Friday, December 7, 2012

Gunfight at the OK Corral - The Aftermath - Part Two

Virgil and his "wife" Allie moved to Prescott, the territorial capital of Arizona, in October 1877, he was quickly deputized by Yavapai County Sheriff Ed Bowers. It happened after a street fight when Virgil helped several lawmen shoot down two hard cases.


In 1878, Virgil served in Prescott as a village night watchman for a couple of months and then was elected as their constable.

On November 27, 1879, he was appointed a U.S. Deputy Marshal in Arizona Territory. The next month he came to Tombstone.

After the shooting death of the town's marshal, Fred White, in October 1880, Virgil Earp was appointed acting town marshal. He only served until November 12, when he lost a special election to Ben Sippy. After Tombstone achieved city status in January 1881, the incumbent Sippy defeated Virgil Earp in another election.

But on June 6, 1881, Mayor John Clum appointed Virgil to the position of City Marshal after Sippy abandoned his badge and left town in a hurry.

Marshal Earp, who we must remember doubled as Deputy U.S. Marshal, was busy that summer arresting citizens for mostly minor offenses, but when he arrested Frank Stilwell and Pete Spence for stage robbery, bitterness between the so-called Cowboys and the Earp faction grew.

Marshal Earp and his three deputies, his brothers Morgan and Wyatt and Doc Holliday came out on top in the famous shootout that October. Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury were killed, and Virgil was suspended from his job for a short period.

When Wyatt arrived in Tombstone, his older brother Virgil was already U.S. Deputy Marshal in Arizona. Fact is that Virgil went from Prescott to Tombstone as Deputy United States Marshal.

Virgil Earp lived in Prescott from July 1877 to November 1879, and held several law enforcement jobs there. He was appointed Deputy United States Marshal on November 27, 1879, by the United States Marshal for Arizona, C.P. Dake.

During his lifetime, Virgil farmed, drove a stagecoach, drove a mail route, was a prospector, but was also always involved with law enforcement in one way or another either as a marshal, deputy sheriff, and constable.

He was the City Marshal from June 18, 1881 until Oct. 29, 1881. Three days after the OK Corral gunfight, he and his deputy Morgan and "special deputy" Wyatt resigned their City positions.

During the gunfight at the OK Corral, Virgil Earp was shot in the leg. He was to stay in bed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for a while.

Three days after Wyatt testified at the Preliminary Hearing, Virgil took the stand - or, more precisely, the court came to his bedside in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where he lay recovering from his gunshot wound.

In his testimony, Virgil recounted his futile efforts to calm down an irate Ike Clanton the night before the shoot-out. He testified that the following morning a man warned him that Clanton had threatened to "kill me on sight."

Another man named "Sills" told him he had overheard the Clantons and McLaurys talking, and one of them had said of the Earps: "We will kill them all!"

Hearing that the Clantons and McLaurys had gathered at the O.K. Corral, he determined to let them be "as long as they stayed in the corral," but disarm and arrest them "if they came on the street."

When they moved out on to Fremont Street, Virgil said, his brothers and the Holliday, who he deputized, made their fateful march behind him to the gunfight.

Virgil testified that Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton "drew their six-shooters and commenced to cock them" as soon as he gave them the order to disarm.

Then, as in most shootings, everything happened quickly with the first two shots. One was from Billy Clanton and the other from Wyatt, both went off in rapid succession and then the shooting became "general."

After the Preliminary Hearing, Judge Spicer ruled that Chief of Police Virgil Earp and his assistants had every "right and duty" to be armed when they approached "men whom they believed to be armed and contemplating resistance."  

Spicer said that the "tragic results" of the Clantons and McLaurys actions were largely their own fault. "I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides," Spicer concluded. "There being no sufficient cause" to believe the defendants guilty of murder, "I order them to be released."

As might be expected in a town where a feud was taking place, the reaction to Judge Spicer's decision was divided. While the Tombstone Epitaph had nothing but praise for Spicer, the Tombstone Nugget called his decision contemptible.

Angry elements of the Cowboy faction plotted revenge, and then carried it out.

