Prior to moving to Tucson and visiting Tombstone many times since, what I knew about Wyatt Earp, The Gunfight At The OK Corral, and the Earp Vendetta Ride, I learned mostly from movies and television shows.
In subsequent years, I learned that almost everything I thought I knew about these events was wrong. My sources were mere historical fictions produced as entertainment for a general audience. For the most part, they portrayed legends and myths, not historical facts.
What I learned over the past decade is that the facts are far more interesting than the fictions. Now my primary sources are:
Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend; by Casey Tiferteller (1997).
Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend; by historian Gary L. Roberts (2007).
The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West; by Jeff Guinn (2011).
Plus anything written on these and related subjects by Jeff Morey.
If you read any or all of the above, you will never visit Tombstone again as a mere tourist. It becomes impossible to walk the streets of the historic district and not travel back in time to the early 1880's and see this once bustling mining town through the eyes of the Earps and Holliday, the Clantons and McLaurys. Read More
However, as excellent as these sources are, they left nagging questions in my mind. I now understand more fully why Deputy U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp pursued the "Cowboys" who ambushed his older brother, Tombstone Chief of Police and Deputy U.S. Marshall Virgil Earp, and then assassinated Virgil's deputy, Wyatt's younger brother, Morgan Earp.
I now understand more fully why Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan and his deputized posse of cattle rustlers, stage robbers, and murderers pursued Wyatt and his federal posse. Yet two fundamental questions remained in my mind.
It's easy to understand why Wyatt wanted Doc Holliday to ride with him. Doc had proven his worth in The Gunfight of October 26, 1881. Doc's motivation for riding with Wyatt's posse is easy to understand too. The two were long-time friends with a history of watching each other's back. But ...
- Why did Wyatt choose the five other men who rode with him? Why do we know so little about them? Wyatt & Doc became legends. The others just seemed to ride off into the sunset and disappear from the pages of history.
- What could have motivated these other men in Wyatt's posse to embark on such a rigorous, incredibly dangerous enterprise? After all, it wasn't their brothers who had been maimed or murdered. Who were these guys, really?
As it turns out, Peter Brand, an Aussie of all things, had the answers. When I read some of Peter's articles on this very subject, I was so delighted that I asked him to share his findings with our Southern Arizona Guide audience. He graciously accepted. Moreover, he provided an accurate map of the important historical sites associated with the Earp Vendetta Ride. Enjoy!
Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Posse
ByPeter Brand © 2014
On the evening of December 28, 1881, at about 11:30 PM, City Police Chief, Virgil Earp, was gunned down outside the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone. In the darkness, at least three men had fired double barrel shotguns in his direction from their hiding place across the street. One of the prime suspects in the shooting was Ike Clanton. An inquest had cleared the Earp brothers of wrongdoing after the OK Corral gunfight, but Clanton and his friends, known locally as the Cowboys, wanted revenge. Virgil’s left side took most of the pellets and doctors were forced to remove several inches of shattered bone from his upper left arm. Virgil’s brother, Wyatt, immediately telegraphed the Arizona Territorial U.S. Marshal, Crawley P. Dake.
Tombstone, Arizona Territory, December 29, 1881.
Virgil Earp was shot by concealed assassins last night. His wounds are fatal. Telegraph me appointment with power to appoint deputies. Local authorities are doing nothing. The lives of other citizens are threatened.
Crawley Dake readily agreed and Wyatt Earp, now with federal authority, assembled a posse of gunmen to hunt for his brother’s would-be assassins. In reality, Wyatt also realized that he had to secure his family and surround himself with trustworthy men who would not be intimidated by further Cowboy threats and acts of violence. These men would, therefore, not only enforce the law as deputy U.S. Marshals, but also act as personal bodyguards for the Earp families. In addition to his brothers, Morgan and Warren, and the notorious “Doc” Holliday, the gunmen who stood by Wyatt Earp during these dark days were not the heroes of a typical Hollywood western. With colorful nicknames and tough reputations, these were hard men of mysterious, if not dubious, background. Although they were each paid $5 per day for their work, these gunmen probably each had different motivations for riding with Wyatt Earp. By doing so, however, they all had one thing in common – they were placing themselves in extreme danger.
