February 24, 2005
Yesterday I pitched the Arizona Republic on doing an excerpt of our Tucson train station shootout between Wyatt Earp and Frank Stilwell. The Tucson Transportation Museum is unveiling their Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday statue on March 20th and Joe Klasky and I will be going down with a box of the train issue, which will feature the trainyard gunfight.
Editor Phil Boas has agreed and we'll do a View piece in the Republic the week before the unveiling.
Got a blood test at nine this morning, then went home and had breakfast (I had to fast before the test and I hate that. I'm a real coffee at six, muffins at seven kind of guy and I found myself quite irritable by the time it was over).
Went out to the studio at ten and worked on a sunset painting of a classic 4-4-0 steam engine pulling into the Tucson train station on March 20, 1882. No one has ever put together the actual train station with the adjacent Porter Hotel. Two small separate photos exist but have rarely been published. I grafted the two photos and buildings into one scene with the park in between them (Gus and I have the Sanborn Insurance map for 1883 with the configuration and relationship of the hotel to the depot). The Earp party arrived in Tucson at dusk, detrained, and Holliday checked two shotguns in the train office, then the party walked down to the Porter Hotel for dinner.
Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell were at the train station to meet a witness in a trial coming in on the same train. Sitting under the veranda of the Porter Hotel, Stilwell told Clanton that the Earps were on the train and he didn’t want any trouble. According to Clanton’s later testimony, they walked about a block away near a school and continued to talk (of course Clanton was a big, fat liar and you have to take everything he says with mucho grains of salt)
The Earps finished dinner and walked back to the train. Doc had a shorter man, probably McMasters, retrieve the shotguns and they escorted Virgil and Allie onto the train. At this point, Wyatt spotted Stilwell. In one version both Stilwell and Clanton are spotted on flat cars on a side track looking for a clear shot at the Earps. Wyatt claimed he saw the glint of a rifle barrel. I believe this version was concocted later, to make Stilwell more homicidal.
Wyatt and his men then got off the train and walked back toward the Porter Hotel down the left side of the train (we know this because the fireman spotted them coming by, and the fireman sits on the left side of the engine). It's my speculation that Frank Stilwell came back from the school and came around the northwest corner of the hotel to take in the scene (this will make more sense when you see Gus Walker's map of the crime scene). He may have intended to take a shot at the Earps, although what happens next negates that in my mind.
I believe Frank saw Wyatt and his men advancing towards him but didn’t think they were going to attack him (Wyatt and his men were going to take an eastbound train back to Contention and Tombstone, while Virgil and his wife went on to California). So Frank could have believed Wyatt and his men were coming back to the Porter Hotel. When he finally realized, not only did Wyatt spot him in the shadows, but that he was now running towards his position, Frank panicked and started running down the tracks, probably angling across them to get out in the desert (at that time, the train station was a ways from town and there was virtually nothing on the northeast side of the tracks). After a hundred yards (a saloon keeper, George Hand said it was 200 yards), Wyatt caught up with Stilwell, who turned and perhaps thought he could surrender. Wyatt walked right up him, stuck the shotgun in his belly, just under the heart and pulled both triggers. According to Wyatt, Stilwell yelled, “Morg!” as he was shot, perhaps a reference to Morgan Earp who had been assassinated mere days prior to this. He always believed Stilwell was in on the shooting of Wyatt's favorite brother.
Stilwell made no attempt to defend himself so I believe it’s probable he was not armed. I also believe Frank thought Wyatt Earp would not take the law into his own hands. Big mistake.
What is rarely mentioned is that after Doc Holliday and the others ran up and each took turns shooting holes in Stilwell’s body, they were afoot. By chasing down Stilwell, they had missed the eastbound train’s departure and Wyatt knew it was only a matter of time before they were found out. Clearly outside the law, and desperate to get away, they ran down the tracks, perhaps expecting a Bob Paul posse to catch up with them at any moment. They ran and walked 11 miles down the tracks towards Benson and finally, illegally flagged down an eastbound freight train at midnight. Arriving back in Tombstone a wanted man (Sheriff Bob Paul had wired Tombstone for the sheriff to arrest Wyatt) John Behan tried to arrest Wyatt but that’s another confrontation.
Speaking of the train station shootout, we are coming down to the wire on the Gunfight Tour and if you are considering coming along (we will tour the Tucson train station fight site and I'll walk you through it step by step), you had better make your reservations pronto. You can click at the top of this page to register. We need you to sign up before March 1. Do it without delay. We are going to have some fun.
“The enjoyment is not in the activity. The enjoyment is in you. Enjoying where you are right now will take you a long way toward wherever else you wish to go.”
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