Two weeks after Spicer's controversial decision, Pro-Earp Mayor John Clum leaped out of a stagecoach to escape bandits attempting to assassinate him.

Two weeks after that, Virgil Earp was ambushed by several men - probably including Ike Clanton - as he walked home from a saloon at night.

The ambush on Marshal Virgil Earp took place at about 11:30 pm on December 28, 1881.

It is questionable just how many bushwhackers were involved, but it is believed that at least three maybe even four men hid in the upper storey of an unfinished building across Allen street from the Cosmopolitan Hotel and ambushed Virgil from behind as he walked from the Oriental Saloon to his room.

Virgil was hit in the back and left arm by three or four loads of double-barreled buckshot from about 60 feet.

Imagine this if you can, the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Eagle Brewery beyond where Virgil standing were struck by at least 20 buckshot pellets. Three of which passed through the window and one about a foot over the heads of some men standing by a faro-table.

George Parsons wrote that he heard "four shots in quick succession." Seriously wounded, Virgil staggered into the hotel.

Reports of five or six shotgun blasts were later given, and upwards of twenty buckshot pellets penetrated the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Eagle Brewery behind Virgil's position, breaking windows and narrowly missing patrons.

But just imagine for a moment, about the same number of buckshot pellets struck Virgil. And no, he did not fall. He was hit primarily in the back and his left arm.

Dr. George Emory Goodfellow removed 5.5 inches of shattered humerus bone from Virgil's left arm, leaving his arm permanently crippled. While the doctors worked on his arm, Virgil told his wife Allie, "Never mind, I've got one arm left to hug you with."

Double-barrel shotguns from their dark hiding place across the street at fairly close range. Its no wonder Wyatt was visibly shaken.

Soon after the assassins opened fire on City Police Chief Virgil Earp outside the Oriental Saloon, Virgil's distraught brother Wyatt assumed the worse in that Virgil was dying and immediately telegraphed district U.S. Marshal Crawley P. Dake to let him know what happened and try to get help:

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

On learning of Virgil's wounds, which he initially thought were fatal, territorial U.S. Marshal Crawley P. Dake gave Virgil's Deputy U.S. Marshal position to Wyatt.

Commenting on the telegram received by Dake from Wyatt Earp, the Weekly Arizona Miner wrote about the repeated threats received by the Earps and others:

"For some time, the Earps, Doc Holiday, 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  SPRINGFIELD DAILY REPUBLICAN, Springfield, Mass., December 30, 1881

(Page 5 news) "From The West" includes a report:  "A United States Marshall Shot". The report reads:

"U.S. Deputy Marshal Earp was fired on while crossing Fifth street in Tombstone, Ariz., Wednesday night by three men, armed with shotguns, who escaped in the darkness. Nineteen shots hit Earp. The assault is undoubtedly the outgrowth of a recent fight with cowboys in which Earp was engaged. The gang have since threatened the lives of Marshal Earp and his supporters, and the citizen are greatly excited."

Virgil's left side took most of the pellets, the doctor was forced to remove several inches of shattered bone from his upper left arm.   The assailants were never positively identified, but were usually assumed to be family or confederates of the men who died at the O.K. Corral shootout.

On January 20th, 1882, U.S. Marshal Dake deposited $2,985 into an account in Wyatt's name at Hudson & Company in Tombstone, and authorized Wyatt with federal; authority to employ a posse to track down the Cowboys.

One of the prime suspects was Ike Clanton, who wanted revenge after an inquest had cleared the Earp brothers of any wrongdoing at the OK Corral.

Those who did the shooting were never conclusively identified, but Frank Stilwell was seen running from the scene of the crime.

Later, the suspected shooters were identified as Phin Clanton, Ike Clanton, Johnny Barnes, Johnny Ringo, Hank Swilling, Pete Spence, and Frank Stilwell.

On January 31, 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.

On February 2, 1882, Clanton's attorney brought in seven witnesses who testified that Clanton was in Charleston at the time of Virgil's shooting. Ike was immediately acquitted and released.

