Today In Western History: Indicted For Horse Stealing

May 8, 1871


America has always represented a chance for the common man to remake his future.  No matter how low he started, he always had a chance to make himself over into someone more and build his fortune.  Some men did this, overcame their lowly start to rise to prominence.  Some men started out low, committing crimes of all types and they just sank lower.  It depended upon how motivated they were to rise above their flaws and how serious their crimes were.

Horse stealing was a big deal at this time.  Stealing a man’s horse was, in some places, a hanging offense.  There was many a man who found himself hanging around a local cottonwood tree over such a behavior.  Proof of theft was, for many, just being in possession of the recognized stolen animal.  Many a man had a promising career cut short because they were caught with a horse with the wrong brand and no bill of sale to account for it.  One such man jumped his bail and lit out for new territory after being indicted for horse stealing.  He had been charged with it in Arkansas, and knowing he was guilty, he made good his escape to Kansas and tried to start over.  As was typical of many men making their way west at that time in our history, this man often found himself working both sides of the law, but generally he stayed on the right side.  Of course, he never lost sight of the proverbial brass ring, and he always tried to find his fortune throughout his life, although it always seemed to be just out of the reach of his fingertips.   His hunt for his fortune didn’t come cheap, and unfortunately it cost him one brother and another one suffering a life-long injury.   But he is today remembered as a stalwart defender of the law, and a dangerous man to cross.  At least, that is how history remembers him. 

Thanks to the efforts of a name named Stuart Lake and the man’s widow, history remembers him because of his efforts to uphold the law after his false start.  He is also remembered for a brief 30 second gunfight in a vacant lot in a silver mine fueled boomtown in southwest Arizona that became national news and is still remembered and celebrated every October.  The celebration is called “Helldorado” and the man is named Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp.  From horse thief to legendary lawman.  That is certainly a successful reinvention.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, gambler, gunfighter and legend.

Today In Western History: Morgan Seth Earp Is Born

April 24 —

Today in 1851, Morgan Seth Earp, younger brother of Wyatt, Virgil and James Earp, is born. 

Morgan Earp, gunfighter and hothead
Morgan Earp, gunfighter and hothead

His picture is often confused with that of his older brother Wyatt, as they looked remarkably alike.     He does follow his brothers into a career in law enforcement, often working beside one or both of his two older brothers.  Morgan is not of the same cool headed and even tempered disposition as his two famous brothers, Wyatt and Virgil, Morgan being more emotionally compatible with one of his older brother Wyatt’s best friends.  The trait he does share with his brothers is that of family loyalty.  Hurt one, you invite an attack by all of them.  This unquestioned and unflinching loyalty, along with his quick fire temper, will lead to his death in thirty years, in Campbell & Hatch’s Billiard Parlor, when he is shot in the back, just a month before his 31st birthday.  This comes as an aftermath of the most famous gunfight in the frontier, that took place in a vacant lot beside a corral in the booming mining town of Tombstone, Arizona. 


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Today in Western History: “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh Murders Antonio Lino Valdez

Today in 1880, outlaw “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh participates in the murder of Antonio Lino Valdez, the 

David "Dirty Dave" Rudabaugh
David “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh

(This is not a confirmed photo of Dave, I couldn’t get my eyes on a REALLY confirmed one, but this is what my books show him, so if I am wrong, so is everyone else!)

jailer in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  

The outlaw career of Dave Rudabaugh began in earnest in Arkansas in the early 1870s. He was part of a band of outlaws who robbed and he participated in cattle rustling along with Milton Yarberry and Mysterious Dave Mather.  

David Allen "Mysterious Dave" Mather, gunman, outlaw, lawman
David Allen “Mysterious Dave” Mather, gunman, outlaw, lawman

The three were suspected to be involved in the death of a rancher and they fled the state. By some accounts all three went to Decatur, Texas, but other stories claim that Rudabaugh headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he be-came a stagecoach robber. Sometime around 1876, Rudabaugh joined Mike Roarke and Dan Dement to form the outlaw band known as the “Trio.” There is a disputed story from around this time that Rudabaugh taught Doc Holliday to use a pistol while Doc taught him the finer points of playing cards, but there is no recorded confirmation of this story, and Doc is often reported to have held a low opinion of ‘Dirty Dave”, so who knows for sure?

In 1877, Wyatt Earp was tracking the Trio from Dodge City to Fort Griffin, 

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.