The first of these men was John “Texas Jack” Vermillion. He was a carpenter by trade, who gave his age as 36 in 1881, and hailed from Virginia, via Ohio. He had arrived in Tombstone from New Mexico and had proven his worth to the Earp brothers after the June 1881 town fire, when he was deputized by Virgil to help protect the town from lot jumpers. This event probably confirmed his ability to enforce the law at a time of trouble, and cemented his association with the Earp family. Vermillion was also known later by the nickname “Shoot-your-eye-out Jack”, and for over 60 years he had been constantly misidentified as John Wilson Vermillion. However, ground-breaking research conducted in 2009 by me and a member of the Vermillion family finally identified him correctly once and for all. His real name was John Oberland Vermillion and he had fought for the North in the Ohio Infantry during the American Civil War. Vermillion had then roamed the west in search of work and new horizons, eventually finding his way to Tombstone in late 1880. Throughout his life, Vermillion showed that he was not that fussed about the cause for which he hired out his gun. Later records indicate he was a participant in the Kansas County Seat Wars of the late 1880s, and he was a confirmed member of the Soapy Smith Gang in Colorado in 1889. His reasons for riding with the Earp brothers in Tombstone may, therefore, have been partly financial and partly because they had shown faith in him previously during the aftermath of the town fire of June, 1881.
The most complex and valuable deputy among Earp’s gunmen was Sherman W. McMaster. He possessed an extensive knowledge of the local terrain, and personally knew many of the Cowboys said to be gunning for the Earp family. He was 28 years old in 1881, and had been born in Galena, Illinois, to a wealthy family. His family name was spelled “McMaster”, but he was constantly referred to in the local press as “McMasters”. He was well educated in Rock Island, Illinois, before heading west and working as a Texas Ranger stationed near El Paso, Texas. McMaster’s work with the Rangers during 1878 and 1879 was hard and dangerous and the pay was only $40.00 per month, but did include room and board. The job meant long hours in the saddle, during which he tracked renegade Indians, chased horse thieves, and acted as a scout for the 9th Cavalry, which was situated nearby. McMaster’s Texas Ranger Company had held outlaw, “Curly Bill” Brocius, as a prisoner over a five-month period in 1878, so Sherman was well acquainted with the outlaw long before they both ended up in Tombstone.
McMaster left the Texas Rangers in April, 1879, and was then said to have ridden with the Cowboys in southern Arizona. To complicate matters, Sherman was also accused of mule theft and stage robbery in company with the infamous Cowboy, Pony Diehl. Although these charges were never proven and were later dropped, Wyatt admitted that McMaster had been friendly with the Cowboys, and he was, therefore, able to make use of his inside knowledge. McMaster spoke fluent Spanish, rode fine horses, and according to Bat Masterson’s brother, Thomas, was the fastest man with a gun he had ever seen. He is thought by some to have been an undercover operative for not only Earp, but also Wells Fargo. If this were true, his open association with the Earp posse ended any hope he had of staying in Southern Arizona, and he may have seen Wyatt’s posse as his paid ticket out of the Territory. Despite his privileged upbringing, McMaster seems to have preferred the high risk and excitement of life on the frontier. Certainly, his work with the Texas Rangers meant he was well prepared and well suited to ride with the Earp posse.
