Wyatt Earp's Family Tree, Explained

If you want to add a dose of reality to your tales of the American Wild West, then you may conjure up the story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. According to History, this incident occurred on October 26, 1881, in the unforgettably named Tombstone, Arizona. The "bad guys" in this case are the members of the Clanton-McLaury gang, accused of thievery and murder. The "good guys" are the Earp brothers and their associates, including town marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and their friend Doc Holliday. 

The two groups actually met at a vacant lot in town and fired upon each other for 30 seconds, though it's unclear who shot first. Either way, the gang members died and the Earps earned a deadly reputation and targets on their backs.

Wyatt Earp may seem like the epitome of the Wild West lawman, bringing tough, unflinching justice to a frontier town like the lonesome figures of many a western, but that's not quite right. In reality, Wyatt was just one of eight siblings, quite a few of whom went on to their own adventures (and misadventures) with the law. In fact, there's a whole family tree of Earps, including half siblings, parents, and descendants who all have their own colorful stories to tell. This is Wyatt Earp's family tree, explained.

The Earps have East Coast roots

Though Wyatt Earp and his brothers are forever linked to the Wild West, their family actually took root in the eastern United States. According to The Baltimore Sun, modern descendants of the Earp family uncovered the story of Thomas Earp Jr. He first arrived in what would become the United States on July 6, 1674, emigrating from Anne Arundel County, Ireland. And far from being a free man taking his own fate by the horns, as some of his descendants did in dramatic fashion, Thomas was an indentured servant.

Another pre-Wild West relative, Philip, was born in 1755 in Maryland. One descendant reportedly uncovered this information via a handwritten list in her family Bible. Both of Wyatt Earp's parents were also transplants from the eastern United States, with mother Virginia Ann hailing from Kentucky (via The San Bernardino Sun) and father Nicholas from North Carolina, as per the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography." Wyatt himself was born in Monmouth, Illinois (via the University of Monmouth).

Wyatt Earp's mother was a big influence on the family

According to The San Bernardino Sun, Virginia Ann Cooksey was born on February 2, 1821, in what was then the wild frontier country of Kentucky. By 1840, she had married the widower Nicholas Porter Earp, who brought along a son, Newton, from his first marriage.

"Ginnie Ann," as she was called, traveled from Kentucky to the Midwest and western United States, traveling from Iowa to California once in 1864 and again in the next decade. This was no easy jaunt, either. Instead, it was a monthslong travail that involved traveling in a wagon train over sometimes arduous terrain. If someone wasn't convinced already of Virginia Ann's toughness, then maybe her habit of smoking a pipe and taking snuff would have sealed the deal.

Yet, though it surely demanded much grit to make it through those times — much less raise a passel of sons like the Earp boys — Virginia Ann was remembered as a loving, kind woman. She also had serious staying power, as evidenced by her living to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with Nick on July 30, 1890. Upon her death on January 14, 1893, the San Bernardino Daily Courier (via the San Bernardino Sun) memorialized her as a dedicated family woman, loving mother, and historic "pioneer lady."

Nicholas Earp was a troubled paterfamilias

According to the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography," Nicholas Earp was born in North Carolina in 1813 and married his first wife, Abigail, in 1836. After the birth of two children (only one, Newton, survived to adulthood), Abigail died and Nicholas remarried in 1840 to Virginia Ann.

For the next few years, the family was largely based out of Pella, Iowa, though Nicholas took extended trips to California and Missouri, sometimes taking his growing group of sons with him. According to the University of Monmouth, the Earps were initially farmers. Nicholas also worked as a cooper, town constable, and bootlegger, the latter of which earned him an 1859 conviction that lost the family's property in Monmouth, Illinois.

With the Civil War, Nicholas became a recruiter for the Union Army, leaving his younger sons (Wyatt amongst them) to tend the farm while the older ones (Newton, James, and Virgil) were off fighting. In 1864, he was hired to lead a wagon train to California, an experience that left one woman remarking upon his "very profane language" and ill temper (via True West Magazine).

After a series of other jobs and travels that seemed to betray a restless or disagreeable spirit (via The New York Times), he became a constable in Missouri and eventually a justice of the peace. Eventually, after Virginia's death, he remarried — at age 80 — in 1893 (via The Morning Call).

Wyatt Earp was the fourth of eight siblings

According to PBS, Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp had eight children together, of which Wyatt was the fourth. Aside from Newton, Nicholas' son from his first marriage, there was James, followed by Virgil and Martha. After Wyatt's birth came Morgan and Warren, then sisters Virginia Ann and Adelia. Both Martha and Virginia Ann would die in childhood, though the brothers, along with Adelia, all made it to at least young adulthood.

Wyatt was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19, 1848. As per Britannica, the growing Earp family would spend most of its time in Illinois or Iowa, though the end of the American Civil War saw them briefly move to California. The Earps seemed unable to stay in one place for terribly long, and so 1868 saw them moving back to Illinois, then Missouri. Wyatt and older brother Virgil took a sojourn in Wyoming to work on the railroad, though they eventually returned to the fold and joined the Earp clan in Lamar, Missouri.

