By Scott Dyke
Virgil Earp, Tombstone’s town marshal, brother Morgan and, of course, Wyatt are forever embedded in Western history. Books and movies spend an inordinate amount of attention on the three brothers. Little attention has been paid to the rest of the Earp tribe. Half-brother Newton (Nicholas Earp’s son by his first wife) was a well respected farmer.
From Nick’s second wife came five sons.
James, the eldest of the second marriage, was wounded in the Civil War. He was content to ply his trade as a bar owner in Tombstone.
The four other brothers were well acquainted with gun play. Besides James’ brush with combat, Virg and Morgan were shot at the OK Corral fight. Virg was shot up two months later in an ambush, and Morgan was killed, shot in the back. Amazingly, Wyatt spent a lifetime without suffering as much as a scratch.
The fifth Earp was the youngest brother. His name was Warren. Actually, according to the Earp family Bible, his given name was Baxter Warren Earp, a fact that escaped many historians. No matter. Born March 9, 1855, he would spend his life identified by his middle name.
He spent his early years following his wanderlust father, traveling back and forth from the Midwest and California. San Bernardino and Colton were home base in California.
Warren worked the family farm and grocery store. He also tended bar for his father’s saloon. His famous older brothers were making a name for themselves on the frontier. Warren was influenced by their exploits.
Time in Tombstone
In early 1881, Warren joined the older brothers in Tombstone. He often filled in as a special policeman for Virgil, who had been appointed town marshal. He was called to action in June of that year when a fire destroyed much of the town. His duties were to guard what was left and stop any lot jumpers.
Warren made the news when he was fined $25 for discharging a fire arm in the city limits. Apparently he was not on duty. He gained a reputation as a hard drinker who became quarrelsome when imbibing.
Warren headed back to Colton before the infamous shootout in October 1881. When he got the news of the fight, he returned to Tombstone. Brother Virg was ambushed in December and Morgan was assassinated in March 1882.
Warren was now a player in what has become known as the Wyatt Earp “vengeance ride,” which undoubtedly influenced and etched his behavior going forward. He would spend the balance of his life trying to impress others with his contributions to the Earp legacy.
The Earp posse claimed their first victim at the Tucson train station.
Frank Stillwell was lurking about while Wyatt was seeing wounded Virgil off to California. Wyatt and fellow pistoleers, including Warren, shot Stillwell to pieces for his alleged participation in Morgan’s murder. Shed no tears for Frank. He had it comin’.
By the time Wyatt and his men finished rampaging Cochise County, three known kills were recorded and doubtless many more went unreported.
The Tiger tracked
The Earp group fled to Colorado to avoid the reach of the law. Warren showed up in an interview in a Gunnison paper. He was referred to as “The Tiger.” Warren was a wiry 6-footer. Unlike his blonde brothers, he was dark haired.
Warren can be traced for over a decade. He got into a dust-up in
Colton in 1883 with a fella named Bustamente. Nine shots fired. No hits. (Lucky for Wyatt that Warren was not at the OK Corral.) He was jailed in Yuma for trying to extort money from a man whom he threatened to throw off a bridge.
In ’93 he made the papers again when he stabbed a Mr. Steel. Curiously, Steel got the slammer for 10 days and Warren walked. We will revisit the knife later.
He moved around a lot, even acquiring a wife. He married Kate Sanford in Dingle, Idaho in June of 1887. Her fate is not known. One assumes she came to her senses.
Eventually Warren wandered back to Southern Arizona and took on work around Willcox, driving stages. He was listed in the 1898 Great Register of Cochise County as a “bartender.”
Willcox was a major cattle shipping town. Some years nearly 50,000 head rode the rails east. It was as rough as Tombstone. Warren had finally found a place he could fit in.
But not for long. An item in the Tombstone Prospector had Warren convicted and jailed for lifting a $20 bill from a monte table.
His reputation as a bully became well established in Willcox. One cowboy took exception to Warren’s belligerence. His name was Johnny Boyette.
Knife versus gun
In the early morning hours of July 6, 1900, at the Headquarters Saloon in Willcox, Warren and Boyette exchanged words. Earp told the 5-foot-6-inch cowboy to go get his gun.
Boyette stalked out and found some pistols. He came back to the saloon with a gun in each hand, asking “Where is the son of a —– ?” He fired four shots in and around where Warren was
Then, Warren responded in what must be considered a uniquely strange manner. Telling Boyette “you have the best of this” (since Warren was armed with only a pocket knife), he advanced and was
shot through the heart, killing him instantly.
A coroner’s jury found Warren Earp had “came to his death … from the effects of a gunshot wound at the hands of one John N. Boyett (sic)” No charges were filed. As often happened in the rough and
tumble towns of the Old West, most in Willcox figured that Warren Earp would not be missed.
The testimonies of Earp being shot were at odds with the autopsy report. Warren was shot from above, according to the bullet trajectory. A tough steak to swallow consider the height differences of the two men.
Warren’s body was dispatched to the old cemetery across from the train tracks. Warren’s demise was the first known recognition of the oft-used example of futility. He brought a knife to a gun fight.
For years, stories abounded that the surviving Earp boys got revenge and did-in Johnny Boyette. All this was fabrication as the man lived for decades and is buried in Texas.
There is a marker for Warren. It was placed there several years ago by a committee from Tombstone. Given the lack of care for this
cemetery for decades, it is unlikely Warren rests directly underneath.
The late Glenn Boyer, who interviewed many surviving Earp relatives over 50 years ago, dryly offered me a final epitaph:
“Nobody in the family liked Warren!”
Scott Dyke is a Wyatt Earp historian, Western writer, lecturer and researcher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Article appeared at the Green Valley News and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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