Wild West Personalities
Produce Bang-Up Pedigree
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG COPYRIGHT © 1994, 2013—ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DO NOT POST OR PUBLISH WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION Reprinted from American Genealogy Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 4
The Wild West was chock-full of colorful characters and it was natural as ticks to a
hound dog that Hollywood would fall in love with them. Of course, in certain instances
some were actually just creations of the silver screen, while in others, there were
embellishments of the historical facts pertaining to various heroes and heroines—not
unlike some of our own family legends.
Many families have stories about being connected to or descended from renowned
Wild West personalities. My Uncle Teck went to his reward believing his father had
once encountered Jesse James hiding train robbery loot in the Cookson Hills of eastern
Oklahoma—even though I pointed out that the notorious outlaw-folk hero was killed
in 1882 when his father was a nine-year-old boy living in Georgia. Some family legends
are hard to kill.
The genealogist often has to spend a great deal of time sorting conflicting facts from
obvious fiction before the genealogical research can be conducted. Even biographies
and autobiographies of the famous and infamous may contain inaccuracies and
discrepancies. Nevertheless, it is fun to research the possible links to a historical figure,
and even if you disprove the family legend, you learn a lot of American history along the
way. For example, the movie, Wyatt Earp
and the video Tombstone
created renewed interest in the legendary sometime-lawman. While Wyatt Earp may
appear in your family tree, you can't be a direct descendant for although he had three
wives, he did not have any offspring.
Tracing Wyatt Earp and his family as they zigzagged across the heart of America back
and forth to California and other Western states in the 19th and 20th centuries provides
a fairly representative illustration of the migration trails that many of our ancestors took.
was born in Monmouth, Warren County, Illinois in 1848. However,
his family moved to Pella, Marion County, Iowa, when he was about two years old. He
appears with his parents (Nicholas Porter Earp
and Virginia Ann
) and his four older siblings in the 1850 census of that county.1
census of Marion County, Iowa shows this Earp family consisting of the parents and six
children and a 17-year-old female (Lucinda Davis)
whose relationship to the
Earps has not been established. The Earp children at that time were: James C., Virgil
W., Wyatt B., Morgan, Warren B.
The youngest child, a
daughter named Adelia,
was born in June of 1861 in Pella, Iowa.2
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was named for his father's commanding officer under whom
Nicholas Earp served during the Mexican War. Wyatt was too young for Civil War
service, but his father and brothers, James and Virgil, and half-brother, Newton, served—all on the Union side. The 13-year-old Wyatt was left in charge of bringing in an
80-acre corn crop, with the help of younger brothers Morgan and Warren.3
Nicholas Earp, Wyatt's father, went to California in the 1850s—not for gold—but to
find agricultural land with an ample water supply, and decided to settle in San
He returned to the Midwest to move the family to California, but
his daughter, Martha,
became ill and died. Then the Civil War started, delaying
the move. In 1864-65, according to family accounts, Wyatt drove one of the wagons when
the family removed to the vicinity of Colton, San Bernardino County, California.
However, somewhat later Nicholas Earp decided to go back and dispose of his land in
the Midwest (apparently the real estate market was depressed at the end of the Civil
War) and then to return to California to settle permanently. So, in 1868 they went back
to the Midwest—this time to Lamar, Mo. (Whether Nicholas Earp owned property in
both Iowa and Missouri at this time has not yet been ascertained.) In 1870, the Earp
family was enumerated in Lamar Township of Barton County,
with Nicholas listed as a grocer. The then 22-year-old Wyatt Earp is shown
with his wife, "Rilla," whose real name was Urilla Sutherland.6
married 10 January 1870 in Barton County, Missouri, according to marriage records there.
Urilla died later that year in childbirth, along with the infant. Wyatt got into a serious
quarrel with her brothers, left town and drifted into Kansas.7
In May, 1871, Wyatt Earp was arrested and charged with larceny—horse stealing in
the Indian Nation—he skipped bail and was never tried.8
From 1871—75 he tried
buffalo hunting in Kansas and roamed around various towns in that state, and during this
time met Bat Masterson. In 1875 he was appointed city policeman of Wichita ($60 a
month), but on April 19, 1876, he was dismissed from the position and his final salary
was withheld until 'all collected fines are submitted.'9
On May 16, 1876, he was hired as assistant marshal of Dodge City, Kansas at a salary
of $100 a month and $2.50 per arrest.10
Ever restless, in 1878 he went to Texas to check out ranching possibilities. While in Fort
Griffin, Texas, Earp met John Henry "Doc" Holliday
and "Big Nose" Kate
(Doc's companion) for the first time. When Wyatt Earp returned to Dodge City in 1878,
after learning that Marshal Ed Masterson had been killed, he was accompanied by
Celila Ann "Mattie" Blaylock,11
a friend of "Big Nose" Kate. No marriage
record has been found for Wyatt and "Mattie," leading to speculation that she was his
common-law wife—a not uncommon occurrence in the West at that time. Wyatt was
appointed assistant marshal of Dodge City again. However, his stay was brief—he left
Dodge City for good in June of 1879, along with Mattie and Doc Holliday. They, and
some of Wyatt's brothers, all eventually wound up in Tombstone, Arizona.12
gunfight at OK Corral, which made the name of Earp famous in Western lore, took
place Oct. 26, 1881. It was in Tombstone that Wyatt met Josephine "Sadie"
a theatrical performer for whom he abandoned Mattie Blaylock. Mattie
committed suicide July 17, 1888 in Pinal County, Arizona, and her belongings were
shipped to Mrs. Sarah Blaylock (her sister) in Fairfax, Linn County, Iowa.13
Wyatt and Josephine spent their lives traveling, gambling, mining and living the "sporting"
life. Whether they were legally married is open to speculation.14
They lived in Idaho,
California, Alaska and Nevada. In 1900 they were enumerated on a ship in Nome,
Alaska. In 1910 and 1920 they were living in Los Angeles. Wyatt died in 192915
—Josephine in 1944.16
Allie Earp, the widow of Virgil, outlived them all and told her versions of their
adventures in The Earp Brothers of Tombstone.17
No marriage record has been found for Allie and Virgil either, and it is assumed she was
his common-law wife, particularly since evidently she did not apply for his Civil War
pension after his death. Virgil Earp's first wife was Magdalena C. 'Ellen'
They supposedly were married in 1860 at Oskaloosa, Mahaska County,
The young couple—Virgil was about 17 and Ellen was 16—eloped. Ellen's
father and Nicholas Earp (Virgil's dad) were furious with them, managed to scare the
young couple half to death and supposedly had the marriage annulled, though this has not
been proven. Virgil then ran off and enlisted in the Union Army to fight in the Civil War
and Ellen's father took the family to Oregon, later telling Ellen that Virgil had been killed
in the war. Virgil was told that Ellen had died. But, in the meanwhile Ellen had Virgil's
child—a daughter, named Nellie Jane,
who eventually made contact with her
father after reading newspaper accounts of his escapades in Tombstone, Ariz.
Virgil Earp married secondly Rosella Dragoo
in 1870 in Lamar, Barton County,
—a fact evidently his third wife, Allie, did not know. What happened to her is
one of the mysteries yet to be solved for this family history. He met his last wife,
Alvira Packingham "Allie" Sullivan
#151;an orphan of Irish immigrants—in
Council Bluffs, Iowa, about 1874. She died 14 Nov. 1947 in California. Allie's brief
obituary appeared in the New York Times
on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 1947, noting she
was 98 years old.
The gateway ancestor of the renowned Earp family is said to be a Scots-Irishman
named Thomas Earp Jr.,
who was born 1656 in Ireland and came to America
before 1680. According to Jean Whitten Edwards, compiler of the Earp Family
Thomas Earp Jr. probably came to this country—like many of our
Ancestors—as an indentured servant.
Earp is not an Irish surname. A British surname expert lists only one reference for it'
in 1561—and claims its origins are unknown. However, American
sources note that references to Earp can be found under the spelling of Harp.
Being aware of the British's propensity to drop their "H's," genealogists must consider this
possibility when researching a surname beginning with a vowel. Wyatt Earp's
great-great-grandfather appears on a 1776 Maryland enumeration as William Harp.21 William Earp,
born 1729 in Maryland, along with three of his sons&151;Philip,
—participated in the Revolutionary War. William's wife
was Priscilla Nichols.
William was the son of Joshua Earp
Joshua Earp, born ca 1705, died ca 1760 in Fairfax County,
Virginia was the son of John Earp
and Rebecca [—?—].
John Earp, born
1680 in Maryland, was the son of the gateway ancestor.
Philip Earp, a son of William Earp and Priscilla Nichols, was born in 1755 in Frederick
County, Md., and was a great-grandfather of Wyatt Earp. Philip Earp died in Caswell
County, North Carolina in 1810—he was the father of Walter Earp
(1787—1853). Walter Earp was a teacher, lawyer, judge of Illinois Circuit Court, justice of
the peace and a licensed preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1808 he married
Martha Ann Early
in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. They removed first to
Tennessee and then in 1813 to Kentucky, living in Logan, Butler and Ohio counties. In
1847 they made a final move to Warren County, Illinois. Nicholas Porter Earp was the
third child and second son of Walter Earp and Martha Ann Early, and father of the famed
Tombstone Earp brothers.
Nicholas Earp was almost as colorful as his well-known sons and just as restless. As a
deputy sheriff of Warren County, Illinois, he established a precedent for fearless
efficiency which might well have motivated his sons. Nicholas was involved in the Black
Hawk War of 1831, was a sergeant in the Mexican War, and during the Civil War
served the Union army in Iowa as a provost marshal for recruiting. Born in Lincoln
County, North Carolina in 1813, Nicholas grew up in Ohio County, Kentucky, where
he married first Abigail Storm
in 1836. By her he had a son, Newton
and a daughter, Mariah Ann.
Abigail and the baby girl died, and in
1840 Nicholas married Virginia Ann Cooksey. They had five sons and three daughters.
Of their eight children — James Cooksey, Virgil Walter, Martha Elizabeth, Wyatt Berry
Stapp, Morgan S., Baxter Morgan, Virginia A., and Adelia Douglas—only three, perhaps
of them had children. Virgil had a daughter by his first wife, Magdalena C.
"Ellen" Rysdam; and Adelia married William Thomas Edward
and had a son and
daughter. Two were killed—Morgan and Warren—and two daughters, Martha and
Virginia, died in childhood.
This preliminary search clears up a few discrepancies in the Western Earp's saga, but it
also throws glaring lights on some of the family skeletons. Additionally, it raises nagging
questions pertaining to the conflicting versions of the family's history. And, like most
genealogies, it has some holes.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Census extracts by Clare Peden-Midgley: 1850 Marion County, Iowa, Lake Prairie
Township, page 290, line 8, family no. 150, NARS microfilm #M432, Roll 187. 1860
Marion County, Iowa, Pella, Lake Prairie Township, p. 630 (written), family no. 1372,
NARS microfilm #M653, Roll 335.
- Earp Family Genealogy, compiled by Jean Whitten Edwards, Breckenridge,
Texas, 1990, p. 151.
- Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, by Stuart N. Lake. New York: Pocket Books,
(reprint) 1993, p. 7.
- Ibid., pp. 6-7.
- Census extract by Clare Peden-Midgley: 1870 Barton County, Missouri, Lamar
Township, NARS M593, Roll 757, page 830B, family numbers 212, 213 and 214.
- The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp, by Frank
Waters. New York: Framhall House, 1960, p. 29. (Hereinafter: Brothers.)
- Ibid. Wyatt made his way back from California working as a section hand in
various railroad gangs. When he arrived in Lamar, Mo., he learned that his elder half
brother Newton had announced himself a candidate for the post of town marshal in the
1870 elections. Wyatt, then 22 years old, ran against him and was elected by a vote of 137
to Newton's 108. Newton pulled up stakes and went to Kansas, where he filed claim to a
piece of barren prairie.
- I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp,
collected and edited by Glenn G. Boyer. Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona Press,
second printing, 1979, p. 38 (Note 2 to Chapter Two). (Hereinafter: Married).
- Compiled records on Wyatt Earp. at Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas.
- The Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas has a photograph of Celia Ann
"Mattie" Blaylock taken about 1872 at Fort Scott, Kansas. Wyatt Earp also was in
Hays and Ellsworth, Kansas, which are some distance from Fort Scott, but Fort Scott,
Kansas is located just across the Missouri line—not far from Barton County, Missouri
where Wyatt lived in 1870, and may be where he met Mattie.
- 1880 Pima County, Arizona Territory, Tombstone, NARS T-9, Roll 36, p. 163
census of Tombstone. This census, transcribed by Clare Peden-Midgley, shows Wyatt
and his brother, Virgil as farmers, their brother, James C., as a saloonkeeper.
- Brothers, p. 212.
- According to Josephine Marcus Earp they were married by the captain of Lucky
Baldwin's Yacht beyond the three-mile limit. Married, p. 119.
- Los Angeles Examiner, Jan. 14, 1929.
- Los Angeles Times, Thursday, Dec. 21, 1944, Part II, p. 3.
- Brothers, p. 225.
- Brothers, p. 247. Note 2, Chapter 8. Citation says her name was Ellen Sysdam,
[Sysdam is probably a typographical error] a native of Holland, and the information is
said to be from The Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, Oct. 29, 1905, from Mrs.
