8 Things You Might Not Know About Morgan Earp, Wyatt’s Favorite Bro
A member of one of the Old West’s most legendary bands of brothers, Morgan Earp and his story is often overshadowed by his infamous brother Wyatt.
Hollywood would have us think that Morgan was a bit player in his brother’s action thriller: one of the random guys in the background that we all assume will be the first one killed.
He had been conversely described as meekly mild-mannered, and an aggressive hot-head with a volatile temper. Morgan Earp was a complex dude who, despite his notorious last name, remains a bit of a mystery.
Let’s take a look at the 8 things you may not know about Morgan Earp.
1. There were oodles of Earps, and Morgan was one of the youngest.
In the mid-1800s, it was common for folks to have pretty big families. There was really only one thing to do after the sun went down. Since there was no Netflix, couples went straight to the “and chill” part.
Besides, lots of children meant plenty of free child labor to work in the farm fields. In the case of Nicholas Porter and Virginia Ann Earp of Iowa, a big family also meant a chance to create a pre-Kennedy family dynasty of business owners and public servants. Only that plan took a turn, as we will see later.
The end result of all this was an oodle of Earps. Six brothers in all – Newton, James, Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, and Warren. Three sisters – Mariah, Martha, and Virginia – died in childhood, but one sister, Adelia, the youngest of the Earp siblings, lived to the ripe old age of 80.
Related read: 29 Most Iconic Quotes from Tombstone
2. Morgan Earp was Wyatt’s favorite brother.
Morgan Earp was just three years younger than Wyatt and the two were extremely close. In reality, all the Earp boys were pretty tight, but Morgan and Wyatt’s bond might have had more to do with shared experiences.
During the Civil War, the three older Earp brothers, Newton, James, and Virgil Earp, left home to fight on the front lines. Barely teenagers, Wyatt and Morgan were stuck at home and tasked with keeping the family farm going. Both boys hated farming and spent their days plotting ways to escape their dreary agrarian existence.
Morgan and Wyatt, as well as older brother Virgil, were lookalikes, too. Accounts of the time describe them all as “six-footers’ with fair hair and trim, muscular builds. They could easily pass for one another.
As for the other Earp brothers, we know from photographs that some of them had darker hair, but we can also assume, since they were not their brothers’ doppelgangers, that they may not have been as tall, lanky, and handsome as Morgan, Wyatt, and Virgil.
Related read: 7 Facts about Johnny Ringo You Won’t Learn from Movies
3. Morgan was a lawman and an outlaw.
Morgan Earp, along with the majority of his brother, walked a fine line between being an upstanding, law-abiding lawman and a gun-happy outlaw.
When Wyatt and one of his other brothers took a position of authority – they were deputies, Well Fargo security, marshals, constables, justices of the peace, and even worked security at Old West brothels – they often hired a few of their brothers to help them.
Yes, nepotism was strong in the Earp clan. One could argue that Morgan was a bit of a coat-tailer. When a brother needed a trusted cohort, Morgan was ready for the call.
The law was far less black and white in the Old West. There were no body cameras, chains of command, or social media movements to keep police officers in check. In fact, some towns and companies (like Wells Fargo) gave their lawman carte blanche to handle the criminals.
What do they say about absolute power corrupting? The Earp brothers were occasionally viewed as the bad guys. Even Morgan, who pretty much stayed on the right side of the law, killed people and had an arrest record.
Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell
“If you are wanting to learn about what led up to the Shootout at the O.K. Corral, the Vendetta Ride, and the Earp brothers and Doc Holidays bloody history at Tombstone then this is the perfect book for you.”
– Amazon review
4. Morgan once won a duel.
In 1880, Morgan Earp was living in Montana, working as a policeman in Butte, and searching for gold in the Bear Paw Mountains.
He was appointed the town’s marshal over Billy Brooks, who had worked for the sheriff longer. Honked off about the slight, Brooks took out his vengeance against Morgan Earp instead of the guy who made the decision to ice out Brooks. Brooks challenged Morgan to a duel.
