Earp Vendetta Ride

Earp Vendetta Ride

unreferenced = March 2008
cleanup = March 2008
The Earp Vendetta Ride was a three-week clash between personal enemies and law enforcement parties from different jurisdictions in the Arizona Territory, from March 20 to April 15, 1882.

Participants in the vendetta were Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, Texas Jack Vermillion, and for a time Dan Tipton. Charlie Smith, Fred Dodge, Johnny Green, and Lou Cooley may have also been a part of this posse. The vendetta killing grew immediately out of the assassination of U.S. Deputy Marshal Morgan Earp in a Tombstone billiard parlor on March 18, 1882. The vendetta ride was variously known in newspapers that reported it at the time as the Earp Vendetta or Arizona War. During the ride, the Earp federal "posse" was pursued by a sheriff's posse consisting of Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, deputies Phineas Clanton, Johnny Ringo and about 20 other Arizona "Cowboys." The two posses never made contact. The Earp faction, at one point, is known to have received assistance in the way of rest and supplies from local rancher Henry Hooker. All known shootings during the vendetta occurred between March 20 and March 24, beginning with the Earp faction's killing of Frank Stilwell. The ride ended April 15 as the Earps and associates rode out of the Arizona Territory and headed to Colorado.

The vendetta ride is an example of a jurisdiction dispute and failure of the law enforcement system on the Old West frontier. During the ride, U.S. Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp ostensibly led a federal posse with a warrant for "Curly Bill" Brocius. However, the Earp posse killed at least four men (including Brocius) and took no prisoners. At the same time, the opposing sheriff's posse, headed by Behan, consisted of many known rustlers and local outlaws, while deliberately failing to include Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul, the sheriff with jurisdiction for the Tucson killing for which the sheriff's posse sought Wyatt Earp and his compadres. The Behan posse failed to engage the much smaller Earp posse. It did, however, end up charging Cochise County a great deal of money ($2,593.65 in 1882, or about $50,000 in 2006 dollars).fact|date=March 2008

Frank Stilwell

After Morgan Earp's death on Saturday evening, 18 March 1882, Wyatt Earp did what he could to protect his family. He made arrangements to have Morgan's body sent immediately to their father's family home in Colton, California. James Earp went with Morgan's corpse. Morgan's wife was already in Colton, where she had traveled for safety before Morgan was killed. Virgil and his wife Allie would also follow to Colton as soon as it could be arranged, but it was not practical to get them out of Tombstone at the same time as Morgan.

The railroad had not reached Tombstone in 1882. Morgan's body was loaded onto a wagon, accompanied by Wyatt and brother James, to be sent to Colton from the railhead in nearby Benson. On Sunday, March 19, James left Tombstone with the body of his brother.

On March 20, as Wyatt planned to take Virgil and Allie to the Benson rail depot for their own passage back to Colton, he received a warning that Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, and another Cowboy were watching the passenger trains in Tucson, so that they could kill Virgil. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, and Sherman McMasters decided they needed more than a single wagon for Virgil and Allie to make the trip. They would take their horses to Contention City (at that time a larger town than Benson), stable their animals there, then continue with the wagon to Benson and there board the train to accompany Virgil and Allie until it reached Tucson. After having dinner in Tucson, Virgil and Allie reboarded the train, while Wyatt and the others stood guard and watched. When the train pulled away from the station in the dark, gunfire was heard. Witnesses only saw men running with weapons far away, and nothing could be identified. Frank Stilwell's body was found on the tracks the next morning.

Wyatt later said to his biographers that he saw Frank Stilwell (who was probably in Tucson to face a charge of stage-robbery) and another man he believed to be Ike Clanton, lying prone on a flatcar, shotguns in hand. As Wyatt approached, the two men ran. Stilwell stumbled, and, by Wyatt's own admission, he shot Stilwell while Stilwell was fending off the barrel of Earp's shotgun and saying "Morg!" (possibly confusing Wyatt for Morgan). Stilwell's body was found with shotgun wounds and three other bullet wounds as well, as other parties with Wyatt apparently joined in shooting Stilwell. Wyatt Earp, a man who took pride in avoiding bloodshed all of his life, had now by his own admission crossed the line.