Yes, even though Ike Clanton's hat was found near the shooting, the evidence was circumstantial so the men were acquitted.

OK, now as for forming his famous posse. For some reason most think it was formed later, but in reality it was formed right after Virgil was bushwhacked.

U.S. Marshal Dake deputized Wyatt with federal authority to employ a posse to track down the Cowboys.

Wyatt had learned enough from his older brother Virgil to know that he must choose trustworthy men who would not be intimidated by further threats or acts of violence by the Cowboys. He learned that he needed loyal men with sand. They had to have the resolve that makes some more loyal to a man than to the law.

His posse would not only help newly appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp enforce the law, but also would act as bodyguards for the Earp brothers, Warren, Morgan, Virgil and their wives.

Warren Earp was the youngest of the Earp brothers. Though he was not present during the gunfight at the OK Corral, after Virgil was ambush Warren joined Wyatt and Morgan. He would be a part of the Earp posse that sets out to hunt down the outlaws they believed responsible.

Doc Holliday stood by Wyatt and Morgan. Through Wyatt, Doc met Morgan and had become extremely close friends. Some say they were even closer than what is thought to be the relationship between he and Wyatt.

Wyatt had Morgan, Doc, and Warren, but he needed more. He needed gunmen. He needed what were known at the time as man-killers. He needed men known for being no nonsense men with tough reputations. But yes, he also needed loyal men.

The sum of $5 a day doesn't sound like much today, but that was 5 times what the average man made in 1880s. For $5 a day, these men were willing to place themselves in extreme danger.

And yes, they all had different motivations for riding with Wyatt and Morgan Earp. Some say it was the thought of rewards at the end. Some say it was loyalty and respect for Virgil and the Earp brothers as a whole.

The first of these men was John "Texas Jack" Vermillion. Texas Jack was a carpenter by trade who was said to have hailed from Virginia. No, he wasn't from Texas. Imagine that!

He gave his age as 36 years of age in 1881. He had arrived in Tombstone from New Mexico Territory and had proved his worth to the Earps after the June 1881 town fire when he was deputized by Virgil to help keep lot jumpers at bay.

Here was a man who could enforce the law in times of trouble. Supposedly Vermillion apparently wore his hair long. And just for the record, like Longhair Jim Courtright who had a reputation for long hair, during that time hair didn't have to go to your collar to be considered "long".

"Texas Jack" was sometimes called "Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Jack."

Recently some researchers have said that his full name was John Wilson Vermillion, that he had been a sharpshooter with the Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, and that he was rumored to have been a lawman in Missouri.

Sherman W. McMaster, who was 28 year old in 1881, was the most complex and valuable deputy among Earp's group, as he possessed an extensive knowledge of the local terrain and personally knew many of the Cowboys said to be gunning for the Earp family.

Born in Galena, Illinois, to a wealthy family and well educated in Rock Island, Illinois, McMaster saw service with the Texas Rangers in 1878-79. Stationed in El Paso, he tracked renegade Indians, chased horse thieves, and acted as a scout for the 9th Cavalry posted nearby.

McMasters' Texas Ranger Company held outlaw and future Clanton and McLaury confederate "Curly Bill" Brocius prisoner over a five-month period in 1878, and McMaster was later said to have associated with the San Simon Cowboys.

To further complicate matters, Sherman was also accused of army mule theft and stage robbery in company with the infamous Cowboy Pony Diehl.

Although these charges were never proved, Wyatt admitted that McMaster had been friendly with the Cowboy element, and he was, therefore, able to make use of his inside knowledge.

McMasters spoke fluent Spanish, rode fine horses and was skilled with a gun. Bat Masterson's brother Thomas called McMasters the fastest man on the draw he had seen.

McMasters is thought by some to have been an undercover operative for not only Earp but also Wells Fargo. If that was true, McMasters' open association with the Earp posse ended any hope he had of staying in Arizona, and he may have seen Wyatt's posse as his paid ticket out of the territory.

