The Earps Role in Tombstone

Virgil Earp died of pneumonia in Goldfield, Nevada, on October 19, 1905, aged 63 and was buried in Portland, Oregon where a daughter lived. He had been married twice. [actually 3 times]  Of the flood of reminiscences brought up at the time of his death, much was made public beyond the more notable episode of his Tombstone career. He came to Arizona in 1876 in company with his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan and Doc Holliday. While Ed Bowers was Sheriff, Prescott was visited by two cowboys from Bradshaw Basin, who enjoyed themselves in true cowboy fashion, shooting up saloons, finally riding out of town firing their pistols. They camped at the Brooks Ranch and sent back word that they would remain in case the sheriff wanted them bad enough. Bowers organized a posse, of which Virgil Earp was a member. In a pitched battle, Earp found one of the cowboys crouched under an oak tree, reloading his gun, and shot him twice, one bullet passing through his heart and the other only about two inches from the first. It was remarked when the body was taken away that between the man’s teeth was still a cigarette, he had been smoking when shot. The other cowboy also was brought in prostrate, dying two days later. Virgil Earp came back to Arizona, to the scene of his old exploits in Yavapai County and engaged in mining in the Hassayampa district.  In 1900 he was nominated for sheriff but failed to make the race.  He had seen service in the Civil War in an Indiana regiment of volunteers.

Wyatt Earp went to Colton, California where relatives lived, and where he later was elected Chief of Police.  He was given much publicity in his capacity of the referee at the Sharkey-Fitzsimmons fight in San Francisco, in which his decision, awarding the battle to the former, was sustained by his reputation as a handyman with a gun. He was in Nome in its boom period.

Holliday died of consumption at Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Warren Earp, the youngest brother, a stage driver, in the summer of 1900, met his end at Wilcox, where he was killed by John Boyett in a way that a coroner’s jury considered justifiable.

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday, the right bower of the Earp clan, possibly best was described by Bat Masterson, who was interviewed on the subject and is quoted:

“I never liked him and few persons did. He had a mean disposition and differed from most of the big gunfighters in that he would seek a fight. He was a consumptive and physically weak, which probably had something to do with his unfortunate disposition. He was of a fine Georgia family and was educated as a dentist.  He went west after shooting down several defenseless Negro boys in a quarrel as to who should occupy a certain swimming hole. He made Dallas in the early seventies and hung out his shingle but he soon quit for gambling. His shooting of the Negroes became known and so he got a reputation as a bad man from the start. He finally killed a man in Jacksboro, [Texas] and fled. Then he killed a soldier, and to avoid being caught by the military authorities, made a desperate flight to Denver, across 800 miles of waterless, Indian-infested desert. He made Denver in 1876.  The law forbade him to carry a gun there, so he slipped a knife into his bootleg and presently carved up the fact of one Bud Ryan who bears the mark to this day.

He then fled to Dodge City where I first met him. He kept out of trouble in Dodge somehow but presently wandered to Trinidad, Colorado where the first thing he did was to shoot and seriously wound Kid Colton. Then he escaped to Las Vegas, [New Mexico] a boom town, where he disagreed with Mike Gordon and shot him dead in a doorway.”


James Harvey McClintock, 1913. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2019.

Also See:

Earp Vendetta Ride

My Friend Wyatt Earp by Bat Masterson

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West

Tombstone – The Town Too Tough to Die

Notes and Author:  Wyatt Earp would die years after this article was written of prostate cancer in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929, at the age of 80. The author, James Harvey McClintock was born in Sacramento in 1864 and moved to Arizona at the age of 15, working for his brother at the Salt River Herald (later known as the Arizona Republic). When McClintock was 22 he began to attend the Territorial Normal School in Tempe, where he earned a teaching certificate.  Later, he would serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s right-hand-man in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War and become an Arizona State Representative. Between the years of 1913 and 1916, McClintock’s published a three-volume history of Arizona called Arizona: The Youngest State (now in the public domain,) in which this article appeared. McClintock continued to live in Arizona until his poor health forced him to return to California, where he died on May 10, 1934, at the age of 70. The article is not verbatim as spelling errors and minor grammatical changes have been made.


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