed on the Southern Pacific train by a reporter whose story was printed in the San Francisco Examiner on May 27, 1882. The reporter described Virgil's appearance:
|“||His face, voice and manner were prepossessing. He is close to six feet in height, of medium build, chestnut hair, sandy mustache, light eyebrows, quiet, blue eyes and frank expression. He wore a wide-brimmed, slate-colored slouch hat, pants of a brown and white stripe, and a blue diagonal coat and vest, both the latter with bullet holes in them, bearing testimony of a recent fight when he was shot in the back, the bullet coming out of the front of his vest. His left arm was carried in a sling, also a memento of his last fight, when he received a bullet in his arm, since causing the loss of about six inches of bone which crippled him for life. The wounded arm is the cause of his visit to this city, where he seeks surgical aid in hope of so far recovering its use that he may be able to dress himself unaided.||”|
Despite the use of only one arm, Virgil was hired by the Southern Pacific Railroad to guard its tracks in Colton's famous "battle of the crossing". Virgil joined in the frog war as the Southern Pacific attempted to stop the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, from installing a crossing over the Southern Pacific tracks in Colton to gain access to California. Governor Waterman deputized a posse from San Bernardino, California and came down in person to enforce construction of the crossing, ending the Southern Pacific's railroad monopoly in Southern California.
In 1884 Virgil's father, Nicholas Porter Earp was elected justice of the peace. Two years later, Virgil Earp opened a private detective agency, which by all accounts was abandoned in 1886, when he was elected village constable in July.
When Colton was incorporated as a city, Virgil was elected as Colton's first City Marshal on July 11, 1887. He was paid $75 a month and was re-elected to another term in 1888. Among other duties, he was reported to have cleared blocked sewers and kept track of the electric light bulbs. Virgil and Allie's Colton home still stands at 528 West "H" Street.
In 1888 Virgil resigned as city marshal and he and Allie left Colton for San Bernardino. Five years later, in 1893, he and his wife moved to the short-lived mining town Vanderbilt, California. He owned and operated the only two story building in town, Earp's Hall, a saloon and meeting hall used for public gatherings and even the town's church services. His business success in Vanderbilt did not match his success in politics, and he lost the election for town constable in 1894.
In 1895, Virgil and Allie traveled to Cripple Creek, Colorado, where they met Virgil's brother Wyatt. They stayed briefly and soon moved back to Prescott in Yavapai County, Arizona, where Virgil became involved in mining. They moved south after that and began ranching in the Kirkland Valley. Virgil was nominated as a candidate for Yavapai County, Arizona Sheriff in 1900, but pulled out of the election for health reasons.
Reunites with first wife
In 1898 Virgil received a startling letter from a Mrs. Levi Law. After returning from the Civil War as a young man, his wife Ellen and daughter Nellie had disappeared, having been told that Virgil had been killed in the war. The family of Virgil's wife Ellen brought her to Walla Walla where she married Thomas Eaton and had four more children.
Mrs. Levi Law was Virgil's daughter. The next year, encouraged by his wife, Virgil traveled to Portland, Oregon, where he was reunited with Ellen and Nellie Jane Law. On April 22, 1898, The Oregonian reported that Virgil "...is now enjoying a very pleasant visit with her and his two grandchildren at her home, which is near that of Mrs. Eaton, in North Portland." He also met three grandchildren he never knew existed. Nellie Jane visited her father and Allie in Arizona the next year. Later that year, according to her letter to The Oregonian, Nellie Jane visited Virgil and Allie Earp at their home in Arizona.
Death in Nevada
Before 1904, Earp returned to Colton, where city records show that he along with three others unsuccessfully petitioned the city leaders to repeal a temperance law that only allowed one saloon in town. In 1904, he left California for the last time and joined Wyatt in the boom town of Goldfield, Nevada, where he became a deputy sheriff for Esmeralda County, Nevada. After suffering from pneumonia for six months, Virgil died on October 19, 1905, leaving his brother Wyatt as the last surviving participant of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Virgil was also survived by his father Nicholas, brothers James and Newton, wife Allie, and daughter Nellie.
When Virgil died, one obituary noted his involvement in the "noted Earp gang that had terrorized the peaceable citizens of Tombstone." It noted that they "had achieved their greatest notoriety and were finally driven by an outraged public."
In popular culture
The actor John Anderson played Virgil Earp in five episodes (1960-1961) of the ABC western television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian in the starring role of deputy marshal Wyatt Earp. In four earlier episodes of the same series in 1958 and 1959, Ross Elliott was cast as Virgil Earp. Actor Sam Elliot played Virgil Earp in the 1993 western Tombstone. Actor Michael Madsen played Virgil Earp in the 1994 film Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner in the title role.
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