Morgan Earp was an approximate middle child of the Earp family. He was born on April 24, 1851 and named Morgan Seth. His parents, Nicholas and Virginia Ann were living on a farm in Pella Iowa at that time.
He had an older half brother, Newton. His older brother James was 10 years his senior. Virgil was 8 years older and Wyatt just about 3 years older. An older half sister, Mariah Ann, died in infancy before Morgan was born.
Three more siblings became part of the family after Morgan. Baxter Warren, who was called by his middle name, came along 4 years after Morgan. A baby girl sister was born in 1858 and named Virginia Ann after their mother - but she died when only 3 years old. His last sibling was a sister, Adelia, who was delivered when Morgan was 10 years old.2
Morgan Earp didn't seem to create too much of a stir, as did some of his other brothers. Was he overshadowed by them, as they created more headlines? Unfortunately his renowned newspaper fame came along at the end of his life.
When Morgan was almost 5, the family moved to Monmouth Illinois. His father became the town constable for 3 years. But then he got into some legal problems, including a bootlegging conviction. As a result, the family lost their home and property. So in late 1859, they returned to Pella IA.1
While there in Iowa, they were again settled into a farming environment. For a good deal of Morgan's childhood, his parents lived on a farm. He was expected to help with those chores typical of agrarian life.
Then the Civil War began. Nicholas Earp worked for the Union, recruiting new soldiers. He drilled them before they were sent to their stations. Morgan's older brothers: Newton, James and Virgil were all expected to go off to fight. And they did. Wyatt even tried, but their father, Nicholas, sent him straight back home.2
With all the men off at war, the younger brothers were needed to help maintain the farm work. Morgan did what he could at the age of 10. Wyatt and Warren also helped farm their corn fields - 80 acres of them.2
James was wounded and returned home in 1863. Nicholas Earp then decided to join a wagon train in the spring of 1864. They headed for California. He packed up the family: James, Wyatt, Morgan, Warren and Adelia - along with wife, Virginia Ann. Nicholas was to lead the trek. They arrived in the San Bernardino area by the end of the year. Nicholas rented a riverside farm about six miles East of town.
While in his mid teens, Morgan moved with his family again. This time to Lamar Missouri. Only his brother Warren and sister Adelia now lived at home along with him. Nicholas Earp became the town Constable.3 Towards the end of 1869, Wyatt was back home with the family. At that time their father resigned as the Constable to become a Justice of the Peace. Wyatt took his place as Constable.4 Morgan Earp was now 18 years old.
In his teens Morgan began looking to the life his brothers led. They roamed the West. They had adventures that to him looked more exciting than the farming life of his father. When a teenager, he may have first went with James on a trip to Montana.16 It's probable that he worked alongside Wyatt as stage line security. All his older brothers had that experience.
According to the notes of his sister Adelia, in 1871 Morgan went with Wyatt. They roamed the plains hunting buffalo. They were gone until the next year.6
In 1872 Morgan and Wyatt were in Peoria Illinois. They were both fined while in a brothel. Then jailed because they couldn't come up with cash for the fine. The story was reported in the Peoria Daily Transcript on May 11 and again on September 10.6
The next place Morgan Earp surfaces is in Wichita Kansas. We know unmistakably that Wyatt is there. That's why Morgan came to town. While there, he was fined $1 for some minor charge. An altercation between Wyatt and a man running for office hinted that Morgan was being considered for a lawman position. As a result of that fight, Wyatt lost some respect, and the Earps moved on. The next stop - Dodge City.6
Apparently Morgan went to Dodge before Wyatt did. There's evidence that he took a position as a Ford County Deputy Sheriff in 1875. Some say Morgan went with Wyatt when gold fever caught, and they went to Deadwood SD. Morgan only stayed about three months.16
It seems Morgan Earp met Louisa Alice Houston soon after that, while in Dodge.6
Louisa Houston worked in the Old West restaurants devised by Fred Harvey. She wasn't exactly one of the famed Harvey Girls. That system of restaurants wasn't set up until 1883.16 Louisa and Morgan possibly were married, maybe in 1875.5 More likely they tied the knot in the vicinity of July 1877. That's when Louisa's life as a Harvey waitress ended.7 But it's difficult to confirm, the documentation is lacking. So their relationship was most likely common law.6
The couple left Dodge City for Montana by early winter of 1877. They arrived in Miles City. They found a small log home right away. Soon they moved into a better place, which they purchased. A nice spot on the Tongue River.7
While there, Morgan checked out a nearby gold rush. The Black Hills Daily Pioneer of July 18, 1878 reported troops were stationed nearby, since the gold discovery was on Indian reservation land! A week later they printed that "Mr. Morgan Earpt [sic] arrived last evening from the Tongue River, which he left about three weeks ago." They then described his trip.6
Morgan and Louisa left Miles City when an opportunity came further West. Was it a necessity? Morgan got into a shoot-out with a former city Marshal named Billy Brooks, turned bad-guy.8 Morgan was badly injured during the fray, they say. Shot in the shoulder. But it's kind-of more legend than fact.6
Morgan headed for Butte around early winter 1879. Louisa stayed behind to sell their property and then came ahead to be with him.7 A Butte Montana historian has Morgan hired onto the local police force from December 1879 until March of 1880.5
By 1880 the family home was back in California - to stay. The census of 1880 shows that Morgan Earp was included in the household. His father was still listed as a farmer. In 1880 they all lived in Temescal, an area in North Oakland, near the coast by San Francisco.6
Louisa had been stricken with a disabling chronic disease. Rheumatoid arthritis made it difficult to tolerate the cold conditions in Montana. No doubt that's the reason for their move to the California family home.7 Now settled in, Morgan began to hear of other options. Louisa had written that they needed a way to earn a living. Morgan must have perked up his ears to what his brothers were saying about Tombstone AZ!