Turkey Creek Jack
Perhaps the most dangerous gunman deputized by Earp was Jack Johnson. Wyatt Earp’s biographer, Stuart Lake, referred to him as “Turkey Creek Jack” Johnson, but his real name, according to Earp, was John William Blount and he had a unique reason for joining the Earp posse. He was aged 34 in 1881 and was a native of Missouri, having been raised in the lead mining area of Neosho. He and his three brothers had been involved in a violent street battle in the town of Webb City, Missouri in 1877, and had been forced to flee the state as wanted men. John Blount’s fugitive brother, Bud, had eventually relocated to Tip Top, Arizona and killed a man in a quarrel there in May, 1881. He was immediately arrested, convicted of manslaughter, and incarcerated in Yuma prison. John Blount, using the alias, Jack Johnson, then came to Arizona to investigate his brother’s plight and eventually arrived in Tombstone, where his sister was residing. According to Wyatt, John Blount, using the assumed name of “Jack Johnson”, associated with the Cowboys and participated in rustling raids, before deciding to help Earp as an undercover man. John Blount must have realized the Earp brothers had influential friends in Arizona, because he next sought Wyatt’s help to have his brother, Bud, pardoned and released from prison. Wyatt Earp assisted with a petition to the Territorial Governor, and John Blount’s brother was eventually freed in March, 1882. Like the Earp brothers, the Blount boys were clannish and always backed each other in tight situations. John Blount appreciated the loyalty that Earp had shown him and clearly was not intimidated by the Cowboys. He had survived his own violent troubles in Missouri and was more than willing to ride with Wyatt as a form of repayment, given that Earp had been instrumental is freeing his brother, Bud, from Yuma prison.
Two additional gunmen, who supplemented their gambling income with mining ventures, completed the Earp posse. These were Origen Charles “Charlie” Smith and Daniel G. Tipton. Smith was a 37 year-old native of Connecticut and probably laid claim to having the closest and longest connection to the Earp family. He spoke fluent Spanish, having spent several years in Texas, working in saloons and had been associated in Fort Worth with barman, James Earp, and saloon owner and future Earp business partner, Robert J. Winders. Smith had a torrid time in Texas. The nervy gunman had been involved in at least two gunfights in Fort Worth and sustained a serious gunshot wound to the chest in 1878. Smith came to Tombstone with Robert Winders in 1879, and thereby began an immediate association with the Earp brothers. Smith’s loyalty to the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday went beyond the use of his gun. After the gunfight near the OK Corral, Smith and Winders jointly posted $4,000.00 towards the bail for Wyatt and Doc. In addition, during the inquest into the shoot-out, Wyatt stated openly that Charlie Smith had warned him several times of Cowboy threats to the Earp families. Clearly, Smith stood beside Wyatt during their worst days in Tombstone and was always ready to ride with the Earp brothers without hesitation. He later spent many years as a deputy sheriff in Cochise County.
The last posse rider, Daniel “Tip” Tipton, was 37 years old when he arrived in Tombstone in March, 1881. He had a hard reputation earned during the early days of the mining boom in Nevada, where he was said to have ridden with a group of Civil War veterans. Tipton, who sported several tattoos on his hand and forearms, was a former Union seaman who had turned his hand to mining and gambling after the war. He had spent time in the Gunnison district of Colorado in 1879 and probably came to Tombstone at the request of his friend, and gambling kingpin, Lou Rickabaugh, who needed back-up gunmen during the town’s so-called “Gambler’s War”. Rickabaugh was a business partner of Wyatt Earp, and Tipton added strength of numbers to their struggle to secure the gambling dollar in Tombstone. Tipton was said to have traveled to Tombstone in company with another Earp ally, Bat Masterson, and may, therefore, have gained immediate entry to the Earp inner sanctum via his connections to Masterson and Rickabaugh. Tipton was a high stakes gambler and expert faro dealer and siding with the Earp brothers in Tombstone was probably another calculated risk that he was willing to take. He certainly had no connections or sympathy with the Cowboys and was a natural fit with the saloon and gambling fraternity in Tombstone.
These men were all on hand to guard Virgil immediately after his attempted assassination, and by mid-January, the crippled lawman’s condition had improved slightly. Wyatt then decided to headquarter the Earp families with Virgil at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for safekeeping. Tombstone was now a powder-keg town and Wyatt knew there was safety in numbers. The battle lines had been drawn and on January 17, 1882, Doc Holliday and Cowboy, Johnny Ringo, had a much-celebrated standoff on Allen Street. The men faced off with their hands on their pistols, but were prevented from taking matters further by a town deputy. On the same day, gambler and Earp ally, Lou Rickabaugh, came to blows with a Cowboy associate, Ben Maynard, but they were separated before weapons could be used.
