Thursday, September 22, 2016

Frank Stilwell -- How Newspapers Reported His Murder 1882

Frank Stilwell was in Tucson because he was subpoenaed to appear in front of the Grand Jury on March 21st, 1882. That is a matter of record.That is indisputable.

Whether Stilwell saw the Earps upon arrival there and then wanted to do them harm in some way, frankly no one will ever know that real answer to that. We do know that his presence at the train station was enough to make the Earps believe that he was there to kill one of them.

These things are for certain, just as there is also no doubt that Wyatt Earp and his men murdered Frank Stilwell on March 20th. Wyatt bragged about doing so on a number of occasions.

While he always said that he was the only one who killed Stilwell, we know from the Coroner's report that his men also shot Stilwell. Remember, the Coroner's examination found evidence of Stilwell being shot with 5 different caliber weapons. If one were investigating this, it's a safe bet to say that that's proof positive that he had accomplices.

If one studies the actions of Wyatt Earp, it's now wonder folks back then saw what he was doing as no different than what other outlaws were doing. After all, outlaws murdered at will in the same way as Earp and his men had.

Of course today there are people who somehow make the excuse that Wyatt Earp and his men needed to take the law into his own hands. They somehow believe that Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and John Johnson, were in the right for taking law into their own hands.

A number of Earp fans have written me to say that "Wyatt was fed up with the Court system, and he felt that he couldn't get justice in the courts." One of my readers wrote me an angry letter demanding that I prove that the courts were fair at the time. And yes, he too wanted to remind me that "Wyatt did what he did because he couldn't get satisfaction in the courts. And don't forget that he was avenging his brother's death."

While I've always understand the urge to take the law into your own hands when the courts fail us, should we all just throw the rule of law out the window when it doesn't go our way? Yet at the same time celebrate and say that the system works when it does? Isn't that being a little hypocritical.

Can you imagine what sort of society we would have if we all decided that we should be judge and jury, and executioner? Can you imagine if we all decided that the law simply didn't do what we needed, so we should take the law into our own hands?

I've studied vigilance committees a great deal, and I truly understand why people took it upon themselves to tell the law to step aside. And frankly, in more cases than not, I understand and agree with what they did. I know for fact that lean sentences and a corrupt justice system made people take the law into their own hands and do what they believed was right. And though I understand and agree with many of the cases where vigilantes did what needed to be done, that's still doesn't mean they were right in doing it.

As for those saying, ""Wyatt did what he did because he couldn't get satisfaction in the courts," I think the idea that the court system didn't work for the Earps is a pretty bogus claim. Remember that Wyatt and his brother all though the court system in Tombstone worked perfectly fine when it worked in their favor.

Please remember that the Earps and Holliday were charged with murder after the shootout at the lot near the OK Corral. Remember, they were charged with murder and found not guilty by Judge Spicer. It's also said that while Judge Spicer was even handed throughout most of those proceedings, that he made at least two decisions specially to specifically benefit the Earps' and Holliday defense.

Earps getting preferential treatment in Spicer's court didn't go un-noticed. Remember that Spicer's decision stopped the Earp's and Holliday from going on to a full trial. Ike Clanton and William McLaury said that they "couldn't get satisfaction in the courts" and actually attempted to get a change of venue and have the Earps tried in nearby Contention City.  But as we know, that didn't happen because the Grand Jury accepted Judge Spicer’s ruling and refused on more than one occasion to indict Holliday and the Earps.

So the question becomes, knowing that the Earps had preferential treatment in Spicer's court, does the claim that they couldn't get justice really hold water? I don't think it does.

Why should people, either back then or in today's world, allow some to flaunt the law while the rest of us restrain our urges and act civilized and adhere to the law?  Why should anyone applaud someone who does as he or she wants to do, just because they can get away with it?

And no, I'm not talking about some politician breaking the law and getting away with it, I'm talking about people today seeing what the Earps and his men did as being somehow OK when in fact they were breaking all sorts of laws doing it.

Shouldn't facts matter? The fact is that Frank Stilwell was in Tucson to testify in front of the Grand Jury and not there "specifically to assassinate" the Earps, as the Earps claimed. Shouldn't the fact that Wyatt Earp and his supposed lawfully deputized posse fled the scene after killing Stilwell matter? When do law enforcement officers act like that? Shouldn't that matter?

Shouldn't actions matter? Shouldn't we all judge the actions of others on what they do and not the excuses they use for doing it?  In Earps' case, Wyatt never justified taking the law into his own hands yet people gave him a pass.