Ike Clanton escaped. What Stilwell was doing on the tracks near the Earps' train has never been explained. However, Ike Clanton made his own case worse by giving an interview to the newspapers, claiming that he and Stilwell had been in Tucson for Stilwell's legal problems, and that they had heard that the Earps were coming in on a train to kill Stilwell. According to Ike, Stilwell then disappeared from the hotel and was found later blocks away, on the tracks, dead. By Ike Clanton's account, the Earp party was not in Tucson to protect the wounded Virgil but to kill Stilwell, and Stilwell, knowing this, obligingly went to the tracks near Virgil's train after dark, in order to be killed. Clanton's story also relieved Stilwell of any good alibi for being near the train station, since Clanton made it known that Stilwell knew he was being hunted.

Earp posse rides out of Tombstone

After killing Stilwell and sending their train on its way to California with Virgil, the Earp party was afoot. They managed to make it back to Tombstone from Tucson overnight by hopping a freight train, then hiring a wagon in Benson to take them from the freight terminal there, back to their stabled horses in Contention. From there they rode into Tombstone by midday on March 21. Once Stilwell's killing had been connected to the Earp party on the train, a warrant for the arrest of Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp, Holliday, Johnson and McMasters as suspects in the murder of Stilwell, was quickly issued. Pima County Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer sent a telegram to Tombstone saying that the Earps were wanted in Tucson for the killing of Stilwell and that Behan should arrest them.

The manager of the telegraph office, a friend of the Earps, showed the message to Wyatt before delivering it to Behan and agreed to hold on to it long enough for the Earp posse to leave town again Tuesday evening. Behan got the message just as Earp's posse was getting ready to leave. Behan approached them, telling Wyatt he wanted to see him. Wyatt replied " Johnny if you're not careful you'll see me once too often." Wyatt and his men soon left town. Billy Breakenridge would later say that Wyatt and his men resisted arrest and even pulled their guns on Behan and Dave Neagle (one of Wyatt's own friends).

By then, Texas Jack Vermillion had joined the Earp posse, and Behan had deputized Johnny Ringo, Phineas Clanton, and other Cowboys so that they could be part of the posse. Officially, a territorial federal (U.S. Marshals) posse (the Earps) was now hunting for a local county sheriff's posse, both armed with warrants for men in the other bands.

Florentino Cruz a.k.a. Indian Charlie

Based on the testimony of Pete Spence's wife, Marietta, at the coroner’s inquest on the killing of Morgan Earp, the coroner's jury concluded that Spence, Stilwell, Frederick Bode, John Doe Fries, and Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz were the prime suspects in the assassination of Morgan Earp. Spence immediately turned himself in so that he would be protected in Behan's jail.

On the morning of March 22, the Earps rode to the wood camp of Pete Spence at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains. By now, they knew of the Morgan Earp inquest testimony. Spence was in jail, but at the wood camp, the Earp posse found Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Earp said to his biographer Lake that he got Cruz to confess to being the lookout, while Stilwell, Hank Swilling, Curly Bill and Ringo killed Morgan. After the "confession," Wyatt Earp shot Cruz. The coroner's inquest found Cruz with a minor arm wound, a leg wound to the thigh, a serious wound to the groin and pelvis (very much like that which killed Morgan Earp), and a shot to the side of the head. The coroner thought either of the last two shots would have been fatal. Wyatt Earp later told the story of letting Cruz draw a pistol in a set-up contest for his life. This story does not coincide with Flood's earlier 1926 account of the shooting given by Wyatt, nor with an account given at the coroner's inquest by one of Cruz's compadres, which noted a relatively short time between the first and last shots.

Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Barnes

Two days later, in Iron Springs, Arizona, the Earp party, while seeking a rendezvous with a messenger, stumbled upon a group of cowboys led by "Curly Bill". The men fighting alongside Brocius were Pony Deal, Johnny Barnes, Frank Patterson, Milt Hicks, Bill Hicks, Bill Johnson, Ed Lyle, Johnny Lyle, and possibly even Dave Rudabaugh. In Wyatt Earp's account, he jumped from his horse to fight, and he noticed the rest of his posse retreating. Curly Bill and some of his companions shot a few times, perforating both sides of Earp's long coat and hitting his boot heel and saddle horn. Before this, however, Wyatt returned fire and hit Curly Bill in the chest with a shotgun blast, felling him in the water by the edge of the spring. Wyatt, while under attack from the others who were with Curly Bill managed to draw his "Buntline Special" and hit Johnny Barnes in the chest, and Milt Hicks in the arm. Wyatt finally was able to mount his horse and retreat. According to Earp biographer John H. Flood, Brocius' friends buried Curly Bill on the Patterson ranch near the Babocomari River. If so, his grave is unmarked. Some have claimed he survived, but he was never seen again.

