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Morgan Earp, about 1881, in Tombstone.
Morgan Seth Earp (April 24, 1851 – March 18, 1882) was the younger brother of Wyatt Earp, the famous gunfighter. Morgan was involved in the gunfight at the O.K.marker Corralmarker, where he was wounded. His assassination in Tombstonemarker was part of a wave of vendetta killing in the southeastern Arizona Territory.

Early life

Morgan Earp was born in Pellamarker, Marion Countymarker, Iowamarker, 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. Before adulthood, teenaged Morgan followed James Earp up to Montana for a couple of years. Later he was with Wyatt on the Western frontier.

In 1875, Morgan departed the Earp clan living in in Wichita, Kansas, and became a deputy sheriff under Charlie Bassett at Dodge City. In late 1877, Morgan took his common-law wife Louisa A. Houston to Montana, where they lived until March, 1880.

At different times in Arizona, both Wyatt and Morgan worked as shotgun messengers for Wells Fargo & Co., deputy sheriffs for Pima Countymarker, and also as deputies under Tombstone's Chief of Police Virgil Earp, their older brother. During early 1882, Morgan was appointed to the federal position of Deputy U.S. Marshal, an office subservient to Wyatt Earp, who had been given the position by the U.S. Marshal C. Dake, after Virgil was wounded, and had authority to deputize.

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 (see Barra, 1998, book postscript). 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.

Gunfight at the OK Corral

Morgan was deputized by his brother Virgil to serve as special policeman with badge on September 26, 1881. This may have happened after a round of threats from the cowboys against the Earps after the Bisbee stage robbery earlier that month. On October 20 Morgan went to Tucson to find Doc Holliday and bring him back in an attempt to avoid some trouble with Ike Clanton. Although he found Holliday and brought him back on the 22nd, the attempt at avoiding trouble failed.

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 not the least experienced in gunplay, contrary to common belief. Morgan cut his teeth as deputy sheriff during three cattle seasons in Dodge City. Following this Earp saw much law enforcement action as town marshal of Butte, Montana,(1878)and later as policeman there. He also survived a 1879 gun duel in Miles City, Montana - killing his man - a notorious Brooks brother. Participating in the Tombstone gunfight he was wounded, hit by a bullet across the back, which broke both shoulder blades and chipped off a piece of vertebra. However he recovered in seconds and continued to fire his pistol. The fight was ended when simultaneous shots were fired by Morgan and Doc Holliday at Frank McLaury. One or the other's bullet went through the base of Frank's skull behind the ear, killing him within minutes, before he could be moved.

After the gunfight

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 Coltonmarker, Californiamarker. 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. There, while playing, he was hit by a rifle shot to the side of his lower back. An assassination attempt was also made at the same time on Wyatt Earp, who was watching the game, but the bullet missed.

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. The Campbell and Hatch Billiard parlor and card room no longer exists, having burned in a fire in May 1882. It was two lots east of Hafford's Saloon on 4th Street and Allen, which was re-built after the fire and may be seen today. An old photo said to be of the interior of the Campbell & Hatch billiard parlor room, is actually of another similar institution.

The bullet that hit Morgan shattered his spine and passed through his left kidney. The wound was pronounced fatal by the three doctors who examined him a short time later. 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.

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 wife and parents in Colton, California. On the following day (Monday), Virgil and his wife were accompanied under family guard to Tucson, then Colton, 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. See burial site information here.

Morgan was likely shot by Clanton supporters, though none was formally charged with the crime. 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 deputy Johnny Behan 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.


The revolver that Morgan was supposedly wearing when he was killed can be seen on display at the College of the Ozarksmarker in Bransonmarker, Missourimarker. The pearl-handled grip is still stained with Morgan's blood from the fatal injury sustained during his last game of pool.


  • Barra takes a look at the Earp legend and does the most thorough analysis of its evolution over time, and its place in American mythology, fiction, and film.

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