If you wonder if there are double standards in history, look at how the story of Wyatt Earp's actions are portrayed. Since the term "lawless" means "not restrained by or under the control of legal authority," Wyatt Earp and his men were as lawless as any other group of outlaws of the time.

Wyatt Earp got away with it because he had friends in the right places. They protected him from extradition and prosecution. They helped him and his men get away with multiple murders. 

Below you'll find a number of articles that were in various papers about the Stilwell murder. You may find a big difference between how the pro-Earp Tombstone Epitaph reported the killing versus other papers.

The Arizona Star, March 21st, 1882:

"Without any provocation a band of four or five slayers pursued a lonely man in the dark and without a word of warning murdered him in cold blood and then hied to their stamping grounds as unconcerned as though they had when out on a hunting expedition, or like so many blood-thirsty Apaches rejoice over their crime."

The Tombstone Epitaph, March 22nd, 1882:

"The people of Tombstone were startled this morning with a report from Tucson that Frank Stilwell, a well know personage in this county as late deputy sheriff at Bisbee, and as one of the alleged Bisbee stage robbers, as also suspected of having killed an old man at the Brunckow mine some two or three years ago, had been found dead from the effects of a charge of buckshot, near the Porter House, at the depot in Tucson.

As the dispatch says, there are two theories of the killing here as at Tucson. One is that the comrades of Stilwell, fearing that he might turn states evidence, have silenced him and the other, that it is the work of the incensed Earp brothers for the assassination of Morgan, it being stated that there is positive evidence that Stilwell was in Tombstone Saturday night at the time Morgan Earp was murdered; and that he rode into Tucson on horseback Sunday. In either case his taking off verifies the saying that “the way of the transgressor is hard."

The Tombstone Daily Nugget, March 22nd, 1882:

"Tucson, March 21- This morning at daylight, the track man at the Southern Pacific Railroad depot found the body of Frank Stilwell about one hundred yards north of Porter’s Hotel at the side of the track, riddled with bullets.”
When George Parsons heard about the demise of Frank Stilwell in the Tucson rail yard, he wrote in his journal, “a quick chief attraction until a few more accompany him.”

The Arizona Daily Star, March 22nd, 1882:

"Sheriff Behan yesterday received a telegram from the authorities at Tucson, requesting him to arrest Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and one Johnson and hold them until further advice. Shortly after the receipt of the telegram, Sheriff Behan went to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where he found the two Earp brothers, Wyatt and Warren, Holliday, Texas Jack, Johnson and McMasters. The sheriff informed the party of mission, when, in an instant each one leveled a six shooter at the officer, and peremptorily refused to submit to arrest. The sheriff retired, and immediately took measures to raise a posse to enable him to accomplish his duty. 

Scores of volunteers proffered their services to aid in enforcement of the law, and arms for a sufficient number were quickly obtained from the store of P. W. Smith & Co. Immediately upon the enforced retirement of the sheriff from the hotel, the Earp party, six in number, also left the premises, all heavily armed, and betook themselves to the corner of Allen and Third streets, where their horses were, ready saddled, and quickly mounting, they rode rapidly out of town, in the direction of Contention. 

The sheriff, finding that the time consumed in arming and equipping his posse had enabled the other party to secure at least a half an hour’s start, concluded not to commence the pursuit until this morning at 5 o’clock. Sheriff Behan was extremely careful never to catch up to the Earps and Holliday where he would be forced into a confrontation with an angry Wyatt Earp and a revenge-minded Doc Holliday. When he did blunder into their vicinity he quickly found his duties required his presence far away."

The Tombstone Dally Nugget, March 22nd, 1882:

"The assassination of Frank Stilwell in Tucson Monday night was, there is little doubt but another act in the bitter faction feud which has worked untold harm to the interests of Tombstone and Cochise County during the past six months. As all well informed persons were satisfied that the killing of Morgan Earp in this city Saturday night was the natural and legitimate sequence of preceding acts of violence, so, in regard to this latter assassination everybody conversant with the facts is equally well satisfied that it was but the natural outgrowth of the same causes. And as all right thinking and order-loving citizens denounced and deprecated the unlawful killing of Earp, so will the murder of Stilwell, which is surrounded by all the cowardly fiendishness of the former, create a feeling of loathing for the perpetrators and horror at the deed in the breasts of every man possessed of the common instincts of humanity or any regard for the preservation of organized society. 