Meanwhile, Wyatt, having spent the first half of January 1882, keeping watch over his injured brother, decided it was time for action. On January 23, 1882, the Earp posse rode out of Tombstone with warrants for Virgil’s suspected attackers – Ike and Phin Clanton and the outlaw, Pony Diehl. On the ride, they arrested the fiery Ben Maynard, and forced him to lead the way, as they descended on the nearby town of Charleston. Earp and his men went door to door in Charleston but failed to find the Clanton brothers or Pony Diehl. They then rode out of town and scouted through the countryside, eventually setting up a camp, near Tombstone, at a place known as “Pick-em-up”.
Unbeknown to Wyatt, the Clanton brothers had surrendered themselves and were already back in Tombstone. To make matters worse, on January 30, 1882, a deputy sheriff rode out to their camp at Pick-em-up and served his own warrant on Earp posse man, Sherman McMaster, who was wanted for “borrowing” two horses from the Contention mine the previous September. No resistance was offered and the entire Earp posse returned to Tombstone, where McMaster was bailed and he and Charlie Smith booked into rooms at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Courtroom dramas would then dominate the Tombstone newspapers throughout February 1882, as both factions sought justice through the legal system. Sherman McMaster gave evidence against Ike Clanton during the latter’s hearing on the attempted murder of Virgil Earp. Although Ike’s hat was located at the scene of the crime, Clanton provided an alibi and the charges were dismissed due to inconclusive evidence. On February 9, 1882, Ike Clanton went to the nearby town of Contention and filed new charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday relating to the OK Corral shootout, but these charges dismissed due to a lack of new evidence.
With tensions close to breaking point, on February 15, Earp deputy, Dan Tipton, and the ever-ready Ben Maynard came close to a gunfight in the Alhambra saloon. Weapons were drawn and Tipton was left with a bloody eye after the confrontation. Both men were arrested and fined for disturbing the peace. Two days later, the Earp posse was riding again. Heavily armed, they left Tombstone with warrants for the arrest of Pony Diehl, who was now wanted for a January 1882, stage robbery. This expedition proved fruitless and the posse eventually returned empty-handed to Tombstone.
As March 1882 progressed, a nervous quiet fell over Tombstone. Wyatt and his men had been warned that the Cowboys were plotting more revenge attacks, but no one could be sure, when, or where, they would take place. There seemed to be an air of inevitability about the situation. Dan Tipton would later state they had been repeatedly warned to be on the lookout for a Cowboy ambush, and on March 18, 1882, it finally came. At about 11 PM, Morgan Earp was playing a game of pool at Campbell and Hatch’s saloon, while Tipton, McMaster and Wyatt watched on. As Morgan turned his back to a rear door to play a shot, gunshots tore through the door windows and Morgan was hit in the back. He collapsed at the scene and died within the hour.
A coroner’s jury later identified the men suspected of killing Morgan Earp as Cochise County deputy - Frank Stilwell, his friend Pete Spencer, and three of Spencer’s employees known as Indian Charlie, Frederick Bode and an unnamed half-breed. The cowardly assassination of his brother was a turning point for Earp and his men. Until that time, Wyatt had attempted to use the legal system to bring Virgil’s assailants to justice. He now understood the futility of that cause, and knew the only way to deal with Morgan’s murderers was to kill them.
Map of the Key Vendetta Ride Events in Chronological Order.
1. TOMBSTONE: Virgil Earp is wounded on December 28, 1881, and Morgan Earp is killed on March 18, 1882; the two events that trigger Wyatt Earp's search for vengeance.
2. CONTENTION: On March 19 Morgan Earp's coffin is brought to this town, with James Earp to accompany the remains to Colton, CA.
