Wyatt Earp

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Arkansas Horse Theft Charge

    During April 1871, Wyatt Earp was accused of horse theft in the Indian Territory. The Federal Government started legal action against Earp and his alleged accomplices. A Bill of Information was filed on April 1, 1871:

"April 1, 1871, Bill Of Information. U. S. vs Wyatt S. Earp, Ed Kennedy, John Shown, white men and not Indians or members of any tribe of Indians by birth or marriage or adoption on the 28th day of March A. D. 1871 in the Indian Country in said District did feloniously willfully steal, take away, carry away two horses each of the value of one hundred dollars, the property goods and chattels of one William Keys and prey a writ [signed] J. G. Owens."
    Based on Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens' sworn statement a writ was issued by Commissioner James Churchillto bring the named parties before the District Court.

United States of America, Western District
of Arkansas


    To the Marshal of the Western District of Arkansas, -- Greetings.
WHEREAS, complaint on oath hath been made before me, charging that Wyatt S. Earp and Edward Kennedy did on or about the 28th day of March A.D. 1871, in the Western District of Arkansas feloniously steal and take away two horses from the lawful possession of James Keys, contrary to the form of the statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

    NOW THEREFORE, You are hereby Commanded, in the name of the President of the United States to apprehend the said Wyatt S. Earp and Edward Kennedy and bring their bodies forthwith, before me, Jas. O. Churchill, a Commissioner appointed by the United States District Court for said District, whenever they may be found, that they may then and there dealt with accordingly to law of said offense.

    Given under my hand this 1st day of April, A. D. 1871, in the 95th year of our Independence.

Jas. O. Churchill
U. S. Commissioner, Western
Dist. Arks.
    On April 6, 1871, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens took Wyatt Earp into custody on a charge of horse theft. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14, 1871, and bond was set at $500. However, Wyatt remained in custody until he escaped by early May 1871. Wyatt Earp was indicted on the charge on May 15, 1871. Following his escape, a warrant was issued for his arrest. But it was returned unserved on November 21, 1871.

    Wyatt was never tried on the matter. However, his alleged co-defendent Edward Kennedy was later acquitted of the charge.  Anna Shown, wife of John Shown, in a sworn statement accused Wyatt Earp and Ed Kennedy of forcing her husband to help steal the animals. She also claimed that Earp and Kennedy had threatened to kill her husband if he turned State's evidence against them.

    Whether Wyatt Earp had really stolen the horses was never determined and it is not known if Anna Shown's claims against Earp were true.  Nonetheless,  this incident and the other lawsuits against Earp in Lamar, have cause many researchers to questions Wyatt Earp's actions during his early life.

Your host is Steve Gatto, author of The Real Wyatt Earp (Edited by Neil Carmony) (2000), Johnny Ringo (2002), Curly Bill, Tombstone's Most Famous Outlaw (2003).  Steve's latest work, Hurled Into Eternity, The Story of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has not yet been released.

Portions of the text appearing on this site come from the above books.
"bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place."  Tombstone Epitaph