Just after midnight on October 28, 1880, shots rang out in the streets of Tombstone. Marshal Fred White quickly responded to the disturbance. Wyatt Earp, who was a deputy sheriff, also responded. Fred White encountered a man near the back of a building and ordered him to surrender his pistol. The man slowly removed his pistol from its holster. Suddenly Fred White grabbed the pistol as Wyatt Earp wrapped his arms around the man. The gun discharged striking White in the groin area. Wyatt knocked the man down and took his weapon.
Wyatt swore out a complaint for assault with intent to murder. The prisoner gave his name as William Brocius, and claimed that he was from the San Simon area. Later newspaper reports would use his now famous nickname-Curly Bill.
Brocius asked for a postponement until 10:00 a.m. so that he could secure counsel. He later appeared in court with Judge Haynes of Tucson as his counsel. He waived his examination because it became apparent that a lynch mob might be forming. Fred White's condition was becoming worse and it now appeared that he would die. The authorities felt that to protect the prisoner that he should be transported to Tucson to be held in the Pima County jail.
Wyatt Earp and George Collins took Brocius to Tucson in a buggy. Virgil and Morgon Earp were among the men who escorted the prisoner out of the Tombstone limits.
After delivering the prisoner to Tucson authorities, Earp and Collins spent the night at the Palace Hotel. They they traveled back to Tombstone the following day. Upon their arrival the Tombstone Epitaph announced that Wyatt had learned that Brocius was an escaped prisoner from El Paso, Texas.
Were the Clantons and the McLaurys arrested that night with Curly Bill?
The popular stories of Fred White's death include the Clantons and the Mclaurys in the incident. Most claiming that Wyatt arrested these men with Curly Bill. Yet, the contemporary newspaper accounts contradict this assertion. In fact, the Tombstone Epitaph on October 28, 1882, reported the men who had been involved in the situation:
"Edward Collins, A. Ames, R. Loyd, Frank Patterson and James Johnson were brought before Judge Gray yesterday morning on charge of violating city ordinances. A. Ames plead guilty to carrying concealed weapons and discharging the same on public streets. He was fined $40, whichhe paid. Edward Collins, R.Loyd and James Johnson plead guilty to carrying concealed weapons, and were fined $10 each, which was paid. Frank Patterson was discharged, it being made apparent to his Honor that he had used every effort to prevent the disturbance by his companions. . . ."
Clearly, the Clantons and the McLaurys were not involved in the incident. It appears that writers have simply included them in order to connect this event with the participants of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Wyatt Earp's Testimony Helps Set Curly Bill Free
Wyatt Earp went to Tucson late December 1880, to give testimony in Curly Bill Brocius' case. The Arizona Daily Citizen on December 27, 1880, published his testimony. According to Wyatt Earp, he had been in Billy Owen's Saloon when he heard three or four shots in the street. He immediately responded to the disturbance. He was not armed at the time and tried to borrow Morgan Earp's pistol. Morgan refused and he then turned to Fred Dodge and asked for his pistol. Dodge handed the gun to Wyatt.
Wyatt went on to comment that he had encountered Marshal Fred White as he was approaching the defendant. He stated that White had grabbed the pistol and that he had wrapped his arms around Brocius. The gun then went off and White was shot. Wyatt then knocked the defendant down and disarmed him. According to Earp, he examined the gun and it contained one spent round and five cartridge's remained.
This indicated that Curly Bill was not one of the men firing his weapon in the street.
Judge Nuegass ordered the defendant freed and commented that he was not guilty of murder. The Judge, based on Wyatt Earp's testimony and Fred White's own death bed statement that the incident was an accident, commented that it was a "Homocide by Misadventure" or simply an accident. Brocius was released from custody.
Wyatt Earp Resigns as Deputy Sheriff
Back to Wyatt Earp Index
Back to Legendary Characters
Back to Tombstone Historical Homepage