Virgil Earp

Historical marker #2612 commemorates frontier lawman Virgil Earp and his family.

The Earp family settled in Ohio County, Kentucky, in 1827, where they stayed for 20 years. Nicholas Earp and Virginia Cooksey married in Hartford in 1840. While in Kentucky, Virgil Walter Earp was born on July 18, 1843. The family owned 150 acres on Caney Creek while they lived in Kentucky. The Earps and their children moved from Kentucky to Illinois in 1845.

Virgil enlisted in the 83rd Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army on July 26, 1862. He participated in several Civil War skirmishes and in 1863 was listed in service records as “manning siege guns and batteries.” Virgil mustered out of the Army in Nashville on June 24, 1865. Following his time in the army, he traveled around the West, where he drove stage coaches in California and Iowa, graded Union Pacific Railroad beds with his brother Wyatt in Wyoming, and ran a grocery store in Missouri. He may have served as a policeman briefly in Wichita with Wyatt and in Dodge City, Kansas.

In 1877, he headed for California with his father and siblings. During their travels, the Earp family entered Prescott, Arizona, the territorial capital of Arizona, where Virgil and his older brother Newton decided to settle. In October of that year, Virgil was deputized by Yavapai County Sheriff Ed Bowers during a street fight. In 1878, Virgil served Prescott as a village night watchman and was eventually elected constable. On November 27, 1879, he was appointed a U.S. deputy marshal in the Arizona Territory.

The following month, Virgil traveled to Tombstone and was appointed acting marshal there following the shooting death of the marshal. That summer, a long-simmering feud, with cowboys Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clayton, and Tom and Frank McLaury, resulted in a 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral between Virgil and the Cowboys, which is regarded as one of the most famous shootouts in the history of the Wild West.

Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed and Virgil, Special Policemen Morgan Earp, and temporary policeman Doc Holliday were wounded. All four lawmen involved were charged with murder by Sheriff John Behan of Chocise County, who witnessed the shootout and was known for his dislike of the Earps. However, evidence indicated the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and were not convicted for the deaths of the three Cowboys.

Two months later, friends of the slain outlaws retaliated and ambushed Virgil, shooting him in the back and shattering his left arm. The men, however, were let go due to lack of evidence. Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882 and the shooters were let go due to a technicality. Wyatt Earp, who was appointed as deputy U.S. Marshal to replace Virgil, concluded he could not rely on civil justice and took matters into his own hands, assembling a group to take revenge into their own hands. Virgil, however, left Tombstone to recover from his wounds in Colton, California, where his parents lived.

Later in life, Virgil worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, took up mining in Arizona, and eventually settled in Nevada, where, in 1905, he died of pneumonia. His brother Wyatt was the last surviving participant of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Virgil was also survived by his father Nicholas, brothers James and Newton, his wife Allie, and his daughter, Nellie.

This marker was dedicated on July 18, 2021.

It reads:

The Earp Family 

The Earp family settled in Ohio  
County, Kentucky in 1827, where 
they stayed for 20 years. 
Nicholas Earp and Virginia Cooksey  
married in Hartford, Kentucky  
in 1840. While in Ohio County,  
Nicholas and Virginia farmed and  
had their first two sons, Virgil  
and James Earp. The Earps and  
their children moved to Illinois  
in 1845.  

Virgil Earp (1843-1905) 

Western lawman and peace officer 
Virgil Earp was born in Ohio Co.,  
KY on July 18, 1843. At the age of  
18, Earp enlisted in the Union  
Army. Following the Civil War, he  
moved with his family throughout  
the West. In 1879, he was appointed   
deputy US marshal in Arizona. Earp  
and his brother, Wyatt, are best 
known for their roles in the 1881 
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.



55 Amelia Street, Rosine, KY 42370 (located on property of Bill Monroe Museum)