Texas, with the plan of arresting them. He never caught up with them but he did befriend Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate while in Fort Griffin. The Trio eluded capture and built up their gang to six members, which was then known as the Rudabaugh-Roarke Gang and set about attempting to rob trains.  Dave’s gang made their first attempt on a train on January 22, 1878, near Kinsley, Kansas.  The robbery was a failure, and the gang came away with no loot. The next day, a posse led by Bat Masterson, including John Joshua Webb, captur-

William Bartholomew "Bat"Masterson, lawman, gambler, shootist
William Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson, lawman, gambler, shootist

d Rudabaugh and fellow gang member Ed West. The rest of the gang was captured shortly after.  Ever the loyal friend, Rudabaugh quickly struck a deal for immunity with the prosecutor and testified against his partners.  

The old saying is that it takes a thief to catch a thief.   Proving this to be so, shortly following his release, Rudabaugh accepted Masterson’s offer to join a group of gunfighters to fight for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the Railroad Wars. During this time he became a close associate of John Joshua Webb, the same John Joshua Webb who had arrested him only a short time before.  whom he had met during his earlier arrest. After the railroad wars, he and Webb traveled to the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they became important members of the Dodge City Gang. This gang was a band of ruffians and gamblers who were dominating the political and economic life of the growing community. The leader was Hyman G. Neill (aka Hoodoo Brown). Webb was arrested for murder in the spring of 1880. Dave Rudabaugh and another gang member attempted to break him out of jail on April 5, 1880. The attempt failed, and Rudabaugh shot and killed deputy Antonio Lino Valdez in the process.

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Today In Western History: John Henry Holliday Is Baptised

March 21 —


Today in 1852, a baby boy is baptized with the name of John Henry in Griffin, Georgia.  No birth record has ever been found for John Henry, but that doesn’t make him any less legitimate.  This boy will be very educated, and will turn to a professional career.  He will become a doctor, John Henry will, and his medical career will start off with a promising future.  But that will be cut short by a very serious, and ultimately terminal, illness.  Along the way, John Henry will discover another passion in his life, and that is gambling with the pasteboards.  He will become a very good gambler, and with a terminal illness, he takes more risks than most, and has less to lose.  This makes our John Henry a very danger-ous man, as more than one man discovered.  But John Henry has another virtue, and that is loyalty.  When he makes friends with a man, he sticks with him.  And there is one man he has made a friend of, and he will risk everything for this friend…and his friend’s two brothers.  

John Henry is baptized in 1852, and he dies of his illness on November 8, 1887, in Glennwood Springs Sanitarium, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  When he passes, his last reported words are ”That is funny”.  No one knows what he meant.  His friend, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, said of John Henry, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, that “He was my friend.”

John Henry Holliday, dentist, gambler, alcoholic and gunfighter.
John Henry Holliday, dentist, gambler, alcoholic and gunfighter.

The picture shown above is the picture most often used to portray Doc Holliday,  but the problem is that it hasn’t been authenticated by any reliable source or researcher due to a lack of provenance.   It looks like it should be him, but…..

John Henry Holliday (age 20) last confirmed photograph
John Henry Holliday (age 20) last known confirmed photograph

The last known picture of John Henry Holliday (above) is from when he is 20 and before his rise to fame, or before his descent to infamy, depending upon where you stand.


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Today In Western History: Wyatt Earp is Born

March 19 —

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, Illinois, the third of Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp’s five sons.   One of the icons of the American West, he worked for the law and helped tame the wild cowboy culture that pervaded the frontier. In Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt got into a feud with a local rancher that resulted in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, perhaps the most famous gunfight in American history.  Earp died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929, only one of two gunfighters to die of old age, the other being William Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson.

William Bartholomew "Bat"Masterson, lawman, gambler, shootist
William Bartholomew “Bat”Masterson, lawman, gambler, shootist

The Civil War broke out when Wyatt was just 13. Desperate to leave the family farm in Illinois and find adventure, he tried several times to join his two older brothers, Virgil and James, in the Union army. But each time, the runaway Earp was caught before he ever reached the battlefield and was returned home.  At the age of 17 Earp finally left his family, now living in California, for a new life along the frontier. He worked hauling freight, and then later was hired to grade track for the Union Pacific Rail-road. In his downtime he learned to box and became an adept gambler.

In 1869, Earp returned to the fold of his family, who had made a home in Lamar, Missouri. A new, more settled life seemed to await Earp. After his father resigned as constable of the township, Earp replaced him.  By 1870 he’d married Urilla Sutherland, the daughter of the local hotel owner, built a house in town and was an expecting father. But then, everything changed. Within a year of their marriage Urilla contracted typhus and died, along with her unborn child.

