Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter

Rustler Reprisal

"Everything is quiet in town..."

The Tombstone Epitaph

Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton (Denver Public Library)
Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton
(Denver Public Library)

Dressed in their Sunday best, the lifeless bodies of Billy Clanton and the two McLaurys were on display in the window of the local undertaker parlor. Above them hung a banner: MURDERED ON THE STREETS OF TOMBSTONE. The Clanton-favored Nuggets blue journalists were in their glory. Column after column bereaved the poor lads who had been on their way home from a peaceful visit to town when accosted by Holliday and the brothers Earp. (Of course, the Epitaph did a novel thing to counteract: it told the truth.) Four days after the gun battle, John Behan went before Judge Wells Spicer and charged the Earps and Doc with murder.

Wells Spicer (Utah Hist. Soc.)
Wells Spicer
(Utah Hist. Soc.)

Virgil and Morgan werent arrested; they were incapacitated from their wounds. But when a $20,000 bail was set for both Wyatt and Doc Holliday, town bankers Ansen Stanford (former Governor of the Arizona Territory) and Henry Solomon gleefully donated $10,000 each as a thank you for services well done.

The trial opened Monday, Oct. 31, to a packed house. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne claimed they and the others had been hanging in the lot next to Flys Gallery for no particular reason when the marshal and his force stepped up and placed them under arrest. When they threw up their hands, the Earps started firing! Behan, on the stand, denied he had told the Earps and the Citizens Committee anything about Ikes wild bunch "talking gun-talk". Prosecuting "witnesses" went so far as to say the boys were unarmed and were shot "at close range" after surrendering and walking toward the Earps, hands held upward. Doc entertained the court with this reply: "Then I guess Morg and Virge just shot themselves."

The Defense went on to make mincemeat of the allegations. Town coroners assured the courts that by studying the angle of the deceaseds wounds 1) those men did not die with upraised hands and 2) none of the wounds had been made at "powder mark range." Reliable witnesses claimed they saw the outlaws heavily armed and had heard them publicize their intentions of killing Wyatt and Doc Holliday. Wichita and Dodge City officials rushed to Wyatts aid; they sent letters to Judge Spicer verifying that Wyatt Earp had never taken disadvantage of any cowboy, no matter how dangerous.

On Dec. 1, Spicer concluded:, "...the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides, that it was a necessary act in the discharge of an official duty."

However the good citizens of Tombstone rejoiced, Wyatt knew the gunfight had not ended; not with the likes of the homicidal Johnny Ringo and Billy Brocius now in command of the rustlers. He moved himself and Mattie, his brothers families, and Doc into the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and deputized local friends "Turkey Creek" Johnson, Shawn McMasters and "Texas Jack" Vermillion, as well as newly arrived brother Warren to guard the hallways. Days and nights passed quietly too quietly.

A couple weeks before Christmas, someone took a pop shot at Epitaph editor John Clum, but missed. Then, on the evening of Dec. 28, as Virgil made his rounds about town, several dark shadows roared shotguns from across Fifth Street. Buckshot ripped his side and disintegrated the bone and muscle of his left arm. Surviving the attack, he would nevertheless be without the use of that arm the remainder of his life.

In the doorway where the snipers had crouched, Wyatt found a sombrero with Ikes name scrawled on the inside brim. A night watchman at an ice house on Toughnut Street identified Ike, Frank Stillwell and Hank Swilling as the three men whom he saw racing from an alley carrying shotguns. (In the hearing that ensued, cowboy factions came forth vouching that all three had been with them out of town that night.)

Frank Stillwell (Eleanor Mueller)
Frank Stillwell
(Eleanor Mueller)

Finally, on Saturday, March 18, after another stretch of uneasy silence, Morgan was shot in the back while relaxing over a cue game at Hatchs Billiards Parlor. Wyatt was present, sitting on the sidelines, joking with Morg and the other players, when a blast shattered the alley window. Grapeshot missed Wyatt by inches, blowing his hat off his head. By the time Wyatt recovered his senses, the alley was empty. Frank Stillwell, Florentino Cruz ("Indian Charlie"), Hank Swilling and Pete Spence were immediately identified and fled town. Morgan died that night in Wyatts arms.

"When Doc got the news shortly after Morg died, he went berserk," wrote Josie Marcus in her memoirs. "He kicked in doors of several private homes...pistol in hand and murder in his eyes and heart. With all of his other trouble, Wyatt had to get Doc in hand, not that he felt much different himself."

Wyatt figured it was now time to play the killers own game. He sent Mattie out of town and Virge home on a train to their parents home in California where he could recuperate; he and Addie would accompany Morgs body and solace Morgs widow, Louisa.

At the Tucson train depot, just before the train pulled away, Wyatt spotted Frank Stillwell crouching behind the train, toting a shotgun. Asking no questions, he blew his brains out.

 

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