Virgil Walter Earp B. 06/18/1843 D. 10/19,1905

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About Doc Holiday
About Wyatt Earp

About Virgil Earp

About Morgan Earp

About James Earp

About Warren Earp

About Newton Earp

About William "Curley Bill" Brocius (outlaw)

About Billy Claiborne (outlaw)

About Pete Spence (outlaw)

About Ike Clanton (outlaw)

About Phin Clanton (outlaw)

About Johnny Ringo (outlaw)

About "Old Man" Clanton" (outlaw)

Frank Stillwell (outlaw)

About Frank McLaury (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)
About Tom McLaury (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)

About Billy Clanton (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)

About Johnny Behan (Sheriff)

William Breckinridge (Deputy Sheriff)

About Fred White (Marshal)
About George Parson

About Wells Spicer (Judge)

About George Goodfellow MD

About Nellie Cashman (Angel Of Mercy)

About Big Nose Kate (prostitute & Doc Holiday's girlfriend)

About Ed Schieffelin

About John Clum (editor/publisher of Tombstone Epitaph)


Morgan Earps Death In The Tombstone Epitaph
Tombstone Epitaph Story The Day After The OK Corral Shootout

Tombstone Pioneers Burial Place
Mistakes In The Movie Tombstone

For fallacies in the movie Tombstone please visit this web site:

Virgil Walter Earp (July 18, 1843 – October 19, 1905) was one of the men involved in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the Arizona Territory of the United States. He spent his life in law enforcement, although ironically it is his younger brother Wyatt Earp, who spent most of his life as a gambler and is better known in popular history as a western lawman.

Early life

Virgil Earp was born in Hartford, Kentucky, the second son of Nicholas Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey. A more complete family history for Virgil is given in the genealogy section for Wyatt Earp.

In February 1860, while living in Pella, Iowa, 16 year-old Virgil eloped with Dutch immigrant Magdalena C. "Ellen" Rysdam (November 25, 1842 in Utrecht, Netherlands - May 3, 1910 in Cornelius, Oregon). They remained together for a year in spite of her parents' (Gerrit Rysdam and Magdalena Catrina Van Velzen from Utrecht) disapproval of her choice.

On September 21, 1861, 18-year-old Virgil enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving with the 83rd Illinois Infantry July 26, 1862-June 24, 1865. His older brother James had previously enlisted, but returned home after being badly wounded during a battle near Fredericktown, Missouri, in late 1861. Virgil's half-brother, Newton, also enlisted with the Union and served throughout the war. Virgil's enlistment was to become the last time Virgil and Ellen met each other as husband and wife. The marriage resulted in the birth of the only known child of Virgil, Nellie Jane Earp (January 7, 1862 - June 17, 1930). Virgil left for the Civil War when his baby daughter was just 2 weeks old.

In the summer of 1863, Ellen was told incorrectly that Virgil had died. She left Pella with her parents and daughter. She had moved to Oregon Territory, and had remarried twice by the time she and their daughter next met Virgil, in 1899, 37 years after they had seen each other last. There is a report that Virgil hadn't known he had a daughter, but this appears to be an inference from his earlier enlistment date, which is not the same as the time he left for service.

Earp received his discharge from the military on June 26, 1865, and he travelled home. Finding his wife and family had left Pella, Earp decided to head to California to meet up with the rest of the Earps. He married his second wife, Rosella Dragoo (b. 1853 in France), on August 28, 1870 in Lamar, Missouri. After three years of marriage, Virgil left his second wife. Nothing is recorded about the outcome of the marriage.

In 1874, Earp married for a third time, this time to Alvira "Allie" Packingham Sullivan (b. 1849 in Council Bluffs, Iowa - d. 1947 in Los Angeles, California).

During his life Virgil worked at many jobs. He farmed, worked on rail construction in Wyoming, drove a stagecoach, worked in a sawmill in Prescott, A.Z., drove a mail route, and later in life, tried his hand as a prospector. A tight-knit family, the Earps generally kept close contact with one another, and often trailed along together to different living locations.

Virgil spent some time in Dodge City, Kansas in 1877 with his younger brother Wyatt, though it is not certain if Virgil ever held any law enforcement position in there. From Dodge City, Virgil and his wife moved to Prescott, Arizona, then the capital of Arizona Territory. There, in October 1877, Virgil Earp was deputized by Yavapai County, Arizona Sheriff Ed Bowers during a street gunfight. During the fight, Virgil killed one of the robbers, by shooting him twice through the head with a Winchester Rifle. In 1878, Virgil served in Prescott as a village night watchman for a couple of months and was later elected as a constable in Prescott.


Virgil was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory in November 27, 1879, just before he traveled with his brother Wyatt Earp to Tombstone from Prescott. Evidently Virgil was intended to represent federal law in that part of the territory (Tombstone was then only a small town and mining camp of a few hundred people).

On October 30, 1880, Virgil became acting town-marshal of Tombstone, after town-marshal Fred White was shot and killed by outlaw and gunman "Curly Bill" Brocius. Virgil was not present at the White shooting, and Brocius was actually arrested by deputy county sheriff Wyatt Earp, assisted by his younger brother Morgan Earp. With the town-marshal's appointment, Virgil held both a federal law enforcement position, as well as the top local law enforcement position for the town of Tombstone. Virgil, however, held the latter job for less than two weeks before being replaced by Ben Sippy in a special election in which Virgil was narrowly defeated. Sippy won re-election when Tombstone became an incorporated city in January, 1881. Virgil chose not to run against Sippy in this second election.