According to Louisa's letters to her sister, Morgan started out for Tombstone Arizona on July 20, 1880.6 She stayed behind in California at that time. He reached Tombstone by the end of the month. His brothers Wyatt, James and Virgil were already there. Morgan roomed with Fred Dodge, a Wells Fargo employee.16
Virgil Earp was hired to be deputy U.S. Marshal under Crawley Dake for Arizona Territory. He liked to keep things in the family. So he'd put his brothers on as deputies when needed. Morgan Earp was a man for the job, and assisted Virgil quite often.
Glenn Boyer, a Morgan Earp biographer, wrote that Morgan was "a pretty fair, and active, lawman in his own right in Tombstone….The cases in which Morgan was involved are largely routine in connection with working as a deputy for his brothers."6
However, Morgan was noted as a member of the Earp family by the group of local ranchers known as the "Cow-boys." The County Sheriff, John Behan, was friendly to this group. Many of the town-folk also got along well with them. One of the local newspapers supported them. So the Earps were at odds with this faction - the Cow-boys. Nerves went on edge when Virgil and his brother deputies enforced the law, as they saw it.
In addition to his deputy work, Morgan picked up work riding shotgun on stage runs for Wells Fargo. He worked this part time from mid 1880 to early 1881. The pay wasn't that great for the possible danger involved at times.6
In December of 1880 Louisa joined Morgan in Tombstone. She stayed a few months, and then returned to California. She told her sister that Morgan's parents didn't even think she should go to Tombstone at all. She relented and returned to California early in the new year.9 Soon thereafter, Nicholas moved the family to Colton, California - just outside San Bernardino.
Morgan regularly made arrests that irritated the Cow-boy group. When Tombstone's City Marshal, Fred White, was accidentally shot by Curly Bill Brocius, Morgan helped in the aftermath. Curly Bill was immediately hit on the head with a pistol by Wyatt, and taken to jail.6 Morgan helped calm the inflamed situation, and guarded the jail. There were a lot of drunken cowboys in the area. Then at Curly Bill's trial date, he secured his transport to court.6
Morgan got along well with Wyatt's good friend, Doc Holliday. They often gambled together. A lot of times, gambling games involved the Cow-boys as well! On occasion, though, tempers would flare - especially when Doc felt wronged or insulted.
Stagecoach robberies in Cochise county increased during late 1880 and early 1881. Morgan was in on the posse that searched out robbers of a March 15, 1881 hold-up of the stage to Benson. They didn't find the culprits. But rumors spread, and the Cow-boys implicated Doc Holliday. Some said the Earps were in on some of the stage robberies, too. The Earps didn't take these accusations well! Of course, they were totally false.
Two families who ranched in Cochise County, and were known as Cow-boys were the Clantons and the McLaurys.
"Old Man" Newman Haynes Clanton was the father to five sons and two daughters. The sons primarily associated with the Cow-boys of Tombstone AZ were Ike and Billy. They had a ranch near the San Pedro River, at Lewis Springs.
The McLaury brothers were Tom and Frank. They came to Cochise County, moved to Hereford and met the Clantons. They worked for the Clantons' ranching outfit. They also worked diligently on their own place. They raised cattle and grew hay and other crops. This was in the Babocomari Creek Valley. Their goal was to buy their own ranch in the Sulpher Springs Valley.15
The Clantons and the McLaurys were friends with John Ringo, Curly Bill Brocius, Pete Spence, Frank Stilwell and Billy Claiborne. The Clantons and McLaurys were discovered with suspicious cattle brands at times. The Earps confronted them on a number of occasions. They often had strong words for these Cow-boys. Then at times they all seemed to cooperate when it was to their advantage.
