Monday, May 20, 2024

Warren Earp "Stabbed A Negro" -- 1893

Let's talk about that time Warren Earp "Stabbed A Negro." While most agree that it's not smart to bring a knife to a gunfight, bringing a knife to a fistfight will normally get you jail time. 

According to The San Francisco Call newspaper, that's exactly what took place when Warren Earp, the youngest of the Earp brothers, stabbed a Black man in August of 1893 in San Bernardino, California.

Below is the news story reported in The San Francisco Call, Volume 74, Number 77, 16 August 1893:


One of the Notorious Family Stabs a Man at San Bernardino. 

San Bernardino, Aug. 15. —  About 2 o'clock yesterday Charles Steel was stabbed by Warren Earp in front of Anderson & Beam's Saloon in this city. 

The two men had been drinking together when Earp called Steel a vile name, whereupon Steel invited Earp to settle the matter on the street. 

When they reached the street, Steel struck Earp with his fist. Earp then drew a large pocket knife from his hip pocket. And making a heavy lunge with it, cut Steel across the back, making a wound four inches long. Steel continued to fight with his fists, and Earp, using his knife, again stabbed Steel in the back. 

Earp was taken in charge by the police and taken to the lockup upon a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Steel is badly wounded, but will probably recover. 

The examination of Earp came up today before Justice Fetter. The court adjourned without reaching a conclusion. 

Earp is one of the notorious Earp brothers who made the Western world shudder at their daring and bloody deeds committed in Tombstone a few years ago.

-- end of news story reported in The San Francisco Call, Volume 74, Number 77, 16 August 1893.

As for those who wonder what happened to Warren Earp for stabbing Charles Steel? Well, there's this from The Fresno Weekly Expositor, Volume XXIV, Number 18, 23 August 1893

Stabbed a Negro.

San Bernardino, Aug. 18.—The preliminary examination of Warren Earp on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, for stabbing a man named Steel in the back a few days ago, has terminated in the discharge of Earp, it being shown that Steel was the aggressor.

-- end of the news story.

As I said earlier, while most agree that it's not smart to bring a knife to a gunfight, bringing a knife to a fistfight will normally get you jail time. Well, it would unless it were 1893 and the man you stabbed was a Black man who you portrayed as the aggressor -- even if you started the fight as in the case of Warren Earp saying something vile to Charles Steele. 

Some say Warren Earp was a cheap punk and a coward for insulting Charles Steele, and then pulling a knife on Steele when their fistfight started. Of course, even in the Old West, it was known that a fistfight was considered "unarmed combat." In a fistfight, you are expected to punch and get punched. You didn't expect your opponent to pull a knife. You didn't expect to be stabbed. 

Introducing weapons into a fistfight changes the degree of how we are expected to defend ourselves. Even back in the Old West, people knew that fighting with your fists was not very effective against assailants with weapons of some sort. 

That's why in many heated situations, things escalated quickly. And yes, if you're wondering, it was considered justified to pull a gun in response to someone deciding to pull a knife during a fistfight. Of course, turning a fistfight into a gunfight meant that you hoped that you would shoot your assailant before he shot you. 

So now, when would it be justified to use a weapon in a fistfight? Well, when the fistfight has turned deadly and becomes something other than a fistfight. At that point, in the Old West. if you believed that your life was in real danger. That includes if your life had been threatened. And that includes if your assailant made a gesture indicating that he was about to use a weapon, or if you knew that your assailant had a history as a bad man. 

Of course, justifying pulling a knife or a gun goes out the window if you started the fight. Unless it were 1893 and the man you stabbed twice was a Black man who you lied about and portrayed as the aggressor -- whether he was or not.

Tom Correa

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