3. TUCSON: After dining at the nearby Porters Hotel on the evening or March 20, the Earp party returns to the railroad depot and spots Frank Stillwell and Ike Clanton lying in wait on flat cars with weapons pointed at the "Earp" train. Well known sprinter, Ike, escapes. Frank does not.
4. PETE SPENCE'S WOOD-CUTTING CAMP: Wyatt Earp and his Vendetta posse ride to South Pass on the morning of March 22, looking for Spence. He isn't there, but they find the unfortunate Florentino Cruz. Spence surrendered, likely for his own safety in Tombstone.
5. IRON SPRINGS: On the warm afternoon of March 24, Wyatt Earp and his men ride here for refreshment and to meet their fellow posseman Charlie Smith. Instead, they find, perhaps their greatest quarry, Curly Bill Brocius.
6. DRAGOON SUMMIT STATION: The Earp posse stops an eastbound train at 1 pm on March 26 and hunts through the carriages perhaps looking for Ike Clanton without success.
7. SIERRA BONITA RANCH: Earp and his possemen arrive here on March 27 and receive food and shelter from influential cattle rancher Henry Clay Hooker. Not long after Wyatt's party leaves, Sheriff John Behan and his posse show up, only to be refused assistance.
8. SILVER CITY, NEW MEXICO TERRITORY: In early April the Vendetta ride over, Wyatt Earp and his men leave Arizona Territory and come here to sell their horses and saddles.
Before he could commence the manhunt, he had to secure the rest of his family. Morgan’s coffin was loaded onto a train on March 19, 1882, and brother, James Earp, accompanied it to the family home at Colton, California, where Morgan’s distraught widow, Louisa, was already residing. James and Wyatt’s wives, Bessie and Mattie, would follow five days later. The Earp posse escorted Virgil and his wife, Allie, to the train station at Contention on March 20. The original plan was to see them safely as far as Benson, but reports came to hand that Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell had been seen in Tucson. Fearing another ambush, Wyatt and Warren Earp, Sherman McMaster, Doc Holliday and Jack Johnson were all heavily armed when they boarded their train, and guarded Virgil and his wife all the way through to Tucson. A passenger later commented that the men carried pistols, rifles and shotguns and that McMaster wore two cartridge belts.
The group arrived safely at Tucson that evening, and went to the nearby Porter’s Hotel for dinner. At the conclusion of their meal, they helped Virgil and Allie back on the westbound train. At this point, two men, thought to be Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell, were seen lying on nearby flatcars with guns pointed at their train. Wyatt quickly alighted from the train and moved quietly between the cars. He would later claim that both men saw him and ran. Wyatt chased hard after the men, who separated among the rail cars. Warren Earp, McMaster, Holliday and Johnson also gave chase. A railroad fireman gave evidence that he saw one man running along the tracks followed by four armed pursuers. Wyatt claimed he caught up with one would-be assassin and as the man made a grab at Wyatt’s shotgun, he fired both barrels. The remaining posse members then arrived at the bloody scene and proceeded to fire more shots into the corpse. The dead man was Cochise County deputy sheriff, Frank Stilwell.
A witness would later say that he heard six to ten shots and at the same time heard men cheering, while another claimed that Stilwell “was shot all over… the worst shot-up man I ever saw.” The coroner’s inquest later found at least five separate gunshot wounds on the body – one for each of the members of the Earp posse present that night. They wanted to send a clear message to Ike Clanton and the Cowboys. There would be no more attempted arrests. Wyatt and his men would dispense their own law - with guns rather than warrants.
Stilwell’s bloody corpse was found in the Tucson rail yard the next morning, but Earp and his men were long gone. After the killing, they had watched as Virgil’s train headed out and then searched the rail yard for Ike Clanton and his men. Having no luck, they walked in the darkness to the Papago station where they hopped a freight train and rode back to Benson. Here, the group rented a wagon and drove to Contention where they reunited with Texas Jack Vermillion, who had not traveled to Tucson, but stayed behind with their horses and gear. The posse then road back to Tombstone and immediately went to the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Later that day, Charlie Smith and Dan Tipton joined them, and plans were made for the posse to leave Tombstone.