Bad blood reddened further in mid August 1881. Virgil Earp led a posse, chasing down some cattle rustlers. Just over the Southeastern Arizona border, into Mexico, Old Man Clanton was killed on August 13 over a cattle dispute.6 The slayers were Mexican ranchers, but some say it was the Earp posse. Led by Virgil, it included Warren Earp and was thought to include Morgan.
Things simmered for the next month. Doc Holliday went to Tucson for awhile. In October, Morgan went there to ask Doc to come back to Tombstone. Wyatt wanted Doc to shore up a deal he'd made with Ike Clanton. They had a secret pact for Ike to turn in the guys he knew were robbing stages. In return Ike would get the reward money and Wyatt would get the glory. The deal didn't work out in the end. Read More>
Ike Clanton was a Cow-boy who brought the contentions to a head. He was in Tombstone the evening of October 25th, drinking heavily. People overheard him making threats against the Earps. In front of the Alhambra Saloon, he encountered Doc Holliday and they got into a shouting match. Wyatt and Morgan came by to calm the situation and separate them.6
Later - check in at the poker game at the Occidental Saloon. Seated are Cow-boys Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury and their Sheriff friend Johnny Behan. Also in the game are Virgil Earp and one other player - some think it may be Morgan Earp.6 Quite a mix!
The game goes on til the early morning. At about 6 a.m., Ike begins mouthing off to Virgil that he aims to take care of that Doc Holliday. Virgil tells him to go home and sleep it off. But he doesn't.
He wandered Tombstone streets on October 26, 1881, still drunk. He told everyone in earshot how he planned to take care of Doc and the Earps. He was armed - not allowed in town! Virgil was home sleeping. He woke up and found out what Ike's been doing. He got Morgan and they corraled him and took his guns. Virgil clunked him on the head and took him to court where he was fined.
In the courtroom, while waiting for the judge, Ike continued his tirade at the Earps. They "fired" back! Morgan told Ike he'd give him his six-gun so they could shoot it out now!16 Of course he was using sarcasm. But Ike certainly didn't cool down.
The Cow-boys were supposed to leave town. Billy Clanton had arrived in town early that morning. Frank and Tom McLaury were also in town. They'd been getting supplies, making payments, etc. After Ike left court, he found his brother and the McLaury's. They all met up together at Spangenberg's Gun Shop on Fourth Street. Another altercation with Wyatt happened out front. Then they left and headed to the corral to get their horses and leave town.11
When the two sets of brothers left the gun shop they went through another stable over by the O.K. Corral. They met up with a friend, Billy Claiborne, and talked about that day's events. They were standing in a vacant lot, South of Fremont Street, just outside of C.S. Fly's Photo Gallery and boarding house. They were actually just North of the O.K. Corral.11
Virgil was not convinced that the Clantons and McLaurys were not armed and planning to leave town. He heard through their own friends in town that these Cowboys were behind the O.K. Corral. He enlisted Wyatt, Doc Holliday and Morgan to go with him to disarm them if necessary. When they got to the lot, Virgil stated "Throw up your hands, I have come to disarm you."12
There is quite a difference in opinion as to the subsequent events. At the trial Wyatt gave quite a different version from Ike, as you could imagine! Read More> But in 30 seconds, 30 shots were fired - and it was over. Some say Morgan fired first.16
Billy Claiborne ran off right away. Ike Clanton - the instigator - soon ran off. Billy Clanton was killed, as was both McLaury brothers. Wyatt was unharmed. Virgil was hit in his right leg, Doc was barely grazed on his hip.11
Morgan was shot across the top of his shoulders, along his back. The bullet broke his shoulder blades and grazed his spine. It's pretty dependable that Morgan's gunfire killed Frank McLaury.6 Morgan was almost certainly hit by bullets from Tom McLaury. Some people got a wagon to transport the injured Morgan and Virgil back to their homes.16
The burial for the McLaurys and Billy Clanton was a large affair. It took place the day after this shootout. A sign at the front of the funeral cortege said "Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone." It proceeded down to the town's cemetery, now known as Boothill.11
Half the town, including the local newspaper, the Nugget - blamed the Earps. The other half, including the Tombstone Epitaph, supported the Earps. Virgil was relieved of his lawman's position, and Ike Clanton filed charges. A warrant for the arrest of Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday was published. Wyatt and Doc were arrested. Virgil and Morgan were still recuperating from their gunshots, and so their arrests were deferred.11
Wells Spicer headed the hearing to assess the evidence for a trial. After 31 days of witness statements Spicer gave his decision. He found the Earps and Holliday were lawful since it was a required action to do their job. A Grand Jury about two weeks later came to the same conclusion. But it was not a popular decision with many in Southern Arizona.
