Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born on March 19, 1848, the fourth child of Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey. He was named after his father’s commanding officer in the Mexican–American WarCaptain Wyatt Berry Stapp, of the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers. Some evidence supports Wyatt Earp’s birthplace as 406 South 3rd Street in Monmouth, Illinois, though the street address is disputed by Monmouth College professor and historian William Urban.[13] Wyatt had seven siblings: James, Virgil, Martha, Morgan, Baxter Warren, Virginia, and Adelia; as well as an elder half-brother from his father’s first marriage, Newton.

In March 1849[14] or in early 1850,[15] Nicholas Earp joined about 100 other people in a plan to relocate to San Bernardino County, California, where he intended to buy farmland.[15] Just 150 miles (240 km) west of Monmouth on the journey, their daughter Martha became ill. The family stopped and Nicholas bought a new 160-acre (65 ha) farm 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Pella, Iowa.[14][16] Martha died there on May 26, 1856.[17]

Earp’s boyhood home in Pella, Iowa

Nicholas and Virginia Earp’s last child, Adelia, was born in June 1861 in Pella.[15] Newton, James, and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11, 1861. Their father was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, so Wyatt and his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren, were left in charge of tending 80 acres (32 ha) of corn. Wyatt was only 13 years old, too young to enlist, but he tried on several occasions to run away and join the army. Each time, his father found him and brought him home.[18] James was severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, and returned home in summer 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later followed the family to California.[19]


Looking east from D Street toward Third Street in downtown San Bernardino in 1864

On May 12, 1864, Nicholas Earp organized a wagon train and headed to San Bernardino, California, arriving on December 17.[20][21] By late summer 1865, Virgil found work as a driver for Phineas Banning‘s stage coach line in California’s Imperial Valley, and 16-year-old Wyatt assisted. In spring 1866, Wyatt became a teamster transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. From 1866 to 1868, he drove cargo over the 720 miles (1,160 km) wagon road from Wilmington through San Bernardino, then Las Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.[22][23]:227

In spring 1868, Earp was hired to transport supplies needed to build the Union Pacific Railroad. He learned gambling and boxing while working on the rail head in the Wyoming Territory,[24] and he developed a reputation officiating boxing matches[25] and refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Professor Mike Donovan[26] on July 4, 1869, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in front of 3,000 spectators.[27]

Lawman and marriage[edit]

Wyatt Earp at age 21[28] in 1869 or 1870, around the time when he was married to Urilla Sutherland, probably taken in Lamar, Missouri

In the spring of 1868, the Earps moved east again to Lamar, Missouri, where Wyatt’s father Nicholas became the local constable. Wyatt rejoined the family the next year. Nicholas resigned as constable on November 17, 1869, to become the justice of the peace, and Wyatt was appointed constable in his place.[29][28]:53

Urilla Sutherland was married to Earp on January 10, 1870. She was about to deliver their first child when she died from typhoid fever later that year.

In late 1869, Earp courted 20-year-old Urilla Sutherland (c.?1849–1870), the daughter of William and Permelia Sutherland who operated the Exchange Hotel in Lamar. They were married by Earp’s father on January 10, 1870,[28]:53 and Wyatt bought a lot on the outskirts of town for $50 where he built a house in August 1870. Urilla was about to deliver their first child when she suddenly died from typhoid fever.[24] In November, Earp sold the lot and house for $75. He ran against his elder half-brother Newton for the office of constable and won by 137 votes to Newton’s 108, but their father lost the election for justice of the peace in a very close four-way race.[28]:53[30]

Lawsuits and charges[edit]

A Lamar, Missouri, subpoena signed by Constable Wyatt Earp on February 28, 1870

Earp went through a downward spiral after Urilla’s death, and he had a series of legal problems. On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against him and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar which funded local schools, and he was accused of failing to turn them in. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against him alleging that he had falsified court documents concerning the amount of money that Earp had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgment. The court had seized Cromwell’s mowing machine and sold it for $38 to make up the difference between what Earp turned in and what Cromwell owed. Cromwell’s suit claimed that Earp owed him $75, the estimated value of the machine.[31]

Earp, Edward Kennedy, and John Shown were charged with stealing two horses on March 28, 1871, from William Keys while in the Indian country, “each of the value of one hundred dollars”. On April 6, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the horse theft, and Commissioner James Churchill arraigned him on April 14 and set bail at $500. On May 15, an indictment was issued against Earp, Kennedy, and Shown. John Shown’s wife Anna claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life to persuade him to help. On June 5, Kennedy was acquitted while the case remained against Earp and Shown. Earp did not wait for the trial but climbed out through the roof of his jail and headed for Peoria, Illinois.[24]

