Today In Western History: Extradition Fails

May 15, 1882


Arizona authorities try to extradite a man named John Henry from Denver to question him about a shooting he took part in just eight months ago.  The shooting happened just before the end of October, and it was the culmination of a long standing feud between the town marshal, Walter, and his two brothers, Stapp and Seth, both serving as special policemen.  The man Arizona authorities wanted to question was the fourth member of this group.  On the other side of the feud was Johnny Behan, the sheriff of Chochise County, who was a good 

Johnny Behan, Sheriff of Cochise County, the outlaw's best friend
Johnny Behan, Sheriff of Cochise County, the outlaw’s best friend

friend to, and in the pocket of shady ranchers (and local outlaws) Ike Clanton and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, Frank and Tom McLaury,  and all of these men had a long history of criminal activities ranging from rustling, robbery and murder. 

Isaac "Ike" Clanton, outlaw, "Cowboy" and alcoholic, braggart and coward
Isaac “Ike” Clanton, outlaw, “Cowboy” and alcoholic, braggart and coward

There were some who thought John had even instigated the fight by his arrogance and challenging words before the fight.  John did have a long standing history of alcoholism, gambling and violence.  He was known to be a very difficult man to get along with when he was sober, and even harder to get along with when he was drinking, which was most of the time. 

Because John’s friend didn’t want him getting into any more trouble, John’s friend Stapp called on his friend, William, who was currently serving as chief of police in Trinidad, Colorado, for help.  William quickly filed bunco charges against John, which put a hold on Arizona’s efforts to take him back.  With an extradition hearing set for May 30, William reached out for help in getting an appoint-ment with Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin.  He contacted E.D. Cowen, capital reporter for the Denver Tribune, who held consider- able political power in Trinidad.  Cowen was to write some time later, “He submitted proof of the criminal design upon John’s life. Late as the hour was, I called on Pitkin.” His legal reasoning was that the extradition papers contained faulty legal language, and that there was already a Colorado warrant out for him, including the bunco charge that William had creatively manufactured on demand. Pitkin was persuaded by the evidence presented by William and refused to honor Arizona’s extradition request.

William took John to Pueblo, where he was subsequently released on bond two weeks after his arrest.   John and Stapp met briefly during June 1882 for what would be the last time, in Gunnison shortly after John’s release.  

Never heard of Walter, Stapp, Seth, John, or William?  Sure you have.  Virgil WALTER Earp,  Wyatt Berry STAPP Earp, Morgan SETH Earp, JOHN Henry “Doc” Holliday, WILLIAM Bartholmew “Bat” Masterson.


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


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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.