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The Earp Family


October 17, 2021 by Pamela Nowak

Wyatt Earp, husband of NECESSARY DECEPTIONS protagonists Mattie Blaylock and Josephine Marcus, was an extension of the entire Earp family. In the novel, you’ll meet all of them, either via a character or by reference. This week, I’ll spend each day introducing you to the family.

The patriarch of the family was Nicholas Earp, born in 1813. He was raised in Kentucky, where the family moved not long after his birth. He served in both the Black Hawk War and the Mexican-American War (under Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp for whom Wyatt was named). Nicholas had intended to become a lawyer, like his father, but found himself in a variety of other occupations, most often farming. He married Abigail Storm in 1836 and they had two children:  Newton (1837) and Mariah (1839). Just months after Abigail’s birth, both Abigail and Mariah died.  In July 1840, Nicholas married Virginia (Ginny/Ginnie) Ann Cooksey. They had eight children: James (1841), Virgil (1843), Martha (1845), Wyatt (1848), Morgan (1851), Warren (1855), Virginia (1858), and Adelia (1861). After being kicked by a mule while serving in the Army, the seriously injured Nicholas moved the family from Kentucky to Illinois in 1845, settling in Monmouth. A few years later, the family joined a group headed to California with the intent of farming there but turned back when Martha became ill and died. The family settled in Pella, Iowa, where Nicholas farmed and worked as a cooper. During the next few years, the Earps would move back and forth between Pella and Monmouth. Nicholas served as town constable and recruited for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. In 1864, the Earps again headed to California and again returned to the mid-west. Nicholas became constable and later Justice of the Peace in Lamar, Missouri (with Wyatt being appointed constable after him). Nicholas and Virginia were married 53 years, until her death in 1893. He then married a third time at age 80, just months after Virginia’s death, to Annie Cadd, who was thirty years his junior. Nicholas died in 1907, at age 95. He outlived six of his ten children. He was said to have been strong-willed, foul-mouthed, and a harsh parent. He was convicted of bootlegging and accused of tax evasion in Pella. He was also rumored to have been skilled in skimming money while constable and justice of the peace. 

Newton Earp was Wyatt’s oldest brother (half-brother). He was born in 1837 to Nicholas and Abigail Earp. Abigal died the day after Newton’s second birthday and his younger sister died two months later. When his father remarried a half-year later to Virginia, she raised Newton as her own and he was close to her first two sons, James and Virgil as well as Wyatt, who was nine years younger. The three older Earp brothers enlisted and served in the Union Army during the Civil War with Wyatt too young to join them. Newton was promoted to fourth sergeant in January 1865 and mustered out of the Army in June of that year. According to some undocumented online sources, Newton married a woman named Jennie in 1854 but there are no vital records supporting that information. In September 1865, he married Nancy Jane (Jennie) Adam in Marion County, Missouri and the couple joined the extended Earp family briefly in southern California. Newton was employed as a saloon manager there until Newton and Jennie relocated to Lamar, Missouri, in 1868 where he took up farming on his father’s land. Daughter Effie May was born in 1870 in Missouri. While in Lamar, he ran against brother Wyatt for the position of constable (when his father was appointed justice of the peace), losing by 19 votes. Some theorize the brothers ran against one another to assure the office would remain “in the family” rather than an actual competition for the position. Newton and Jennie relocated to Kansas to farm in 1871 and their son Wyatt was born there in 1872 with Mary following in 1875, Alice in in 1878, and Virgil in 1879. Wyatt and his second wife Celia/Mattie Blaylock stayed with Newton and Jennie for a brief time in Missouri and again near Peace, Kansas following Wyatt’s escapades in Peoria, Illinois. Some sources say he served as marshal of Carden City, Kansas briefly while others say he was the only Earp brother who did not enter law enforcement. Later in life, Newton and Jennie lived variously in California and Nevada, where Jennie passed away in 1898. Newton spent most of his later years as a carpenter and home builder and died in Sacramento in 1928 at the age of 91. Family members recalled Newton as the brother who was least impulsive and wife Jennie as a moral compass.

James Earp was the first child born to Nicholas Earp and his second wife, Virginia. He was born in 1841 in Hartford, Kentucky. The family moved to Monmouth, Illinois two years later then on to Pella, Iowa in 1848. Jim, as he was known, had blue eyes and was about five foot, eight inches tall. He enlisted in the Union Army at age 19 with his brothers Newton and Virgil. During battle near Fredericktown, Missouri, he was wounded in the left shoulder. The wound was severe enough that he never regained full use of the arm. Jim was known to love adventure and moved around frequently after the war, always seeking to make a fortune. When the Earp family moved to California, he joined them but took a detour to the Nevada gold fields while en route. While in Austin, Nevada, he took up gambling, a fondness several of his younger brothers would later share. He spent time gambling in Montana before rejoining the family—now in Lamar, Missouri—a few years later. In April 1873, Jim married Nellie “Bessie” Ketchum, a widow who had been working as a prostitute when they met. Jim and Bessie, along with her two children, settled in Kansas (Wichita and Dodge City) where Jim worked as a saloon keeper and Bessie vied her trade in partnership with Wyatt’s wife, Celia “Mattie” Blaylock. Jim occasionally served as a deputy in Dodge City. Winters (when most deputies were laid off) were spent in Texas gambling and managing Bessie’s business. Jim seldom stayed anywhere long nor was he able to stick with farming. When Wyatt and Mattie (and the other brothers and their wives) relocated to Tombstone, Jim and Bessie went along. Jim intended to keep saloon, gamble, and prospect for silver. Jim was not present at the famed gunfight. Jim and Bessie briefly joined Wyatt and his third wife, Josephine (Sadie) running the White Elephant Saloon in Idaho, then settled in California. Jim worked as a stage driver, and once again ran a saloon and gambled. When Bessie died in 1887, he traveled for awhile then returned to California. As his health failed, he moved in with his sister Adelia and later other family members. He did in 1926 at the age of 84.

Virgil Earp was born in Kentucky in 1843. The family relocated to Illinois shortly after his birth. He grew up close to his brothers. In early 1860, at age 16, he eloped with Magdelena “Ellen” Rysdam, who was a year older. The two reportedly kept their marriage a secret, living apart because they feared their parents’ disapproval (Virgil’s because of his young age, and Ellen’s because Virgil was not Dutch). In July of 1861, Virgil enlisted in the Union Army with Ellen delivering a baby girl (Nellie Jane) the following January (some sources say July). It was only with the pregnancy that the marriage was revealed and both sets of parent sought annulment. While Virgil was away, Ellen’s parents told her that Virgil had been killed in the war; she remarried and moved with the family to Oregon in 1864. Upon his return to Iowa in 1865, Virgil was told the marriage had been annulled and Ellen was gone. His attempts to locate them were unsuccessful. Virgil worked as a hired man at a farm and in a grocery store before emigrating to California with the family. He returned to Iowa with them a few years later. He married Rosella Dragoo in Lamar, his father officiating. Thereafter, Rosella disappears from the historical record. In 1874, Virgil met and married a waitress named Alvira “Allie” Sullivan in Council Bluffs. There is no record of the marriage but the two always claimed they were legally wed. Of all the Earp relationships, the one between Virgil and Allie seemed strongest. He worked a variety of jobs, including peace officer, railroad construction, farmer, and stagecoach driver. Virge and Allie eventually settled in Prescott, Arizona. They lived there until Wyatt and Jim passed through en route to Tombstone. Virgil and Allie joined his brothers there after Virgil secured an appointment to the office of deputy U.S. Marshal. Virgil was involved in numerous confrontations with the “Cowboys” gang and was serving a dual role as deputy U.S. Marshal and City Marshal at the time of the famed gunfight. After the incident, all the Earps’ lives were threatened and Virgil was ambushed on December 28, 1881 and shot in the back and arm. The arm was so badly fractured that doctors wanted to remove it but Virgil refused; instead, they removed four inches of bone. He never regained use of the arm. After Morgan was killed, Virgil and Allie moved to California so Virgil could recuperate, living near his parents. He was the target of thwarted ambush of the train, in Tucson, during their trip west with Wyatt, Warren, Doc Holliday, and others alerted in time to confront and kill Frank Stilwell. Virgil worked a variety of jobs but was most often involved in law enforcement. Despite only having on e good arm, Virge took jobs as a guard for the Southern Pacific Railroad and later opened a private detective agency, was a justice of the peace, and a City Marshal. He and Allie also prospected and briefly owned a saloon. He was wounded in a mining accident in 1896. In 1898, he was contacted by his first wife Ellen and daughter Nellie. Virgil and Allie maintained a relationship with Nellie the rest of their lives. Virgil never fully recovered from the accident and died on pneumonia in 1905. At Nellie’s request, he was buried near her home in Oregon. Virgil was close to six feet tall, with blue eyes and a mustache. He was known for his level head and ability to enforce the law with an even hand.

Morgan Earp was Wyatt’s younger brother as well as the brother he was closest to. Morgan was born in 1851 and was three years younger than Wyatt. He grew up in Iowa and moved with the family as they trekked back and forth between Iowa and Illinois. Close to his older brother, James, as well, Morgan shared Jim’s penchants for wanderlust and gambling. He could be kind, sensitive, and good natured one moment and impulsive and headstrong the next. , and prone to fighting without thought of consequence, Morgan frequently found himself in trouble and under arrest. He threw in with Wyatt on his ill-fated brothel ventures in Illinois and was rumored to have spent time prospecting in the Black Hills and Montana. He spent time tending bar in St. Louis, then Wichita and Dodge City during the years Wyatt was there. By the late 1870s, he had moved to Butte. He likely Louisa Alice “Lou” Houston either in Kansas or Butte. The two owned a cabin there, then briefly famed. There is no record of their marriage but Morgan’s sister, Adelia, said the couple married in Prescot, Arizona. Morgan briefly served on the Butte police force in 1879 before the couple moved to Tombstone in 1880 to join the Earp brothers already there (Lou staying with Morg’s parents in California for a few months). Lou suffered from “rheumatism” (which could be any number of various auto-immune diseases known today). She joined him in Tombstone in December 1880. During his time in Tombstone, Morgan rode shotgun for Wells Fargo and accepted special deputy appointments under his brothers, Virgil and Wyatt. He was heavily involved in arguments with Ike Clayborn in the hours before the gunfight at the OK Corral and injured in the confrontation itself.  After the gunfight, Clayton’s gang issued vowed to kill the Earps and Morgan was shot in March 1881 while playing pool. He died in Wyatt’s arms with Wyatt vowing to avenge the murder.

The youngest of the Earp brothers was Warren. Born in 1855, he trailed Wyatt by several years. Warren grew up Iowa and Illinois. Little is known about his early years though he is said to have lived with his parents until he was 35 years old and had no true profession. He joined his brothers in Tombstone but was not yet there at the time of the gunfight at the OK Corral. He arrived after Virgil was ambushed and assisted Wyatt in revenging Morgan’s murder. After the vendetta, Warren worked as a mail stage driver and a range detective and is said to have been fond of betting on horse races. He was known to have a temper and was considered a bully. Virgil’s daughter recalled her father saying Warren was quick to anger and fond of holding grudges. Over the next years, he would stab a man in California, assault a professor in Yuma, Arizona, and spent time in jail for swiping money from a three-card monte dealer. He became friends with a quiet Arizona cowboy named Johnny Boyett. In 1900, the two argued.  Some claimed the fight was over a woman while Big Nose Kate later claimed Johnny and Warren had been involved with one another and had had a spat; others said that Boyett had finally grown tired of Warren’s constant bullying. The argument simmered several hours until both were drunk. Boyett eventually fired on (and missed) Warren four times. Warren advanced on Boyett and a fifth shot was fired, killing Earp. Boyett swore he felt his life was in danger though Warren was armed only with an open pocketknife. The shooting was ruled self-defense and Boyett died a recluse some 19 years later.

The only Earp daughter to reach adulthood was Adelia. She was the youngest child, born in Iowa in 1861. Addie, as she was known, was sheltered from much of the criminal behavior of her older brothers and would later relate that she knew nothing about the trouble most of them got into. On the family’s second move to California, when she was fifteen, she met a wagon driver named William Thomas Edwards. When the family wintered in Peace, Kansas, the two grew close and married in April of 1877. They settled on a farm near Redlands, California. Little is known about Addie’s life other than the couple had 10 children, most of whom knew their uncles and their wives and spent time with them. William died in 1919 and Addie lived with her youngest daughter until her death in 1941.

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