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Outlaws | Vintage Photos

The Phillips Collection featuring

Virgil Earp, Allie Sullivan Earp
and Nellie Jane (Earp) Bohn

By Cathleen Briley
Virgil Walter Earp was born on July 18, 1843 while the Earp family was still in Hartford, Kentucky. The Earp family did a lot of moving around the country. By 1849, the Earp's had moved to Pella, Iowa, then to Illinois, and then by 1856, they were back in Pella, Iowa.

In February of 1860, at the young age of 16, Virgil Earp eloped with a 15-year-old named Magdalena C. "Ellen Rysdam. Quite expectedly, her parents were furious and they made sure that the marriage didn't last long. In 1861, Virgil enlisted in the Union Army along with his brothers James and Newton. Ellen's father told her that Virgil had been killed in the Civil War, and she married another man and moved away. When Virgil returned to Iowa after he was discharged, he couldn't find his wife and young daughter, Nellie Jane.

Virgil rejoined his family who had by that time moved to California and then to Lamar, Missouri. In Missouri, Virgil married his second wife, Rosella Dragoo. Similar to when Wyatt married Urilla Sutherland, Nicholas Earp (as Justice of the Peace) married his son and daughter-in-law. What exactly happened to Rosella is unknown, but it is assumed that she died shortly after their marriage. Virgil, like most everyone in his family, then did a lot of moving about the country. By 1874, Virgil met Alvira "Allie" Sullivan, who was from Florence, Nebraska, and he would spend the rest of his life with her.

For comparison purposes, the photo on the left is of Allie Sullivan when she was sixteen years old, courtesy of Wikipedia. The photo of Allie Sullivan Earp on the right (oval) is from the Phillips Collection.
Allie Sullivan
Allie Sullivan Earp
A lot of credit has been given to Wyatt Earp for his bravery, and his deeds as a lawman and a gunfighter. In my opinion, Virgil Earp was just as impressive as his younger brother, and may have been neglected somewhat where credit is due.

By 1877, Virgil and Allie were in Dodge City. But, by later that year they were in Prescott, Arizona Territory where Virgil made a great impression shortly after their arrival.

In October of 1877, Yavapai County U.S. Marshal Standifer and County Sheriff Bowers attempted to arrest John Tallos and a murderer named Wilson. A posse was in pursuit of the two men, and Virgil involved himself by taking out after the posse. Eventually, a gunfight broke out. Virgil shot one of the robbers through the head. In 1878, Virgil was then appointed as night watchman for Prescott and by November of that same year, he was elected as town constable.

It was around that time that Virgil wrote to his brother Wyatt to let him know about the burgeoning town of Tombstone. In doing so, he set in motion a series of events that he could have never imagined. What would transpire would make their family name a household word, and his brother a legend.

Shortly thereafter, Virgil was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal of the eastern portion of Pima County. His boss told him that he was to move to Tombstone to help resolve the "Cowboy problem." By December of 1879, the rest of the Earp family began to arrive in Tombstone.

Problems arose left and right with the outlaw faction known as the Cowboys. It was Virgil who pulled in his brothers for help, with Wyatt eventually joining the police force. Over the next several months tensions would rise in Tombstone between the Cowboy faction and the Earp/Doc Holliday faction. It all came to a head on October 26, 1881 with the shootout at the O.K. Corral that left three of the Cowboys dead. Morgan Earp was wounded in the back and Doc Holliday was grazed by a bullet. Virgil took a bullet in the calf.

The Earp's and Doc Holliday were ultimately exonerated in court for the deaths of Cowboys Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury.

In retaliation for the shootout, Virgil was ambushed by some Cowboys on December 28, 1881 while walking down the street in Tombstone. Virgil took a load of buckshot in his left arm and was also struck in the side and back. He was treated by Dr. George Goodfellow who recommended that the arm be amputated seeing that the elbow had been nearly obliterated. But, when he received so much resistance to that idea, the doctor removed several inches of a shattered humerus in an attempt to save the arm. Virgil spent three months recuperating from his injuries and his left arm was left maimed.

In March of 1882, Virgil and Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan was shot to death while playing pool, most likely by a Cowboy. Shortly thereafter, a still-recovering Virgil and his common-law wife Allie left Tombstone for California. Wyatt then gathered a posse of family and friends and would go on the "Vendetta Ride" in revenge for his brother's death, killing several Cowboys in the process.

For comparison purposes, the photo on the left is of a young Virgil Earp credited to Nick Cataldo by Sherry Monahan, author of Mrs. Earp, The Wives and Lovers of the Earp Brothers. The photo on the right (oval) is an older Virgil Earp from the Phillips Collection.
Young Virgil Earp
Virgil Earp
Virgil would stay with his parents for nearly two years in Colton, California. He sought medical treatment for his arm in San Francisco. After he was recovered enough to return to work, Virgil went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He then started a private detective agency which only lasted a few years, and then became the first City Marshal for Colton, California. He resigned shortly thereafter, however, and ended up in Vanderbilt, California where for a short time where he ran Earp's Hall, a saloon.

In 1898, Virgil received a letter from his long-lost daughter, Nellie. Shortly thereafter, he met her and his grandchildren in Portland, Oregon. Allie encouraged Virgil's involvement with his daughter, and he enjoyed a relationship with her for the rest of his life. The following is a photo of Virgil with daughter Nellie Jane from the Phillips Collection.
Virgil Earp with daughter Nellie Jane Earp
For comparison purposes, the photo on the left is of Nellie Jane (Earp) Bohn courtesy of the Find A Grave website. The photo on the right (oval) is of Nellie Jane from the Phillips Collection.
Nellie Jane Earp Bohn
Nellie Jane
Virgil Earp passed away on October 19, 1905 after losing a six-month battle with pneumonia. He and Allie were in Goldfield, Nevada where they had met up with Wyatt and Josephine, and where Virgil had been serving as deputy sheriff for Esmerelda County, Nevada. Allie honored Virgil's daughter's wish that he be buried in Portland, Oregon.
Portland OR - Virgil Earp Grave
Virgil Earp's Grave in Portland, Oregon
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2015
Portland OR - Virgil Earp Grave
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2015
Portland OR - Virgil Earp Grave
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2015
Portland OR - Virgil Earp Grave
Close up views of Virgil Earp's Grave
Photos courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2015
Mrs. Earp, The Wives and Lovers of the Earp Brothers, by Sherry Monahan, Twodot, Guilford, Connecticut, 2013.

Virgil Earp. (2015, August 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:35, August 26, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Virgil_Earp&oldid=675133917

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=40289053, August 27, 2015
© Cathleen Briley
September 25, 2015 Feature

The Phillips Collection :

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

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