- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: Where in Portland is the burial place of Virgil Earp, brother of Western icon Wyatt Earp?
A: Earp's grave, marked by a flat marble headstone and an American flag stuck in the ground, sits under a holly tree at the historic River View Cemetery, 300 S.W. Taylors Ferry Road.
River View is Portland's second-oldest cemetery, established in 1882 after its founders felt that the Lone Fir Cemetery, at Southeast 20th Avenue and Morrison Street, was 'too far in the country' at the time and difficult to get to, said David Noble, River View's executive director.
Led by U.S. Sen. Henry Corbett, several Portland civic leaders joined together to establish the cemetery atop this scenic hillside, considered to be of little value for crops or development at the time.
Corbett was buried there at his death in 1903, as were dozens of other 19th-century local icons: Simon Benson, Henry Weinhard, George Abernethy and the Terwilliger, Pittock and Couch families, among others.
Many of their gravestones are in an area called 'Founders' Park,' with marble benches that give a brief biography of each.
The historic grave sites are so popular to visitors, the cemetery has organized five separate walking tours with maps and historical handouts to navigate the seven miles of road and 350 acres of property, a third of which still is undeveloped. The most popular by far, Noble says, is Earp's.
Yet Earp's tombstone is plain, compared to most of the grandiose obelisks that mark some of the famous. Earp's small block of marble reads simply: 'In loving memory of my husband, Virgil W. Earp. July 18, 1843-Oct. 19, 1905. God will take care of me.'
Noble would like to dress it up a little. 'His spot is so visited, I'd like to create a shrine with a bench, because it just seems appropriate,' he said. 'There are people who plan their vacations from back east to come here to see Virgil.'
So why is Earp so famous, and how did he end up in Portland? His journey west starts with his marriage in 1860 to a woman named Ellen Sysdam in Iowa, with whom he had a daughter, Nellie Jane.
When the baby was just 2 weeks old, Earp enlisted as a Union soldier in the Civil War. His wife was informed later that he was dead, so she moved west with her daughter, remarried and had four more children.
Earp had not died, but finished his service, remarried and moved west, too, where he served as city marshal of Tombstone, Ariz., at the time of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral.
He survived a shot in the leg, then later was ambushed and lived with a left arm that was permanently crippled.
His daughter, meanwhile, was living in North Portland with her husband, Levi Law, and their two children. She somehow learned that her father was alive and tracked him down in Prescott, Ariz., and they began corresponding.
He visited Portland in 1899, when she survived a bout with pneumonia, and his visit is cited in the April 22, 1899, edition of The Oregonian.
'Virgil Earp, together with his brother Wyatt, the referee, and 'Bat' Masterson, formed a trio of adventuresome men who started out to establish law and order in the early days when shotguns and revolvers played important parts in Western civilization,' the article reads. 'He was chief of police in Tombstone when that locally (sic) was the haven of many desperate characters, and soon rid the vicinity of all the so-called 'bad men.' Earp had a varied career and his life's history reads like a romance.'
When Earp died in 1905 in Goldfield, Nev., of pneumonia, his daughter had his remains sent to Portland for burial.
Next week's Stumper: Where in Portland can you find a Noah's ark built in 1922?