William “Bill” Earhart was a cowboy and gunfighter who was involved in several feuds in Texas and New Mexico in the days of the Wild West.
Earhart was born in Jack County, Texas. By 1883, he had moved to New Mexico with two friends named Jim and Clay Cooper. In 1888 he became embroiled in the Lee-Good Feud of Tularosa. The Coopers were friends of Oliver Lee, who was in the midst of a dispute with cattleman John Good. In August 1888, John Good’s son was killed by five men near Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of the killers was said to have been Bill Earhart. Later, Bill made his way back to Texas, where he hooked up with the likes of Killin’ Jim Miller and John Wesley Hardin. In the early 1890s, Jim Miller was in a dispute with Pecos County Sheriff Bud Frazer and his brother-in-law, Barney Riggs.
Riggs was as much of a hard case as any of the rest. During the Frazer-Miller Feud, Barney Riggs was said to have been the only man Jim Miller ever feared. As such, he sent in Earhart and another man named John Denson to assassinate Riggs. However, they were overheard when the pair were in a saloon in Fort Stockton, muttering threats against Barney Riggs. Later, they left for Pecos, Texas, to seek out Riggs. In the meantime, U.S. Deputy Marshal Dee Harkey wired a warning telegram, and when the assassins arrived, Riggs avoided them. But, on the morning of March 3, 1896, as Riggs was substituting for a friend as a bartender in R.S. Johnson’s Saloon, he was alone. Denson and Earhart burst into the room, and a shot from Earhart grazed Barney, who instantly fired back, killing Earhart. Riggs then grappled with Denson before he was able to flee.
He followed as Denson ran away and shot him in the back of his head, killing him on the spot. Afterward, Riggs surrendered himself, and though he was tried for murder, he was acquitted.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.