Old West History

Death Threats in Tombstone

In the aftermath of the O.K. Corral hearing, the cowboy gang were not willing to accept Judge Spicer’s verdict. The Earps were found justified in their actions during the gunfight. There would be no murder trial. After the hearing was over, several Earp associates and also Judge Spicer received letters warning them to leave town. On December 14, 1881, the night stage from Tombstone was attacked and fired upon.

John Clum, Tombstone’s town mayor narrowly escaped the shooting. In a letter to Stuart N. Lake (Wyatt Earp’s biographer) dated January 24, 1929, he described the event as:

“… an attempted cowardly assassination under cover of the night by the Clanton-McLowery clan on December 14, 1881…I was the first intended victim. Two weeks later they made their mid-night attack on Virgil Earp, and about two months later they assassinated Morgan Earp at Mid-night.”

On December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was attacked in the street and shot several times by hidden gunmen. He was in a critical condition for several months after the shooting and it was thought that he might not survive.

On December 30, 1881, the Weekly Arizona Miner newspaper published the following article:

For some time past, the Earps, Doc. Holliday, Tom Fitch and others who upheld and defended the Earps in their late trial, have received, almost daily, anonymous letters, warning them to leave town or suffer death, supposed to have been written by friend of the Clanton and McLowry boys, three of whom the Earps and Holliday killed, and little attention was paid to them, as they were believed to be idle boasts, but the shooting of Virgil Earp last night shows that the men are in earnest.

Virgil Earp formerly lived in Prescott, and at one time was night-watchman. He left Prescott during the Tombstone excitement, and has since been a resident of that town.

By Elena Sandidge

Elena Sandidge is a Scottish novelist with a passion for the history of the Old West and the life of the legendary gunfighting dentist, Doc Holliday. "A Gentleman in Hell" chronicles the adventures of Doc Holliday as he travels from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona and on to his final home in the mountains of Colorado

5 replies on “Death Threats in Tombstone”

I have letters by Alan Holiday they may not have a direct benefit but may give useful information in the right hands and mindset; scan and send?

Hi Darrel, thank you for offering. I’m grateful for the offer. I do still research a little here and there on Doc Holliday, but I’m not a historian. I think maybe someone like Gary Roberts, Doc’s biographer may be a better person to send them to. Thank you for offering though. Have a wonderful weekend!

Hi! I am very much enjoying, AGIH–I’m a voracious Doc researcher (with a finished screenplay about him) and your prose rings very true and authentic–not just from a factual perspective, but from a stylistic one as well. Thank you very much for all your work researching and writing the book.
-Dr. Lynne Wainfan

Thank you for reading the book and thank you for your kind comments! One of the things that frustrated me about the Holliday/Earp legend is that they don’t just get to be human. I’ve enjoyed trying to get inside Doc’s head! Congratulations on your screenplay! I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what was it that attracted you to Doc?

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