Saturday, October 10, 2020

Newspapers Regarding Supposed Death of Curly Bill 1882

For more than 30 years, among his other stories, Wyatt Earp told everyone that he killed Curly Bill. So did Wyatt Earp kill Curly Bill Brocius? Frankly, no one can honestly say if he did or didn't. Of course, if it did happen, then it's only Earp's word that we have to go by since no one witnessed it ever taking place. 

As for people believing him, it appears there were those there at the time who also questioned whether Curly Bill was killed at all. Some at the time did not believe Wyatt Earp's story. 

On March 25, 1882, The Tombstone Epitaph published the following article claiming that Curly Bill Brocius had been killed in a shootout that took place at Burleigh Springs: 


The Earp Party Ambushed by Curly Bill and Eight Cowboys.
A Hand to Hand Encounter in Which Curly Bill is Killed

The town has been full of reports the last two or three days as to the whereabouts of the Earp party, and their probable movements. No sooner had one report got well under way than another was issued which contradicted it. There has been marching and countermarching by the sheriff and his posse until the community has become so used to the ring of spurs and clank of steel that comparatively little attention is paid to the appearance of large bodies of horsemen in the streets. Yesterday afternoon the sheriff with a large force started down the road toward Contention, possibly to follow up the report that the party had been seen in the Whetstone mountains, west of the San Pedro river, with their horses completely fagged out and the men badly demoralized. This, like so many other reports, was a baseless as the fabric of a dream.

The Battle of Burleigh Springs

Yesterday afternoon as the sun was descending low down the western horizon, had a person been traveling on the Crystal or Lewis Spring road towards the Burleigh Spring, as our informant was, he would have seen one of the most desperate fights between the six men of the Earp party and nine fierce cowboys led by the daring and notorious Curly Bill, that ever took place between opposing forces on Arizona soil. Burleigh Springs is about eight miles south of Tombstone and some four miles east of Charleston, near the mine of that name, and near the short road from Tombstone to Hereford. As our informant, who was traveling on horseback leisurely along toward the Burleigh, came to a slight elevation in the road about a half-mile south thereof, he observed a party of six men ride down to the spring from the east, where they all dismounted. They had not much more than got well upon their feet when there rose up at a short distance away

Nine Armed Men

who took deadly aim and fired simultaneously at the Earp party, for such the six men proved to be. Horrified at the sight that like a lightning stroke flashed upon his vision, he instinctively stopped and watched for what was to follow. Not a man went down under the murderous fire, but like a thunderbolt shot from the hand of Jove the six desperate men charged upon their assailants like the light brigade at Balaklava, and when within easy reach returned the fire under which one man went down never more to rise again. The remaining eight fled to the brush and regained their horses when they rode away towards Charleston as if the King of Terrors was at their heels in hot pursuit. The six men fired but one volley and from the close range it is supposed that several of the ambushed cowboys were seriously if not fatally wounded.

The Six Men

returned to their horses where one was found to be in the agony of death, he having received one of the leaden messengers intended for his rider. The party remained at the spring for some time refreshing themselves and their animals, when they departed going southerly as if they were making for Sonora.

The Dead Man Curly Bill

After the road was clear our informant rode on and came upon the dead man, who, from the description given, was none other than Curly Bill, the man who killed Marshal White in the streets of Tombstone, one year ago last September. Since the above information was obtained it has been learned that friends of Curly Bill went out with a wagon and took the body back to Charleston where the whole affair has been kept a profound secret, so far as the general public is concerned.

-- end of the article. 

The next day, March 26, 1882, The Tombstone Nugget reported the following:


Conflicting Accounts of the Fight in the Whetstones. Wyatt Earp believed to be seriously wounded.
The weak attempt of the Epitaph to gain a little temporary notoriety, by publishing an account of an imaginary fight between the Earps and the cowboys, did not meet with the hearty reception from the public which its projectors, no doubt, hoped for. The glaring improbability of the whole article was so patent to all, that the only effect produced was an expression of disgust the puerile attempt to trifle with the feelings of an already excited and aroused community, and none were found so credulous as to place the slightest confidence in the truth and veracity of the silly canard.

The Nugget, knowing the movements of the Sheriff’s posse in their attempt to effect the arrest of fugitives from justice is a question in which the entire community feels a vital and absorbing interest, has spared neither trouble nor expense in its efforts to present its readers with the full and true account of the same.

From a party, whose name the Nugget is not at liberty to publish, the following version of the fight was obtained: Our informant had an appointment to meet the Earp party at a certain spring in the Whetstone mountains, about fifteen miles distant from Contention at noon on Friday. He rode up to the spring, which is situated in a canyon, at the appointed time, and was confronted by three cowboys with drawn weapons, who ordered him to dismount, and demanded the cause of his presence there. He told them he was in search of a stray horse, and had come to the spring, thinking that a likely place to find the lost animal. The cowboys, evidently believing the story, abandoned


and invited the stranger to camp there and prepare his dinner, which invitation was accepted. While thus engaged, the cowboys rode off, and soon our informant also departed in search of the Earp party. He had proceeded but a short distance when he came upon Wyatt Earp. Wyatt informed him that some hour previous they (the Earp party) had come to the spring in pursuance of the appointment. They had approached within thirty yards, when they discovered four cowboys camped there. The latter recognized the intruders and firing from both parties began about the same time. One shot from the cowboys passed through the clothing of McMasters, just grazing his side; another killed Texas Jack’s horse; a third knocked the pommel off Wyatt Earp’s saddle; while another cut the straps of the field-glass carried by McMasters. The volley fired by the Earp party apparently did not take effect. The latter then started to retreat, Texas Jack jumping up behind one of the party. As they turned to run, one of the cowboys, whom Wyatt Earp believes to have been


in a spirit of bravado, jumped out from behind a rock, when Wyatt turned in his saddle and fired, and the reckless cowboy fell to the ground. The Earp party retired behind an adjacent hill and halted. They were in a position commanding a view of the spring, a shortly after the fight saw a wagon come to the place and as Wyatt believes, carry away the dead body of Curly Bill. They also saw the informant of the Nugget when he arrived at the spring, but were not in a position to warn him of the presence of the cowboys. Our informant was most positive and emphatic in the statement that neither Wyatt Earp, nor any one of the party, was wounded.