The coroner’s jury in Tucson duly found five members of the Earp posse were responsible for the death of Frank Stilwell and warrants were issued for their arrest. A telegram was sent to Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, in Tombstone, advising him that his deputy had been murdered and asking him to detain the men. By the time Behan arrived at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the Earp posse was walking through the lobby to the street, armed to the teeth, and in no mood to chat. Behan approached the men and said he wanted to see Wyatt. At this point, Earp’s men had blood in their eye and brushed past the ineffectual Behan, dismissing him, with Wyatt saying, “You may see me once too often”, or something similar. The posse then walked to a nearby corral, mounted their horses, and defiantly rode out of town.
After spending that night in a camp outside Tombstone, the Earp posse rode hard in the direction of the Dragoon Mountains. Pete Spencer (also known as Pete Spence) operated a woodcutting business in the foothills, and the posse hoped to catch not only Spencer, but also the other three men named in the coroner’s report. On the morning of March 22, 1882, they rode into Spencer’s camp, but failed to find him. Spencer had judiciously surrendered in Tombstone and an Indian known as Hank had already been arrested. Two of the Earp posse, probably McMaster and Smith, questioned a worker in Spanish and then the group rode up a hill in the direction of a half-breed known as Florentino.
The eight-man posse was convinced they had their man and commenced firing. Florentino ran, but was quickly brought down in a hail of bullets. Earp would later say he was one of the men who stood watch for the murderers on the night Morgan was killed. During the subsequent coroner’s inquest, he was further identified as Florentino Cruz. The Arizona Weekly Citizen newspaper later published a letter, stating Florentino Cruz was also known as Philomeno Sais, and was wanted in connection with the robbery and murder of two U.S. Marshals in 1878. The Arizona Weekly Star added weight to this argument, as it had previously identified the 1878 murderer as Florentino Saiz. Whatever his correct name, the Earp posse, unlike some, were sure they killed the right man.
After the killing, the posse rode out of the area, and on March 23, 1882, Charlie Smith and Dan Tipton returned to Tombstone to obtain information, but immediately ran into trouble. Sheriff Behan preferred the odds this time and arrested both of them for “resisting arrest and conspiracy”. The men were bailed and Smith left town to rendezvous with the posse, while Tipton remained in Tombstone. Smith met with Earp and was sent back to town to obtain $1000 expense money from mining man, and supporter, E. B. Gage. Smith was to deliver the money to the posse at a watering hole in the Whetstone Mountains, known as Iron Springs.
Meanwhile, back in Tombstone, Sheriff Behan had organized his own posse and set out after Wyatt Earp. Behan drew criticism as his group included noted Cowboys, Johnny Ringo, Phin Clanton and Johnny Barnes. A second posse, made up of Charleston Cowboys, was also in field and rode into Contention on March 24, 1882. A witness noted they were well mounted, heavily armed and were hunting for the Earp posse.
The afternoon of March 24 was warm and Wyatt had loosened his cartridge belt as he rode. He led the way as his group approached Iron Springs. To his surprise he did not find Charlie Smith, but a gang of Cowboys, who opened fire without warning. According to Earp, Sherman McMaster recognized Curly Bill Brocius at the first shot, and called out his name. Earp then jumped from his horse with a shotgun in his hands, while McMaster, Johnson and Doc Holliday wheeled their horses and sought cover. Texas Jack Vermillion’s horse was shot and collapsed, pinning Jack’s leg. Earp then returned fire and blasted Brocius with his double barrel shotgun, almost cutting the Cowboy in two. Amid the gun smoke and mayhem, Wyatt pulled up his cartridge belt and attempted to mount his horse while taking fire from the remaining Cowboys. He fired in their general direction, but Cowboy bullets struck the pommel of his saddle and the heel of his boot. They hit with such force that Earp believed he had been wounded. He somehow managed to partially mount his horse and rode back to safety, remarkably picking up Texas Jack Vermillion as he went.
