OLD WEST LEGENDS
- Upholding the Law of the
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"Virgil Earp was known as one of the most daring and adventurous of Western
pioneers and he was known from North to South on the Pacific Coast as one of the
great-hearted men who helped to build the West."
– The Oregonian, October 30, 1905.
Though living a life of as much adventure as
did his younger brother,
Wyatt, Virgil Earp never obtained the same kind of
fame, perhaps due to
Wyatt's better skills at self-publicity.
Virgil Walter Earp was born on July 18, 1843 in Hartford,
Kentucky, the second son of Nicholas Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey. By the time
Virgil was 17 years-old, his family was living in Pella, Iowa, where he eloped
with a Dutch immigrant by the name of Magdalena C. "Ellen" Rysdam on September
21, 1861. Though her parents severely disapproved of her choice in a husband,
the pair remained together. When the
Civil War broke out, 18 year-old Virgil
enlisted in the Union Army, eventually serving with the 83rd Illinois Infantry
from July 26, 1862-June 24, 1865.
Virgil and Ellen had a baby girl on January 7, 1862, naming
her Nellie Jane Earp. It was the only known child that Virgil would have in
his lifetime. He went off to war when she was only two weeks old.
While Virgil was off fighting the war, Ellen received word
in the summer of 1863, that Virgil had been killed. Soon after, she remarried a
man named John Van Rossem and the couple, along with Virgil’s daughter, Nellie,
Alas, when Virgil was discharged from the army on June 26,
1865, he arrived back in Pella to find his wife and daughter gone. In the
meantime, the rest of his family had moved westward to
California. A year later, he joined them in
California. Though he had probably
learned where Ellen and his daughter had gone, he evidently did not go looking
In 1866, Virgil was working with younger brother
a freighter-teamster between Wilmington and Prescott,
Arizona. Later, the pair
also worked on railroad construction in Wyoming.
In 1868, the
Earps returned to the Midwest,
settling in Lamar,
Missouri, where Virgil helped his father Nicholas farm and
operate a grocery store. While there, Virgil took a second wife named Rosella Dragoo on August 28, 1870. But, Virgil was obviously having no luck in the love
department as the marriage lasted just three years.
Shortly afterwards, Virgil left Lamar, settling in Council
Bluffs, Iowa for a short time. There he met a waitress named Alvira "Allie”
Sullivan. Though some say they married in 1874 in
California, others surmise that they never made it official. In any case, Virgil would spend
the rest of his life with her.
Over the years, Virgil would most often work as a
but also held a number of other jobs, including farming, prospecting, driving a
stagecoach, rail construction, and working at a sawmill.
In 1877, Virgil was in
Kansas along with
Wyatt. However, no records indicate that he ever worked as a
Dodge City, he and his wife moved on to Prescott,
Arizona, were he
worked in a sawmill. However, in October, 1877, he was deputized by Yavapai
County Sheriff, Ed Bowers during a
gunfight in the street. Fighting robbers who
were trying to make off with their loot, Virgil shot one of them twice through
the head with a Winchester Rifle. The next year, he served as a night watchman
in Prescott for a couple of months before becoming a constable.
On November 27, 1879, Virgil was appointed as a
U.S. Deputy Marshal for
Arizona Territory and traveled from Prescott to
Wyatt. Less than a year later, on October 30, 1880, Virgil became
the acting town marshal after
Fred White was shot and killed by
Curly Bill Brocius.
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He continued to hold his federal law enforcement
position, as well as the marshal’s appointment. However, it wouldn’t be for
long, as elections were held just two weeks later for the "open” marshal slot.
Virgil was narrowly defeated by Ben Sippy.
The next year, on June 6, 1881, Virgil would find himself
appointed as acting city marshal again when Ben Sippy requested a temporary
leave of absence. During his appointment,
Tombstone was devastated by a fire on
June 22nd and Virgil was left to help manage the issues. Less than a week later,
the City of
Tombstone discovered $3,000 in financial
improprieties in the
marshal’s office. Ben Sippy, who had known financial problems, was then
permanently replaced by Virgil, on appointment of
Tombstone Mayor John Clum.
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