Some say that the most dangerous man deputized by Wyatt Earp was not Doc Holliday but really was Jack Johnson. Wyatt Earp's biographer Stuart Lake, who is suspect on most things, referred to him as "Turkey Creek Jack" Johnson

His real name, according to Wyatt, was John William Blount. He was 34 years old in 1881 and had a unique reason for joining the posse.

A native of Missouri who was raised the lead mining area of Neosho, he became a wanted man and was forced to flee the state in 1877 after he and his brothers were involved in a violent street battle in Webb City, Missouri.

Supposedly one brother, Bud, killed a man in a quarrel in May 1881 in Tip Top, Arizona Territory, and was sent to Yuma Prison. John Blount, using the alias Jack Johnson, then went to Tombstone to see if Virgil Earp could help get his brother pardoned.

Supposedly Virgil helped with a petition to the governor, and Bud Blount was eventually freed. As a way to repay his debt, Johnson joined the posse. Johnson was also said to have previously associated with the Cowboys and therefore, like McMaster, was able to pass on important inside information.

Oregon Charles Smith and Daniel "Tip" Tipton, two gamblers who supplemented their incomes with mining ventures, completed the Earp posse.

Supposedly Smith, a 37-year-old native of Connecticut, had a close and long connection to the Earp family. Charlie was fluent in Spanish, having spent several years in Texas working in saloons.

In Fort Worth he had been associated with James Earp, the oldest of the Earp boys, as well as saloon owner and future Earp business partner Robert J. Winders.

Smith took a hand in at least two Fort Worth gunfights and sustained a serious chest wound in 1878. The following year, Smith came to Tombstone with Winders and immediately became associated with all the Earps.

Tipton, also 37 years old, and arrived in Tombstone in March 1881 with a shady reputation earned during the early days of the mining boom in Virginia City, Nevada.

Supposedly, Tipton had several tattoos on his hands and forearms. He was a former Civil War sailor who served in the Union Navy. He took up mining and gambling after the war.

In 1879, Tipton spent time in the Gunnison district of Colorado before coming to Tombstone at the request of his friend Lou Rickabaugh, a gambling kingpin who needed help during the town's so-called Gamblers War.

Ricka­baugh was a business partner of Wyatt Earp. Tipton was said to have traveled to Tombstone in the company of another Earp ally, Bat Masterson. Though Tipton was still there supporting the Earp faction, both Bat Masterson and Luke Short had left Tombstone by the time of the serious trouble with the Cowboys in October 1881.

Wyatt Earp's initial prognosis about his wounded brother's condition was wrong.

By mid-January 1882, Virgil's condition had improved slightly, and Wyatt and Morgan decided to headquarters the Earp families with Virgil at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for safekeeping. Tombstone was a powder keg, and all knew there was safety in numbers.

On January 17, 1882, Johnny Ringo openly challenges Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to a shoot-out in the middle of Allen Street. Ringo, the self appointed spokesman of the Cowboy gang, had a terrible temper, was often depressed and most likely suicidal.

It is said that the confrontation was well witnessed, but like any first hand account descriptions vary.

Jack Burrows' account is probably the most accurate.

Burrows said that Wyatt began to babble about being a peace officer, and then commenced to lecture Ringo on the silliness of fighting a duel in the street, and suggested Ringo was crazy or drunk and that he should go home and sleep it off.

He also said that after Wyatt said what he said, Ringo just turned contemptuously to Doc Holliday and a at that point a "handkerchief" duel took place.

A city police officer named James Flynn is credited with breaking up an almost deadly encounter as he reportedly ran up and grabbed Ringo from behind and separated the men.

On the same day in January, gambler and Earp ally Lou Rickabaugh came to blows with Ben Maynard, a Cowboy associate, but they were separated before weapons could be used.

After spending the first half of January watching out for Cowboys and watching over his injured brother, who had lost the use of his left arm but would survive, Wyatt Earp decided it was time for action.

On January 23, 1882, Wyatt and his posse rode out of Tombstone with warrants for Virgil's suspected attackers which were Ike and Fin Clanton and Pony Diehl.

