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Outlaws | Vintage Photos

The Phillips Collection featuring

Morgan Earp
and Louisa Houston Earp

By Cathleen Briley

Morgan Seth Earp was born in 1851 into the Earp family while they were living in Pella, Iowa. As the years passed, the Earp family moved several times, and as the boys grew up and left their father's home, they continued the tradition of moving from place to place. By 1870, there is every likelihood that Morgan Earp was in Montana Territory with his brother James. By 1874, the Earp brothers (Morgan, Wyatt, and James) were in Wichita, Kansas. Morgan then moved to St. Louis, Missouri and was a bartender there. In 1876, Morgan moved on to Dodge City and became a deputy marshal under Charlie Bassett replacing Bat Masterson who had vacated the position to travel to Wyoming in hopes of finding gold. Shortly thereafter, Morgan's brothers followed him to Dodge city with Wyatt joining the marshal's office as a deputy (and dealing faro at the Long Branch Saloon) and James opening a brothel.

Louisa Houston Earp was born in 1855 in Wisconsin. Sometime after 1870, Louisa left her parent's home and is known to have been in Iowa, Kansas, and Montana Territory. Exactly when and where Louisa met Morgan Earp is unknown. But by late 1877, they were in Montana Territory together. Louisa was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis since she was in her teens. Her letters indicate that she suffered a great deal, and she felt that her affliction was taking its toll on her appearance.

>Morgan was on the police force in Butte, Montana Territory, but only for a short time. In February of 1880, the couple left Butte for good and Louisa was taken to stay with Morgan's parents in California. Louisa would remain there in their care for several months. Her affliction was a constant source of pain, and her condition deteriorated. In May of 1880, Morgan went to California to visit his wife and family.

For comparison purposes, the photo on the left is of Morgan and Louisa Earp courtesy of The Spell of the West website. The photo of Morgan and Louisa Earp on the right (oval) is from the Phillips Collection.

Morgan and Louisa Earp
Morgan and Louisa Earp

In July of 1880, Morgan went to Tombstone, Arizona Territory to meet up with his brothers and their wives. Tension between the outlaws known as the Cowboys and the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday grew, and by the time Louisa joined her husband in Tombstone in December of 1880, it had grown to a fever pitch.

The shootout at the O.K. Corral took place on October 26, 1881 between the Earp faction and a handful of the Cowboys, three of whom were killed that day. Louisa heard the gunshots from a few blocks away. Morgan Earp was shot across the back, and according to a letter written by Louisa to a sister, both of Morgan's shoulder blades had been broken and his spinal column was injured slightly. His brother Virgil had been shot in the calf and Doc Holliday was grazed with a bullet. The Earp's and Doc Holliday were ultimately exonerated in court for the deaths of Cowboys Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury.

Close to Christmas of 1881, in retaliation for the shootout, Virgil Earp was ambushed by some Cowboys as he walked down the street in Tombstone. He took buckshot in his back and side and his left elbow was nearly obliterated. Morgan Earp was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal under Wyatt because Virgil was so seriously wounded.

Tension in Tombstone continued to mount. In February of 1882, Morgan sent Louisa back to Colton, CA to live with his parents due to the threat of more retaliation. Therefore, Louisa was not in Tombstone when on the evening of March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was shot to death.

Morgan Earp had spent that evening at a musical at Schieffelin Hall. Then he played pool at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor against the owner, Bob Hatch. Dan Tipton, Sherman McMaster, and his brother Wyatt watched the game. The assassin, no doubt one of the Cowboys, shot through a window striking Morgan in the back. One of the bullets entered the thigh of mining foreman George A.G. Berry. Another bullet lodged in the wall over Wyatt's head. When Morgan collapsed, he was moved to the floor, and he died a short time later. Morgan's body was dressed in a suit belonging to Doc Holliday. The next day Morgan's body was taken to the train station and James Earp accompanied his brother's body to Colton, California where Morgan was subsequently buried. Wyatt Earp gathered a posse consisting of family and friends and went on the so-called Vendetta Ride, killing Cowboys in revenge for the death of his beloved brother.

The photo of Morgan Earp on the left is from the Phillips Collection. For comparison purposes, the photo in the middle is courtesy of Wikipedia. The photo on the right is also from the Phillips Collection.

Morgan Earp
Morgan Earp
Morgan Earp
Morgan has been described as the most likeable of the Earp brothers, and I have become convinced that it might be very true. It has been 133 years since his death, but these photos captured life. When I look into those expressive eyes, I see a man who might have had a great sense of humor, might have been quick to laugh and appreciated wit, and a man who might have had an ornery streak. When I look into that face, I see a thoughtful man who would have shunned the spotlight, and I see a man of honor.
Sources:
http://www.jcs-group.com/oldwest/tombstone/morgan.html, The Spell of the West, August 26, 2015

Mrs. Earp, The Wives and Lovers of the Earp Brothers by Sherry Monahan, Twodot, Guilford, Connecticut, 2013.

Morgan Earp. (2015, August 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:46, August 26, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Morgan_Earp&oldid=674736650
© Cathleen Briley
August 29, 2015 Feature

The Phillips Collection :

Introduction | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

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