Johnny Barnes, the man whom many credited with firing the shot that permanently crippled Virgil Earp, eventually died from his chest wound received in the Iron Springs fight. He told Wells, Fargo & Co. agent Fred Dodge that Wyatt Earp had killed Brocius.

Pete Spence

While the Earps were riding, the trial for the murder of Morgan Earp began on April 2, but ended very quickly when the prosecution called Mrs. Spence to the stand. The defense objected to the testimony on the grounds of hearsay, and also testimony of a wife against a husband. Without Mrs. Spence, the prosecution dropped its case against Pete Spence. Spence later went to prison briefly on a (different) charge of murder, and married Phineas Clanton's widow in 1910. He died in 1914 and is buried in Globe, Arizona, in the plot next to Phineas Clanton.

Earp posse disbands

By the middle of April 1882, the Earp posse had been riding for nearly three weeks. It was clear that they were never going to meet in the country with Behan's posse, and it was also clear to Wyatt that it was not safe to go back to Tombstone. They went to Henry Hooker's Ranch in the Sierra Bonitas. Dan Tipton joined the posse with $1,000 from E. B. Gage. The posse then headed to Reilly Hill. Behan's posse went to Hooker's Ranch and was informed of Earp's position. However Behan's ranchmen headed out in a different direction. Seeing that Behan was not going to attack them, they raided the last of the water holes in the region and drove Ike Clanton, Johnny Ringo, Pony Deal, Hank Swilling, and the others out of the territory.

Apparently believing he could not get a fair trial in Tucson for the death of Stilwell, Earp and the others decided to flee the territory into Colorado. This was essentially fleeing the Western frontier back into country in which the power of the Federal government held more sway. In particular, Wyatt Earp was counting on the good graces of the governor of Colorado.

The vendetta ride ended April 15 as the Earps and associates rode east, which was the shortest way out of the southeast Arizona Territory, into Silver City, New Mexico Territory. They sold their horses and traveled by train to Albuquerque, where they remained for two weeks before continuing to Colorado.

Johnny Ringo

On July 18, 1882, Johnny Ringo was found dead from a single bullet wound through his head. According to one disputed account by Josephine Marcus, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday returned to Arizona. Upon their arrival they were met by "Harelip" Charlie Smith, Lou Cooley, Fred Dodge, John Meagher, and Johnny Green. Either Dodge or Cooley paid Franklin Leslie to keep an eye on Ringo, and when Ringo left town, Leslie reported it to Dodge. The men found Ringo on the trail napping about three miles from where his body was found. Wyatt and Ringo shot at the same time. Ringo missed, but Wyatt's rifle hit Ringo in the right side of the head, exiting out the top. Earp set Ringo's body up to make it as a suicide, and Fred Dodge reported that the killing was done by John O'Rourke. Earp and Holliday returned to Colorado while the others returned to Tombstone.

Ringo's death was officially ruled a suicide but numerous theories and tales exist claiming several different people as his killer.

Possible killings

Though coroner reports only credited the Earp party with killing four men in the two-week long ride, Wyatt Earp alluded to more, but gave no specifics. There may have been other shootouts. Warren Earp may have taken a bullet to the leg in one of them. The number of well-documented killings is four, with some sources claiming up to fifteen.

See also

* "Hour of the Gun"
* Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
* "Tombstone"
* "Wyatt Earp"


*cite book
author=Marks, Paula Mitchell
title=And Die in the West: the story of the O.K. Corral gunfight
location=New York | publisher=Morrow
id=ISBN 0-671-70614-4
Extensive examination not only of the gunfight and vendettas, but also of the myth-making that took place surrounding the OK Corral incident. Marks writes from a socioeconomic perspective.

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