On the ride, they arrested the fiery Maynard and forced him to lead the way as they descended on the nearby Cowboy hangout of Charleston. The posse went door to door in Charleston but failed to find the Clantons or Diehl.

After riding out of town, the men scouted through the countryside, eventually setting up a camp near Tombstone at a place known as Pick-em-up.

At the same time, back in Tombstone, and unknown to Wyatt's posse, the Clanton brothers had surrendered themselves.

To make matters worse, on January 30th, a deputy sheriff rode out to Pick-em-up and served his own warrant to Earp posse member Sherman McMaster. He was wanted for "borrowing" two horses from the Contention mine the previous fall.

No resistance was offered, and the entire Earp posse returned to Tombstone, where McMaster was bailed, and he and Charlie Smith booked into the Cosmopolitan Hotel to join the Earp family safety.

Courtroom dramas dominated the Tombstone newspapers throughout February 1882 as both factions sought justice through the legal system. McMaster gave evidence against Ike Clanton during a hearing on the attempted murder of Virgil Earp.

Although Ike's hat was found at the scene of the crime, he provided an alibi and the charges were dismissed due to inconclusive evidence.

On February 9th, Ike Clanton went to the town of Contention and filed new charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday relating to the O.K. Corral shootout, but these charges were later dismissed.

With tensions close to breaking point on February 15th, Earp deputy Dan Tipton and Cowboy faction's Ben Maynard came close to a gunfight in Tombstone's Alhambra Saloon.

Tipton was left with a bloody eye, and both men were fined.

Two days later, the Earp posse was riding again. Heavily armed, they left Tombstone with warrants for the arrest of Pony Diehl, who was now wanted for a January 1882 stage robbery. That expedition proved fruitless, and Wyatt and his men eventually returned empty-handed.

By March of 1882, it's said that an uneasy quiet fell over Tombstone. It was just the quiet before the storm.

The Earp posse had heard talk that the Cowboys were plotting more revenge attacks, but no one knew for sure when, where, or how the attacks would take place.

Some say there was a sort of air of inevitability about further violence taking place. Tipton would later state that members of the Earp faction had been repeatedly warned to be on the lookout for a Cowboy ambush.

Then on March 18th, it finally came.

At about 10:30 p.m., Morgan Earp was playing pool at Campbell and Hatch's Saloon, while Tipton, McMaster and Wyatt watched.

As Morgan turned his back to a rear door to play a shot on the pool table, gunshots tore through the door widows and slam into his back.

The bullets shattered his spine and passed through his left kidney, and the wound was pronounced fatal by the doctor who examined him a short time later.

His assailants fired from a darkened alley through a window in an outside door. Wyatt was also shot at, but the bullet went high and missed.

The Tombstone Epitaph, wrote:

THE DEADLY BULLET, March 20, 1882

The Assassin at Last Successful in His Devilish Mission
Morgan Earp Shot Down and Killed While Playing Billiards

"10:00 Saturday night while engaged in playing a game of billiards in Campbell & Hatch's Billiard parlor, on Allen between Fourth and Fifth, Morgan Earp was shot through the body by an unknown assassin. At the time the shot was fired he was playing a game with Bob Hatch, one of the proprietors of the house and was standing with his back to the glass door in the rear of the room that opens out upon the alley that leads straight through the block along the west side of A.D. Otis & Co.'s store to Fremont Street. This door is the ordinary glass door with four panes in the top in place of panels. The two lower panes are painted, the upper ones being clear. Anyone standing outside can look over the painted glass and see anything going on in the room just as well as though standing in the open door. At the time the shot was fired the deceased must have been standing within ten feet of the door, and the assassin standing near enough to see his position, took aim for about the middle of his person, shooting through the upper portion of the whitened glass. The bullet entered the right side of the abdomen, passing through the spinal column, completely shattering it, emerging on the left side, passing the length of the room and lodging in the thigh of Geo. A.B. Berry, who was standing by the stove, inflicting a painful flesh wound. Instantly after the first shot a second was fired through the top of the upper glass which passed across the room and lodged in the wall near the ceiling over the head of Wyatt Earp, who was sitting as a spectator of the game. Morgan fell instantly upon the first fire and lived only about one hour. His brother Wyatt, Tipton, and McMasters rushed to the side of the wounded man and tenderly picked him up and moved him some ten feet away near the door of the card room, where Drs. Matthews, Goodfellow and Millar, who were called, examined him and, after a brief consultation, pronounced the wound mortal. He was then moved into the card room and placed on the lounge where in a few brief moments he breathed his last, surrounded by his brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, James and Warren with the wives of Virgil and James and a few of his most intimate friends. Notwithstanding the intensity of his mortal agony, not a word of complaint escaped his lips, and all that were heard, except those whispered into the ear of his brother and known only to him were, "Don't, I can't stand it. This is the last game of pool I'll ever play." The first part of the sentence being wrung from him by an attempt to place him upon his feet.