Desirous of presenting its readers with the latest and most authentic information in regard to the lamentable condition of affairs which now prevails, the Nugget last night dispatched couriers to Contention and Charleston, with instruction to ascertain, if possible, the authenticity of the foregoing statements:


it will be observed, in a measure corroborate what has been related. The following was received from Charleston at 8:40 p.m.

It is certain that the Earp party have had a fight near the Whetstone Mountains. Wyatt stood fire and was struck with a ball in the breast. The balance ran. Texas Jack hd a horse shot, Impossible to ascertain anything in regard to Curly Bill

The first dispatch from Contention was received at 8:00 p.m., and is as follows:

Behan and posse just arrived. Four of the posse were encountered by the Earps, yesterday while at dinner. Several shots were exchanged. The Earps fled, except Wyatt, who dismounted and emptied his shotgun. Texas Jack’s horse was killed. Wyatt is supposed to be wounded. The posse were unhurt.

The latest from Contention was received at 1 a.m. this morning, and may be considered absolutely reliable. It is as follows:

The Earps were within thirty yards of the camp when the fight commenced. The shooting commenced in the Whetstones, twelve miles distant. Wyatt, without a doubt, is wounded. Sheriff Behan is still here. He states that four men engaged in the fight had no connection with his posse. There is much excitement here, but the report of the killing of Curly Bill is not credited. The Earp party were seen from the train, three miles below here, this afternoon.

-- end of the article. 

 On March 26, 1882, Arizona Daily Star, published the following:

Reported Fight
(Special Dispatch to the Star)

Tombstone, March 25 -- An Epitaph reporter interviewed a reliable man just in from Burleigh Springs, eight miles south of this city. He states that a desperate fight took place there last night between six men of the Earp party and nine cowboys, headed by the notorious Curly Bill, who killed Marshal White of Tombstone. The cowboys ambushed the Earps as they were approaching the spring and poured a deadly fire into them, wounding one man slightly and killing a horse. The Earps returned the fire and then charged upon the cowboys, who ingloriously ran, leaving Curly Bill dead upon the field. 

(This dispatch is mere rumor, and is not credited- Ed. Star)

-- end of the article. 

On March 26, 1882, Arizona Daily Star, published the following: 


Sheriff Paul still remains in Tombstone. He is confident that it he knew the whereabout of the Earp party he oould effect their arrest peaceably and without bloodshed. He has assurances from friends of the Earpa that the desired information will be imparted to him within a day or two. He alleges the cause of his refusal to accompany the Behan posse, the fact that a meeting of the two parties wonld be sure to result in ths unnecessary loss of a number ol lives. -- Nugget.

Pursuit of the Earps.

The telegraphic dispatch from Tomb-atone, which we publish, lacks credibility. It is not believed that such a one-sided encounter has taken place; besides Curly Bill is known to be in another part of the country.

It ia exceedingly probable that an encounter has, or will soon take place.

A dispatch was received last evening by Ike Clanton, from John Chenoweth, of Tombstone, as follows: "It is reported that four of the Earps are killed. Another report says one of the Earp party and Curly Bill is killed. There is nothing certain yet."

Under Sheriff Coleman received a dispatch to the effect that Wyatt Erp was mortally wounded and Texas Jack was killed.

Another dispatch waa received which stated that Sheriff Behaa with a party of twelve, and F. Clanton with a party of fourteen, were in close pursuit of the Earp party.

Last night a long dispatch was received at this office, worded in ambiguous language aad to the same purport and from the same party as the dispatch of doubtful credibility which we publish in the telegraphic column.

It cannot be long before authentic news will strive concerning whatever has taken place.

The last dispatch was received at midnight, which reads as follows: "There was a fight in the mountains between the Earps and some of the Sheriff's posse, Texas Jack's horse was killed and Wyatt Earp wounded. Nothing of Curly Bill being killed. Don't think it is so."

The telegraphic dispatch from Tombstone, which we publish, lacks credibility. It is not believed that such a one-sided encounter has taken place; besides Curly Bill is known to be in another part of the country.

-- end of the article. 

As I said before, if it did happen, then it's only Earp's word that we have to go by since no one witnessed it ever taking place. While some like myself question Earp's credibility, it has never helped Earp's credibility that no one ever produced Curly Bill's body at the time, or his grave, or even the bones from his supposed dead body.  

So really, no one will ever know if it actually took place or not. If it did happen, because there were no witnesses, people can only speculate whether it was a case of self-defense against a supposed ambush with the Earps coming under fire and then retreating, or if there was a shotgun duel as Hollywood says took place. If it did not happen, it's just one of those Old West stories that some believe took place because they want to -- even though it might be a complete fabrication. 

No one knows the truth if anything took place or not. After all, it could be simply a tall tale from Wyatt Earp in the same way that he took credit for disarming Ben Thompson and killing Johnny Ringo which did not happen. Remember, it wouldn't be the first time he told such a yarn.

Tom Correa

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