Tombstone History Archives

 Chronicles of Tombstone's TurbulEnt Years

Interview with Virgil Earp - 1




Interview with Virgil Earp


Arizona Daily Star, May 30, 1882


The San Francisco Examiner of the 27th contains an interview with Virgil Earp, from which the following extracts are made: “I was born in Kentucky but was raised in Illinois and Iowa. My parents came to this state, settling in San Bernardino, near Colton, at which later place they now live. I served for a lit­tle over three years in the war, in an Illinois regiment, and then came to California in 1866. I soon went into New Mexico, Ari­zona and all that southern country, where I have spent nearly six years. When Tombstone was discovered I was in Prescott. The first stage that went out of Prescott toward Tombstone was rob­bed. Robberies were frequent and became expensive, and the dis­ordered condition of the new country soon brought a demand for the better protection of business and money, as well as life. I was asked to go to Tombstone in my capacity as United States Marshal, and went. My brother Wyatt and myself were fairly well treated for a time, but when the desperate characters who were congregated there, and who had been unaccustomed to troublesome molestation by the authorities, learnt that we meant business and determined to stop their rascality, if possible, they began to make it warm for us. The Tombstone country is of a pe­culiar character, the community being unsettled and dangerous. Most of the business men there stayed simply to make money enough to live somewhere else comfortably, and of course the greatest object with them is to have as much money as possible spent in the town and to get as much of it as they can, careless of the means of dispensation or the results of rough manners. Aside from the legitimate business men the bulk of the residents are idle or desperate characters, most of them coming into town broke and depending upon the gambling tables or criminal ven­tures to supply them with means of livelihood and dissipation.


The Cowboys numbered at one time nearly 200 but during the last two years about fifty of them have been killed. The most of them are what we call “saddlers,” living almost wholly in the saddle and largely engaged in raiding into Sonora and adjacent country and stealing cattle, which they sell in Tombstone. It is rarely that any of these stolen cattle are recovered. When the thieves are closely pursued and it seems likely that they will be overhauled and the stock re­covered, the cowboys sell the cattle to some of the butchers prac­tically in partnership with them, and I know of cases where the finest cattle in the country have been sold at a dollar a head. When cattle are not handy the cowboys rob stages and engage in similar enterprises to raise money. As soon as they are in funds they ride into town, drink, gamble and fight. They spend their money as free as water in the saloons, dance houses or faro banks, and this is one reason they have so many friends in town. All that large class of degraded characters who gather the crumbs of such carouses stand ready to assist them out of any trouble or into any paying rascality. The saloons and gambling houses, into whose treasuries most of the money is ultimately turned, receive them cordially and must be called warm friends of the cowboys. A good many of the merchants fear to express themselves against the criminal element because they want to keep the patronage of the cowboys’ friends, and the result is that when any conflict be­tween the officers and cattle thieves or stage robbers occurs, fol­lowed up by shootings around town, as witnessed during the last few months, most of the expression of opinion comes from the desperado class and their friends, and the men who should speak loudest and most decisively to correct the condition of affairs are generally the quietest. An officer doing his duty must rely almost entirely upon his own conscience for encouragement. The sym­pathy of the respectable portion of the community may be with him hut it is not openly expressed.


The bad element knows its advantage in this respect, and makes the most of it. The cowboys are collected from all parts of the Western country, from which they have been crowded by advancing civilization, and they know that Arizona is about the only place left for them to operate in as an organization. With a complete breaking up of their company threatened in event of losing their hold where they are now, they resist official interference with the greatest desperation. Concerning the fights between the cowboys and myself and brothers, it has been stated over and over again that there was an old feud between us and some of our enemies, and that we were fighting only to revenge personal wrongs and grati­fy personal hatred. All such statements are false. We went into Tombstone to do our duty as officers. To do that we were put in conflict with a band of desperadoes, and it resolved itself into a question of which side could first drive the other out of the country, or kill them in it. Today my brother Morg is dead and I am a cripple for life. My other brothers are fugitives, but they will give themselves up. It was our boys who killed Stillwell [sic].


Before Stillwell died he confessed that he killed Morg and gave the names of those who were implicated with him. When my brothers were leaving Arizona they got dispatches from Tucson saying that Stillwell and a party of friends were watching all the railroad trains pass­ing that way, and they were going through them in search of all Earps and their friends, carrying shotguns under their overcoats and promising to kill on sight. Our boys were hound to look out for themselves, and when they got near Tucson were very cauti­ous. They found StilIwell near the track and killed him. For the first time the Sheriff has shown anxiety to arrest someone, and the boys are keeping out of his way. The Court in Tombstone does not sit again for six months yet, and they don’t want to lie in jail all that time waiting for trial, hut when the Court sits again they will give themselves up, and, with fair play, will be acquitted. The press dispatches that have been sent here have been very un­fair to us and have been made to conform to a plan to carry all these fights into politics this season. I am a Republican. My brothers are Democrats. I am sorry to see the thing taken into politics as a personal measure, because the true aspect of the trouble will be lost and new enmities are likely to be created. I heard that Doc Holliday, one of our friends about whom there has been considerable talk, had been captured at Denver. Word was sent to me that he would be taken out on a writ of habeas corpus, and that before an officer from the Territory could reach him he would be released. I do not know if he succeeded in get­ting off or not.


There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man, and yet outside of us boys I don’t think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in differ­ent parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet when persons were asked how they knew it they could only admit that it was hearsay, and that noth­ing of the kind could really be traced up to Doc’s account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty. The stories, at one time widely circulated, that we were in with the cowboys and quarrel­ed over division of the spoils, was ridiculous. It was at least disbe­lieved by Wells, Fargo & Co., who I represented, and while I was City Marshal they gave me this.” The speaker here displayed on the inside of his coat a large gold badge, a five pointed star set in­side of a circular band, inscribed on one side, “City Marshal, Tombstone, A.T.,” and on the other, “V. W. Earp, with Compli­ments of Wells, Fargo & Co.” Mr. Earp was in such pain that for the time his story was cut short. He was met by two friends, who accompanied him to this city, where he will remain about thirty days. Yesterday he was placed under the care of a leading surgeon, and was unable to receive visitors, keeping himself well secluded. His escape from death by his last wounds was remark­able. Besides the shot which crippled his arm, he was shot clean through the body, and upon the day following that upon which the dead body of his brother reached the home of his parents, he, too, arrived at Colton, expecting to die. Though in good health otherwise, his arm will prevent any further active participation in the sensational warfare against the cowboys.


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