Arrests in Peoria[edit]

Earp was listed in the Peoria city directory during 1872 as a resident in the home of Jane Haspel, although Stuart N. Lake took notes of a conversation with Earp years later in which Earp claimed that he had been hunting buffalo during the winter of 1871–1872.[32] Peoria police raided Haspel’s home in February 1872 and arrested four women and Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. The men were charged with “keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame”,[4] and they were later fined $20 plus costs. Both Earps were arrested for the same crime again on May 11, and each was fined $44.55.[33] The Peoria Daily National Democrat reported that Earp had been arrested once more on September 10, 1872, and this time he was aboard a floating brothel that he owned named the Beardstown Gunboat. A prostitute named Sally Heckell was arrested with him, and she called herself his wife. She was likely the 16-year-old daughter of Jane Haspel.[5]

Some of the women are said to be good looking, but all appear to be terribly depraved. John Walton, the skipper of the boat and Wyatt Earp, the Peoria Bummer, were each fined $43.15. Sarah Earp, alias Sally Heckell, calls herself the wife of Wyatt Earp.[34]:11

By calling Earp the “Peoria Bummer”, the newspaper was putting him in a class of “contemptible loafers who impose on hard-working citizens”,[35] a “beggar”[5] and worse than tramps. They were men of poor character who were chronic lawbreakers,[36]:31 and Peoria constables probably considered him to be a pimp.[37][38][39] Earp wrote Lake that he “arrived in Wichita direct from my buffalo hunt in seventy-four”, so he may have hunted buffalo between 1873 and 1874, although there is no evidence that he ever hunted buffalo.[34]:13[33]

Wichita, Kansas[edit]

Wyatt dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas.

In early 1874, Earp and Sally moved to the growing cow town of Wichita where his brother James ran a brothel.[24] Local arrest records show that Sally and James’ wife Nellie “Bessie” Ketchum operated a brothel there from early 1874 to the middle of 1876.[5] Wyatt may have been a pimp, but historian Robert Gary L. Roberts believes that he was more likely an enforcer or a bouncer for the brothel.[24] When the Kansas state census was completed in June 1875, Sally was no longer living with Wyatt, James, and Bessie.[34]:14

Wichita was a railroad terminal and a destination for cattle drives from Texas. The town would fill with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating the end of their long journey when the cattle drives arrived, and lawmen were kept busy. When the cattle drives ended and the cowboys left, Earp searched for something else to do. The Wichita City Eagle reported on October 29, 1874, that he had helped an off-duty police officer find thieves who had stolen a man’s wagon.[24] Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal’s office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (or police chief), making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon.[40]:135 In late 1875, the Wichita Beacon newspaper published this story:

On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the ‘cooler’ and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.[41]:209

Earp was embarrassed on January 9, 1876, when he was sitting with friends in the back room of the Custom House Saloon and his single-action revolver fell out of its holster and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. “The ball passed through his coat, struck the north wall then glanced off and passed out through the ceiling.” He persuaded biographer Stuart N. Lake years later to omit it from his book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.[42][43]

Earp’s stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876, when former marshal Bill Smith accused him of using his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Earp beat Smith in a fist-fight and was fined $30.[6] The local newspaper reported, “It is but justice to Earp to say he has made an excellent officer.” Meagher won the election, but the city council voted against rehiring Earp.[44] His brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, and Earp left Wichita to join him.[24]

Dodge City and Deadwood[edit]

Interior of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansasc. 1870 to 1885

After 1875, Dodge City, Kansas, became a major terminal for cattle drives from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City under Marshal Lawrence Deger around May 1876, and he spent the winter of 1876–77 in the gold rush boomtown of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory.[45]:31 He and his brother Morgan left Dodge for Deadwood on September 9, 1876, with a team of horses, but they arrived there to find that all the land was already tied up in mining claims, so Morgan decided to return to Dodge. Instead of gambling, Wyatt made a deal to buy all the wood that a local individual had cut and put his horses to work that winter hauling firewood into camp. He made about $5,000 in profit but was unable to file any mining claims, so he returned to Dodge City in the spring.[46]

Deadwood in 1876 from a nearby hill

He rejoined the Dodge City police in spring 1877 at the request of Mayor James H. Kelley. The Dodge City newspaper reported in July 1878 that he had been fined $1 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell, who “heaped epithets upon the unoffending head of Mr. Earp to such an extent as to provide a slap from the ex-officer”, according to the account. Bell spent the night in jail and was fined $20, while Earp’s fine was the legal minimum.[47]

