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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 70


This is the grave of Virgil Earp.

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Born in 1843 in Hartford, Kentucky, Earp joined the Union army in 1863, serving with the 83rd Illinois Infantry. He was married at this time with a baby daughter. His wife was told he had died. She then married another man and moved to Oregon. He left the army in 1865 and went to Iowa, where he thought his family resided. But they were long gone. He remarried in 1870 but the woman disappeared from all public records so we don’t know what happened. Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan moved all around the West for a long time, doing a variety of jobs, including law enforcement. He eventually found himself in Dodge City, Kansas with his brother but it’s unclear if he served in law enforcement. He did however hear through friends about opportunities in Tombstone, Arizona, and convinced his brothers to move there with him. In 1880, Virgil was appointed town marshal on and off for the next couple of years.

It was here that he played a critical role in the Shootout at the O.K. Corral. After a series of threats by outlaw cowboys known as the Cochise County Cowboys, Tombstone passed a law requiring people to turn in their guns. The Earps had tried to crack down on the Cowboys organized crime activities and their lives were frequently threatened. On October 26, 1881, the two sides battled in Tombstone and 3 of the Cowboys were killed. Virgil, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday were originally charged with murder but a judge quickly exonerated them. That was not the end of their travails. On December 28, the Cowboys attempted to kill Virgil, shooting him three times in the back. They failed, but they destroyed his left arm. Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882. While Wyatt led a posse to kill the Cowboys, Virgil went to recover at his parents house in California.

He took two years to recover from his wounds. After that, he served in a variety of law enforcement positions in California. He later ran a saloon, moved to Colorado and then Arizona, where he got involved in mining and ranching. It was not until 1898 that he discovered his first wife and daughter were alive. They made contact and he became close with his daughter and grandchildren he did not know he had. He died in Goldfield, Nevada in 1905.

Earp has been portrayed many times in popular culture. Among the highlights are Tim Holt playing him in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, Guy Wilkerson in Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, John Hudson in John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Frank Converse in another Sturges production, Hour of the Gun, a far too old for the part Sam Elliott in George Cosmatos’ Tombstone, and Michael Madsen in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp. Also, Charles Maxwell played him in an episode of Star Trek, which I guess I have never seen.

Virgil Earp is buried in River View Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.

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