Earp Brothers – Since my D blog was Doc Holliday it seems only fitting the Earp Family (mother and father pictured above)should be next. If not for the outsized stories of one gun fight, this clan might seem like so very ordinary an American family. Six sons of two mothers, the boys in birth order were named Newton, James, Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan and Warren. The clan included two sisters, Martha, and Adelia. They moved from Kentucky to Illinois to Iowa as the children (their sisters Mariah and Virginia died in infancy) grew up. Eventually they found their way to California. It was a most common family history of westward migration in the later 19th century.
But as with other families, the Earps were profoundly affected by the War Between the States. The three eldest boys went for soldiers and Wyatt and Morgan envied them their adventure. Perhaps their familiarity with fighting is the reason the older brothers James and Virgil took up jobs as lawmen. With their big brothers wearing badges, the younger Wyatt, Morgan and Warren eventually took up law enforcement as well. By 1881 all the brothers but Newton had landed in Tombstone, Arizona, there to make their fortunes. James and Wyatt left their badges behind for saloon keeping. Virgil was Marshall, Morgan his deputy.
The Earps, eager to prosper in their new home, came into conflict with the area’s longtime resident cowboys and outlaws, Ike Clanton and his friends the McLaurys. Their feuding erupted on the city streets in the famed gunfight at the OK Corral. The Earps fared far better than the cattlemen in that fight, but the aftermath saw Morgan murdered and Virgil maimed. James fled Arizona, as did his injured brother. He escorted the body of Morgan back to California. Wyatt and Warren led a vengeance ride across the territory killing all the men from the cowboy gang they could find.
Newton, a half brother, never did take up with the others, perhaps because he was the only child of a different mother. Wyatt wandered the west as far as Alaska for the next 46 years and enjoyed a notorious reputation until reconstructed in a posthumous biography. Baby brother, Warren was gunned down in a saloon in Willcox, Arizona in 1900. James did not participate at the OK Corral, briefly moved to Idaho with Wyatt in the mid 1880s, then returned to California never taking up with his brothers again. Virgil wandered the west taking lawman work or keeping bar until reunited briefly with Wyatt in Nevada where he died in 1905.
If not for thirty seconds spent at the OK Corral, the Earps might never have enjoyed any notoriety at all – like most of us!
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