Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter


"The grimly humorous phrase about our town was that Tombstone had a man for breakfast every morning."

Josephine Sarah Marcus, actress

Dodge City had tamed. Even before the cattlemen left that 1879 season, a lull had pervaded and cowpokes, their fun squelched by Earp and his deputies, left for home. So quiet had Dodge become that Wyatt found himself spending more time gambling than marshaling. He continued his operation at the Alhambra, but opened up new tables at the Long Branch. As well, he had attended to the buying of several more pieces of real estate. Cashing it in, he handed in his resignation. As he told Mayor Kelley, he had an itching for a more peaceful existence, perhaps go into a business where "Im not a target for every drunken cowboy seeking a reputation."

Wyatt Earp (AP)
Wyatt Earp

His brother Virgil had written him telling him about the city of Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory, where he currently served as deputy marshal. According to Virgil, Tombstone offered wonderful business opportunities, for it was only a couple of years old, but growing by leaps and bounds with already a thousand people. Clever entrepreneurs were opening hotels and gin mills and breweries and milliners and many other types of commerce to meet the needs of the growing populace and making a booty. Tombstone had sprung up at the foot of the Chiuhaha Mountains after prospector Ed Scheffelin discovered silver there; hundreds followed, hoping to find their own bonanza. And as a town rose among the mesquite and apache plumes, then came the cattle merchants who found it geographically close to the rail lines at Tucson and therefore an ideal center to buy and sell longhorn.

Wyatt arrived with Mattie on December 1,1879, and immediately felt its energy. Not a pretty place of adobe huts, of wikiups, half-faced camps and storefronts hastily erected it nevertheless emanated activity. On the way there on buckboard Wyatt had considered opening a stage line to Tucson, but when he got there he saw one, Kinnear & Company, already prospering. His brother James had already opened the Sampling Room, a saloon at 434 Allen Street, and introduced Wyatt to other distributors who knew of Wyatts reputation. Lou Rickabaugh, part owner of the Oriental Bar and Gambling Hall, offered Wyatt a quarter percentage of the proceeds to establish a faro concession on site and, considering his notoriety, help keep out the loiterers. Wyatt accepted.

On the side, he took a job as shotgun rider on the stage lines for Wells Fargo shipments. He was finding himself slowly being enwrapped by a profession that he thought he had left, that of law keeper.

The Earps had definitely come to Tombstone Virgil was deputy marshal, Morgan had recently become a city policeman, James ran a saloon frequented by city reformers, and now Wyatt, who held sway over Tombstones most popular saloon and guard-dogged town monies.

And the Clantons didnt like it one bit.

Old Man Clanton and his sons Ike, Phineas and Billy operated a cattle rustling "business," which involved herding stolen cattle from Old Mexico and bullying every rancher along the way, on both sides of the border, to help them move their plunder northward to their ranch on the San Pedro River. The enterprise went unchecked since they managed to keep Cochise County Sheriff John Behan on their payroll. When not rustling longhorns, the Clantons were believed to have been instigators of a series of stage holdups out of town. Identified in these robberies, but never brought to court (thanks to Behan) were stalwarts of the Clanton faction Johnny Ringo (aka Ringgold), a well-educated but psychopathic gunman from Missouri; "Curly Bill" Brocius, late from the bloody New Mexico cattle wars; brothers Frank and Tom McLaury; half-breed Florentino Cruz (known as "Indian Charlie"); and an assortment of troublemakers named Pete Spence, Frank Stillwell and Hank Swilling.

Virgil Earp had tried unsuccessfully to check the Clanton activities, but his hands were tied by Behan. But, now with Wyatt and Morgan on the scene...well, no, the Clantons didnt like the way things were shaping up. Not one bit.



We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'