I know what Wyatt Earp was thinking when he found that confessed stage coach robber Luther King, had walked out of the Tombstone jail. After entrusting their prisoner to the Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, Wyatt and the other members of the posse spent 2 weeks tracking King's accomplices across 100 miles of Arizona and New Mexico desert, all the way south to the border with old Mexico, at the head of Guadalupe Canyon. Wyatt came home dirty, exhausted and frustrated. And then to find the one prisoner he had caught, had been allowed to escape, Wyatt Earp was not just infuriated. He was desperate. Allow me to explain.
Absentee Territorial Governor John C. Fremont had named the amoral Johnny Behan (above) the new sheriff of Cochise County. Wyatt thought Johnny had promised the job of under sheriff for Tombstone to him, but instead Behan had pinned the badge on printer and editor of the Democrat leaning "Tombstone Nugget", Harry Jones Woods. And it was Woods who had allowed confessed armed robber Luther King to saunter out of jail, with help from Johnny Behan's business partner, John Dunbar.
Dunbar owned the Dexter Livery Stable, on Allen Street, between Fourth and Third Streets. That was his excuse to come to the jail to pay for and pick up Luther King's horse, which the cow boy was selling to pay for his lawyer. And while Harry Woods was out the front door with Dunbar finishing up the bill of sale, Luther walked out the back door, where he found a horse, saddled and waiting. Any secrets about who got a cut for aiding and abetting the botched robbery, rode off with Luther King. Johnny was a skilled enough politician to know there would be a public outrage at this display of arrogance and power by the Cochise County Cowboys. So he poured a little whiskey on the issue and stirred it up, producing a mud cloud.
The weak point for the Earps was John "Doc" Holliday (above). A few years earlier, Doc had lived in Los Vegas, New Mexico, where, a few doors down from Holliday's dentist office had been the jewelry shop owned by William "Bill" Leonard, one of the escaped Benson Stage robbers. Also, Doc had occasionally stopped by the Redfield Ranch, where Luther King had been caught.
But most helpful for Johnny Behan, Doc's decision to join the posse had set off a loud, passionate and public argument with his common law Hungarian born wife, Mary Katherine "Big Nose Kate" Horony (above, right). Doc (above, left) rode off with the Earps, but during the 2 weeks the posse was gone, Kate was clearly miserable. Johnny took to commiserating with her, even buying her a drink or two. Or Three, or ten. And during one of those alcohol fueled conversations, Johnny got Kate's drunken signature on a statement claiming Doc had been one of the Bensen stage robbers. Johnny Behan and Harry Woods wasted no time in arresting "Doc" Holliday as soon as he returned from the posse.
Doc Holliday's arrest certainly muddied the image of Luther King's miraculous escape from Johnny Behan's jail. Still, moments after the crime the Drew family had seen 4 men riding away. The one confirmed member of the gang, Luther King, had named his accomplices - Harry Head, "Bill" Leonard and Jim Crane. Doc was seen in Charleston (above) an hour after the shooting of Bud Pierpont and Pete Roerig. But he was looking for Ike Clanton. The most logical explanation is that Doc heard rumors of the intended robbery, and was looking for Ike to identify the robbers before going to Virgil Earp. But such a story would imply that Ike Clanton could be expected to betray the Cow Boys.
Wyatt Earp had no doubts about Doc's innocence of the charge. He paid Doc's bail. And as soon as "Big Nose" Kate sobered up, she recanted her statement. All charges against Doc Holliday were dropped. Only then could the Earps return to pursuing the criminals. One night in late May of 1881, Wyatt stepped away from his faro table in the Golden Eagle Brewery (above), and approached three men eating dinner in the Occidental hotel bar. Wyatt asked if he could buy the men a drink. And while their cocktails were being prepared, Wyatt sat and began to talk.
The three men were Ike Clanton (above), Frank McLaury, and...
