Wells Spicer – Tombstone Judge


Judge Wells Spicer

Judge Wells Spicer

Judge Wells Spicer (1831-1887) – Born near Chemung, New York, Spicer was related to the Earp brothers. After becoming an attorney, he too moved westward where he worked as a lawyer and mining engineer at Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1875, he unsuccessful defended John D. Lee when he charged with the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Three years later, he moved to Tombstone, Arizona, where he worked as an attorney, mining broker, and U.S. Commissioner for Deeds. By the time the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place, Spicer was serving as Tombstone’s Justice of the Peace. After Sheriff Johnny Behan arrested the Earp brothers – Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan, as well as Doc Holliday, a pre-trial hearing was held on November 29, 1881 where Spicer decided that the defendants had been justified in their actions. His concluding statement read in part:

“In view of all the facts and circumstances of the case; considering the threats made the character and position of the parties, and the tragic results accomplished, in manner and form as they were, with all the surrounding influences bearing upon the result of the affair, I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides that it was a necessary act done in the discharge of official duty.”

Spicer immediately began a potential target for the Cowboy faction who began to take revenge. In December, 1881, he received the following threatening letter:

“Sir, if you take my advice you will take your departure for a more genial clime, as I don’t think this One Healthy for you much longer As you are liable to get a hole through your coat at any moment. If such sons of bitches as you are allowed to dispense Justice in this Territory, the Sooner you Depart from us the better for yourself And the community at large you may make light of this But it is only a matter of time you will get it sooner or later So with those few gentle hints I Will Conclude for the first and last time.”

Though Spicer wasn’t killed by the Cowboy faction, his decision regarding the Earps brought his career to an end and he soon left Tombstone and worked as a mining engineer. Some sources indicate that he wandered into the desert in 1887 near Ajo or Quijotoa, Arizona, and was thought to have committed suicide. Other sources say he staged his demise and made his way to Mexico to evade creditors.

By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated July 2019


2 thoughts on “Wells Spicer – Tombstone Judge”

  1. Hi — I have some additional details about Wells Spicer you may be interested in adding to your website article. Spicer was born in Chemung, New York (not Monmouth, Illinois), and his family later moved to Tipton, Iowa, where he studied law in the office of S.A. Bissell. He began practicing law in 1853, married Abbie Gilbert in 1856, and they had a son, Earnest, approximately eight years later.

    I was raised in Tipton, Iowa, and have been interested in local and county history since childhood. (My father had told me about Wells Spicer when I was younger.) I have been researching Spicer for several months and am now finishing an article about him for the local newspaper, The Tipton Conservative.

    I noted your information about Spicer dying near Ajo, Arizona. Because there are conflicting theories (both in Tipton and elsewhere) about how and where he died, I would be greatly interested to know about your sources of information about him dying near Ajo. It would be nice for Tipton residents to finally know the location and cause of Spicer’s death.

    Thank you for considering this request. Wells Spicer was such an interesting man!

    1. Thanks for the input Chris. I’ve updated the article to reflect what I could find/confirm, changing his birthplace and adding in the additional theory of his suicide or ‘fake’ suicide. The original information for this article was obtained in our early years (2003 or 2004) and at the time we didn’t list sources for specific articles, just a general page per category. Best I could find for the Ajo reference was a forum board discussion with another that had been posted in 2000, however the reference to Quijotoa, AZ (just over 50 miles east of Ajo, came from Tombstone, A.T.: A History of Early Mining, Milling, and Mayhem By Wm. B. Shillingberg, published in 1999.

Leave a Reply to Chris White Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *