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Wild West Outlaws and Lawmen

Frank Stillwell


(1856 -March 20th, 1882)

Frank C. Stilwell, also spelled "Stillwell", was a noted outlaw and sometime deputy sheriff of the Old West.  He was a brother of a more famous Indian fighter and scout, Simpson Everett "Comanche Jack" Stilwell (1850-1903).   He was raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He may have been born in Iowa City, Iowa, where his brother Jack was born.

Little is known about his early life.  But he appears in the historical record in 1877 in Arizona, where he had traveled with brother Jack. He is known to have shot one Jesus Bega near Miller's ranch (near Prescott, Arizona Territory) on October 18, 1877.   He was 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 changed with stage robbery), and as a miner in Mojave Co. He owned mines and various businesses, including a saloon, wholesale liquor business, stage line, livery, in Charleston. 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 listed himself as 24 years old.  This was used to estimate his date of birth.  He said he was living in Charleston, that his occupation was "keeping livery," and that he had been born in Texas.


Deputy Sheriff

Stilwell was one of the original deputy sheriffs under Johnny Behan in Arizona, appointed April, 1881.  But, he has 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.

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 at O.K. Corral.  

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.

Morgan Earp

Stilwell was a prominent player in the after-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.

Murder
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 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.   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.  Although all five men in the Earp party were indicted for the murder, none were convicted, citing "resisting arrest" as a claim of defense for 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.

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