Wyatt had one half brother

Though much of the historic attention has been focused on the less than above-board exploits of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, the family contained more than future Wild West lawmen. Newton, the oldest of Nicholas Earp's children, was Wyatt's half brother, from their father's first marriage to Abigail Storm (via the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography"). When the American Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the 4th Iowa Cavalry in 1861. He managed to survive the war and was discharged as a corporal.

After that, though the records are scanty, we can indicate some small amount of conflict with his brothers. In 1870, he lost an election for the town constable of Lamar, Missouri, as per the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography." It may have given him some comfort to know he lost by a fairly small margin, though it may have stung that he lost the post to Wyatt. He eventually became town marshal of Garden City, Kansas.

He also appears to have inherited something of his father's wanderlust, traveling from Iowa to Missouri to Kansas. He eventually married and had four children, making him the only Earp brother known to have offspring. Later, he moved yet again, dying in Sacramento, California. in 1928.

Wyatt's first wife died young

According to PBS, a teenaged Wyatt Earp made multiple attempts to run away and join the Union Army, but was apprehended by his father each time and returned home. Perhaps Nicholas Earp's position as a Union Army recruitment officer made him especially well-placed to head off his son's efforts (via the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography").

Eventually, Wyatt did appear interested in settling down. According to "Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life," he married Urilla Sutherland in Lamar, Missouri. on January 10, 1870. Urilla was 20 years old and all seemed well for the first few months. By November, she was dead, perhaps of typhoid fever or another communicable disease. According to "Wyatt Earp," some have insisted she died in childbirth, though there's no obvious evidence Urilla was in the family way at her death. Wyatt was quickly left at odd ends without his wife and embarked on a long and raucous period in his life.

Over the next few years, he would work as a bouncer for a brothel, be accused of horse stealing (perhaps escaping jail to avoid trial), and generally upsetting the peace (via Britannica). It was only toward the end of the 1870s that he began working variously as a police officer and town marshal, establishing his reputation as a rough and tumble lawman.

Older brother James kept away from notoriety

James, the oldest of Wyatt Earp's full-blood siblings, was born in Kentucky in 1841, as per the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography." Like next-oldest brother Virgil, he enlisted in the Union Army. Unlike his brothers, James was actually wounded in battle and received a pension; he also endured lingering issues with his arm as a result of his service.

Like so many in the Earp clan, James didn't seem to stay settled in one profession or place for long, at least not at first. Immediately after the war, he traveled to California with his family, then went to Montana, Missouri, and Kansas. He was a sheriff's deputy in Dodge City, Kansas, for a time, but also worked running a saloon, as a stagecoach driver, and, as the "Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography" suggests, may have made some money from gambling, too.

Running a saloon was apparently the most stable work he had, as that's what James was doing by the time the shootout at the O.K. Corral went down in 1881, though he was in Arizona at that time. After his younger brother Morgan was assassinated, James was the one to travel with Morgan's body to his final resting place in California. Otherwise, the oldest of the Earp boys appeared to keep out of trouble, dying in Los Angeles in 1926.

Virgil Earp was also a lawman

Virgil, the second-oldest of Wyatt Earp's full siblings, enlisted in the Union Army when he was 19, according to military records (via HistoryNet). He served from 1862 until June 1865. After a stint as a stagecoach driver in California, Virgil went to Wyoming with Wyatt to work on the railroad there, then followed the family to Lamar, Missouri, where he ran a grocery.

Things began to pick up somewhat when Virgil settled in Arizona with Allie Sullivan, wife number three. As per HistoryNet, Virgil's first wife had moved on after hearing he died in the Civil War, while the second one simply drops out of history. With Allie, Virgil set up near Prescott, Arizona. He worked as a coach driver again and also had a lumber mill on the side, but his connections (and possible previous law enforcement experience) ended with him becoming a deputized official on October 16, 1877. With a small posse, Virgil tracked down and shot two criminals, marking himself as a Wild West lawman for perhaps the first time.

After becoming Prescott's constable, he left for Tombstone, Arizona, where he was deputized as a U.S. marshal in November 1879 (via HistoryNet). Virgil was the one who deputized Wyatt and his friend "Doc" Holliday and, along with assistant deputy Morgan Earp, participated in the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. Despite an assassination attempt a few months later that December (via History), Virgil survived, moved to California and then Nevada, and died of pneumonia in 1905.

Morgan Earp met a violent end

According to The San Bernardino Sun, Morgan Seth Earp was born in Pella, Iowa, on April 24, 1851. We know that he traveled with the family to California in 1864, being only 13. He would have been 17 when the Earps moved yet again, this time to Lamar, Missouri, per HistoryNet. Some sources record Morgan, who reportedly looked much like his older brothers Virgil and Wyatt, getting into a "street fight" with the Sutherlands, whose daughter Urilla was Wyatt's first wife.

Morgan accompanied Wyatt buffalo hunting, went gold prospecting on his own, and, like so many of the Earps, made his way into law enforcement in the mid-1870s. Beyond the bare outlines of the story, however, the details of Morgan's life — such as exactly when and where he acted as a police officer — remain sketchy. It is clear, however, per the Sun, that Morgan was one of the participants in the October 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where he was wounded.

Morgan Earp may be best known for his sudden and violent death at the age of 30. As per HistoryNet, he was playing pool at a saloon in Tombstone on the evening of March 18, 1882. Suddenly, two bullets were fired by an unknown assailant, though it was almost certainly someone who wanted revenge for the deaths at the O.K. Corral. Morgan, who, according to Wyatt Earp biographer Stuart N. Lake ("Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal," via HistoryNet) had spoken with Wyatt about "visions of heaven" experienced by the dying, reportedly told his older brother: "I can't see a damn thing" before he died himself.

Youngest brother Warren was also shot and killed

If there were a contest for most forgotten Earp brother, then the prize would likely go to the youngest, Warren. Yet, as HistoryNet reports, Warren Earp was deeply entrenched in the events that landed his more well-known brothers in the history books.

Warren's involvement in the aftermath of the O.K. Corral shooting led to his own tragic end. After a jury had pinned three men — all connected to the men killed in the O.K. Corral incident — for the murder of Morgan Earp, Warren went on the warpath along with his brother Wyatt and their friends, according to True West Magazine. Per HistoryNet, when one of the named men, Frank Stillwell, was found dead and riddled with bullets, Ike Clanton said the Earp brothers and their associates were responsible. A sheriff issued warrants for their arrest and a posse went off in pursuit. Eventually, after more bloodshed, the Earps went on to California.

Warren came back changed and spent time picking fights in saloons, committing a stabbing, and even threatening murder in Arizona in 1893, according to a contemporary report published in the Weekly Chronicle (via HistoryNet). He seems to have straightened up for a while after that, but a barroom tussle left him dead of a gunshot wound in 1900. The man who shot him was never charged, as many concluded he acted in self-defense after Warren provoked him.

Only one Earp sister made it past childhood

Though the Earp boys had three sisters, the harsh realities of life and death in 19th century America meant that only one would make it to adulthood. The first girl born to Virginia Ann and Nicholas was Martha Elizabeth Earp, who was born in 1845, per Find a Grave. She died in 1856, aged only 10 years old, though it's not clear what exactly was her cause of death. The next sister, Virginia Anne, was born in 1858 and lived a mere three years, dying of unknown causes in 1861, according to Find a Grave.

The youngest Earp child, Adelia, was also the only surviving sister, born in 1861. Though, according to her headstone (via Find a Grave), we know that she lived until 1941, there still isn't much information about Adelia. She exists at the edges of many stories about her brothers, acting as a supporting character, such as when her wounded brother Warren stayed with her for a brief period in 1881, according to HistoryNet. And a 1900 article in The Oregonian claimed she was now Mrs. Adelia Edwards, living in Redlands, California (via HistoryNet). We also know that she married Bill Edwards on April 9, 1877.

Adelia did write a memoir that went unpublished, though, as HistoryNet notes, we may not want to assume that all her recollections are perfectly in line with the truth.

Wyatt Earp had no known biological children

Even after the death of his wife, Urilla, Wyatt Earp was hardly a stranger to women. The lack of marriage records after that first union seems to indicate that he never married again. Instead, as Genealogy Magazine concludes, Wyatt had a couple of common-law "wives" who lived with him in succession but never officially tied the knot. The first was Celia Ann "Mattie" Blaylock, who accompanied Wyatt to Dodge City in the 1870s. By the time he was in Tombstone, Arizona, however, Wyatt had taken up with Josephine "Sadie" Marcus. The abandoned Mattie died by suicide in 1888. Wyatt died in 1929, while Sadie lived until 1944, having apparently stuck with Wyatt until the end of his life.

While there is some question as to Wyatt's marriage status, there isn't much doubt about his lack of offspring. In fact, according to True West Magazine, none of the Earp brothers had any known children, perhaps because their rough lifestyles didn't fit with the sedate nature of family life. Instead, the family tree was whittled down to the descendants of half brother Newton and younger sister Adelia.

The Earps have modern-day descendants

Though Wyatt Earp's family tree experienced a considerable bottleneck when the majority of the Earp siblings either died or failed to produce children, it did not wither away completely. Today, there are quite a few descendants of either Newton or Adelia Earp, some of whom lean wholeheartedly into their family's wild reputation. Brothers Don, Cliff, and Zack Earp of Riverside, California, have taken it upon themselves to preserve the legacy of their family, including the truth of what happened at the O.K. Corral. According to the Los Angeles Times, they have also occasionally dressed up as their famous predecessors at reenactments.

Others who claim to be descended from the Earps include Melody Earp (via the Cleveland Daily Banner) and Judy Earp of Lamar, Missouri, where Wyatt and his family spent much of their time in the 19th century (via FourStatesHomepage.com). One modern family member, James R. Earp, has carried on the lawman legacy by serving as a Texas police chief and city council member, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin.