Morgan Seth Earp
The younger brother of Wyatt Earp, the famous gunfighter, Morgan was involved in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where he was wounded. His assassination in Tombstone was part of a wave of vendetta killing in the southeastern Arizona Territory.
Morgan Earp was born in Pella, Marion County, Iowa, to Nicholas Porter Earp (1813"“1907), a cooper and farmer, and his second wife Virginia Ann Cooksey (1821"“1893). When elder brothers Newton, James, and Virgil went off to the American Civil War, they left their young teenage brothers Wyatt and Morgan to tend the family farm. The two brothers grew up close, with a shared wish for adventure and a dislike of farming. In adulthood, Morgan followed Wyatt on the Western frontier.
Acknowledged to be the most pleasant and outgoing member of a highly clannish family, Morgan Earp was reared in Iowa and traveled with his parents to California in 1864. When he was nineteen he returned east to be with his older brothers, Jim, Virgil, and Wyatt. In 1870 Wyatt had become constable of Lamar, Missouri, and had married a girl who soon died. Wyatt had trouble with his dead wife's family, and the four Earp brothers engaged in a twenty-minute street brawl with five other men.
Morgan then drifted into Kansas, where he was arrested and fined for an unnamed offense in Wichita in September, 1875. Seven months later Morgan and Wyatt (who had just been fired from the police force) were run out of Wichita under a charge of vagrancy. During this period Morgan picked up a wife, probably of the common-law variety, known to history solely as "Lou." (Louise Houston)
Wyatt and Morgan Earp arrived in Deadwood several weeks too late to renew acquaintance with their old friend, James Butler Hickok. They left Dodge for Deadwood on September 9, 1876, in a wagon drawn by the best four-horse hitch money could buy, heading for new adventures and a possible prospecting fortune in the Black Hills. At Sidney, Nebraska, they met up with a friend from buffalo hunting days on the Kansas prairie, Bat Masterson, who caught gold fever when news of the Deadwood strike reached Dodge in July. Resigning his position as Wyatt's deputy in Dodge City, Bat was replaced by Morgan. The Earp brothers continued to maintain law in Dodge for another few months before they too succumbed to the lure of the latest gold rush.
Morgan supposedly became marshal of Butte, Montana. Morgan then purportedly killed Billy Brooks, formerly marshal of Newton, Kansas, in a head-on gunfight; no actual documentation exists except for the fact that Morgan was a police officer for a few months in Butte. Brooks, however, probably died at the hands of a Caldwell, Kansas, lynch mob. For a short time Morgan served as a deputy sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, before joining his brothers in Tombstone early in 1880.
Morgan has gained an undeserved reputation for being a hot-tempered man, but this appears to be on the basis of incidents related in the book The Earp Brothers of Tombstone purportedly written by Virgil Earp's wife Allie. However, the incidents in the book involving Morgan, like much else in the book, are almost certainly fabricated. From the rest of what is known of Morgan's life, he normally showed the same even temper and cool reactions to danger as did his brothers.
In Tombstone, Morgan's first steady employment came as a shotgun guard for Wells, Fargo - a position that had been recently vacated when Wyatt received an appointment as deputy sheriff. Soon Morgan resigned, however, so that he could begin dealing faro in the Occidental Saloon. As a posse member following a highly publicized stage holdup attempt and double murder, Morgan captured a ruffian named Luther King, who identified Jim Crane, Harry Head, and Bill Leonard as the culprits.
A feud began to grow between the Earps and the Clantons and McLaurys. Morgan was deputized by his brother Virgil to serve as a special deputy, a city law-officer position equivalent to policeman, on October 17, 1881. This may have happened after a round of threats from the cowboys against the Earps shortly before. One of Morgan's first acts after becoming a city police officer was to travel to Tucson to find Doc Holliday on October 22 and bring him back in an attempt to avoid some trouble with Ike Clanton. Although he found Holliday, the attempt at avoiding trouble failed, and on October 25, 1881, Morgan helped back up Doc Holliday as he bullied the Clantons.
Clanton began making trouble in town on October 25, leading to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral on Wednesday, October 26. Of the Earp faction, Morgan was the least experienced, since it was his first gunfight. He participated in the gunfight and was wounded, hit by a bullet across the back and shoulders, but he recovered in seconds and continued to fire his pistol. Either Morgan or Doc Holliday, or both, ended the fight by killing Frank McLaury.
Two months after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in December 1881, Virgil Earp was seriously and permanently wounded in an assassination attempt. By February 1882, Morgan had seen enough of the general danger to the Earps in Tombstone and sent his common-law wife Louisa Houstin Earp to the Earps' parents in Colton, California. However, Morgan chose to remain in Tombstone to guard Virgil, support Wyatt, and continue to work in law enforcement.
Morgan was ambushed about 10 P.M. on Saturday, March 18, 1882. After going to see a musical, he went to play a late round of pool against owner Bob Hatch at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor on Allen Street, in Tombstone. A large number of men, including Wyatt, were watching. At 10:50 P.M., while Morgan was chalking his cue, several armed men crept up to the rear door of the pool hall, and two shots were fired into the room. The first slug entered the right side of Morgan's stomach, shattered his spinal column, and emerged to inflict a flesh wound in one of the onlookers, George Berry. Morgan collapsed, and Wyatt, who had been narrowly missed by the second bullet, went to his brother's side and, helped by Dan Tipton and Sherman McMasters, stretched the dying man out.
The rifle shots entered the lighted billiard parlor through a glass-windowed locked door which opened from the rear of the parlor onto a dark alley, which ran between Allen and Fremont Streets, along the side of the parlor. Three doctors rushed to the scene and stated that they could do nothing to help.
The bullet that hit Morgan shattered his spine and passed through his left kidney. After being shot, Morgan was unable to stand even with assistance, and said "This is the last game of pool I'll ever play." Wyatt reported in his biography years later that Morgan, before dying, whispered to Wyatt "I can't see a damned thing," a reference to supposed visions of Heaven seen by dying people, which Morgan and Wyatt had discussed on a previous occasion. To the last, Morgan's behavior is in keeping with what is known of him. He died less than an hour after being shot, while lying on a lounge in an adjoining card room of the billiard parlor, not on the billiard table, as some accounts report.
Morgan was surrounded by Wyatt, Virgil, James, Warren, and the Earp women. Morgan died less than an hour after being shot. It was generally thought that this revenge killing had been performed by Clanton sympathizers Frank Stilwell, Pete Spence, a gambler named Freis, and two halfbloods, Florentino Cruz and "Indian Charley." His death sent Wyatt on a three-week rampage in the country around Tombstone, sometimes referred to as the Earp Vendetta Ride, killing anyone Wyatt believed was connected to Morgan's death. Wyatt believed that former Johnny Behan deputy and accused stage-robber Frank Stilwell fired the shot that hit Morgan, while the shot which missed Wyatt was fired by William Brocius, a.k.a. "Curly Bill". Both Stilwell and Brocius were killed in the vendetta.
After Morgan's death, he was laid out in a blue suit belonging to his friend Doc Holliday. His body was then taken by wagon on the next day (Sunday) by family and friends to the nearest railhead, in Benson. From there, accompanied by older brother James Earp, Morgan's body was sent to his family in Colton, California. On the following day (Monday), Virgil and his wife were accompanied under family guard to Tucson, in a second expedition. Morgan was first buried in the old city cemetery of Colton, near Mount Slover. When the cemetery was moved in 1892, Morgan's body was reburied in the Hermosa Cemetery in Colton.
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