The Nugget condemned in words of no uncertain meaning the dastardly act of Saturday night, and it now denounces the red-handed assassins of Stilwell and places them in the same category as the skulking murderers of Earp. It is to be earnestly hoped the cowardly perpetrators of two of the foulest, ghoul-like assassinations that ever disgraced any community, may be speedily identified, that justice, stern and unrelenting may be swiftly meted out to them."

The Arizona Daily Star, March 22nd, 1882:

"It is openly boasted by some that they will not deny the crime, and that their mission to our city was for no other purpose than to kill Ike Clanton, brother to William, who was recently assassinated in Tombstone by quasi-federal officials, and failing in their purpose, sought his next best friend and reeked the disappointed vengeance on him.

The boldness of the act, right at the depot in a peaceable city, around and amid the bustle of visitors at the train only adds to the offense, and effrontery of these desperadoes in transferring their enmity to those who were in our city under orders from the court, or had come here as a place of safety from these thirsty bloodhounds, is as provoking and outrageous to our citizens as it is damned in the sight of heaven.

It has been stated that Stillwell (sic), the unfortunate man, who fell victim, was a bad dangerous man. This may all be true. He has been twice or thrice arrested, once charged with murder, and once on suspicion of stage robbery, but in both cases the court, or examining magistrate pronounced him innocent. Let us give the man who is silenced in death by the assassin’s bullet the benefit of the courts’ judgment. He cannot answer his accusers now. Let his faults, no matter how grievous they were, be interred with his body, for it must be remembered that those that slew him were his accusers in these crimes. They failed to lock him in dungeon, but they did not fail in his taking off.

But admitting that he was all that even his sworn enemies alleged, that was no excuse for the crime. He was not an outlaw. He was within the jurisdiction of the courts and the officers of the law, and could have been taken at anytime without the slightest resistance. The presumption seems to be all in his favor.

In regard to the Earp party, no doubt but what they have some warm friends who are good citizens. And undoubtedly it is this fact which has given them so long suffrage in Tombstone. If one-twentieth part of what is said of their record is true they are certainly no desirable acquisition to any community They are a roving band; their path is strewn with blood.

Strange as it may seem, wherever they halt in a settlement stage robberies follow and human life ceases to he sacred. Their late escapades at Tombstone are only their records repeated in other frontier towns, and if we judge the honest sense of justice and peace abiding disposition of our citizens, they will never dare another such foul murder as was committed last Monday night.”

-- end of newspaper articles.

Now, to answer my reader who said, "And don't forget that he was avenging his brother's death."

First, here's something that I've wondered about.  It was only speculated that Frank Stilwell was part of the men who shot Virgil and killed Morgan, but we know that Ike Clanton's hat was found in the area after the ambush of Virgil. Some say that was proof enough that Ike was actually in on it. If that was the case and there was proof, why is it that Wyatt never went after Ike who was actually connected to the crime scene? Why didn't he?

And what if the tables were turned and someone went hunting for Wyatt Earp for killing Frank Stilwell, and in fact killed him because he killed his brother Frank Stilwell? Would that have been OK?

What if that person felt that the law was "too friendly to the Earps", as demonstrated in what has become known as "the Spicer hearing," and decided to take the law into their own hands? Would that be OK?

Remember that the whole thing, the whole drama of the Earps versus the Clantons reads a lot like the Hatfields and McCoys, revenge and revenge and revenge. From the political double cross over political appointments that started the whole thing, to revenge for killing killing cowboys to revenge for killing Morgan, it didn't stop. And to make one side or the other sound like angels is bullshit. They were both at fault.

Remember when Frank Stilwell's older brother arrived later looking for the Earps because he felt that he couldn't "get satisfaction" from a rigged court made up of friends of the Earps? Would it have been OK for him to kill Wyatt and Warren Earp, and the others who were in on executing Frank? Was it OK for him to hunt them down and want to kill them in the same way that the Earps killed Frank, execution style?

That situation actually took place when Frank Stilwell's brother Deputy U.S. Marshal Comanche Jack Stilwell arrived in Tombstone to find and kill Wyatt and Warren Earp for murdering his brother Frank. Sadly by the time Camanche Jack got there, Wyatt was long gone and in the safety of Colorado where he was fighting extradition back to Arizona.

I can't help but wonder if people today would have made the same excuses for Comanche Jack killing Wyatt Earp as they do for the Earp today? Would they have called Comanche Jack killing Wyatt a "vendetta" like they do today in regards to Wyatt killing Frank and the others?

Would they claim that his actions were justified because of some bogus claim that he couldn't get justice in the courts and that's why he acted the way he wanted to? There are others in history not as lucky as Wyatt Earp. Unlike Earp, they've been held accountable for their crimes.

