Wyatt Earp History Page

Wyatt Earp

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The Johnny Behind The Deuce Affair

    On January 14, 1881, one of the most famous incidents commonly discussed in Wyatt Earp's life, occurred in the town of Charleston. Around noon, Mike O'Rourke alias Johnny Behind-The-Deuce shot and killed a man named Philip Schneider over a minor argument.  Following O'Rourke's arrest by Constable George McKelvey, a lynch mob formed in Charleston. McKelvey and another man quickly loaded O'Rourke into a wagon and raced away from Charleston.  While in custody at Tombstine, a mob began to form.  A heavy guard of about twenty men protected O'Rourke until Marshal Ben Sippy, Deputy Sheriff 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.  The Tombstone Epitaph, on January 17, 1881, published the following account of the incident:

". . . 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 . . ."

    Over the years books like Stuart Lake's Frontier Marshal would give Wyatt Earp the lion's share of the credit in protecting O'Rourke from the lynch mob.  However, 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, though it it likely that he was one of the men who had helped protect O'Rourke.  The newspaper articles that reported the event did not single out Earp's actions or even mention him by name.  The romantic story of Earp single-handedly 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.  Other 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 -  meaning 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.

    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.  He would not sit in jail too long.  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 1881 and, as one would expect, was reported to be leaving the Territory.

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