One initial event gave foreboding of what was to come. John Clum was the editor of The Epitaph, which gave full support to the Earps. He, as well as Spicer and the lawyer who defended the Earps and Holliday all received a threatening letter from someone called "A Miner." It warned each to leave town, and if not it hinted they may be shot.
Sure enough the very next day John Clum was traveling on a stage coach. Someone attacked the stage. Clum managed to get away unharmed. But he felt it was part of this threat - and he was not going to succumb to it.11
The Earps realized their families could be in danger, as well. Virgil, Allie and Morgan moved into the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the North side of Allen Street, at the corner of 4th. Wyatt also took a room there, but his common-law wife, Mattie Blaylock Earp, stayed behind in their home. Probably because Wyatt had begun distancing himself from her at this point.17 The Earp brothers' change in location was a wise move, but didn't ward off all dangers.
On December 28, 1881, Virgil was in the Oriental Saloon. It was late and he went out to make his way home. Halfway across the street, between the Oriental and the Golden Eagle Brewery, Virgil was hit by gunfire from a shotgun. A witness heard four shots that came from the upper floor of the building on the Southeast corner of Allen and 5th. Virgil was hit in his left arm, shattering most of his elbow. Another hit him in the back.
Virgil got back to his room at the Cosmopolitan with Wyatt's help.17 Dr. Goodfellow was called over to treat him. He had to remove a lot of buckshot, plus bone fragments from his arm. The doctor stated he had an 80% chance of survival. Virgil survived, but his left arm was useless for the rest of his life.13
Wyatt telegraphed Marshal Dake, Virgil's superior, to notify him. The Weekly Arizona Miner wrote "the Earps have received, almost daily, anonymous letters, warning them to leave town or suffer death..."16 The January 1882 city elections reemphasized to the Earp brothers where they stood in town. Those candidates supported by The Nugget were almost all elected.
Regardless of that circumstance, the Earps were able to get a warrant to arrest suspects. Wyatt gathered a posse with seven men, including Morgan. They began an investigative search on January 23rd. Two days later, 30 were in Wyatt's posse that left town to pursue Virgil's attackers. They nearly ransacked Charleston where the Cowboys also hung out. Their local perception was not improved!
A citizens' committee insisted Wyatt and Virgil be removed from their official policing positions. U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake came to town, investigated, and agreed. He named Virgil's replacement, but didn't remove them from the Official roster. So by February 17 Wyatt was able to gather another posse. Morgan Earp was also involved. This one was also frustratingly unsuccessful for the Earp brothers.11
Newspaper correspondent Clara Spalding Brown had stern words to say about the acrimonious divisions in Tombstone. Her letter to the San Diego Daily Union published on February 4, 1882 took a scolding tone. Her letter of March 26, 1882 to the same newspaper told the account of what happened to Morgan Earp. She concluded with "Divided as the sentiment of the place has always been, there are many now who denounce the Earps....'good enough for them.' It is a bloody, wretched business throughout..."14
On March 18, 1882 Morgan took in a theater performance at Schieffelin Hall. It was a Saturday evening out along with Doc Holliday and Dan Tipton. They saw the opening of "Stolen Kisses" by the Lingard Company. Then Morgan and Dan went to Campbell and Hatch's Billiard Hall and Saloon to shoot some pool.
The billiard room was located toward the back. Morgan walked to the table and started up a game with Bob Hatch. Wyatt was in there along with their friend, Sherman McMasters, and George A. Berry.17 They all watched the game. The back wall had two windowed doors situated on either side. An alleyway was outside those back doors.
Morgan began to line up an angle on the pool table, to take his next shot. He needed to face the front, toward the bar. Morgan's back faced the rear wall. It was close to 11 p.m. Suddenly two gunshots were heard by all in the area! The bullets entered through the upper portion of the glass in one of the doors. The first shot hit Morgan. It got him in the back and exited his body at the front. The force of it was still enough to enter Berry's leg. The second bullet whizzed above Wyatt's head and stuck into the wall.11
McMasters and Hatch ran through the doors. They searched the alley behind the saloon, but didn't find the culprits.17 A few physicians were right in the area. Dr. Goodfellow was nearby and ran to see what happened. They turned Morgan over to examine him. It didn't look good!
