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Wyatt Earp

Wyatt EarpMove to Tombstone, Arizona
Wyatt and his older brothers James (Jim) and Virgil moved to silver-mining boom town Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory, in September 1879. Wyatt brought a wagon that he planned to convert into a stagecoach, but on arrival he found two established stage lines already running. Jim worked as a barkeep. Virgil was appointed Deputy U.S. marshal, just prior to arriving in Tombstone. The U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory, C.P. Dake, was based in Prescott 280 miles away, so the position as Deputy U.S. Marshal in Tombstone represented federal authority in the southeast area of the territory. In Tombstone, the Earps staked mining claims. Wyatt also went to work for Wells Fargo, riding shotgun for their stagecoaches when they were transporting strongboxes.

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, Deputy U.S. 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 stealing six Army mules from Camp Rucker. This was a federal offense because the animals were federal property. The Army representative and Earp caught the McLaurys changing the "U.S." brand to "D.8." However, to avoid a fight, the posse withdrew on the understanding that the mules would be returned, which they were not. In response, the Army's representative published an account in the papers, damaging Frank McLaury's reputation. U.S. Army Captain Hurst cautioned Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, that the cowboys had made threats against their lives. A month later Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him if he ever followed them as he had done before, they would kill him.
About the same time, Wyatt was appointed deputy sheriff for the southern part of Pima County, which at that time included 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". 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 Earpís testimony, and supported by 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 blamed the Earps, however, and remained a friend of the McLaurys and became an enemy to 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. When Behan received the appointment in February 1881, however, he did not appoint Earp undersheriff, choosing Harry Woods, a prominent Democrat, instead. Behan testified there that he had not made a deal with Wyatt, although he later admitted he had lied. Behan said 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, stolen more than a year earlier, was in the possession of Ike Clanton and his brother Billy.  Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse. On the way, they overtook Behan, who was 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 had told the Clanton's that they would not allow Behan to arrest them for horse theft.

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 was granted a one-quarter interest in the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer.

On October 8, 1881 Doc Holliday had gotten into a dispute with John Tyler in the Oriental Saloon, resulting in Holliday being convicted of assault. A rival gambling concession operator hired Tyler to make trouble at the Oriental and disrupt Wyatt's business. When Tyler started a fight after losing a bet, Wyatt threw him out of the saloon. It was around this time period that Earp is reported to have saved gambler Mike O'Rourke, aka "Johnny Behind the Deuce", from being lynched after he 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 Eli 'Budd' Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed. The Earps suspected that the Clantons and the McLaurys or their confederates were involved but had no proof. During the hearing into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt testified that he offered the USD$3,500 in Wells Fargo reward money to Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury in return for information about the identities of the robbers. Wyatt testified that he had other motives for his plan as well: he hoped that arresting the murderers would boost his chances for election as Cochise County sheriff. According to Earp, both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton agreed to provide information for the capture, but never fulfilled the agreement. Subsequently, all three cowboy suspects in the stage robbery were killed in possibly related incidents. Clanton accused Earp of leaking their deal to either his brother Morgan, or to Holliday. Ike Clanton offered different testimony about the incident.

He said that Morgan Earp had asked him about whether he would make the agreement with Wyatt, and four or five days afterward Morgan confided in him that he and Wyatt had "piped off $1400 to Doc Holliday and Bill Leonard" who were supposed to be on the stage the night Bud Philpot was killed. During his testimony, Clanton told the court "I was not going to have anything to do with helping to capture--" and then he corrected himself "--kill Bill Leonard, Crane and Harr." Wyatt told the court at the hearing afterward that he had taken the extra step of obtaining a second copy of a telegram for Ike from Wells Fargo assuring that the reward for capturing the killers applied either dead or alive. Ike Clanton denied having any knowledge of the telegram.

Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased with the holdup of another stage in the Tombstone area on 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 had shortly before been fired from his position as a deputy of Sheriff Behan's (for "accounting irregularities" in the matter of county tax collection). 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.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
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. Virgil Earp requested that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday support him and Morgan Earp as he intended to disarm the men. In his testimony afterward, Wyatt referred to his brothers Virgil and Morgan as the "marshals" while he acted as "deputy." At approximately 3:00 p.m. the Earps proceeded to the OK Corral where the Cowboys had been reported as having gathered.

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 no more than 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) apart. According to one witness, Doc Holliday drew a shotgun he held under his long coat ,and shoved it into Frank McLaury's belly, then took a couple of steps back.

Virgil Earp was not counting on a fight. He was carrying Doc Holliday's cane in his right hand. He 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. Despite having bragged that he would kill the Earps or Doc Holiday at his first opportunity, Ike Clanton panicked once the shooting broke out and ran toward Wyatt Earp, declaring that he wasn't armed. Wyatt Earp immediately shoved him aside and returned his attention to the other cowboys, at which time Clanton ran into Fly's Photography Studio, which was adjacent to the alley.

According to some Tombstone old-timers, Doc Holliday fired first, hitting Frank McLaury in the belly. Wyatt Earp and others testified, however, that Earp shot Frank McLaury in the torso after McLaury went for his gun. According to the chief newspaper of the town, The Tombstone Epitaph, "Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit." Morgan Earp fired almost immediately after, hitting Billy Clanton, probably in the right wrist. Billy nonetheless kept his feet and shifted his pistol to his other hand, returning fire left-handed. The two shots were so close together that they were almost indistinguishable.

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, with Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury wounded. Either Billy or Frank shot Virgil Earp in the calf, and Virgil, though hit, fired his next shot at Billy Clanton. 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". The smoke from the black gunpowder added to the confusion and bedlam of the gunfight in the narrow space.

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. Wyatt, therefore, was not cross-examined. Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury drew their pistols. Wyatt testified that he knew Frank was a better shot, so aimed for Frank first. Billy shot at Wyatt and missed. No witnesses refuted Wyatt's testimony that Ike Clanton ran up to him and protested that he was unarmed. To this protest Wyatt said he responded, "Go to fighting or get away!" Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne, both unarmed, escaped the shooting unwounded. Wyatt was not hit in the fight, Doc Holliday was bruised, and Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury were killed.

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. 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 he could not be sure.

From heroes to defendants
On October 30, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Wyatt and Holliday were arrested and brought before Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer, while Morgan and Virgil were still recovering. Bail was set at $10,000 apiece. The hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial started November 1. The first witnesses were Billy Allen and Behan. Allen testified that Holliday fired the first shot and that the second one also came from the Earp party, while Billy Clanton had his hands in the air. Then Behan testified that he heard Billy Clanton say, "Don't shoot me. I don't want to fight." He also testified that Tom McLaury threw open his coat to show that he was not armed and that the first two shots were fired by the Earp party. Behan also said that he thought the next three shots also came from the Earp party. Behan's views turned public opinion against the Earps. His testimony portrayed a far different gunfight than had been first reported in the local papers.

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 200 feet 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.

Cowboy revenge
In December, Clanton went before Justice of the Peace J. B. Smith in Contention City and again filed charges against the Earps and Holliday for the murder of Billy Clanton and the McLaurys. A large posse escorted the Earps to Contention, fearing that the cowboys would try to ambush the Earps on the unprotected roadway. The charges were dismissed by Judge Lucas because of Smith's judicial ineptness.

The prosecution immediately filed a new warrant for murder charges, issued by Justice Smith, but Judge Lucas quickly dismissed it, writing that new evidence would have to be submitted before a second hearing could be called. Because the November hearing before Spicer was not a trial, Clanton had the right to continue pushing for prosecution, but the prosecution would have to come up with new evidence of murder before the case could be considered.

On December 28, while walking between saloons on Allen Street in Tombstone, Virgil was wounded by a shotgun round that struck his left arm and shoulder. 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 above Wyatt's head. The fatal bullet fired at Morgan passed clean through and embedded itself in the thigh of a pool hall patron. A 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 minutes later.

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