The Earp posse had miraculously survived the gunfight without any casualties, other than the loss of Texas Jack’s horse. Bullets had perforated Wyatt’s coat tails and McMaster had sustained a grazed side when a bullet cut through the straps of his field glasses and tore through his clothes. The posse rested, counted their blessings, and then rode back to toward Tombstone. The Cowboys would later deny that Curly Bill Brocius had been killed at Iron Springs. Although debate raged in the Tombstone newspapers, Earp always maintained he had blasted Brocius with a shotgun, and the fact remained that Curly Bill was never seen in Tombstone again.
Charlie Smith’s exact movements are hard to trace at this stage. It is apparent that he re-joined Earp’s posse just after the Iron Springs shootout, but he did not supply the much-needed funds. This task would eventually fall to Dan Tipton. In any case, on March 26, Earp and his men rode out to Dragoon Summit station, where they stopped an eastbound train at 1PM and hunted unsuccessfully through the carriages. Whether they expected to find a messenger with additional funds, or Ike Clanton himself, is not exactly clear. They needed money and a place to rest before deciding their next move, so they rode north to Henry Clay Hooker’s Sierra Bonita Ranch. Hooker was an influential cattle rancher in nearby Graham County, and supported Earp’s actions.
The Earp posse arrived at Sierra Bonita on March 27. Here, they fed their worn-out horses and took advantage of Hooker’s hospitality. Early that same morning, Dan Tipton left Tombstone on the first stage heading for Benson, carrying $1000 for the posse. At Benson, Tipton boarded a train to Willcox, where he then rented a horse and rode to Hooker’s Sierra Bonita. Lou Cooley, a stage driver and Wells Fargo operative, also provided the Earp posse with additional funds at Hooker’s ranch, on behalf of the express company.
Wyatt and his seven men now had traveling money and freshened horses. They left Hooker’s ranch the next morning and set up a camp on a nearby butte. From their vantage point, they could see the approach of any riders and they waited for a possible confrontation. It never came. Sheriff Behan and his men eventually arrived at Hooker’s ranch, but were refused assistance. According to one report, Hooker mockingly told Behan where to find the Earps, but Behan rode off in the opposite direction.
The eight-man Earp posse remained in the area for a few more days, but the vendetta was over. Early in April 1882, Wyatt and his men rode to Silver City, New Mexico. They spent one night in the home of a friend, and the next day sold their horses and saddles, before taking a stage to Deming. From there they traveled by train to Albuquerque and made plans to move to the relative safety of Colorado. Charlie Smith parted company with the group in Silver City and headed back to make Tombstone his home. He was the only member of the Earp posse to do so.
Once in Colorado, the posse fragmented. Wyatt and Warren Earp, Dan Tipton and Texas Jack Vermillion headquartered at Gunnison. Doc Holliday went to Denver, while Jack Johnson (Blount) and Sherman McMaster reunited with their respective brothers in Leadville. The men had found their sanctuary, as Governor Pitkin of Colorado refused extradition requests from the Arizona authorities.
The law did, however, catch up with the Arizona Cowboys. Johnny Ringo was mysteriously shot dead in July 1882 - some say by his own hand – in Cochise County to the east of Tombstone. Ike Clanton was gunned down and killed in 1887 resisting arrest in the north of the Territory. Cowboy Johnny Barnes was said to have died of wounds sustained at the Iron Springs shootout, while Pete Spencer, Phin Clanton and Pony Diehl were eventually convicted of various crimes and all served time in state penitentiaries.
Peter Brand is a free-lance history writer and researcher who lives in Sydney, Australia. He has been actively researching Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Posse riders for several years. His articles have appeared in True West and Wild West magazines; the journals of the National Association for Outlaw & Lawman History (NOLA) and the Western Outlaw Lawman History Association (WOLA) and the Wild West History Association (WWHA). He is also the author of two books – one related to Doc Holliday and the other, a biography Texas Jack Vermillion. For more information about these books and articles, and further details of the Earp Vendetta Posse go to www.tombstonevendetta.com.