Broken and devastated by his wife’s death, Earp left Lamar and set off on a new life devoid of any kind of grounding. In Arkansas, he was arrested for stealing horses, but managed to avoid punishment by escaping from his jail cell. For the next several years, Earp roamed the frontier, making his home in saloons and brothels, working as a strongman and befriending several different prostitutes.  In 1876 he moved to Wichita, Kansas, where his brother Virgil had opened a new brothel that catered to the cow-boys coming off their long cattle drives. There, he also began working with a part-time police officer on rounding up criminals.

The adventure and the little bit of press Earp received from the job appealed to him, and eventually he was made city marshal in Dodge City, Kansas.  But while he’d reinvented himself as a lawman, the spec-ulative spirit that had driven his father ran in Earp as well. In December 1879, Earp joined his brothers Virgil and Morgan in Tombstone, Arizona, a booming frontier town that had only recently been erected when a speculator discovered the land there contained vast amounts of silver. His good friend John Henry “Doc” Holliday, whom he’d met in Kansas, joined him. But the silver riches the Earp brothers expected to find never came, forcing Earp to begrudgingly to return to law work. In a town and a region desperate to tame the lawlessness of the cowboy culture that pervaded the frontier, Earp was a most welcome sight.

In March 1881 Earp set out to find a posse of cowboys that had robbed a Tombstone stagecoach and its driver. In an effort to close in on the outlaws, he struck a deal with a rancher named Ike Clanton, who

Isaac "Ike" Clanton, outlaw, "Cowboy" and alcoholic
Isaac “Ike” Clanton, outlaw, “Cowboy” blowhard and alcoholic

regularly dealt with the cowboys working around Tombstone. In return for his help, Earp promised Clanton he could collect a $6,000 reward.  But the partnership quickly dissolved. Clanton, paranoid that Earp would leak the details of their bargain, turned against Earp. By October Clanton was out of his mind, drunk and parading around Tombstone’s saloons, bragging that he was going to kill one of the Earp men.  Everything came to a head on October 26, 1881, when the three Earps, along with Doc Holliday, met Clanton, his brother Billy, and two others, Frank McLaury and his brother, Tom, on a small lot on the edge of town near an enclosure called the O.K. Corral.  There, the greatest gunfight in the West’s history took place. Over the course of just 30 seconds, a barrage of shots was fired, killing Billy Clanton and both of the McLaury brothers. Virgil and Morgan Earp, as well as Holliday, all were injured. The only one unscathed was Wyatt.  The battle ratcheted up tensions between the cowboy community and those who were looking for a more settled West to emerge. Ike Clanton went on a ram-page, orchestrating the shooting of Virgil Earp and the assassination of Morgan Earp.   As a result of Morgan’s death, Wyatt Earp set off in search of vengeance. With Holliday and small posse of others, he roamed the frontier on a killing spree that made headlines around the nation, earning the group both praise and condemnation for taking on the West’s wild cowboy culture.

As the American West grew to be more settled, Earp’s place in it became less certain. With his com-panion, Josephine Marcus, he continued to seek out the success that had eluded him most of his life. He ran saloons in parts of California and went after the gold rush in Alaska before settling down in Los Angeles.  During his last years, he became infatuated with Hollywood’s portrayal of the West and his legacy.

In the early days of Hollywood westerns, he befriended a very young ‘gopher’ on the set of Tom Mix’s westerns, a young man named Marion Robert Morrison.  Marion listened to Wyatt’s conversations with Tom and modeled his own screen persona after Wyatt.  You can hear Wyatt’s words in the character Marion portrayed in his last movie, when he plays a dying gunfighter by the name of J. B. Books.  You won’t see the name Marion Morrison listed in the credits, but you will see John Wayne

Wyatt longed for a film that told his story and set the record straight on his accomplishments. But the kind of recognition he craved came only after his passing on January 13, 1929, at his Los Angeles home.

Wyatt Earp in 1929
Wyatt Earp in 1929 at age 81

The Earp story was remade with the 1931 publication Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by biographer Stuart Lake. In it, the former frontier man was transformed into a Western hero that Hollywood and the American public came to adore.  Hollywood made several movies depicting that famous gunfight, some more realistic than others, several of which only resembled the real thing in name only.  A few of them didn’t even come that close.  “The Hour of The Gun” starring James Garner as Wyatt Earp, was fun to watch but you really had to look closely to find a factual aspect of the story.  The most histori-cally accurate telling of the story would be Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp”, but the most fun and exciting to watch is Kurt Russell’s “Tombstone”.  Watch them both for a stereo-optic viewing of the real story.



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