Just what is Virgil Earp’s connection to Prescott ?

By Bill Lynam

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Like the rest of the Earps, Virgil, the second oldest of the Earp brothers by his father’s second marriage, always seemed to wind up where his father or brothers were, but not for long. The lure of new gold and silver discoveries in the West drove him to seek his fortune at the next bonanza, but more often as a lawman than as a miner.


Donald Chaput, Virgil’s biographer, and other historians reported on Virgil’s first marriage to Ellen Rysdam when he was seventeen and she fifteen. The father-in-law attempted to have the marriage annulled when told they had married without his permission. Married under false names, they would not tell Ellen’s father where they did it nor under which identities. Ellen, pregnant with their daughter, delivered Nellie Jane in the summer of 1862. The elder Rysdam forbade Virgil to see his daughter or his child. Unhappy with this, Virgil joined the Union Army on August 21, 1862. Participating in several major battles, he was mustered out at Nashville, Tennessee on June 26, 1865.


Returning home to Pella, Illinois, he found both his wife and child and his own family gone. His father Nick had moved to San Bernadino, California and Ellen went with her family to the Pacific Northwest. Ellen, told that Virgil had died of battle wounds, later remarried. Virgil, not knowing where Ellen had gone, followed the trail to California in a wagon train and caught up with his father. It wasn’t until twenty-three years later that Virgil found out where Ellen and his daughter, Nellie Jane, lived.


On this trip, he passed through Prescott, Arizona, and finding it to his liking, made it a point to return someday.


In the spring of 1866, he became a wagon master and hauled goods between southern California and Prescott, which was becoming a supply and refurbishing point for the mining activities developing in the vicinity. Wyatt, his younger brother, joined him as a teamster.


Meanwhile, Nick, the father, moved back to Monmouth, Illinois; while out west, Virgil and Wyatt worked different jobs. In 1869 they moved back east to join their father. When they got to Monmouth, they found that Nick had moved on to Lamar, Missouri where his brother, Jonathan lived. Nick, by then a local Justice of the Peace, among other duties, married Virgil to Rozilla Dragoo on May 28, 1870. Three years later, Virgil, headed west again but without Rozilla. The records don’t show what happened to the marriage or her.


In 1873 he met Alvira (Allie) Sullivan, a waitress at the Planter’s House Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Together, they moved throughout the west settling in Prescott from Dodge City, Kansas in 1876.


Virgil’s first jobs in Prescott were delivering mail, some gold mining and running a sawmill, said (but not proven) to be located where the Thumb Butte parking lot is now. He provided sawn lumber for homes and timbers for mine shoring. He also placed a bid for 500 cords of pine for the U.S. Army at Camp Whipple. In 1878, he applied for a night watchman’s job in Prescott. On September 3, 1878, the Common Council appointed Virgil at a salary of $75 a month. Eager for more work, Virgil filed and, on November 8, 1878, was elected Constable of the Prescott Precinct by a margin of 165 votes over the runner-up. Less than a month later, the Arizona Journal Miner reported on December 6, he resigned his night watchman job. Working day and night was too much.


Reporting 28 years later, the Prescott Gazette recalled a shoot out in which Virgil was involved. Shortly after arriving in Prescott, Virgil was deputized along with others by Sheriff Ed Bowers for a manhunt to chase down two fellows shooting up the town.


The Gazette recited "the town was visited by two cowboys from the Bradshaw Basin region." They were said to be "shooting up saloons and other resorts." Then, riding out of town towards the Brooks Ranch, shooting right and left as they departed town.


Arriving at the Brooks Ranch, "the cowboys sent word to the officers that they were camped there, and if any of the officers wanted them, to come out and get them. These men were considered bad ones and were known to be dead shots."


Meanwhile, "Sheriff Bowers, organized a posse of citizens…and started for the Brooks Ranch on horseback," led by Deputy U. S. Marshall Stanford and another deputy in a hack. The party in the hack passed the bad men unmolested, but the cowboys opened fire on the posse. Sheriff Bower’s horse was hit." The Sheriff returned fire but was not himself hit.


"Arriving at the scene, Virgil Earp, armed with a Henry rifle, proceeded up the creek in the direction of the shooting, and, noticing one of the cowboys crouched under an oak tree reloading his gun, shot and killed him."


