A drunken William Brocius Graham, known better as “Curly Bill” Brocius, killed Tombstone, Arizona Territory Marshal Fred White on this date October 28th 1880, when White tried to arrest him. Marshal Fred White encountered Brocius at the East end of town, on a dark street in a vacant lot where the Birdcage Theater now stands. Brocius was intoxicated and he and his companions were firing pistols into the air. It is speculated that the pistol’s hammer was “half-cocked” over a live round (it was later found to have contained six live rounds,) and when White grabbed the barrel and pulled, the weapon, it discharged, shooting White in the groin area. Wyatt Earp, who saw the shooting and flash but could not clearly see the action in the dark. However Wyatt pistol-whipped Brocius, knocking him unconscious, and arrested him. When the new day dawned, the rowdy makers went before the judge, were fined for violating city ordinances, and released. Brocius; however, asked for a postponement until he could get a lawyer. Later he appeared with Judge Haynes of Tucson, as his counsel, and as a lynch mob was forming in the camp to hang Brocius for the shooting of the popular marshal, whose condition had worsened and looked as if he might die, Brocius was ordered to be taken to Tucson to be held in protective custody. As Wyatt Earp and George Collins headed to Tucson with Brocius in a buggy, they were escorted out of town by Virgil and Morgan Earp.Brocius was said to have terribly regretted the shooting of White, whom he apparently liked. White lingered for two days, dying on October 30th. However, prior to his death, he gave testimony that ultimately led to Brocius being cleared of any wrongdoing. White stated that the pistol fired accidentally, and that Brocius, intoxicated, evidently did not realize his pistol was cocked. Despite his regret, Brocius did not accept being pistol-whipped by Wyatt Earp during his arrest. This was a factor that led to increasing tensions between the Earps and the Cow-boy element. Unlike recent Hollywood portrayals of White as an older man, the first Marshal of Tombstone, was only 31 or 32 when he died.
Brocius was eventually acquitted of any any wrong-doing, with Judge Nuegass commenting that the shooting was “Homocide by Misadventure” or, in other words, an accident. Brocius was released from custody and despite Wyatt’s statement that helped him to be freed, Brocius could not forgive Wyatt for the pistol whipping. This was just one more of the many incidents that increased the ever mounting tension between the Earps and the Cowboy faction.
Some claim that the Ghost of Fred White still haunts the street where he was shot.