Virgil Walter Earp was born in
1843 in Kentucky. He was the second oldest of the brothers. When Virgil
was only 18 years old he enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil
War. His older brother James had also been enlisted but was sent home
with injury. For some time, Virgil was incorrectly reported dead.
In 1865 Virgil was discharged from the military and traveled
home. He decided to move out to California to meet with the rest of the
Earp family. He worked many jobs including railroad construction, a
stagecoach driver, a sawmill sawyer, a mailman and a prospector.
However he his also well known for his life spent in law enforcement.
Virgil also spent some time in Kansas with brother Wyatt but
from Dodge City Kansas he moved to Prescott in the Arizona Territory,
and in 1877 when he was deputized, so began his law days in Arizona. In
1879 Virgil was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshall for the Arizona
Territory. Later that year he traveled from Prescott to live in
Tombstone with Wyatt. Originally is was supposed to represent federal
law but in 1880 when Virgil became acting town marshall of Tombstone.
This happened because the previous Marshall, Fred White was shot and
killed (later termed accidentally) by "Curly Bill" Brocious. Virgil was
not present when White was shot but his brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp
took part in his arrest. Later it was reported that brother Wyatt
"pistol whipped" Brocious which led to more animosity than was already
present. Brocious was part of one of the Old West's largest organized
crime groups, the "Cowboys" and much tension was built up between the
As town marshall
it was Virgil's job to enforce the law, including the one that stated
that no weapons can be carried in town. When the McLaury brothers, the
Clanton brothers, and Billy Claiborne were suspected of having weapons
in town on October 26, 1881, it was Virgil's job to have the weapons
taken away. His brothers Morgan (a deputy) and Wyatt and "Doc" Holliday
(deputized citizens) accompanied him and the result was the gunfight at
the O.K. Corral. The 30
second fight at the O.K. Corral left three men dead. Before anything
began Virgil is reported to have said, "Alright, hands up!" After this
all the men who had guns drew them. In an attempt to stop this, Virgil
next shouted, "Hold! I don't mean that!", but it was too late and the
clicking of hammers was already happening. After this two shots started
the entire gunfight, and it is still not known who shot first. Virgil
left with a gunshot wound in the leg, but did not die at the fight.
Virgil was the most experienced man in the fight as he had been in life
or death situations before. His time in the army and previous work as a
lawman had him prepared for the situation that took place that
day. For three days following the showdown Virgil was suspended
from marshall but later all investigations were dropped and Virgil was
cleared. In December
of 1881, just months after the O.K. Corral gunfight, Virgil was
ambushed on Allen Street in Tombstone as he was walking to his hotel
room. He was staying at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for protections due to
threats he received. The attackers were never caught or identified but
are assumed to be associated with those who were killed in the O.K.
Corral shootout. Ike Clanton's hat was found in the street but he was
given an alibi that was not contested. As much as twenty shots busted
through the Crystal Palace Saloon and Eagle Brewery behind Virgil, and
though many bullets missed Virgil was hit in the back and his left arm.
The shots that hit Virgil crippled him permanently in his left arm.
Initially it was thought the wounds would be fatal, but that was proved
wrong as Virgil survived. In March of
1882, Morgan was killed in another ambush, again assumed to be a
revenge murder for the murders that took place at the O.K. Corral. In order for protection
Virgil and his family left to stay with the rest of the Earps in
Colton, California. Morgon's body would also be sent there for burial. While Virgil
boarded the train there was another ambush planned. Virgil's wife
carried Virgil's gun so he could grab it if needed but Wyatt, "Doc"
Holliday and other men stood as Virgil boarded to act as further
protection. Frank Stilwell was killed that night at the train station. The Earps claim Stilwell
was going to kill Virgil, while Ike Clanton who was with Stilwell,
claimed Stilwell believed they were coming to kill him. Why Stillwell
would meet them at the train station was never explained by Ike. In
California, despite only being able to use one arm, Virgil was
successful in being a railroad guard. Virgil also opened a private
detective agency that was abandoned after two years. He then was
elected constable and later Colton city's first marshall. In 1893 he
moved to the short-lived mining town, Vanderbilt in California and
operated a successful saloon and meeting hall, Earp Hall. He lived in Colorado and Prescott
later in life, but in 1904 returned to Colton, California. However,
after being unable to open a saloon he moved to Goldfield, Nevada and
became deputy sheriff. Sadly, Virgil died in 1905 after six months of
pneumonia. His remains were sent to Portland, Oregon were a daughter
lived and requested he be buried.