Everyone tried to stand him up, so they could bring him to the card room. As they did, he said his last words: "Don't, I can't stand it. This is the last game of pool I'll ever play."
They got him to a lounge in the card room. Dr. Goodfellow saw that there was no hope. By now the rest of the family were there. Virgil and Allie, James and Bessie, and Wyatt were at his side as his life dwindled away. Before the hour since the bullet entered his body had ticked by, Morgan was gone.
His wounds were fatal. Dr. Goodfellow's report showed the bullet went from the left of the spine across to exit on the front right. It perforated his left kidney, damaged his vena cava (the large major vein bringing the body's blood back to his heart - this would cause a lot of blood loss fairly quickly), spinal cord and gall bladder.
The next day was Sunday, March 19, 1882. Wyatt Earp turned 34 that day. That birthday seared in his memory, as he brought his brother, Morgan's body in a coffin to the train station in Contention City. His brother James supervised the transport of Morgan's body. Morgan Earp was going home to their parents in Colton California, where they, and Louisa now resided.17
From Contention to the connection in Tucson, Morgan went home for burial.The next day, Monday, more family members began to follow the route to the family home. Virgil and Allie were taking the train from Contention to Tucson, switching there to the train to California.
Wyatt heard of a possible ambush plan when the train stopped in Tucson. He gathered up a posse and boarded the train along with Virgil. When the train stopped in Tucson, it was about dinner time. The Earp group warily exited the train to get a meal at the nearby hotel restaurant before the California departure at 7:15 p.m.17
They ate their meal and left. Virgil and Allie boarded the train. Wyatt spotted would-be assassins Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell. He shot at them and Stilwell was found dead the next morning. Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Ride was in full force!
Morgan Earp did not quite reach his 31st birthday when he was murdered. Whatever role he played in the Cow-boy/Earp feud, that is too young to die. The whole event was certainly a sad situation. He has now lived through the years - in infamy. As did all the others who were involved in the gunfight that day. In the life of Morgan Earp there were many unfulfilled days yet to experience.
Morgan was first buried in the original Colton town cemetery, near Mount Slover. This cemetery was relocated in 1892. Morgan Earp's body was then re-interred in Colton's Hermosa Cemetery.
1 Nicholas Earp (n.d.) Nicholas Earp's 1859 Property. Retrieved from https://department.monm.edu/history/urban/wyatt_earp/1859_property_nicholas_earp.htm
2 Granstra, Pat (2010, July 25). Earps were shooting long before the OK Corral. Retrieved from http://www.civilwarprimer.com/2010/07/earps-were-shooting-long-before-the-ok-corral/
3 Paul, J. S. & Carlisle, G. (2006, June 12). Frontier lawman Virgil Earp. Wild West. Retrieved from http://www.historynet.com/frontier-lawman-virgil-earp.htm
4 Barra, A. (1998) Inventing Wyatt Earp: His life and many legends. New York, Carroll & Graf Publishers.
5 Gibson, R.I. (2015, February 25). Dusseau the photographer. Butte History and "Lost Butte" retrieved from http://buttehistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/dusseau-photographer.html
6 Silva, L.A. (2018, January 16). The mysterious Morgan Earp. Wild West Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.historynet.com/mysterious-morgan-earp.htm
7 Mazzeo, K. (2012). The stunning rose of the wild West. Tombstone Times. Retrieved from http://www.tombstonetimes.com/stories/louisa.html
8 King, R. (n.d.). Historical books and other writings. Retrieved from http://www.historicalbooksandothers.com/services
9 Monahan, S. (2014, January 6). The dedicated women behind the Earp men. True West. Retrieved from https://truewestmagazine.com/the-dedicated-women-behind-the-earp-men/
10 Aros, J. (2011). The Cochise County cowboys: Who were they? Goose Flats Graphics. ISBN 0982596340.
11 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Too tough to die: The rise and fall of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press.
12 Linder, D.O. (1995-2018) Shoot-out scenarios. Retrieved from http://www.famous-trials.com/earp/507-scenarios
13 Arizona: Attempted assassination. (1881, December 30). The Record-Union. Friday, Page 3. Sacramento, California.
14 Brown, C.S. (2003). Tombstone from a woman's point of view. Compiled & edited by L.R. Bailey. Second edition. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.
15 Johnson, P.L. (2012) The McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona: An O.K. Corral obituary. University of North Texas Press
16 Charles River Editors (n.d.) Legends of the West: Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp. Published by http://charlesre.wufoo.com/charles-river-editors/
17 Guinn, J. (2011). The last gunfight: The real story of the shootout at the O.K. Corral and how it changed the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster