Frank Stilwell

Frank Stilwell

Frank C. Stilwell, sometimes misspelled as Stillwell (1856 -March 20th, 1882) was a noted outlaw and sometime deputy sheriff of the Old West. []


Little is known about his early life. He was a brother of a more famous Indian fighter and scout, Simpson Everett "Comanche Jack" Stilwell (1850-1903). (See [] for a biography of Jack.)

Frank's middle initial may stand for Clinton, an old family name. However, his birth record has not been located. He was raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He may have been born in Iowa City, Iowa, where his brother Jack was born.

Frank appears in the historical record in 1877 in Arizona, where he had traveled with Jack. He is known to have shot one Jesus Bega near Miller's ranch (near Prescott, A.T.) October 18, 1877. Acquitted for self defense. He worked as a teamster for C.H. "Ham" Light (who would testify at the O.K. Corral trial, and also put up a large sum toward Frank's bail when Frank was later charged with stage robbery), and as a miner in Mojave Co. He owned mines and various businesses, including a saloon, a wholesale liquor business, a stage line, and a livery, all located in Charleston, Arizona. He owned a number of mines in the Bisbee area, and was a partner of Pete Spence in ownership of a saloon in Bisbee.

In the 1880 census he lists himself as 24 years old (this is used to estimate his date of birth above), living in Charleston, occupation "keeping livery," and claims to have been born in Texas.

Deputy sheriff for Behan

Stilwell was one of the original deputy sheriffs under Johnny Behan in Cochise County, Arizona, appointed April, 1881. However, he was fired by Behan for "accounting irregularities" in August, 1881, the month before the Bisbee robbery in which Stilwell was later accused. Since Behan's deputies were involved in collecting taxes for the sheriff's office on assessed county property (including cattle), the "irregularies" may have involved such work.

uspect and arrest for stage robbery

Stilwell was arrested with Pete Spence, by a combined federal and sheriff's posse which included Wyatt Earp (acting for the federal government as a deputy of his brother Virgil, the deputy U.S. marshal) and Behan's deputy Billy Breakenridge, for the Bisbee stage robbery which occurred on September 8, 1881. This arrest is one of the events which led to the clash between the Earps and the Clantons and McLaurys [] . Stilwell was in jail in Tucson for the crime, having been charged by Virgil Earp with the federal crime of interruption of mail service during the Bisbee robbery. However, he was soon released for lack of evidence (he had been arrested for a distinctive bootprint from a boot repaired in Bisbee, and testimony of a witness who said he recognized Stilwell's voice and language, but neither of these was enough to convict him).

Association with murder of Morgan Earp

Stilwell was a prominent player in the events leading up to and following the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and a possible conspirator in the murder of Morgan Earp. He was formally named as a suspect by the inquest in the death of Morgan, on the basis of testimony by the wife of his friend Pete Spence. Wyatt Earp considered Stilwell to be the main suspect in the murder, along with Ike Clanton.


On the night of March 20th, 1882, after putting Virgil Earp and other family members on a train bound for California, and at the first stage of the Earp Vendetta Ride, Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday and their fellow riders ambushed Stilwell at the train station, after they said Stilwell had lain in wait to ambush them. Stilwell was in Tucson with Ike Clanton for unclear reasons, and Clanton later said Stilwell knew the Earps were coming through Tucson, so it is not clear why Stilwell would go to the railyard, except with wrongful intent. [] .

In a 1926 biographical attempt (with John H. Flood), Wyatt Earp said that Stilwell and Clanton had been seen with weapons on a flat-car in the trainyard, apparently waiting to shoot at Virgil. Both ran after being confronted by the armed Earp party. Stilwell dropped his weapon and stumbled in running away in the dark trainyard, and Wyatt caught up to him and killed him with a point-blank shotgun blast under the ribs as Stilwell tried to fend off Earp's weapon with his hands. Wyatt reported that Stilwell's last words were "Morg! Morg!" referring to Morgan Earp (who strongly resembled Wyatt).

From coroner's evidence, others fired on Stilwell also. Witnesses saw only men armed with shotguns, running in the trainyard. Stilwell's body was found the next morning near the tracks, riddled with bullets-- "the worst shot up man I ever saw" according to one witness, with at least three bullet wounds and two shotgun blasts. Although all five men in the Earp protection party were indicted for the murder (See [] ), none were convicted. The Earp Party claimed "resisting arrest" in defense of their actions.


Stilwell was originally buried in the old Tucson City cemetery, but when the cemetery was moved, most of the residents were reburied in a mass grave in the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson.

ee also

*Earp vendetta ride
*Morgan Earp
*Wyatt Earp
*Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

External links

(Note that all three use the incorrect spelling of Stillwell.)
* []
* []
* [;article=18462;title=Lawmen%2COutlaws%2C%20%26%20Assorted%20Miscreants%20Board]


*cite book
author=Roy B. Young
title=Cochise County Cowboy War
publisher=Young and Sons Enterprises, Apache O.K.
id=ISBN not assigned
A self-published but useful compendium of bio information on minor Tombstone characters.

Note this book has a copy of Frank C. Stilwell's original signature on page 111. It is spelled with 3 l's, not 4, in keeping with the spelling of the name of his brother Jack Stilwell.

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