James Earp

James Cooksey Earp
James Earp.jpg
James Cooksey Earp in 1926
Born(1841-06-28)June 28, 1841
DiedJanuary 25, 1926(1926-01-25) (aged 84)
Resting placeMountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino
OccupationSoldier, saloon-keeper
Spouse(s)Nellie "Bessie" Ketchum
Parent(s)Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey
RelativesSiblings Newton, Mariah Ann, James, Virgil, Martha, Wyatt, Morgan, Warren, Virginia Ann, and Douglas Earp

James Cooksey Earp (June 28, 1841 – January 25, 1926) was a lesser known older brother of Old West lawman Virgil Earp and lawman/gambler Wyatt Earp. Unlike his brothers, he was a saloon-keeper and was not present at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881.

Civil War service[edit]

Earp was born in Hartford, Kentucky, and was reared in a tight-knit family environment. In 1861, at 19, he enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War, joining Company F, 17th Illinois Infantry in May, 1861.[1][2]

His brothers Virgil and Newton also enlisted. The 17th regiment was organized and armed at Alton, Illinois. On October 31, 1861, the unit fought Missouri State Guard forces near Fredericktown, Missouri. Over 60 troops were killed or wounded, including James. Although he was severely wounded in the shoulder and temporarily lost use of his left arm, he remained in the army for over a year, and was discharged in March 1863 as disabled.[1] Newton and Virgil served until the end of the war.[3]

Life in the West[edit]

Following the war, James moved around quite frequently, an Earp family trait. He lived in Colton, California, Helena, Montana, Pineswell, Missouri, Birmingham[clarification needed] and Newton, Kansas, before he wed the former prostitute, Nellie "Bessie" Ketchum, in April 1873.

For some time thereafter, he worked in a saloon in Wichita, Kansas, and then as a deputy marshal in Dodge City, Kansas, under Marshal Charlie Bassett, who had replaced Ed Masterson after Masterson's murder.[3]

In December 1879, he and his wife moved to Tombstone in Pima County in southern Arizona, along with his brothers Wyatt and Virgil. His brothers Warren and Morgan and his wife Louisa joined them there in late 1880. The three younger brothers became involved in law enforcement in Tombstone, while James managed a saloon and worked in gambling houses.[4]

He was not present at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881.[3] On December 28, 1881, his brother Virgil Earp was ambushed, shot three times with a shotgun. He survived, but only two months later on March 18, 1882, his brother Morgan Earp was assassinated in a billiard parlor.

The New Mexico and Arizona Railroad ended about 25 miles (40 km) away in Benson, Arizona. On Sunday, March 19, Wyatt and James Earp accompanied Morgan's body in a wagon to Benson, where it was loaded onto a freight train for immediate shipping to Colton. Morgan's wife was already in Colton, where she had traveled for safety before her husband was killed. James Earp and two or three close friends accompanied the body to California.[5] Virgil and his wife Allie Earp followed the next day on a passenger train.

Wyatt Earp and James' youngest brother, Warren—with gambler Doc Holliday and gunmen Sherman McMaster, "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson, and Texas Jack Vermillion—then hunted down those they held responsible for the attacks during the Earp Vendetta Ride.[3]

Morgan was buried in Colton, California. James then lived for a short time in Shoshone County, Idaho, until settling permanently by 1890 in California.

James Earp died of natural causes in San Bernardino, California, on January 25, 1926. He is interred there at the Mountain View Cemetery.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1946 film My Darling Clementine, James was played by Don Garner.

In 1955, the actor John Smith, prior to his lead roles in Cimarron City and Laramie, played the part of James Earp in the film Wichita, starring Joel McCrea and Vera Miles.

In the 1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, it is the fictional assassination of Jimmy Earp (Martin Milner) that leads directly to the titular showdown.

In the 1994 film Wyatt Earp, Earp is played by David Andrews.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Nicholas Porter Earp Family". International Blacksheep Society of Genealogists (IBSSG). Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  2. ^ EARP, JAMES C Archived 2017-12-25 at the Wayback Machine Illinois Civil War - Illinois Archives. Retrieved October 27, 2017
  3. ^ a b c d "James Earp". Archived from the original on 2014-01-03.
  4. ^ "Earp Brothers". Archived from the original on January 27, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
  5. ^ "Another Assassination Frank Stilwell Found Dead this Morning Being Another Chapter in the Earp-Clanton Tragedy". The Tombstone Epitaph. Tombstone, Arizona. March 27, 1882. p. 4. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012.

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