"The other cowboy was shot with a charge of buckshot and lived two days, finally dying at the hospital. Earp came into prominence as a determined man and a good shot after this."


Virgil kept up on the mining news, interested in where new strikes were found. He wrote Wyatt, who was in Dodge City, that Tombstone, Arizona appeared to have great opportunities and they ought to move there. Preparing for the move, Virgil had himself appointed Deputy U.S. Marshall. This would give him a job when he got to Tombstone and he received his commission on November 27, 1879.


One writer suggested that the Earps sought law enforcement positions only to protect their gambling interests. There may have been some truth to this since wherever the Earps wound up, they either owned full or partial interests in saloons and the gambling tables run in these establishments.


Virgil and his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan, filed mining claims in the Tombstone area, but Virgil spent more time looking for steady employment. Already a Deputy Marshall, he was also appointed Chief of Police of Tombstone on October 28, 1880 to replace the murdered Fred White. Virgil also ran for Town Marshall but was defeated for election based on six ordinances he had proposed, one of which, giving the Marshall the authority to arrest anyone he thought was a nuisance, probably cost him the election.


Virgil, one of the key participants in the gun fight that has come to characterize the old west and that went on to become a classic myth through any number of Hollywood recreations, was the law in Tombstone on the day of the gun fight nearby the OK Corral on October 26, 1881.

It was a shoot out between lawmen and cattle thieves and bandits. Virgil Earp deputized his brothers Morgan and Wyatt Earp and their friend, John Henry (Doc) Holliday. Jim and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed in the gunfight. The dead were members of the notorious "Cowboy Gang" who effectively controlled the town, and were noted for rustling cattle and holding up stages.


These killings set off a series of ambushes against the Earps. Virgil, already wounded at the shoot out in the leg, was wounded again on December 28, 1881, shot-gunned in his left arm and side by an unknown assailant at the Oriental Saloon. Several months later, his brother Morgan was killed on March 18, 1882. These incidents set off revenge killings against the perpetrators by Wyatt, Doc Holliday and their friends.


Virgil, with his arm permanently crippled, moved with Allie and became the first Marshall of Colton, California.


Virgil Earp retuned to Prescott 15 years after Tombstone


On Oct. 13, 1895, The Arizona Journal Miner reported in a welcoming article that Virgil Earp relocated to Prescott, this time from Cripple Creek, Colorado. It recalled some of his and his brothers past exploits in Prescott and Tombstone and their ridding these communities of outlaws.


Virgil started mining in the Hassayampa district in partnership with W.H. Harlon. They leased the Grizzly mine owned by W.C. Hanson. The Miner reported on November 8, 1896 that the day before "a serious accident had occurred at this mine. Virgil Earp and W. H. Harlon were working in a tunnel. The ground caved catching Mr. Earp and pinning him to the ground. He was unconscious for several hours and Dr. Abbott, was called to dress his wounds." The doctor found he had sustained a dislocated right hip, that both of his feet and ankles were badly crushed, his head seriously cut, with bruises all over his body. The doctor said it would be several weeks before Virgil would be able to move around again. In fact, it was more than that.


Two months later, the same newspaper reported Virgil was recovering from his mine accident, hobbling around on crutches because of his severe wounds. As the reporter said: "Mr. Earp has had two or three experiences in his life which very few men would have lived through, this being one of them. He has been shot all to pieces, and crushed in this mine accident, but still has hopes as well as good prospects of living to a ripe old age." At the time, Virgil was 53.


Virgil’s reputation as a lawman also got him some part-time duties in Prescott, one of which he probably wished afterwards, he had passed up.


The November 4, 1898 Miner reported Virgil had been hired as a special constable to arrest the editors of the Jerome Reporter, brothers James and Claud Thompson and a Mr. Lawrence. The basis was a warrant for libel sworn by John Burns, the Republican candidate for sheriff. The reporter suggested the charge had more to do with "horseplay" than anything. As he put it, the Jerome Reporter was running "quite a stirring campaign daily."


Nevertheless, Virgil rode over to Jerome and "nabbed Lawrence and James Thompson and brought them in last evening. Claud Thompson was sick in bed They were held for $1,000 bail each to appear before a grand jury to answer the charge of libel. They both gave bail and left for Jerome this morning," the Miner stated.


The next day, Virgil was arrested on a charge of false imprisonment. "The justice placed Earp under $500 bond to appear before him. Earp gave bail and was released."


And the day after, the Miner went on to editorialize, "most ordinary fool knows that a justice of the peace has the authority to issue a warrant and to deputize anyone to serve it. There is however, an occasional democratic fool that don’t ever know that much. The arrest of Virgil Earp for false imprisonment, charged with duly serving a warrant duly issued by a peace officer of the county, proves the allegation that some fools don’t know as much as an ordinary clam."


On January 5, 1898, Virgil, then 55 years old, applied for possession of 160 acres in Kirkland, Arizona, on the other side of the Bradshaw Mountains from Prescott, under the provisions of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Homestead Act of June 8, 1872. This amounted to the G.I. Bill of its day giving veterans the right to apply for ownership of public lands.


As a Civil War veteran, Virgil applied and received Homestead Certificate Number 569 for the SW1/4, of the SE1/4, of Section 17 and North of the NE and the SE1/4 of the NE1/4, of Section 20, Township12, North Range 4, West, Gila and Salt River Meridian in Arizona comprising of one hundred and sixty acres.


As a condition of ownership, Virgil had to have witnesses support his claim of continuous residency. On March 6, 1900, he filed an affidavit naming four witnesses. In his Testimony of Claim, he responded to a number of questions demonstrating residency on the land and how he had improved it.


The testimony, in Virgil’s handwriting, states, "he had established an actual residence house of adobe. The house frame was 14′ by 20′ with two rooms and a stable. This included a well and two acres under wire fence." He stated he and Allie lived there in constant residence. He indicated the land was of poor quality, only suitable for grazing and ranching. His personal property was horses and cattle running on the range. For cultivation, he had raised two or three grains over two seasons.


Virgil ranched in the Kirkland area for several years. The Miner reported on October 25, 1898, that he and Allie spent the winter in Prescott. The Great Register of Yavapai County indicated Virgil was a resident of Kirkland from 1898 through 1902.


The Miner reported on April 26, 1899 about Virgil Earp’s first marriage. "A telegram from Portland, Oregon, tells of a romance in which a resident of Prescott was one of the principals." Continuing, " Virgil Earp of Prescott, Ariz., and his wife (Ellen) and daughter (Nellie Jane) have met in this city after a separation of thirty-eight years. Mr. And Mrs. Earp were married in Oskaloosa, Iowa, in 1860. A year later Earp went to war and the report came back, he had died. After the war was over, Earp returned to his former home, but his wife and daughter had disappeared. After several years both Earp and his wife married again… Mrs. Earp has been a resident of this city (Portland, Ore.) for many years "


A traveler through Kirkland in October of 1899 reported to the Miner on Virgil and Wyatt’s recent activities. "Capt. A. F. Banta met Virgil Earp who told him that he had just had a letter from his brother, Wyatt Earp, who is at Dawson, saying that he had taken out $50,000 in gold and would start for San Francisco on the next steamer. He had been in the Klondike country for two years. Virgil Earp is engaged in the cattle business in Kirkland valley." Wyatt at this time was the co-owner of the Dexter Saloon in Nome, Alaska.


Several other events were recorded about Virgil and his time in Prescott. Many of his law enforcement appointments and stabs at election were under the auspices of the Republican Party. In September of 1900, he was a speaker at the Republican Convention in Prescott at which he was nominated for Sheriff of Yavapai County. Within only a month, however, the Miner reported he had withdrawn his candidacy. Historians suggest he was in poor health and for that reason didn’t take the candidacy. The reporter at the time though, said that Earp and a candidate for another office were " men of reputation more or less good." When Virgil declined the nomination, the reporter went on to say, "as Earp has refused to run, his reputation is more than less good."


In 1902 he and Allie had begun selling their holdings. In 1902 they sold their property in Township 12 to one of his homestead attesters, William Rudy.

By 1904 Virgil is absent from the Great Register. Virgil and Allie had moved on again.


Word came from Goldfield, Nevada, that Virgil died there of pneumonia at the age of 63 on October 19, 1905. At the request of his daughter, Nellie Jane, his remains were shipped to Portland, Oregon and he is buried there at the Riverside Cemetery. Allie lived on for another 42 years and never remarried.


                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012