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Old West Lawman Virgil Earp

Updated on July 12, 2010

Virgil Earp

Virgil Earp was born July 18, 1843 in Kentucky and was one of the men involved in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Virgil Earp is the older brother to Wyatt Earp who seems to get most of the notoriety out of the famous brothers. Though much of the fame his younger sibling achieved may be due to the fact that he became friends with western movie actor William S Hart and was an adviser on western movies. Where as Wyatt was mostly a gambler Virgil Earp had been a lawmen most of his life.

Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan Earp
Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan Earp

Early Life and the O.K. Corral


In 1860 Virgil only 16 at the eloped with Magdalena “Ellen” Rysdam and was a very short lived marriage.  On September 1861 Virgil enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil war and served three years.  Virgil left for the Civil War when his new born baby daughter was only two weeks old.  Nellie Earp is supposedly the only child that Virgil would have.  He would not see his daughter for almost 37 years main reason being that Ellen had been told that he had died while enlisted.  Virgil would be married a second time and a third.  In 1874 Virgil married his third wife Allie Packingham Sullivan.

Virgil over the years of his life worked many jobs, like rail construction, farming, stagecoach driver, and mailman and in his later years a prospector.  His career as a lawmen began in October 1877 when he was deputized in Prescott, Arizona Territory and then became a US Marshal.  By the time the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in 1881 Virgil was the city Marshal in Tombstone.  Wyatt Earp was acting as his deputy when the gunfight took place and was joined by another brother Morgan.  Also with them on their walk down the street to the O.K. Corral was Doc Holliday.  At the time of the gunfight Wyatt had only been in one and Morgan had never been in a gunfight.  Virgil with his military career was used to life or death situations.  During the gunfight Virgil was wounded in the calf.  A Few days later the city council suspended Virgil, he was later exonerated but his reputation was forever jaded.

Assassination Attempt and His Recovery

During the late evening of December 1881 as Virgil walked to his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel he was abashed.  A number of buckshot pellets hit Virgil; he was hit primarily in the back and his left arm. His injured arm would be permanently crippled as a result of the surgical removal of five and-a-half inches of his shattered humerus. Ike Clanton hat was found at the scene but friends gave him an alibi.  Three months later Virgil’s brother Morgan was killed in an ambush by unknown assailants.  Two days later Virgil and Allie headed to Colton California to stay with Virgil’s parents.

Virgil spent the next two years recovering at his parent's home in California.  Despite the use of only one arm, Virgil was hired by the Southern Pacific Railroad to guard the tracks.  In 1886 Virgil Earp opened a detective agency, which by all accounts was abandoned later in the year, when he was elected village constable in July 1886.  One year later, Colton was incorporated as a city. On July 11, 1887, Virgil Earp was elected the first city marshal.

In March 1889, Virgil Earp resigned as city marshal and became a gambling hall operator in the larger city of San Bernardino.  In the spring of 1893 he ventured off to Vanderbilt, a gold mining camp in northeastern San Bernardino County and opened a saloon.  In 1894 Virgil ran for constable but lost even though was well liked in Vanderbilt.  In 1895 Virgil and Allie were back in Colton but they did not stay long.

Final Years

After briefly mining in a small town in Colorado, Virgil and Allie would end up back in Arizona.  While mining Virgil was hurt in an accident in the fall of 1896. He recovered and took up ranching in the Kirkland Valley, just outside of Prescott.  It was at this time in his life when he found that he had a daughter.  There are some speculations that he knew but by the accounts given by his daughter she stated that he did not.  The reunion went well between father and daughter. 

In 1904 the Earp’s went back to the city of Colton but did not stay long.  The city had passed a city ordinance that limited the number of saloons.  Virgil and Allie struck out for Goldfield, Nev., and a new gold-mining camp.  Virgil found that Goldfield held no riches for him, but he did go back into the law enforcement. On January 26, 1905, he became a deputy sheriff in Esmeralda County.  Nine months later, on October 19, 1905, Virgil died from complications from pneumonia. His remains were brought to Portland at the request of his daughter Nellie Jane where he was buried.  Allie would live out her life in California and dies at the age of 98.


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    • moonlake profile image


      6 years ago from America

      I didn't know all of this. I spent my grade school years in Colton and San Bernardino. Very interesting hub. Voted up and Shared.


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