At the time of his election, however, Ben Sippy was known to be in financial trouble. When he requested a two-week leave of absence on June 6, 1881, the city council appointed Virgil to act as temporary city marshal in his place. When the center section of Tombstone was devastated by a fire on June 22, Sippy had not yet returned. Some looting took place in the aftermath of the fire, and Virgil was left to enforce the law. Finally, on June 28, when Sippy was still absent from Tombstone and about $3,000 of bad debt and financial impropriaties were discovered in his office, Virgil was appointed by Tombstone Mayor John Clum as a permanent replacement for the city marshal's post.

As city marshal it was Virgil's job to enforce local ordinances such as those against carrying open or concealed weapons in town. Although history and Hollywood have painted the picture of Virgil introducing that law, he did not, as it was already in place when he took office. It was Virgil's attempt (along with new deputy Morgan Earp and temporarily deputized citizens Wyatt Earp and John "Doc" Holliday) to disarm Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton; leading to the fight and deaths near the O.K. Corral.

Facts of the gunfight, wounds received, and legal ramifications

Although the gunfight made Wyatt Earp a legend, and historically it is Wyatt remembered as being the strongest and most experienced of the Earp faction going into the fight, this is incorrect. Although Wyatt had served in Wichita, Kansas and Dodge City as a lawman previously, Virgil was the more experienced in life and death situations. His years of Army service during the Civil War had given him more experience than any of the other participants that took part in the fight that day, especially his two younger brothers. In addition to this, he had served as a lawman off and on since the war.

Before the gunfight at the OK Corral, Wyatt had been in only one shootout, whereas Morgan, on the other hand, had never been in any gun battles. Billy Claiborne had also been in one gunfight prior to the shootout, and was the only member of the Clanton faction involved that had prior gunfighting experience (not counting the Skeleton Canyon massacre that the McLaury's and Clanton's took part in). Doc Holliday, despite his reputation, had no documented gunfights to his credit, other than a couple of drunken brawls, and only his own tales of fights with unnamed men he claimed to have shot.

During the gunfight, Virgil Earp was shot in the calf of the leg (he thought by Billy Clanton). Three days after the O.K. Corral gunfight, the city council suspended Virgil as police chief, pending outcome of the shooting investigations. Virgil was eventually exonerated of wrongdoing, but his reputation suffered thereafter.

Assassination attempt

In the late evening of December 28, 1881, as Virgil was walking from the Oriental Saloon to his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (where he was staying for protection from threats), he was ambushed on Allen Street. The assailant(s) were never positively identified, but were usually assumed to be family or confederates of the men who died at the O.K. Corral shootout. Ike Clanton's hat was found at the assassin's nest, but was later given an alibi by friends.

The assailant(s) fired from the second story of a building across Allen street, an office which was empty due to construction. Reports of five or six shotgun blasts were later given, and upwards of twenty buckshot pellets penetrated the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Eagle Brewery behind Virgil's position, breaking windows and narrowly missing patrons. About the same number of buckshot pellets hit Virgil, though he did not fall and was hit primarily in the back and his left arm. His injured arm would be permanently crippled as a result of the surgical removal of five and-a-half inches of his shattered humerus during the immediate treatment of the wound. While being examined by his doctors, the severely wounded Virgil managed to tell his wife, "Nevermind, I've got one arm left to hug you with." On learning of Virgil's wounds, which he initially thought were fatal, territorial U.S. Marshal Crawley P. Dake gave Virgil's Deputy U.S. Marshal position to Wyatt.

On March 20, 1882, two days after Virgil's younger brother Morgan Earp was killed in a another ambush by unknown assailants, the still recovering Virgil and his wife Allie left Tombstone to join his parents in California. Virgil left Tombstone the day after Morgan's body was sent to California with brother James Earp. Virgil was escorted for protection by twenty men to Contention, Arizona, also in Cochise County. From there by wagon they went to Benson and boarded the train to Tucson with five remaining bodyguards.

Brothers Wyatt Earp and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters, and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson were the five remaining bodyguards. Virgil had spent January and February in bed, and had just been starting to get out on the street in Tombstone, the week before Morgan's killing. He would later state that he had to be carried up the steps, when the party got to the train. His wife Allie had to wear his pistol belt during the journey, so the weapon would be available to Virgil if he needed it.

As Virgil's train pulled out of Tucson on its way to California, Wyatt and Virgil's other bodyguards killed Frank Stilwell on the tracks near the train. While all were later indicted for the shooting, none were brought to trial, having fled the territory. Wyatt much later in his life said Stilwell and Ike Clanton had been waiting near the train to kill Virgil. Clanton admitted he and Stilwell had known Virgil and the rest had been coming to Tucson, but would be quoted as saying he thought they were coming to try to kill him along with Stilwell. Why Stilwell would go to the train yard knowing this, was not explained by Ike.

Later life and death

Virgil spent the rest of his life in various law enforcement jobs, despite the effective use of only one arm. After he and Allie settled into the new city of Colton, California, he became the city's first marshal. Following a move back to Prescott, Arizona in 1900, Virgil was the Republican nominee for Sheriff of Yavapai County. Due to ill health, however, he was forced to drop out of the race.

At the time that he was serving as the Deputy Sheriff in Esmaralda County, Nevada, Virgil died of pneumonia in Goldfield, Nevada, on October 19, 1905. After Virgil's death, Allie chose to move back to California, where she lived out her life to the age of ninety-eight. Virgil's formerly estranged daughter, Nellie, arranged for her father's body to be transported to Oregon, where she and her mother were living. Virgil Earp is buried at Riverview Cemetery, in Portland, Oregon.


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