Warren Earp was the youngest brother of the much more famous Wyatt Earp. Warren was born on March 9, 1855 to his parents Nicholas Porter and Virginia Ann (maiden name: Cooksey). The family resided in Pella, Iowa at the time. They were farming there.
The family bible notes his first name as Baxter. He goes through life known by his middle name: Warren.1
Warren had just turned 6 years of age when the American civil war began. His father was involved in helping the Union war effort, and often away from home. Warren worked around the farm along with brothers Wyatt and Morgan. His older brothers, Newton, James and Virgil were off fighting with Union troops.
Warren’s father returned to move the family further West. They traveled with a wagon train. Not many details are known of Warren’s youth. But one story perhaps gives a premonition. Nicholas Earp was chosen leader of this traveling Conestoga Wagon group. Likely for his reputation in adventuresome experiences during his stint in the Mexican-American war.
Another wagon train participant kept a diary. Her name was Mrs. J.A. Rousseau, a Doctor’s wife. She’d commented on Mr. Earp’s leadership’s skills. She felt he was overbearing, grumpy, and inflexible regarding his rules being obeyed. She described one incident involving Warren. He’d gotten into a fight with another boy in the group. She didn’t note who’d started it. But she did say Mr. Earp began berating all the children there. As if deferring blame from Warren, he cursed and belligerently threatened all the parents. Mrs. Rousseau wrote Earp said “if the children’s parents did not whip or correct their children he would whip every last one of them.”5
The Earp family finally arrived in San Bernardino, California. They settled there in December 1864.
Awhile later, the family moved to Colton, California. Warren Earp helped in the family businesses: a saloon and a grocery.1 It seems clear he also learned to drive a Stagecoach. He did that on occasion to earn money. He also owned a race-horse. All the while, he still lived in Colton with his parents.2
Around 1880 he heard that his older brothers were heading to Tombstone Arizona. It was a booming silver mining town. They planned to take advantage of money-making opportunities. His brother Virgil was offered a lawman position.
Warren Earp decided, at 25 years of age, that he was old enough to do like his brothers. He left Colton and headed to Tombstone Arizona.
Warren Earp in Tombstone AZ
Warren arrived in Tombstone for the first time in 1881. He moved into the house on Fremont Street where older brother Virgil lived. When Virgil needed help, he gave Warren part time law enforcement work.
Did this connection to his brother, and occasional police work, give him over-confidence? Tombstone had an ordinance about firearms within the city limits. He was in violation, even shooting his weapon in town. He was fined $25 for the offense.1
Virgil took a posse to corner some of the Cochise County Cow-boys. They were thought to be rustling cattle at the Southeastern Arizona border with Mexico. Warren Earp went with this posse, setting out in July 1881. Newman “Old Man” Clanton was among the rustlers, and the posse may have possibly killed him.6 (There is another story on that one!) During the gunfight, Warren was injured.
Warren’s younger sister, Adelia, provided evidence in a letter. She said he went back to Colton after his action with Virgil’s posse. He stayed at her house, while she helped him recover. She said he was “suffering from a wound he received in a fight with rustlers on the Mexican border.”3
He was in Colton when his brothers were involved in the O.K. Corral Gunfight on October 26, 1881. A revenge shooting happened on December 28th. Virgil was shot on Allen Street, east of the Crystal Palace. He survived, but was so seriously injured that it affected him the rest of his life. Warren heard about these events and decided he should get back to Tombstone. Evidently Warren felt it was important to support his brothers.
Warren’s Support After the OK Gunfight
Soon after Warren Earp arrived back in Tombstone, there was another revenge attack on his family. On March 18, 1882, brothers Wyatt and Morgan were in Campbell & Hatch’s Saloon and Pool Hall on Allen Street. Suddenly shots rang out from the building’s rear. Morgan fell as a bullet cut through his spine. He soon passed on.
The Earp brothers seethed with grief and anger! They gathered family members and prepared to send Morgan’s body home to Colton. They boarded a train, with a stop in Tucson. Virgil and the brothers’ wives were going with the casket to California. Warren and Wyatt, with Doc Holliday, only went as far as Tucson. The three of them had plans to find Morgan’s murderer and Virgil’s attacker.
Other Earp supporters joined them, gathering to seek retribution. It became known as Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride. Wyatt’s posse went after those he felt responsible for these attacks on his brothers. Warren Earp was ready to do his part and ride with them.
At the Tucson train stop, the Earp vengeance began. Frank Stilwell was spotted there in the train yard. Wyatt and Doc chased him down, shooting him full of lead! No doubt Warren was there right beside them. (And so he was according to Ike Clanton’s testimony!) Wyatt’s posse left Tucson to make their next move.
Warren Rides With Wyatt’s Vengeance
The coroner determined that Morgan was murdered by Pete Spence, Frank Stilwell, Joe Fries and Indian Charlie. Wyatt planned for his posse to track each of them, and mete out justice. He already felt the courts weren’t able to get justice done on his family’s behalf. The first step was accomplished in Tucson.