I think it is ironic that it was all about revenge, revenge, revenge, and so on.

Virgil was shot and Morgan Earp was murdered because the "cow-boy" faction wanted revenge because they did not get justice in the court system after the Spicer hearing set the Earps and Doc Holliday free after what took place at the lot near the OK Corral. Wyatt and Warren Earp and their men, went on their killing spree because they wanted revenge because they did not get justice in the court system after after Virgil was ambushed and Morgan was murdered. Comanche Jack Stilwell showed up looking for the Earps and the others who killed his brother Frank. His intention was to kill them because he wanted revenge because they did not get justice in the court system. He felt that he wouldn't get justice in a court system to friendly to the Earps.

As for the murder of Frank Stilwell, as I stated before, I believe that Wyatt Earp and his men wanted to kill Stilwell and the others. To get away with it, I believe they used their badges at first. Then when they became wanted men, they used the excuse that they couldn't get justice in the courts even though the courts previously had been shown to be friendly to them.

And like I said previously, Wyatt Earp got away with avoiding prosecution because he had friends in the right places. They protected him from extradition and prosecution. They helped him and his men get away with multiple murders.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. Funny how Sheriff John Slaughter was honored as the man who cleaned up Cochise County. Yet he did exactly what Wyatt did on the Vendetta Ride. He found suspected cowboy outlaws and left there corpses in the desert or brought them in over the saddle. Was he ever indicted for any of these killings? Not to say either was right but why should one be labeled a cold blooded killer and the other a hero?

  2. Tom, You've mentioned a few times the Spicer trial in Tombstone stating you believe the Earps and Holiday got special treatment from the courts, to justify your reasoning as to why Stilwell and others murdered Morgan and made an attempt at Virgil, because they didn't feel they would get a fair shake in the court systems.
    The only flaw I see with that theory is that I don't see how the Earps or Holiday could have been convicted of murder at the OK Corral. There were many witnesses that stated Virgil shouted "We don't want that" when the Clanton's and McClaury's were getting itchy trigger fingers, right before the shooting started. Also witnesses that stated Wyatt didn't shoot Ike and pushed him away because he was unarmed, stating "get to shooting or get away" Something along those lines. That statement alone tells me Wyatt wasn't there to murder Ike or he would have been dead that day, he was shooting at other people that had a gun. I think these witness testimonies alone showed that they were there with the sole intention to disarm them, not to murder them, as they were breaking the law carrying firearms in town. These witness statements weigh pretty heavy in court. I think this testimony was enough for Spicer to rule it was justified, friends or not, I don't see he had any other choice but to rule that way. Even if it would have went to a jury trial I believe they still would have been vindicated.

    I do however agree with most of your statements. Things did get out of hand on both parties after this incident and from then on it was an eye for an eye. Very cool history and fascinating stuff.

    1. Hello Wild West, I'm not "justifying" the killing of Morgan Earp. What I said was that it was a case of everyone looking for revenge and using the "excuse" that they couldn't get justice in the courts. As for the Earps being convicted if tried? That's not the point pard. They probably wouldn't have been convicted of anything simply because of the facts of what took place at the OK Corral. I agree with you 100% that the Earp's would have been vindicated in court. My point is, what I believe, for whatever that's worth, that the denial for the change of venue was seen by the Cowboys as them not being able to get justice in a court. And that, I believe that that didn't help things and may have incited the Cowboys to take revenge. It may have just been an en excuse on their part to kill Morgan anyway. I think a number of people used a number of excused to do what they did. And frankly, I'm not making excuses for anyone. The Cowboys were wrong in taking the law into their own hands. Yes, in the exact same way that the Earp posse later was wrong as well. I just don't like the hypocrisy of saying one was wrong for avenging the killing and the OK Corral but the other was right for avenging the killing of Morgan. Especially when both groups did the same things. Please understand, while I understand and agree with some cases for vigilantes to do what they did. I'm trying to look at this impartial as possible and not take sides. Thanks for visiting my site. Like you, I find it all fascinating stuff. Tom

  3. Murder... probably... but though times and evil men deserved tough not so good men who would clean the west, making it free of the outlaws known as the Cowboys. Heck.. you Tom and I may have been on the same side or opposite sides had we of lived back then. Because of this, don't judge to harshly Wyatt Earp based on todays morals as as he did what needed done.

  4. I'm with Unknown. Judging people in history against todays morals glosses over all the details that led people act as they did at the time.


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