When Morgan was a teenager, his elder brothers, Newton, James, and Virgil went off to the Civil War, leaving Wyatt, Warren, and Morgan to tend the family farm. In 1864, Morgan moved with his family to San Bernardino, California. Later he joined his brother, Wyatt, in Dodge City, Kansas where he married Luisa Houston in 1875. The pair soon moved to Butte, Montana, where he served as marshal. By 1879, he had headed to Arizona, where he was appointed as a sheriff in Pima County. In January 1880, he moved to Tombstone, where he first worked as a shotgun messenger for Wells Fargo. In October 1880, Virgil Earp became the city marshal of Tombstone. Soon afterward he recruited Wyatt and Morgan as special deputy policemen.
Over the next few months, the Earp family came into conflict with two families, the Clantons and the McLaurys who were selling livestock in Tombstone. The Earp brothers believed that some of these animals had been stolen from farmers in Mexico. Wyatt Earp was also convinced that the Clanton brothers had stolen one of his horses. Making matters worse, all three brothers — Morgan, Wyatt, and Virgil — had been the target of repeated death threats made by the Cowboys who were upset by the Earps’ interference in their illegal activities. Before long this would result in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881.
In the battle with the Clantons at the O.K. Corral, Morgan was shot in the shoulder by Tom McLaury. Doc Holliday instantly countered, blowing McLaury away with blasts from both barrels of his shotgun. Also killed in the battle were Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. Virgil Earp took a shot in the leg.
The three Earp brothers along with Doc Holliday were charged with murder by Billy’s older brother, Ike Clanton, who had run from the gunfight. During a month-long preliminary hearing, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated the men, concluding they had been performing their duty.
On March 18, 1882, Ike Clanton and four henchmen took revenge. While Morgan Earp was playing pool at Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon in Tombstone, Ike Clanton and the other four men shot and killed him. He was just 30 years old. Morgan’s body was then transported to California where he is buried at Hermosa Cemetery in Colton, California.
Afterward, James, Wyatt, and Warren Earp, as well as gambler Doc Holliday and gunmen Sherman McMasters, “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson, and Texas Jack Vermillion, hunted down those they held responsible for the attacks in Tombstone and for Morgan’s death during the Earp Vendetta Ride.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.