The funeral cortege started away from the Cosmopolitan hotel about 12:30 yesterday with the fire bell tolling its solemn peals of "Earth to earth, dust to dust."

Years later Wyatt told Stuart Lake in his biography that Morgan, before dying, whispered to Wyatt "I can't see a damned thing," a reference to supposed visions of Heaven seen by dying people - which Morgan and Wyatt had discussed on a previous occasion.

To the last, Morgan's behavior was in keeping with what is known of him. He died less than an hour after being shot, while lying on a lounge in an adjoining card room of the billiard parlor - no not on the billiard table, as some accounts report.

Unlike targeting Virgil Earp because he was the top law enforcement officer in town and oldest Earp brother in law enforcement, subsequently in charge of the other brothers, I really believe that it didn't matter which Earp was at that back door window at that moment.

I really believe that it could have been either Wyatt or Morgan. For the would-be assassins, what mattered was that an Earp would be the target.

If I'm wrong, and they did purposely target Morgan next after Virgil, then that would mean that the Cowboys might have recognized Morgan - who was assistant City Police Chief  - as Virgil's successor and next target.

As for Wyatt, Morgan's death sent Wyatt on a three-week rampage in the country around Tombstone, sometimes referred to as the Earp Vendetta Ride, killing anyone Wyatt believed was connected to Morgan's death.

Wyatt believed that former Johnny Behan deputy and accused stage-robber Frank Stilwell fired the shot that hit Morgan, while the shot which missed Wyatt was fired by William Brocius, a.k.a. "Curly Bill". Both Stilwell and Brocius were killed in the vendetta.

After Morgan's death, he was laid out in a blue suit belonging to his friend Doc Holliday. His body was then taken by wagon on the next day (Sunday) by family and friends to the nearest railhead, in Benson.

Morgan's funeral cortege started away from the Cosmopolitan hotel as the fire bell toll its solemn peals of "Earth to earth, dust to dust." From there, accompanied by older brother James Earp, Morgan's body was sent to his family in Colton, California.

On the following day (Monday), Virgil and his wife were accompanied under family guard to Tucson, in a second expedition. The Earp posse, without Texas Jack Vermillion, accompanied Virgil Earp and his family as personal protection while escorted him to Tucson, March 20, 1882. 

Instead, Vermillion joined the vendetta posse March 21, 1882 in Tombstone.
A coroner's jury later identified the men suspected of killing Morgan as Cochise County Deputy Frank Stilwell, his friend Pete Spence, and three of Spence's employees — Indian Charlie, Frederick Bode and an unnamed man known to be a "half-breed."

The cowardly assassination of his brother was a turning point for Earp and his posse. Until that time, Wyatt had attempted to rely on the legal system to bring Virgil's assailants to justice.

The law and justice are two different things. Those who did these things deserved what was coming to them.

And yes, Wyatt understood the futility of thinking the legal system worked when wanting retribution on those who have crossed the line and became outlaws.

He recognized that the only way to deal with those who tried to assassinate Virgil and those who ruthlessly murdered Morgan  -  was to kill them.

The law was about to take a back seat to justice being served. 

Story by Tom Correa

The Gunfight At The OK Corral

Gunfight at the OK Corral - The Aftermath - Part One

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