The next day Wyatt, Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson were back in Tombstone. Readied their horses, packed supplies, headed out. Ike Clanton reported to Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul. He said he saw Warren helping the others murder Frank Stilwell. The Sheriff put out a warrant to arrest all five of them.3
Warren rode with his brother’s posse. They tracked down and killed Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius (never fully confirmed) and Johnny Barnes. The Earps’ local Tombstone nemesis, Sheriff John Behan, formed a posse himself. He was set on arresting Wyatt Earp and the others. By the Spring of 1882, Wyatt acted on his best interests by leaving Arizona. He and Warren ended up back in Colton California. Wyatt moved on soon. But Warren stayed in Colton for a while.
Warren’s Downhill Slide
After this hometown incident, without more direct influence from his brothers nearby, Warren began having more troubles, losing even more direction. We could wonder about why he had this nosedive:
- Was it the death of his older brother by violent means?
- Was it the way his surviving brothers now went their own way, and he was left behind?
- Was it his own personality, that had been developing all along?
- Was it his stature in his family, tiring of dealing with a different look: a head of dark hair, instead of blondish?
- Was it his standing in the family, as the youngest boy?
- Had his parents been tiring out of the more strict upbringing they enforced on their older sons, by the time Warren came along (particularly their hard taskmaster father) – and so he wasn’t subject to the same discipline?
- Was he just spoiled by his mother, as the youngest son?
- Was he fighting against his own natural urges and inclinations – that he knew weren’t accepted, and therefore he was continually acting out?
A psychologist could probably write a book on trying to figure out why he had so many more problems than his brothers did.
Now that Warren was back in his adolescent hometown of Colton, California his life reflected a change. News reports show a life of drinking leading to fights. It seemed he was expressing a quick temper, and a lot of anger.
One reported incident on May 22, 1883 was right in his father’s saloon.
Another altercation was in the Spring of 1884, he was in a San Bernardino restaurant. There he took issue with a waiter, and beat him quite badly!
In 1887 he was in Dingle, Idaho. There’s evidence he married a Kate Sanford there. What became of their relationship is not known. But it surely didn’t seem to last long. Another incident happened in San Bernardino on August 14, 1893. He went so far as to stab a man!
Warren finally left his hometown. It could be he was pressured by his father. Nicholas was well-respected in the area, since he was a former judge.
Where he went next – it was Yuma Arizona. There he was again in trouble. On November 9, 1893 he threatened to kill a local professor. A trial found him guilty on some charges. The court made Warren Earp leave town.
Warren Earp In Willcox Arizona
The next time we find him – it’s 1894, and Warren’s still in Arizona Territory. Again in the Southeast part of the territory, in Willcox. Warren checked into the Willcox House. He reconnected with Earp family supporter: rancher, Henry Hooker. Warren got a job with the rancher, and a place there to stay.3
There was a report of a lawless incident in 1896. Warren was in the settlement of Geronimo, Northwest of Safford AZ. While there he pilfered $20 from a monte card gambling table. He was brought to Solomonville, a little East of Safford. There Warren Earp was charged with petty larceny. He had to serve an 18 day jail sentence.
In 1898 Warren was registered to vote. Cochise County’s Great Register recorded that. His name is there, with an occupation as a “bartender.” This was another of his occupations over the years. Especially while working for his father. So he likely worked in local saloons as a bartender.1
Accounts report Warren also still worked for Henry Hooker in 1900. Warren was an experienced freighter. Other reports state he was a stagecoach driver on a line between Fort Grant and Willcox. The two accounts may fit together. Henry Hooker’s ranch was just south of Fort Grant.
How Did Warren Earp Die?
Apparently Warren still had problems in the Willcox area. He was yet noted to be an angry, belligerent drunk. He knew a man named Johnny Boyett. For about five years time, they ran into each other in town. And likely they saw each other during their workday.
Boyett also knew rancher John Hooker, and worked for his son Ed. Ed’s wife Forrestine Cooper Hooker described Boyett as “quiet, capable and educated above the average cowpuncher of those days….a fine-looking man, tall, muscular yet slender, with a clean-cut profile….I never heard Boyett use a rough, coarse word, and he did not quarrel with other men.”2 But later on Boyett’s own sister reported he’d been associating with “bad company.”2
According to reports, when Warren was drinking, he bullied Johnny Boyett. This was happening more and more, over time. When Warren was intoxicated, Johnny tried to avoid him.
Finally sometime in the early summer of 1900, the status took a turn for the worse. Warren Earp located Johnny in a Willcox bar. Earp went right up to Boyett and stuck a gun in his gut. He said you’ll promise me if we meet again in a saloon and argue, then a killing will happen.
They did meet again, in a saloon. At 1 a.m. on Friday, July 6, 1900 both men ended up in a Wilcox restaurant. Warren had been drinking, and started slamming Boyett with his verbal abuse. Restaurant patrons were amazed at the affront! Warren and Johnny both walked through the door that led to Brown’s Headquarters Saloon.
News reports stated that bar customers heard Warren Earp say “Boyett get your gun and we will settle this thing right here. I’ve got my gun, you go and get yours.” Johnny left the bar. When he returned, Earp was no longer there. But Warren came back a short time later.
Boyett stood in the middle of the saloon floor, as Warren entered from the rear restaurant door. Johnny fired some shots his way as everyone ran out of the saloon. Only Brown, the saloon owner, stayed behind. He hid behind the bar. Warren reappeared at the bar’s side door.
Johnny yelled at Warren to stay away – stay back! Warren came forward, towards Johnny and said “Boyett, I’m unarmed. You’ve all the best of this!” But even so, Warren kept coming closer to Johnny.
Warren opened his coat to show he didn’t have a gun. Boyett repeated his warning to stay back four or five times (according to witness, saloon owner Brown).
Finally, Warren Earp was about ten feet from Johnny Boyett. Johnny fired his gun again, and this time hit Warren Earp. Hit him right in the chest. Warren fell forward.
They went to Warren and determined he was dead. He was killed virtually instantly. The bullet had pierced his heart. In his hand was a small, partially open pocket-knife. No type of fire-arm was found on him.
What Happened After Warren Earp Was Killed?
W.F. Nichols, Cochise County coroner and Justice of the Peace held an inquest that very day. Witnesses gave testimony. A bystander, O.W. Hayes, and saloon owner Henry Brown gave the main descriptions.
Hayes said the two men walked into the saloon together. After they talked, he heard Warren say to Johnny “You was paid $150 at one time to kill me. Go get your gun. I have got mine.”3
Judge Nichols determined a jury would be unlikely to convict Johnny Boyett. He felt it would be a waste of time and money to convene one. He also decided Boyett acted in self-defense, and he was not indicted.
Warren was buried in the old Willcox Cemetery, off of North 3rd Avenue. Named The Old Pioneer Cemetery. His grave is in the Southwest corner. According to some local sources, the actual marker is just in the vicinity of where he was buried. That’s because the site wasn’t immediately marked after burial.
There’s now a Warren Earp Memorial in Willcox. The dedication took place to memorialize 100 years after his death. It’s in Windmill Park, adjacent to the Rex Allen Museum.
The historic Headquarters Saloon burned down in 1940. A new building is on the corner in its place. It’s now a wine-tasting room. A historic plaque marks the spot. At the Northeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Maley Street. Right across the street from Railroad Avenue Park.
How Did This Gun Vs. Knife Happen?
There is some speculation about the troubles between Warren Earp and Johnny Boyett. That it stemmed from the two of them being gay. That perhaps they were fighting an attraction to each other, and trying to stay in the closet. Not uncommon to keep it secret in those days, for sure. There are several sources for this conjecture:
- Johnny Boyett stayed single for his entire life. Put that together with the description given by John Hooker’s daughter-in-law.
- Warren Earp was single his entire life. Except for one alleged, short, unsuccessful marriage – that no one knows anything about or can find much documentation for.
- The most indicative is the statement by Mary Katherine Harony, well-known as Big Nose Kate. At the time of Warren’s killing by Boyett, Kate was living not far from Willcox. She managed the Cochise Hotel in Cochise Arizona – a historic place West of Willcox, where you can still get a room! In the 1930s she reportedly gave an interview to a priest. She told him that Warren Earp’s death “was the result of an altercation between two individuals involved in an unnatural male relationship.”4
Stay Here & These Spots:
1 Dyke, S. (April 26, 2017). Meandering the mesquite: in his brothers’ shadows — Warren Earp’s story. Green Valley News. Retrieved January 15, 2018 from http://www.gvnews.com/get_out/meandering-the-mesquite-in-his-brothers-shadows-warren-earp-s/article_8d917d66-2918-11e7-8c3b-33114d52cc7c.html
2 De La Garza, P. (2017). Texan Johnny Boyett was the man who gunned down Warren Earp. Originally published in Wild West February 2014. Retrieved January 13, 2018 from http://www.historynet.com/texan-johnny-boyett-man-gunned-warren-earp.htm
3 Wild West (June 12, 2006). Warren Earp: The little brother. Retrieved January 15, 2018 from http://www.historynet.com/warren-earp-the-little-brother.htm
4 Bell, B.B. (October 23, 2015) Warren Earp’s lover?. Retrieved January 15, 2018 from https://truewestmagazine.com/was-warren-earp-gay/
5 Clavin, T. (2017). Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the wickedest town in the American West. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
6 Traywick, B.T. (1996). The Clantons of Tombstone. Los Angeles: We Print It, Inc.