In October 1877, outlaw Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp and fled south. Earp was given a temporary commission as deputy U.S. marshal and he left Dodge City, following Rudabaugh over 400 miles (640 km) through Fort Clark, Texas, where the newspaper reported his presence on January 22, 1878, and on to Fort Griffin, Texas.[48]

He arrived at the frontier town on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River and went to the Bee Hive Saloon, the largest in town and owned by John Shanssey, whom Earp had known since he was 21. Shanssey told Earp that Rudabaugh had passed through town earlier in the week, but he did not know where he was headed. Shanssey suggested that Earp ask gambler Doc Holliday, who had played cards with Rudabaugh,[48] and Holliday told Earp that Rudabaugh had headed back into Kansas.[49]

By May 11, 1878, the Dodge newspapers reported that Earp had returned to Dodge City, and the Times noted on May 14 that he had been appointed assistant marshal for the salary of $75 per month,[47] serving under Charlie Bassett. Doc Holliday also showed up in Dodge City with his common-law wife Big Nose Kate during the summer of 1878. Ed Morrison and another two dozen cowboys rode into Dodge that summer and shot up the town, galloping down Front Street. They entered the Long Branch Saloon, vandalized the room, and harassed the customers. Hearing the commotion, Earp burst through the front door to find numerous guns pointing at him; another version of the story has it that only three to five cowboys were there. In both versions, Holliday was playing cards in the back and he put his pistol at Morrison’s head, forcing him and his men to disarm.[50] Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day, and the two became friends.[51]

Wyatt’s second wife Mattie Blaylock

While in Dodge City, Earp became acquainted with James and Bat MastersonLuke Short, and prostitute Mattie Blaylock who became his common-law wife until 1881.

George Hoyt shooting[edit]

George Hoyt (spelled in some accounts as “Hoy”) and other drunken cowboys shot their guns wildly at about 3 a.m. on July 26, 1878, including three shots into Dodge City’s Comique Theater, causing comedian Eddie Foy, Sr. to throw himself to the stage floor in the middle of his act. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and policeman Bat Masterson responded, along with several citizens, and opened fire with their pistols at the fleeing horsemen. The riders crossed the Arkansas River bridge south of town but Hoyt fell from his horse, wounded in the arm or leg. Earp later told biographer Stuart Lake that he saw Hoyt through his gun sights, illuminated against the morning horizon, and he fired a fatal shot which killed him that day;[52] but the Dodge City Times reported that Hoyt developed gangrene and died on August 21 after his leg was amputated.[53]:329

Move to Tombstone, Arizona[edit]

Tombstone in 1881

Dodge City had been a frontier cowtown for several years, but by 1879 it had begun to settle down. Virgil Earp was the town constable in Prescott, Arizona Territory, and he wrote to Wyatt about the opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. He later wrote, “In 1879, Dodge was beginning to lose much of the snap which had given it a charm to men of reckless blood, and I decided to move to Tombstone, which was just building up a reputation.”[34]:17

Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1879, and traveled to Las Vegas in New Mexico Territory with his common-law wife Mattie, his brother Jim, and Jim’s wife Bessie. There they reunited with Doc Holliday and his common-law wife Big Nose Kate,[36] and the six of them went on to Prescott, Arizona Territory. Virgil was appointed deputy U.S. marshal for the Tombstone mining district on November 27, 1879, three days before they left for Tombstone, by U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory Crawley P. Dake. Virgil was to operate out of Tombstone, some 280 miles (450 km) from Prescott, and his territory included the entire southeast area of the Arizona Territory.[54] Wyatt, Virgil, and James Earp arrived in Tombstone with their wives on December 1, 1879, while Doc Holliday remained in Prescott where the gambling afforded better opportunities.[55]:47[40]:152[34]:18[36][56]:30–31

The city of Tombstone was founded on March 5, 1879, with about 100 people living in tents and a few shacks.[57] The Earps arrived nine months later on December 1, and it had already grown to about 1,000 residents.[56]:50 Wyatt brought horses and a buckboard wagon which he planned to convert into a stagecoach, but he found two established stage lines already running. He later said that he made most of his money in Tombstone as a professional gambler.[58] The three Earps and Robert J. Winders filed a location notice on December 6, 1879, for the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid Mine.[59] They also bought an interest in the Vizina mine and some water rights.[60]

Jim worked as a barkeep, but none of their other business interests proved fruitful. Wyatt was hired in April or May 1880 by Wells Fargo agent Fred J. Dodge as a shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they transported Wells Fargo strongboxes.[56]:54[61] In late July 1880, younger brother Morgan arrived, leaving his wife Lou in Temescal, California (near San Bernardino).[62] Warren Earp moved to Tombstone, as well.[63] Doc Holliday arrived from Prescott in September with $40,000 (about $1,038,483 today) in gambling winnings in his pocket.[64]

First confrontation with the outlaw Cowboys[edit]

On July 25, 1880, Army Captain Joseph H. Hurst asked Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp to assist him in tracking outlaw Cowboys who had stolen six Army mules from Fort Rucker, Arizona. Virgil requested the assistance of his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams, and they found the mules at the McLaurys’ ranch. (McLaury was a Cowboy, a term which was generally used in that region to refer to a loose association of outlaws, some of whom also were land-owners and ranchers. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers.) They also found a branding iron which the Cowboys had used to change the “U.S.” brand into “D.8.”[51] Stealing the mules was a federal offense because the animals were government property.[1]:27

Cowboy Frank Patterson made an agreement with Captain Hurst, and Hurst persuaded the posse to withdraw with the understanding that the mules would be returned. The Cowboys showed up two days later without the mules and laughed at Hurst and the Earps. In response, Hurst printed a handbill describing the theft, and he charged McLaury with hiding the mules. He also reproduced the handbill in The Tombstone Epitaph on July 30, 1880. McLaury angrily printed a response in the Cowboy-friendly Nuggett, calling Hurst “unmanly”, “a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, and a malicious liar”, and accusing him of stealing the mules himself. Hurst later cautioned the Earp brothers that the Cowboys had threatened their lives.[51] Virgil reported that McLaury accosted him and said, “If you ever again follow us as close as you did, then you will have to fight anyway.”[1]:28 A month later, Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him that they would kill him if he ever followed them as he had done before.[51]

Becomes deputy sheriff[edit]

County Sheriff Charles A. Shibell appointed Earp as deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, Arizona, on July 28, 1880, which included Tombstone,[56]:65 and Earp passed his Wells Fargo job as shotgun messenger to his brother Morgan. Wyatt did his job well, and his name was mentioned nearly every week from August through November in The Tombstone Epitaph or the Nugget newspapers.[65] The deputy sheriff’s position was worth more than $40,000 a year (about $1,038,483 today) because he was also county assessor and tax collector, and the board of supervisors allowed him to keep 10-percent of the amounts paid.[66]:157

Town marshal shot[edit]

On October 28, 1880, Tombstone town marshal Fred White attempted to break up a group of five late-night, drunken revelers shooting at the moon on Allen Street.[67] Deputy Sheriff Earp was in Owens Saloon a block away, though unarmed. He heard the shooting and ran to the scene, borrowed a pistol from Fred Dodge, and went to assist White. He saw White attempt to disarm Curly Bill Brocius and the gun discharged, striking White in the groin.[68]:117 Earp pistol-whipped Brocius, knocking him to the ground, then he grabbed Brocius by the collar and told him to get up. Brocius asked, “What have I done?”[68]:117[69]:173[70] Fred Dodge arrived on the scene, and he recalled what he saw in a letter to Stuart Lake years later:

Wyatt’s coolness and nerve never showed to better advantage than they did that night. When Morg and I reached him, Wyatt was squatted on his heels beside Curly Bill and Fred White. Curly Bill’s friends were pot-shooting at him in the dark. The shooting was lively and slugs were hitting the chimney and cabin…. in all of that racket, Wyatt’s voice was even and quiet as usual.[68]:117

Earp altered his story later on, telling John H. Flood Jr. that he did not see Brocius’s pistol on the ground in the dark until afterward.[71] The pistol contained one expended cartridge and five live rounds.[68]:118

Brocius waived a preliminary hearing so that his case could be transferred to Tucson District Court, and Virgil and Wyatt escorted him to Tucson to stand trial—possibly saving him from a lynching.[67] White, age 31, died of his wound two days after his shooting.[68]:119[70] On December 27, 1880, Earp testified that White’s shooting was accidental. Brocius expressed regret, saying that he had not intended to shoot White. Gunsmith Jacob Gruber testified that Brocius’s single-action revolver was defective, allowing it to be discharged at half-cock.[70] A statement was introduced which White had made, stating that the shooting was accidental. The judge ruled that the shooting was accidental and released Brocius. Brocius, however, remained intensely angry about how Earp had pistol-whipped him, and he became an enemy to the Earps.[72]

Shibell election[edit]

On November 2, 1880, Shibell unexpectedly won the election by a margin of 58 votes[73] under suspicious circumstances.[74] James C. Hancock reported that Cowboys Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo had served as election officials in the San Simon precinct,[73] although biographer David Johnson places Ringo in New Mexico with Ike Clanton on November 1, the day before the election.[75] Curly Bill had been arrested and jailed in Tucson on October 28 for shooting Marshal White, and he was still there on election day.[76] The home of John Magill was used as the polling place. The precinct only contained about 10 eligible voters[77] (another source says 50),[78] but the Cowboys gathered non-voters such as the children and Chinese and had them cast ballots. They then gave names to all the dogs, donkeys, and poultry and cast ballots in their names for Shibell. Precinct 27 in the San Simon Valley in northern Cochise County, turned out 104 votes, 103 of them for Shibell.[77] The election board met on November 14 and declared Shibell the winner.[69]:179

Paul filed a lawsuit on November 19 contesting the election results, alleging that Shibell’s Cowboy supporters Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury had conspired in ballot stuffing.[73] In late January 1881, Chief Justice of Arizona C. G. W. French ruled in Paul’s favor, but Shibell appealed. A recount found that Paul had 402 votes and Shibell had 354.[77] In April 1881 when the election commission found that a mysterious “Henry Johnson” was responsible for certifying the ballots. This turned out to be the same James K. Johnson who had been shooting up Allen Street the night when Marshal White was killed. Moreover, he had testified at Curly Bill’s preliminary hearing after he shot Fred White.[73] Johnson later testified in the election hearing and said that the ballots had been left in the care of Ike Clanton’s brother Phineas. None of the witnesses during the election hearing reported on ballots being cast by dogs.[76]

Paul was declared the winner of the Pima County sheriff election. However, the election was a moot point by then, as Paul could not replace Behan with Earp because Cochise County was created out of the eastern portion of Pima County on January 1, 1881.[79][80]

Earp loses reappointment[edit]
Further information on political issues and election fraud: Cochise County in the Old West

Earp served as deputy sheriff for eastern Pima County for only three months because Democrat Shibell ran for re-election against Republican challenger Robert H. Paul in November. The region was strongly Republican[66]:158 and Paul was expected to win. Earp was a Republican and expected that he would continue in the job. Given how fast eastern Pima County was growing, many expected that it would be split off into its own county soon with Tombstone as its seat, and Earp hoped to win the job as the new county’s sheriff and continue receiving the 10% of all tax money collected. Southern Pacific was the major landholder, so tax collection was a relatively easy process.[28]:177 In 1882, the Cochise County sheriff earned $24,010.52 (or about $623,000 today) in fees.[81]

Earp resigned from the sheriff’s office on November 9, 1880, and Shibell immediately appointed Johnny Behan as the new deputy sheriff for eastern Pima County.[74] Behan had considerably more political experience than Earp, as he had served as Yavapai County sheriff from 1871 to 1873. He had been elected to the Arizona Territorial Legislature twice, representing Yavapai Country in the 7th Territorial Legislature in 1873[82]:511 and Mohave County in the 10th in 1879.[82]:514 Behan moved to the northwest Arizona Territory, where he served as the Mohave County recorder in 1877 and then deputy sheriff of Mohave County at Gillet in 1879.[83]:39

Behan wins election[edit]

Earp and Behan both applied for the new position of Cochise County sheriff, which paid the office holder 10% of the fees and taxes collected, as did the Pima County sheriff job.[66]:157 Earp thought that he had a good chance to win because he was the former undersheriff in the region and a Republican, like Arizona Territorial Governor John C. Fremont. However, Behan had greater political experience and influence in Prescott.[74]

Earp later testified at the O.K. Corral hearing that he and Behan had made a deal.[53]:331 He said that Behan and he agreed that, if Earp withdrew his application, Behan would appoint him as undersheriff. Behan received the appointment in February 1881, but he did not keep his end of the bargain and instead chose Harry Woods as undersheriff, who was a prominent Democrat. Behan testified at first that he had not made any deal with Earp, although he later admitted that he had lied. He said that he broke his promise to Earp because of an incident which occurred shortly before his appointment[84] when Earp learned that Ike and Billy Clanton had one of his prize horses which had been stolen more than a year before. Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse and overtook Behan along the way, who was riding in a wagon. Behan also was heading to the ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike Clanton.[84] Accounts differ as to what happened next, but Earp testified that Billy Clanton gave up the horse when Earp arrived at the ranch, even before being presented with ownership papers. According to Behan’s testimony, however, Earp had told the Clantons that Behan was on his way to arrest them for horse theft. The incident embarrassed both the Clantons and Behan, and Behan later testified that he did not want to work with Earp and chose Woods instead.[84]

Relationship with Sadie Marcus[edit]

A possible image of Josephine Sarah Marcus, who left a relationship with Johnny Behan and took up with Wyatt Earp

Later in life, Josephine Sarah Marcus aggressively protected her and Wyatt’s history while in Tombstone. Marcus was deliberately vague about this period, causing modern researchers to question what she was hiding. She said that she first visited Tombstone as part of the Pauline Markham Theater Troupe on December 1, 1879, for a one-week engagement,[85]:19 but modern researchers have not found any record that she was ever part of the theater company.[34]:43 The many contradictions in her story have led to considerable speculation about her past.

Researchers have identified two women with similar names in the same region of the Arizona Territory whose lives bear many striking parallels. Sadie Mansfield and Sadie Marcus were both known by their friends as Sadie. Both made a stagecoach journey from San Francisco to Prescott, Arizona Territory; both traveled with a black woman named Julia; both were sexual partners with Behan; both were 19 years old, born in New York City, and had parents from Prussia.[86][87] The only difference noted in the 1880 census is in their occupations: the Sadie who lived in San Francisco is listed as “At home”, while the Sadie in Tip Top is recorded as a “Courtesan”.[86] Josephine said that her parents hid her activities, and they may have been covering for her when the census taker was a neighbor who knew the family.[34]:49

Behan owned a saloon in Tip Top, Arizona, where he maintained a prostitute named Sadie Mansfield, and he moved to Tombstone in September 1880. “Sadie” was a popular nickname for “Sarah”, and prostitutes commonly changed their first names.[34]:11 Sadie Mansfield, the TipTop prostitute, may have returned to San Francisco and then rejoined Behan in Tombstone in September 1880 as Sadie Marcus, where they continued their relationship.[41]:p235

In spring 1881, Sadie found Behan in bed with the wife of a friend[41] and kicked him out,[88] although she still used the Behan surname through the end of that summer. Earp had a common-law relationship with Mattie Blaylock. Modern researchers have found her listed as Earp’s wife in the June 1880 census. She suffered from severe headaches and became addicted to laudanum, a commonly used opiate and painkiller, and later committed suicide. When Marcus learned that Stuart Lake had discovered the existence of Blaylock, she successfully demanded that he omit her from his book I Married Wyatt Earp.[89]

After Marcus arrived in Tombstone with Behan, Earp apparently developed an interest in her, although there are no records in Tombstone of a relationship between Josephine and Earp. Tombstone diarist George W. Parsons never mentioned seeing Wyatt and Josephine together and neither did John Clum in his memoirs.[41]:p235 But Earp and Marcus certainly knew each other, as Behan and Earp both had offices above the Crystal Palace Saloon.[90]

In April 1882, shortly after leaving Tombstone following the Earp Vendetta Ride, there is evidence that Earp had feelings for Marcus. The Earp posse went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for two weeks.[91]

Wyatt and Holliday had been fast friends since Holliday saved Earp’s life in Dodge City during 1878.[51] Wyatt was staying with prominent businessman Henry N. Jaffa, who was also president of New Albuquerque’s Board of Trade. Like Josephine, Jaffa was Jewish. During their stay in Albuquerque, the two men ate at the Retreat Restaurant owned by “Fat Charlie”. Former New Mexico Territory Governor Miguel Otero described in a letter he wrote in 1940 an incident that indicates Earp’s feelings for Marcus. He wrote, “Holliday said something about Earp becoming ‘a damn Jew-boy.’ Earp became angry and left…. [Henry] Jaffa told me later that Earp’s woman was a Jewess. Earp did mezuzah when entering the house.” [91]

Earp’s anger at Holliday’s ethnic slur may indicate that his feelings for Josephine were more serious at the time than is commonly known. The information in the letter is compelling because at that time in the 1940s, the possibility of a prior relationship between Wyatt Earp and Josephine Marcus while in Tombstone was unknown. Otero could know these things only if he had a relationship with someone who had personal knowledge of the individuals involved.[91][92]

Marcus went to great lengths to sanitize her own and Wyatt’s history. For example, she worked hard to keep both her name and the name of Wyatt’s second wife Mattie out of Stuart Lake‘s 1931 book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, and Marcus threatened litigation to keep it that way.[93]:101 Marcus also told Earp’s biographers and others that Earp never drank,[94] did not own gambling saloons, and that he never provided prostitutes to customers, although strong evidence to the contrary exists.[95]

Interest in mining and gambling[edit]

Business card for Tombstone’s Oriental Saloon with the names of “W. Erp”, “R. B. Clark”, and “L. Rickenbaugh”

Losing the undersheriff position left Earp without a job in Tombstone; however, he and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area. In January 1881, Oriental Saloon owner Mike Joyce gave Earp a 25-percent interest in the faro concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer.[53]:331 Gambling was regarded as a legitimate profession at the time.[96] Earp invited his friend Bat Masterson to Tombstone to help him run the faro tables in the saloon,[97] and he telegraphed Luke Short in June 1881 to offer him a job as a faro dealer.[98][99] Masterson remained until April 1881, when he returned to Dodge City to assist his brother Jim.[100][101]:206

Facing down a lynch mob[edit]

Michael O’Rourke killed Henry Schneider, chief engineer of the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company, and said that it was in self defense. Schneider was well liked, and a mob of miners quickly gathered and threatened to lynch O’Rourke on the spot.[45] Lake’s biography describes Earp single-handedly dispersing the mob, but the Epitaph gave primary credit to Ben Sippy for calming the crowd, assisted by Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Johnny Behan.[53]:331 Nevertheless, Lake’s account added to Earp’s modern legend as a lawman.[45]:39

Stagecoach robbers kill two[edit]
Further information on Cowboys and lawmen in Cochise County: Cochise County in the Old West

Tensions increased between the Earps and both the Clantons and McLaurys through 1881. Three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach on March 15, 1881, at 10 pm, which was reportedly carrying $26,000 in silver bullion (about $675,014 in today’s dollars). The amount of bullion which the stagecoach actually carried is questioned by modern researchers, who note that the bullion would have weighed about 1,600 pounds (730 kg), since the value of silver at the time was $1 an ounce—a significant weight for a team of horses.[53]:132 According to Wells Fargo agent John Q. Jackson, a stagecoach typically carried an Express Box containing bullion weighing only 100 to 150 pounds (45 to 68 kg).[102])

The holdup took place near Benson, during which the robbers killed driver Eli “Budd” Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig.[103] The Earps and a posse tracked the men down and arrested Luther King, who confessed that he had been holding the reins while Bill Leonard, Harry “The Kid” Head, and Jim Crain robbed the stage. They arrested King, and Sheriff Johnny Behan escorted him to jail, but somehow King walked in the front door and out the back door.[36]:156[104]:165

During the hearing into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt testified that he offered Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury the $3,600 in Wells Fargo reward money ($1,200 per robber) in return for information about the identities of the three robbers. He testified that he had other motives for his plan, as well: he hoped that arresting the murderers would boost his chances for election as Cochise County sheriff. He told the court that he had taken the extra step of obtaining a second copy of a telegram for Clanton from Wells Fargo, ensuring that the reward applied for capturing the killers dead or alive.[51] According to testimony given by Wyatt and Virgil, both McLaury and Clanton agreed to provide information to assist in capturing Leonard, Head, and Crain, but they never had a chance to fulfill the agreement. All three suspects were killed when attempting other robberies.[51][105]

In his testimony at the court hearing, Clanton said that Earp did not want to capture the men but to kill them. He told the court that Earp wanted to conceal his family’s involvement in the Benson stage robbery and had sworn him to secrecy, and that Morgan Earp had confided in him that he and Wyatt had “piped off $1,400 to Doc Holliday and Bill Leonard”, who were supposed to be on the stage the night when Bud Philpot was killed. Clanton told the court, “I was not going to have anything to do with helping to capture—” and then he corrected himself “—kill Bill Leonard, Crane, and Harry Head”. Clanton denied having any knowledge of the Wells Fargo telegram confirming the reward money.[106]

September stagecoach robbery[edit]

Meanwhile, tensions increased between the Earps and the McLaurys when Cowboys robbed the passenger stage on the Sandy Bob Line in the Tombstone area on September 8, bound for nearby Bisbee, Arizona. The masked robbers robbed the passengers and the strongbox, but they were recognized by their voices and language. They were identified as Deputy Sheriff Pete Spence (an alias for Elliot Larkin Ferguson) and Deputy Sheriff Frank Stilwell,[107] a business partner of Spence’s. Stilwell was fired a short while later as a deputy sheriff for Sheriff Behan (for county tax “accounting irregularities”).[108]

Wyatt and Virgil Earp rode with the sheriff’s posse to track the stage robbers, and Wyatt discovered an unusual boot heel print in the mud. The posse checked with a shoemaker in Bisbee and found a matching heel that he had just removed from Stilwell’s boot. A further check of a Bisbee corral turned up both Spence and Stilwell, who were arrested by sheriff’s deputies Billy Breakenridge and Nagel.[109]

