Monmouth and Wyatt Earp in 1872

by William Urban

Was Wyatt Earp ever back in Monmouth after leaving in 1859 with his father when he returned to Pella, Iowa? The evidence is slim. In Stuart Lake’s Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, it is stated that Wyatt returned to Monmouth in 1868 to study law under his grandfather. But since his grandfather had died in 1853, that is highly unlikely. The belief that Wyatt married a local girl is probably a confusion with his marriage in Missouri.

Wyatt’s father apparently attended a family reunion in 1868—an event which escaped both the local newspapers and the Earp family memories—but Wyatt had stopped along the way back from California to work on the railway and consequently was not present. Another opportunity came after his first wife’s death, when he apparently stole a horse and fled to Arkansas and/or Indian Territory, then made his way to Peoria, where he was arrested three times in 1871-1872 for frequenting and managing a brothel—twice in town and once upon the Illinois Riverand the last report from Peoria said that he would be moving west to the deeper waters of the Mississippi. It would have been easy to have visited Monmouth on the train, traveling on what became the Burlington line.

Issac Giles, who remembered hauling grain to Slabtown with Wyatt Earp in 1868, was a resident of Monmouth in 1868 through 1872.[1] Slabtown was in Woodford county, east of Peoria, and is now named Congerville. [2] [More recently the location of  Slabtown was discovered to be just north of Monmouth.]

If Wyatt had come to Warren County, in 1872 he would have met cousins who could have taught him lessons in bad behavior. The most prominent of these was Dow Earp, who was to earn a permanent spot in Monmouth criminal history. Dow had been in Peoria in 1868 and 1870 and was doubtlessly in contact with Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan, who worked in that small city, and probably Jim, who said that he was married in Illinois in 1873 (his wife, one might remember, later ran a house of prostitution).

Lorenzo Dow Earp was called Dow to distinguish him from his thoroughly respectable uncle. He had married August 6, 1868, and thereafter often lived in Young America (Kirkwood, about five miles west of Monmouth). In September of 1869 he shot a Swede there. He had gone to enjoy a dinner of oysters (a favorite meal of the time); they had exchanged words, Dow had shot him through the body but not fatally.[3] In January of 1870 he pled guilty to two counts of selling liquor in Monmouth and was fined twenty dollars.[4] Later he would be less docile. In February of 1872 the Review reported that he had been arrested for being “slightly on the warpath” and interrupting the usual quiet of an auction; taken before a justice of the peace, he managed his own case, managing to hang the jury.[5]

In early March the community was outraged but not surprised when three notorious local toughs broke out of jail: “Jade Mackey, John Suggs, Edgar Watson…escaped jail…. Suggs was arrested at Earp’s saloon,” while “Mackey exercised ‘round town on Dow Earp’s pony.”[6] In April Dow’s carriage was involved in a series of runaways through town. During the wild chase, a “bottle of whiskey jumped out.”[7]

In June of 1872 Monmouth citizens passed a new temperance law. But it had little impact. The Review noted:

Saturday is always a busy day for the first inland city of Northern Illinois. The druggists were particularly busy filling up empty kegs, jugs, demijohn and flasks for those ‘genteel drinkers’ who take their ‘morning nip’ at home with tansy in it, for those whose wives are taken suddenly with pain under the apron—for those who are too proud to drink with the common herd in the saloons.[8]

Dow was particularly bold in bragging that he could sell all the whiskey he wanted, no matter what the law. As the editor noted: “our much admired old companion from the ‘blue grass region’ thought it rather ‘chaffy’, but was able to worry down a mule’s ear full.” The editor also reported that a five year old girl bitten by a rattlesnake had been treated with “the old antidote—whiskey—poison against poison… and the child is now doing well. Some of our ‘old topers’ would like to be bitten if they could find a snake.” An effort to repeal the city ordinance failed, thanks to cooperative efforts of the saloon-keepers and prohibitionists.[9]

The prohibitionists then began suing liquor sellers. In July Nancy Wire demanded $200 for having sold her husband liquor; the jury awarded $5, with $10 court courts. Then they summoned Dow as a witness in a similar case.[10]

The Earps had come to Monmouth in 1845, with perhaps an exploratory visit in 1843; thus they arrived too late to qualify for membership in the Old Settlers Association, which was currently collecting stories of the old days.[11] Just starting business was one of the informants in the birthplace controversy, George B. Earp, whose grocery store was located near the CB&Q depot. A “No 1 young man” the Review editor commented.[12]

Also in Monmouth was Walter C. Earp, who had been charged with selling liquor in 1859, when he and Wyatt’s father had been city constables. Wyatt’s father had left town in anger after being convicted three times. Walter had dropped out of sight, but in 1870 he signed a petition for a judicial candidate and was arraigned before Judge Kidder. One cousin and the husband of another, William Ezell and William Chapman, appeared in court on separate charges of petty larceny and gambling.[13]

