Virgil Walter Earp (July 18, 1843 – October 19, 1905) was both deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone, Arizona City Marshal when he led his brothers Morgan, Wyatt and Doc Holliday in a confrontation with outlaw Cowboys at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. They killed brothers Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. All three Earp brothers had been the target of repeated death threats made by the Cowboys who were upset by the Earps' interference in their illegal activities. All four lawmen were charged with murder by Ike Clanton, who had run from the gunfight. During a month-long preliminary hearing, Judge Wells Spicer exonerated the men, concluding they had been performing their duty.
But two months later on December 28, friends of the slain outlaws retaliated, ambushing Virgil. They shot him in the back, hitting him with three shotgun rounds, shattering his left arm and leaving him permanently maimed. The Cowboys suspected were let off for lack of evidence.:242 His brother Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882. Charges against those suspected were dismissed on a technicality. Wyatt Earp, appointed as deputy U.S. Marshal to replace Virgil, concluded he could not rely on civil justice and decided to take matters into his own hands. Wyatt assembled a federal posse that included their brother Warren Earp and set out on a vendetta to kill those they felt were responsible. Virgil left Tombstone to recuperate from his wounds in Colton, California where his parents lived.
Virgil married before he left to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. When he returned, his wife and child had left. He held a variety of other jobs throughout his life, though he primarily worked in law enforcement. His younger brother Wyatt, who spent most of his life as a gambler, became better known as a lawman because of writer Stuart N. Lake's fictionalized 1931 biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal and later portrayals of him in movies and fiction as Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day." In 1898, Virgil learned that his first wife Ellen Rysdam and their daughter were living in Oregon and reestablished contact with them. After suffering from pneumonia for six months, Virgil died on October 19, 1905.
In 1881, Virgil Earp applied for membership to King Solomon Lodge No. 5 as did Johnny Behan. Their petitions are in the archives of the Lodge.