William Irvine's collection of Earp data. Note 3 says Ellen married Thomas Easton at
Walla Walla, Wash., in 1867, and that there is no record of her first marriage to Virgil
Earp having been annulled. In Married, p. 57, (Note 5, Chapter 3), it says Virgil
Earp married Ellen Rysdam at Knoxville, [Marion, County], Iowa on Sept. 21, 1861,
using his middle name, Walter, and listing her as Ellen Donahoo [and that] ... Ellen
married John VonRossen and moved to Kansas City, and then Oregon. [This conflicting
data has not yet been resolved by genealogical research.]
- 1870 Barton County, Missouri, Lamar Township, NARS M593, Roll 757, p.
830B, dated 3 Sept. shows Virgil, age 26, a grocer and Rosa, 17, born in France, next
to him, both living in the household of his parents — Nicholas and Virginia; family No.
212. Next to them, family No. 213, are Newton Earp and wife, Nancy, and Effie,
evidently their infant daughter, and Christina Adam, a 47-year-old female, born in
Kentucky [probably Newton's mother-in-law]. Family No. 214 is Wyatt Earp, age 22,
and "Rilla," age 21, with the notation that they were married in January of that year.
- Earp Family Genealogy, p. 3.
- Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, Maryland Records: Colonial, Revolutionary, County
and Church From Original Sources, originally published Baltimore, 1915; reprinted
1985 in Baltimore, by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Vol. I, p. 183, Lower
Potomack Hundred, "A List of the Number of Souls Taken & Given in to the Committee
of Observation, 22 Aug. 1776."—Research report by Julia M. Case.
- While the Earp Family Genealogy notes that James Cooksey Earp married Nellie Bartlett 18 April 1873 in Illinois, and had a son, Frank (born Feb. 1874), and a
daughter, Hattie (born June 1875), by her, no sources are cited this data. The 1880 census of Tombstone, Pima County, paints a different picture. In it James C. Earp is
enumerated twice—once on printed page 163 with his brothers Virgil and Wyatt—shown as age 39 a saloonkeeper and next to him is listed Bessie, white female, age 36,
listed as his wife, and Hattie, a 16-year-old white female, listed as daughter. However, on page 166, James C. Earp is listed as head of household, age 39, saloonkeeper, and
his wife is shown as Bessie, white female, age 39 and Hattie B. Catchin is shown as his stepdaughter, age 17. There is no son Frank listed, who if born in 1874, would have
been about six years old. Of course, it is possible that James C. Earp had children by Nellie Bartlett, but he was not with a woman by that name in Tombstone at the time of
the 1880 census. In Married (Note 6, Chapter 3, p. 57) it says James Cooksey Earp married Nellie Bartlett Ketchum 18 April 1873 in Illinois and that she died in San
Bernardino (California) in 1887. An item that adds yet another dimension to the murky marital history of James C. Earp is that according to Brothers, (Note 4, Chapter 6, p. 243), the Kansas State Census of 1875, city of Wichita, lists Bessie Earp, age 34, as a "Sporting Woman." James C. Earp was enumerated in the 1870 census in Deer Lodge
County, Montana on July 6 (NARS M593, Roll 827), p. 56, as a 30-year-old waiter in
a hotel. No wife listed. James applied for a Civil War pension in 1912 and in it says he
went to Marion County, Iowa in the spring of 1863, crossed the plains to California in
1864-65, went to Helena, Montana in 1870, went to Pineswell (probably Pineville),
Mo, then to Wichita, Kans., then to Arizona, then to California in 1890. He does not
mention a trip to Illinois in 1873 when he supposedly married Nellie. However, Allie
Earp mentions "Jim" Earp and his wife, Bessie, and her 16-year-old daughter, Hattie
(Brothers, p. 75). She always refers to the woman who lived with James as Bessie.
There also is a reference to a conversation between "Big Nose Kate" (Doc Holliday's
companion) and Bessie Earp wherein Kate accused Bessie of having been a whore (in
Wichita), and Bessie did not deny it (Brothers, pp. 108-9). It appears that Nellie
and Bessie could be the same person and perhaps Bartlett was her maiden name and
Ketchum or Catchin, the surname of a previous husband or the father of her daughter,
In addition to the sources cited, additional genealogical research was conducted by
Clare Peden-Midgley, Julia M. Case, Rhonda McClure, Shirley McLaughlin, Kate
Korewich, and by Lineages, Inc. I am deeply indebted to all of them for their
contributions to this article.
Note: The Earp Family Genealogy
is available from the compiler,
Jean Whitten Edwards, HCR51, Box 176B, Breckenridge, TX 76424.