The Death of Warren Earp

Old Cemetery, Willcox

Long overshadowed by the gunfight at the OK Corral, the shooting of Warren Earp by Johnny Boyett on July 6, 1900, is finally beginning to capture the attention of Wild West enthusiasts. The following is an account of the event which appeared in the Willcox Arizona Range News on July 11, 1900. The newspaper account raises almost as many questions as it answers. We hope to provide more discussion of this event as research continues.

WARREN EARP KILLED

Warren Earp was shot and killed by John Boyett at 1:30 Friday morning at the Headquarter saloon. It was the culmination of an ill feeling which had existed between the two men for a number of years. From evidence given at the preliminary hearing last Saturday it developed that their last quarrel began in the restaurant in the rear of the saloon. Both men came into the saloon and Earp told Boyett that he (Boyett) had been offered $100 or $150 by parties in town here to kill him. Boyett denied this and told Earp he did not want any trouble, but added that if he had to fight him that he was not afraid. Earp told Boyett to go get his gun, and said that he was fixed.

Boyett stepped out through the front door of the saloon, walked over to the Willcox House. The proprietor W.R. McComb was in the office reading. Boyett walked behind the bar and helped himself to a couple of guns, and left the room. Mr. McComb called to him to come back and asked him why he took those guns. He replied that he might need them and would return soon. Before Mr. McComb could interfere Boyett had already left the room.

Boyett thereupon went back into the saloon, entering at the front door and wanted to know where Earp was. Earp entered through the rear door and Boyett fired two shots at him, Earp disappeared through the same door he had entered; then he went from the restaurant through a side door out on the side walk and in a few minutes he entered the saloon again through a side door. He advanced towards Boyett. Opening his coat he said: "You have the best of this, I have no gun." Boyett told him repeatedly not to advance or he would shoot. Earp still kept advancing and Boyett backed off towards the front door. Finally Boyett again repeated his warning not to advance another inch or he would shoot. Earp not heeding, Boyett fired, and Earp dropped dead.

Drawing by Frederic Remington

The officers were notified and Deputy Sheriff Page, George McKittrick and Jim Hardin appeared on the scene. George McKittrick arrested Boyett and placed him in jail. Upon examination a pocket knife half opened was found in Earp's hand but aside from this he was unarmed. The next morning Judge W.E Nichols impaneled a coroner's jury.

Dr. Nicholson made an examination of the dead man and found the bullet had entered the left side two inches below the collar-bone passing from left to right and obliquely downward lodging in the skin under the left shoulder blade passing through the heart in its course.

The jury rendered a verdict that Earp came to his death from a bullet fired by from a gun in the hands of Johnny Boyett. Friday afternoon the remains of Earp were buried in the cemetery.

Saturday at 1 o'clock Boyett had a preliminary hearing before Judge W.F. Nichols. District Attorney Land was unable to appear for the prosecution, while 0. Gibson represented the defendant. After hearing evidence of the prosecution, on motion of Mr. Gibson, the defendant was discharged, Judge Nichols taking the ground that it was a case in which he thought the grand jury would not find an indictment, or if an indictment was found, a trial jury would fail to convict.

Arizona Range News, July 11, 1900

A subsequent issue of the newspaper linked Earp's death with the events at Tombstone in the early eighties. Though Warren was not present at the shootout at the OK Corral he arrived in Tombstone shortly after that event. When Morgan Earp was killed, Warren was with Wyatt and Doc Holliday as they escorted their brother's body to the train in Tucson. When Frank Stilwell, who they believed killed Morg, was killed in the Tucson train depot, a warrant was issued against Wyatt and Warren for murder along with Doc Holliday, Jack Johnson and Sherman McMasters. The Earps contended that Stilwell's attempted murder of Virgil and killing of Morgan justified their actions as self-defense. Warren returned to Tombstone briefly with Wyatt afterward and was among the riders in the famous "vendetta ride" that following the killing of Morgan Earp.

Recommended reading:

Hickey, Michael M. The Death of Warren Baxter Earp: A Closer Look. Honolulu: Talei Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Rasch, Philip J. Desperadoes of Arizona Territory. Laramie: National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, Inc., in affiliation with the University of Wyoming, 1999.

Tefertiller, Casey. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.