Spence and Stilwell were arraigned on the robbery charges before Justice Wells Spicer, who set their bail at $7,000 each.[107] They were released after paying the bail, but they were rearrested by Virgil for the Bisbee robbery a month later on October 13 on the new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier.[109] The newspapers, however, reported that they had been arrested for a different stage robbery which occurred on October 8 near Contention City, Arizona, less than two weeks before the O.K. Corral shootout, and this final incident may have been misunderstood by the McLaurys. Wyatt and Virgil were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearing when Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp, telling him that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or the McLaurys again.[45]:43

Who Am I...

Peace keeper in Dodge city and a US marshal in Tombstone

Romantic Interests


My Story Is...

Wyatt Earp, in full Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, (born March 19, 1848, MonmouthIllinois, U.S.—died January 13, 1929, Los Angeles, California), legendary frontiersman of the American West, who was an itinerant saloonkeeper, gambler, lawman, gunslinger, and confidence man but was perhaps best known for his involvement in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1881). The first major biography, Stuart N. Lake’s Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal (1931), written with Earp’s collaboration, established the rather fictionalized portrait of a fearless lawman.

Earp was the fourth of eight children born to Nicholas Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey. His four brothers—James (1841–1926), Virgil (1843–1905), Morgan (1851–82), and Warren (1855–1900)—as well as a half-brother, Newton, would play integral roles throughout Wyatt’s life. He grew up in Illinois and Iowa but in 1864, toward the end of the American Civil War, his family moved to an area near San BernardinoCalifornia. In 1868 most of the Earps returned to Illinois via the Union Pacific Railroad, on which Wyatt and Virgil lingered to work in what is now Wyoming.

The following year Wyatt rejoined his family, which had moved to LamarMissouri. There he married in 1870 and was elected local constable. However, following his pregnant wife’s death, he entered a turbulent period, marked by numerous run-ins with the law. Facing allegations of embezzlement, he left Lamar in 1871, and later that year he was arrested for stealing horses in Indian Territory but was never tried; sources differ on whether he escaped from jail or jumped bail. He eventually settled in Peoria, Illinois, where he was arrested for various offenses, most of which concerned his involvement with brothels. After moving to WichitaKansas, in 1874, he continued to work in prostitution establishments—most likely as a bouncer—and was again arrested on several occasions. However, he later worked as a police officer, first in Wichita (1875–76) and later in Dodge City (1876–77), before heading off to the gold rush in the Black Hills (1877–78). He then returned to Dodge City as assistant marshal (1878–79), and there he became noted as both a lawman and a gambler. During this time he befriended such gunmen as Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson.

Leaving Dodge City, he went to New Mexico Territory and then California, working for a time as a Wells Fargo guard. In 1879 he moved to the Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, where most of the Earp family had congregated, buying real estate and businesses. Wyatt became a gambler and a guard in a saloon, and his brother Virgil became town marshal.

By 1881 a feud had developed between the Earps and an outlaw gang led by Ike Clanton. The conflict resulted in the celebrated gunfight at the O.K. Corral (October 26, 1881), pitting the Clanton gang against three Earp brothers (Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan) and Doc Holliday. Three of the outlaws were killed, but Ike and another member escaped. Although the shoot-out, which allegedly lasted only 30 seconds, later made Wyatt famous, various reports indicate that Virgil played a more central role. The gunfight, however, failed to end the feud.

In December 1881 Virgil was ambushed—allegedly by Clanton and his colleagues—though he survived his gunshot wounds. However, in March 1882 Morgan was fatally shot while playing billiards. Looking for revenge, Wyatt, his brother Warren, and some friends went in search of the assailants and subsequently killed at least two suspects, including Frank Stilwell. Wyatt was accused of murder, and he fled, moving first to Colorado, then to several boomtowns in the West, and eventually to California. He settled there, where he supported himself variously by police work, gamblingmining, and real-estate deals.

He assisted Stuart N. Lake on the biography Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal (1931), which helped establish Earp as a legend, though many of his claims were later revealed to be exaggerated or untrue. He was also the subject of numerous movies and other books that furthered his mythical status. Notable films include My Darling Clementine (1946), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993), and Wyatt Earp (1994).


Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Gunfight at the O.K. CorralScene from Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), directed by John Sturges.© 1957 Paramount Pictures Corporation


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My Secrets Are...

“Destiny is that which we are drawn towards and Fate is that which we run into.”

I Believe...

"Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gun fight… You need to take your time in a hurry."



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