The Warren County jail was a busy place, too. William (aka Lade) Mackey and two others broke out in May of 1870.[14] In March of 1872 he did so again.[15] In May of 1872 he was charged with highway robbery, having gotten a ride with a friend from a nearby drinking establishment, rolled him while he was sleeping it off and then pitched him off the buggy. As the Review editor noted: “Lade Mackey, who figured in police and circuit court, more or less, for the past ten years, was arranged for highway robbery.” When Lade complained about the three year sentence, the editor agreed: it was far too little.[16]

In short, Monmouth was in no way short of criminals, nor lacking in interesting Earps.[17] If Wyatt ever did make it to town, he left no trace. Either he was very good or he was very quiet. As we know from his later career, he could be both.


More information:

[1] Review (23 Oct 1868), 1; Mrs. Giles was listed among taxpayers (May 14, 1868); Warren County Justice of Peace, Almon Kidder, 1871-1872: #813 I. G. Giles paid $11.50 to Simon Breed on March 21, 1872; Review Atlas (July 24, 1956), 3. Isaac lived until 1930 and, according to his son Harry Giles, identified Wyatt's birthplace as 213 S. 3rd Street, adding that Earps had lived at 406 S. 3rd and that Wyatt's family might have lived with them for a while.

[2] Illinois Place Names (Occasional Publications #55, Illinois State Historical Society. Springfield, 1989), 508.

[3] Monmouth Review (12 Sept 1869), 3. The Review was the Democratic party paper; its comments on “Niggers” tell modern readers much about its editor’s views. On Sept 17 and 20, 1869 and January 10 and 20, 1870, Dow was arranged for keeping a gambling house. Circuit Court Records, Warren County Recorders Office, Book H, p. 491.

[4] Review (14 January 1870), 3; then he was sued for selling liquor . Ibid. (21 January, 1870), 3; in July he was in court over possession of a mare; he won that case. ); Justice Docket of Almon Kidder, 102; the Census of 1870 lists his occupation as: sales liquor; in 1874 he sued the mayor and police officers for the destruction of his property (the liquor), winning a settlement of $2244.86. "Do You Remember," Review Atlas, 22 May and 22 July 1943.

[5] Review (20 Feb 1872), supplement; also Warren County Justice of Peace Dockets 1867-1872 (Nov. 6, 1871), 554. On question of bids permitted by the city council on these goods, see report of Feb 1 council meeting, Review (16 Feb 1872).

[6] Review (5 march 1872), supplement.

[7] Review (9 April 1872).

[8] Review (5 July 1872),

[9] Review (5 July 1872, 2 July 1872, 13 September 1872).

[10] ); Warren County Justice of Peace, Almon Kidder, 1871-1872, #943 (July 22, 1872) and #1011.

[11] Review (26 January 1872), 3.

[12] Review (21 May 1872), supplement; also June 4, 1872. He later identified 213 S. 3rd as Wyatt’s birthplace. Review Atlas (July 24, 1956), 3.

[13] Review (8 April 1870), 2; Justice Docket of Almon Kidder, 196; Dow Earp's began almost the moment he returned from Peoria: Sept 17, 1869 and Sept 23, 1870, for selling liquor, Feb 16 and October 13, 1884, for keeping a gaming house, May 10, 1890, charged with disturbing the peace, May 17, 1890, charged with assault with a deadly weapon, May and Sept 1892 charged with malicious mischief, and charged January 13, 1895, with larceny; Ezell was fined, with L.D. Earp, $100 on July 26, 1873; an additional charge, August 18, was continued twice, then dropped; Chapman was convicted of running a gambling house March 24, 1865, March 27, 1865, October 25, 1865, March 12, 1877.

[14] Review (20 May 1870), 3, and following issues..

[15] Review (5 March 1872), supplement.

[16] Review (9 April 1872, supplement; 16 April 1872; 24 May 1872); also Warren Co. Prison Record, February to March, reports Mackey was guilty of larceny and sent to Joliet, Suggs accused of riot, and Watson of larceny.

[17] Dow's life-long hostile relationship with the law, generally giving as good as he got, makes him perhaps the most interesting of all the Earps; though far from the most famous, he easily had the greatest sense of humor--in the 1894 issue of The Ravelings, the yearbook of Monmouth College (which was staunchly opposed to the consumption of alcohol), he took out an ad, inviting everyone "who isn't the sheriff" to patronize his establishment; he sued the city in 1870 for destroying his illegal whiskey stocks, carrying the case to the state supreme court and winning. Moffet Book, VII, 28, 56. He enlisted in the 11th Illinois on November 6, 1861, and fought at Pittsburgh Landing and many other engagements. Captured and paroled, he rejoined his regiment at Vicksburg until discharged for medical reasons.

revised December 8, 2003