Old West duels did not involve cool swords. It was the “take twenty paces, turn and shoot” type of duel. Brooks’ bullet struck Morgan Earp in the shoulder, but Earp’s aim was better. He shot Brooks in the stomach, mortally wounding him.
As the winner of the duel, Morgan Earp got to keep his job and his life.
5. He was a hero of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Well, maybe a hero or maybe a murderer. It depends on how you look at things.
Wyatt and Virgil Earp ended up in the fledgling town of Tombstone, Arizona, where they were hired as deputies. They quickly pissed off the local rancher thug, Ike Clanton, and his band of cowboys – a term that meant ‘cattle rustler’ in those days.
Wyatt called his brothers to town, as well as his buddies Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Luke Short. Like the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story, the Earps and the Cowboys had a series of small-scale skirmishes that anyone with an eye for plot development would recognize as a prelude to a full-on battle.
Things came to a head at 2:30 in the afternoon on October 26, 1881, when the rival gangs clashed at Tombstone’s O.K. Corral. Members of the Cowboys had ridden into town with their guns, a violation of the town’s ordinance.
The Earps confronted them, then all hell broke loose. Two of the Cowboys, Billy Claiborne and Ike Clanton, high-tailed it out of there. Virgil Earp was shot in the leg and Doc Holliday was grazed on the hip. A bullet grazed the back of Morgan Earp, nicking both shoulder blades and causing minor damage to his spinal column.
Despite his injuries, Morgan sat up and fixed his weapon on one of the Cowboys, Frank McLaury, shooting him in the head. He and two other Cowboys, Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton, died in the 30-second gunfight.
Yes, the famous Shootout at the O.K. Corral lasted about half of a minute.
The Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday were arrested for murder, but the charges were dropped. Now, Ike Clanton and his Cowboys wanted blood.
Related read: 8 Famous (and Infamous) Sheriffs of the Old West
6. Morgan Earp was shot in revenge of the O.K. Corral gunfight.
The Earp Brothers understood that their lives were in danger.
A few months after the Shootout at the O.K. Corral, Virgil Earp was severely injured in an attempt on his life that left him crippled. As for Morgan Earp, he seemed rather nonchalant about the target on his back.
Late in the evening of March 18, 1882, he persuaded his brother Wyatt to join him at the local pool hall. Suddenly, shots rang out. One bullet struck the wall just inches from Wyatt Earp’s head.
Morgan Earp wasn’t so lucky.
A bullet pierced his right shoulder and shattered his spine. Several organs were shredded. The best doctors in Tombstone came to his aid but his injuries were too severe. Morgan Earp died about a half hour after he was shot.
7. Morgan’s death became Wyatt’s worst birthday present ever.
Morgan Earp, age 30, died just before midnight on March 18.
Moments later, it was March 19, his brother Wyatt’s birthday.
8. Morgan and Wyatt made a death pact.
As teenagers and young men, Morgan and Wyatt Earp often got deep and philosophical. They discussed death, dying, and the afterlife. Heck, isn’t this what everyone does while sitting around a campfire?
One of their favorite topics to ponder was the accounts of near-death experiences that they had read about in the newspapers. The brothers had made a pact. Whichever brother died first, upon his deathbed, he would describe the vision of heaven he saw to his brother.
After Morgan was cut down by the bullet, he remained calm and alert. He didn’t appear to be in pain and even quipped that he had just played his last game of billiards.
As his time grew grim, Morgan whispered to Wyatt, who was no doubt eager to hear a description of the great beyond amid his personal grief, “I can’t see a damn thing.”
Related read: 10 Famous Guns of the Old West, from Revolvers to Rifles
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by Karen Harris
Although Karen lives in the Midwest, she likes to put the emphasis on the "west." A freelance writer who specializes in American history, Karen has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University and a master's degree in English from Indiana University.