THE LEGEND OF THE FRONTIER MARSHAL
The statue of Wyatt and Doc proudly standing in celebration of the murder of an innocent man is located at the train depot in downtown Tucson.
THE LEGEND OF THE FRONTIER MARSHAL
The little community of Charleston in Arizona Territory was booming along under full steam by 1881. It was home to the Tombstone Mine and Milling Company and was kind of an irksome place to those who craved peace and quiet. What peace and quiet existed there was administered by Judge Jim Burnett and he was fond of a little ruckus. Charleston was a lively little place that attracted lively people. One of them was Frank Stillwell. Frank had a brother named Texas Jack Stillwell who was a highly respected lawman over in Oklahoma and a genuine hero of the Battle of Beecher Island. Frank operated a livery and freight business in Charleston, and held a Deputy Sheriff’s appointment under Pima County Sheriff Charlie Shibell. In that capacity he became friends with John Behan who was also a deputy sheriff serving under Shibell in Tombstone. When Cochise County split off from Pima County in 1881 John Behan was appointed sheriff of the new county and retained Stillwell as a deputy in Charleston. Judge Burnett handled all of the law business in Charleston and Stillwell didn’t have much to do along those lines. Frank had a business associate and friend named Pete Spencer, or as he was more commonly known just Pete Spence. Pete had a wood cutting operation in the Dragoon Mountains near South Pass. Frank hauled his firewood into town. Pete was a newlywed and had need for some quick cash and decided to rob a stage coach. Against his better judgment, perhaps, Frank agreed to help him. They knocked over the Bisbee stage down near Naco and made off with a small amount of booty, but they were recognized and arrested by a posse in which Virgil and Wyatt Earp were members. Pete and Frank were released on bail and returned to running their business operations but they had taken an intense dislike to the Earps, and their animosity was returned in spades. When Frank was arrested Behan removed him as deputy sheriff. Shortly thereafter the Earps were involved in the gunfight near O K Corral and were proceeding through a preliminary hearing on charges of murder. Frank and Pete probably followed those proceedings with a bit of amusement. No doubt they were amused when Virgil lost his appointment as City Marshal of Tombstone after getting shot by Billy Clanton in the gunfight. The Earps were not exactly exonerated in the preliminary hearing, but the ruling was that no charges would be advanced to the Grand Jury for indictment at that time. It was a huge miscarriage of justice because the Earps were, of course, guilty of murder. Ike Clanton, who started the whole mess with his drunken threats and who ran from the fight like a scalded cat, hated seeing the Earps go free. On the day of the gunfight Ike had promised to kill both Virgil and Morgan because they had pistol whipped him for making threats and carrying firearms in town. He meant to keep that promise. On December 28, 1881 Virgil was crossing the street in front of the Oriental Saloon when he was shot gunned from ambush. Virgil would survive that attack but it left him a cripple until the end of his days. Virgil was removed as deputy U.S. marshal because of his injuries, and Wyatt was named in his place. IThe ambush was the work of a skulking coward. Ike’s hat was found nearby where he dropped it as he fled into the night. Ike’s fingerprints are all over that job. His brother Phinn probably fired the other shotgun used. Frank and Pete came under suspicion in the shooting of Virgil because their dislike of the Earps was well known. They were, however, not the least little bit as cowardly as Ike was and would not have gone after the Earps in that way. An arrest warrant was issued on Ike and Wyatt took a huge posse down to Charleston to serve it. That posse tore up the whole town looking for Ike. They absolutely terrorized the entire community through the course of about 24 hours, but they did not find Ike. He was up in Tombstone to answer for stealing some cattle and had plenty of his cowboy pals to bear witness that he was innocent. Ike was bit chagrined to learn that he was being charged in the attack on Virgil but his pals alibied him out and he was acquitted. It was another huge miscarriage of justice. In the meantime the case against Frank Stillwell was coming up on the docket in Tucson and Frank went there to prepare his defense. Ike had work of his own to do. On March 18, 1882 Morgan Earp was killed from ambush during a billiard game in the Campbell and Hatch Saloon. Phinn fired at Wyatt, but sadly missed. The killing of Morgan set Wyatt onto a rampage of vindictive destruction with a posse of his criminal friends. All of the Earps piled onto a train to go bury Morgan in California. Wyatt accompanied them as far as Tucson but felt he had some unfinished business to attend to with the killers. Ike showed up at the train station in Tucson for a final chance at Wyatt. He happened to meet Frank Stillwell at the train station and tried to persuade him to help but Frank flatly turned him down. He didn’t like the Earps, few people did, but he had no desire to ambush them like a coward. As it turned out when Ike saw Wyatt armed to the teeth he ran away into the night again. Frank had no reason to fear Wyatt because he hadn’t taken part in any of the attacks. He stayed at the station to meet one of the witnesses scheduled to appear in court in his defense. What Frank had no way of knowing was that Pete Spence had beaten his new wife and her mother back in Tombstone on the night that Morgan was killed. To even the score she falsely accused Pete and Frank of killing Morgan and Wyatt heard the accusation. Wyatt went berserk when he saw Frank at the station and blasted him with both barrels of his shotgun. Doc came up and emptied his six-shooter into the corpse. It was a brutal murder of an innocent man. Wyatt and Doc fled town ahead of the forthcoming arrest warrants and returned to Tombstone where they gathered up other members of the vengeance posse and rode off after Pete Spence at his wood lot. When they arrived there Pete was gone, he had turned himself in on the bogus accusation filed by his wife. In their frustrated rage Wyatt and his men brutally murdered another innocent man named Florentino Cruz, who was just another laborer at the wood lot. He was out looking for some stray mules and didn’t care much for the way the posse rode him down. He probably sassed them and it was all it took to end his life. Two days later, on March 24, Wyatt’s vengeance posse arrived at Cottonwood Springs near the south end of the Whetstone Mountains. They had planned on meeting Dan Tipton there. Dan was another member of the posse who had remained in Tombstone to gather information about the sheriff’s posse who would surely be coming after them in the murder of Stillwell. When they got to spring they surprised a group of men from Charleston who were already hiding out there after robbing a store. They hated Wyatt’s guts and liver for the way he had upended their little town looking for Ike just a month earlier. They opened fire on him because they recognized a posse when they saw one and because they hated Wyatt. Nobody was killed by any gunfire there except for Texas Jack’s horse. Wyatt got off one shotgun blast and claimed to have killed Curly Bill Brocious in order to collect the reward offered on him by the rancher Henry Hooker. It would be the travelling stake they needed to get out of Arizona. When Wyatt took that money from Hooker under false pretense it was nothing more than stealing. Curly Bill had already left Arizona when the fight at the spring took place. Wyatt and his posse fled from Arizona just like Ike had fled from Wyatt. Bat Masterson helped Wyatt avoid extradition up in Colorado and eventually the whole sad business blew over. Ike was never prosecuted for the murder of Morgan but soon left the area before the dots could be connected to him. He was eventually killed at Pegleg Wilson’s cabin up on West Prong Creek near the confluence of Eagle Creek by a stock detective named Brighton. Pete Spence died an old man up in Globe. Yes. The Legend of the Frontier Marshall was a wholesome example for kids growing up in 1950s. The problem is that there is hardly a single word of truth to it. Wyatt Earp was saloon trash. He was a thug, a bully, a pimp, a horse thief, a liar, a swindler, a card cheat when he could get away with it, and a brutal killer. Not one person in Tombstone was sorry that he left. During his time in Tombstone Wyatt was a deputy sheriff for only three months before being asked to resign by his boss, Charlie Shibell, because Wyatt openly supported Charlie’s opponent in the upcoming election. His tenure as a Deputy U. S. Marshall in Tombstone only lasted about six weeks and ended in disgrace. After the fiasco in Charleston Joe Jackson became the new U. S. Deputy Marshal in Tombstone. Wyatt was not immediately discharged because he misused funds that he was supposed to apply to the pursuit of stage robbers. Instead he used that money for his foray into Charleston. The warrant on Ike was outside federal jurisdiction and Wyatt was being held to account for the missing money. The vengeance posse was funded by the Citizens Safety Committee, whose members were vigilantes. Turns out that the only thing Wyatt ever did as a U. S. Deputy Marshal was something that was illegal. The photo shows a statue of Wyatt and Doc erected at the train depot in Tucson where they murdered an innocent man. It is a poor testament to undeserving men.
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