Resigns as Deputy Sheriff

Following Fred White's death Virgil Earp was appointed temporary Town Marshal. He had been set to run for the position of Constable in the town. A special election of town marshal was scheduled. On November 12, 1880, Virgil Earp was defeated by Ben Sippy for the Town Marshal's position.

It was known that there was a proposal to split up Pima County. One of the counties that would be formed by this split was Cochise County. Wyatt Earp and his family began to support Bob Paul's effort to win the Pima County Sheriff's position. They did this even though Sheriff Charles Shibell, Paul's opponent, had hired Wyatt as a deputy. It is believed that Wyatt may have made a political move in supporting Paul because many believed that Paul would win the election. By supporting Paul, Wyatt would have been in a position to be Paul's deputy in Tombstone, and would therefore have been in a great position to be named the first Sheriff of the proposed and soon to be formed Cochise County. What would be a very lucrative position.

Unfortunately, Bob Paul did not win the election. He would appeal the vote results and would eventually be named Sheriff over Shibell a few months later. Following the election, Wyatt Earp resigned as Shibell's deputy. It is very likely that Shibell had asked for his resignation. Wyatt's letter of resignaton, dated November 9, 1880, read:

"I have the herewith resign the office of Deputy Sheriff of Pima County, Respectfully, [signed] Wyatt S. Earp".

Ironically, the November 10, Arizona Daily Star, was unaware that Earp had resigned, and commented: "Wyatt Earp, one of Tombstone's most vigilant officers, was in town yesterday." In the same issue the Star noted: "Sheriff Shibell has appointed Johnny Behan as deputy sheriff for Tombstone. A most excellent selection."

The Johnny Behind The Duece Affair

On January 14, 1881, one of the most famous incidents commonly discussed iabout Wyatt Earp's life, occurred in the town of Charleston. Around noon on this day Mike O'Rourke alias Johnny Behind The Duece shot and killed a man named Philip Schneider over a minor argument. Following O'Rourke's arrest by Constable George McKelvey, a lynch mob began to form in Charleston. McKelvey and another man quickly loaded O'Rourke into a wagon and raced away from Charleston. Along the way they encountered Virgil Earp, who was out riding a horse. Virgil told Johnny to get behind him on the horse, and the two men rode to Tombstone. O'Rouke was under arrest in Tombstone but a mob there also began to form. A heavy guard of about twenty men protected O'Rourke until Marshal Ben Sippy, Deputy John Behan, and Virgil Earp left with O'Rourke to Tucson in a wagon. An armed guard protected the wagon for a short time as it left Tombstone.

Over the years folklore and books like Stuart Lake's Frontier Marshal would give Wyatt Earp the main credit in protecting O'Rourke from the lynch mob. However, the newspaper accounts at the time clearly indicated that Wyatt was not the central figure in the incident. The Tombstone Epitaph, on January 17, 1881, published the following:

". . . In a few minutes Allen Street was jammed with an excited crowd, rapidly augmented by scores from all direction. By this time Marshal Sippy, realizing the situation at once, in light of the repeated murders that have been committed and the ultimate liberty of the offenders, had secured a well armed posse of over a score of men to prevent any attempt on the part of the crowd to lynch the prisoner; but feeling that no guard would be strong enough to resist a justly enraged public long, procured a light wagon in which the prisoner was placed, guarded by himself, Virgil Earp and Deputy Sheriff Behan, assisted by a strong posse well armed . . ."

The stories that Wyatt Earp had kept a lynch mob at bay by himself, protecting a killer, simply were not true. Earp was not the key figure in the incident. The newspaper did not even mention his actions during the event. Though it it likely that he was one of the men who had helped protect O'Rourke. Clearly, the romantic story of Earp protecting O'Rourke from a lynch mob, while all the other officers in the town stood by unwilling to help, is simply an embellished account of the entire event. Over the years claims have been made that cowboys like John Ringo and Ike Clanton were the leaders of the lynch mob. However, no evidence of this has ever been found. In fact, one newspaper article, which published a telegram from mining man Richard Gird, indicated that the cowboys were planning to take O'Rourke from custody. The meaning of this statement appearently was that the cowboys were planning to free O'Rourke not lynch him. Indeed, the mining men of the area were most likely the main component of the lynch mob.

O'Rouke remained in the Tucson jail. A preliminary examination was held and Justice Joseph Nuegass concluded that Mike O' Rourke should be held in the county jail, without bond, to answer the charge of murder. O'Rouke escaped from the jail in April 1881. Though he had escaped he was later indicted by the Grand Jury in May 1881. He was last seen in the Dragoon Mountains near Tombstone during May and was reported to be leaving the Territory.

Next- The Kinnear Stage Robbery

Return to the Wyatt Earp Index

Return to Tombstone Historical Home Page