..."Joe Hill" (above,) He was known as "rancher" in Arizona and New Mexico. But under his real name, Joseph Graves Olney, he was wanted for the deaths of 3 men in Texas - one them a deputy sheriff, and at least one other man in New Mexico. The three Cow Boys were suspicious, but willing to listen when Wyatt suggested he had a plan for them to make $3,500. Did they want to hear the details? The Cow Boys said yes, there were willing to listen. Wyatt then mysteriously added that he would only continue if they first swore to keep their conversation secret, even if they decided to turn down the deal to be offered. Reluctantly Clanton, McLaury and Olney swore they would never tell anyone what Wyatt was about to say. Then Wyatt asked his captive audience to step out into the middle of Fifth Street, where they could speak without being overheard.
Once in the middle of the wide dark street, Wyatt elicited yet another promise that their conversation would remain secret, even if they rejected his offer. And only after Clanton, McLaury and "Hill" had sworn yet again, did Wyatt Earp (above) lay out his plan. As Wyatt later testified, "I told them I wanted the glory of capturing Leonard, Head, and Crane and if I could do it, it would help me make the race for Sheriff at the next election. I told them if they would...tell me where those men were hid, I would give them all the reward and would never let anyone know where I got the information."
The reward being offered by Wells Fargo for Bill Leonard, Harry "The Kid" Head and Jim Crane was $1,200 apiecce. It would have been higher, if the crooks had actually stolen the $26,000 silver shipment. But it was still high enough that it tempted the 3 Cow Boys to consider betraying their "friends".
According to Wyatt, “Ike Clanton (above) said he would like to see them captured. He said that Leonard claimed a ranch that he claimed, and that if he could get him out of the way, he would have no opposition in regard to that ranch. Clanton said that Leonard, Head, and Crane would make a fight, that they would never be taken alive, and that I must find out if the reward would be paid for the capture of the robbers dead or alive."
The next morning Wyatt Earp dropped by the adobe Wells Fargo office on Fremont Street, and asked agent Marshall Williams the exact conditions on the rewards for the three accused murderers. Williams agreed to telegraph the company home office in San Francisco, for clarification.
By 1870 Wells Fargo had a virtual monopoly on all stage service connecting towns and villages with the Southern Pacific Railroad and its trunk lines - everything between Idaho and the Mexican border, and Nebraska and the California coast. Wells Fargo could extend or contract their 3,000 miles of routes at will, extort subsidies from states and cities to ensure service.
Wells Fargo could afford to undercut their competition on valuable routes by gouging customers on established ones. Wells Fargo even earned a profit from their few competitors because they insured shipments on those carriers, such as the silver bars on the Tombstone to Benson stage. Wells Fargo agents, like William Sheriff in Tombstone, were unlicensed lawmen, with unlimited jurisdiction and without legal limitations.
Again, according to Wyatt, "The next day I met Ike Clanton and Joe Hill on Allen Street (above) in front of a little cigar store next to the Alhambra." He showed the telegram confirming the reward for all three Cow Boys was "dead or alive. " It was then agreed....they were to have all the $3,600 reward, outside of necessary expenses for horse hire in going after them."
Frank McLaury (above) and Ike Clanton's plan to lure the fugitives back was for Jose Olney to ride to New Mexico, where the 3 were hiding. He would tell them that because water had been struck in the mines - which it had - the mines were going to be shut down and a paymaster was bringing enough cash to pay off the miners. He would be traveling on the Bisbee to Tombstone stage. According to Wyatt, they would meet "near Frank and Tom McLaury's ranch near Soldier's Holes....I would be on hand with a posse and capture them."
It seems clear Ike, Tom and Olney were hopeful Wyatt's posse would simply murder Leonard, Head and Crane, thus preventing any revelations they might provide. In fact, Luther King had already been shot dead by the very men who had helped him to escape. Supposedly this was retribution for naming his accomplices. But it was also because the botched robbery had produced no income, but a lot of unwanted attention. Ike, Frank and Joe's plan would at least provide $3,600 compensation for the Cochise County Cow Boys. In short their reaction to Wyatt's offer was exactly what the Earps had hoped it would be.
That the plan was generally known among both sides was shown when Joe Hill left his watch and $300 in cash with Federal Marshal Virgil Earp, as a guarantee of his return from New Mexico. But Joe's mission was a actually trap, half of a vice that was now closing, squeezing the Cochise County Cow Boys right out of existence.
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