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The murder of Morgan Earp

Morgan Earp

Morgan Seth Earp was born April 24, 1851, in Marion County, Iowa, to Nicholas Porter and Virginia Cooksey Earp. At 13, Morgan and his family left Iowa for California, then moved to Missouri and then to Montana. In 1879, Morgan began working on the Butte, Mont., police force. The following year, he moved to Tombstone where his brother Wyatt was a Pima County deputy sheriff and his brother Virgil served as U.S. deputy marshal. In Tombstone, Morgan lived with his common-law wife Louisa Houston, a direct descendant of famous Texan Sam Houston.
Morgan was one of three Earp brothers at the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. He was wounded in the fight but made a full recovery, only to be assassinated at a saloon in Tombstone six months later.
On March 18, 1882, while playing a game of billiards with Bob Hatch in Campbell & Hatch’s Saloon on Ellen Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, Morgan Earp was mortally wounded. At 10:50 that evening, someone shot through the parlor’s glass door and killed him.
He had been standing with his back to the door, which opened out into an alley that passed along the west side of A. D. Otis & Co.’s store on Fremont Street. The door was fashioned with four clear panes at the top and two painted panes at the bottom, making it easy for anyone standing outside to look over the painted panes into the room.
Morgan was probably about 10 feet from the door when the assassin shot him. The bullet shattered his spinal column, exited his left side and lodged in the thigh of a saloon patron, George Berry, who was standing near the stove. Almost immediately another shot was fired through the glass door. The bullet lodged in the wall above Wyatt Earp’s head.
Wyatt, Sherman McMasters and Dan Tipton moved Morgan to a couch in the card room and called three doctors, Henry Mathews, George Goodfellow and a doctor Millar, who after a brief consultation said the case was hopeless.
Within a few minutes, Morgan’s family arrived. His brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, James and Warren tried to get him to his feet, but he gasped, “Don’t! I can’t stand it. This is the last game of pool I’ll ever play,” and died.
His body was laid out at the Cosmopolitan Hotel until it could be transported to California for burial. He was dressed in a blue suit belonging to Doc Holliday. As the funeral cortege left the hotel, the fire bell tolled the solemn “Earth to Earth, dust to dust.”
Fifteen armed guards accompanied the casket to the rail line at Contention. From there, Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson traveled with the casket to Tucson.
When the train arrived in Tucson, there was another shootout, this time at the depot. The Earp party killed Frank Stillwell, who was suspected of having assassinated Morgan Earp.
Stillwell was the brother of the famous government scout Jack Stillwell of Texas. He kept a livery stable at Bisbee and Charleston and was known to be a friend of the Earps’ enemies, the Clantons. The Arizona Gazette reported that Stillwell “was known to have been antagonistic to the Earps.” A warrant was quickly issued for the arrest of the entire Earp party, but they resisted being arrested by Sheriff Johnny Behan.
A coroner’s jury was called and found that Frank Stillwell, Pete Spence, Indian Charlie and a John Doe were responsible for the murder of Morgan Earp.
Virgil Earp continued on to California with the funeral cortege. Wyatt returned to Tombstone, where he is reputed to have killed both Indian Charlie and Curly Brocius (perhaps the John Doe named by the coroner’s jury) within a week of his brother’s murder.
—Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy Glenn Boyer.
Sources: Tombstone Epitaph March 20,1882; Arizona Gazette March 23, 1882; Tombstone Nugget, March 19, 1882.

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