The Wild West takes one back to a time and place many only dream of. Bursting with gun slinging desperadoes, drunken miners and flying bullets, there were many who came in hopes of making a better future for themselves and women were no exception. They braved the elements to tame a wild land in an unknown territory. One of those women left home at seventeen with her sister where she met ". . . the handsomest of all the Earp brothers and perhaps the most reckless . . ." Her life became a romantic adventure until destiny ended her world when a single bullet was fired through a window on Allen Street the night of March 18, 1882.
Louisa Houston Earp, wife of famed gunfighter Morgan Earp was born on January 24, 1855 in Iowa, Wisconsin. Contrary to popular belief, "Lou" the second eldest of twelve children born to Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Waughtal is not the great-granddaughter of famed General Samuel Houston. Affirmed by her great-grand nephew Lyman Hanley, "From my research I have found that Samuel Houston's father's name was Richard Houston . . . This story . . . has been handed down in my family for years. It makes a good story, but it's not true."
Her sister-in-law Adelia Earp described Lou as ". . . a stunning looker . . . a fine person . . . and a clever young lady . . ." who was well-educated and ". . . had been to good schools . . ."
Lou and her sister Kate left home around 1875 and traveled to Kansas where they found reputable employment with Fred Harvey's famous chain of waitresses, the Harvey Girls. First located in rail cars, Harvey restaurants quickly expanded along rail lines throughout the west. Weary passengers arriving in town were greeted by smiling waitresses in dark black dresses and crisp white aprons, a welcomed taste of domestication along the wild frontier. Within Mr. Harvey's more than perfect establishment intelligent and attractive girls were expected to display good moral character, wear spotless uniforms, live under strict dorm supervision, and were asked not to marry for a period of one year.
Exactly when and where in Kansas Lou and Kate began working for Mr. Harvey's restaurants is not known, but sometime around 1876 she met Morgan Earp in Dodge City. After her employment terminated in July 1877, they married and headed for Saint Louis for a few weeks only to return back to Dodge for a short duration. In September, they headed west, stopping in Deadwood before settling in Miles City, Montana in October of 1877. They lived in a small rustic log cabin on the edge of town until re-locating to a homestead along the Tongue River located approximately two to three miles away.
As Lou and Morgan began their life together in Montana things were not as promising as they would have hoped. Afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis since a teenager, the 30 to 40 degree below zero temperatures were unkind toward Lou's ailment. Morgan had his share of trials too when he was caught in a gun battle and shot and if not for a doctor and close friend of the Earps would have bled to death. In 1879 he left Miles City to accept a job as policeman in Butte. Lou, left behind to handle the sale of the homestead, later met Morgan after traveling by stage four hundred miles with $1,000 in her pocketbook. She was smart concerning money matters and frugal during times Morgan was unemployed. However, their stay in Butte was short lived. Suffering from the frigid cold, Morgan decided to take her back to his parents' home in Temescal, San Bernardino, California where he hoped the warmer climate and medicinal water provided by the hot springs would benefit her debilitating condition. Lou loved Temescal Valley and described her in-laws' home as " . . . a pretty place to live . . . water runs out of the mountains . . . the trees are full of lemons . . . everything is in bloom . . . there are so many wild flowers. I have been gathering some to press . . ."
By late 1880, Morgan and Lou met Virgil, Allie, Wyatt and Mattie in Tombstone, a town the women would soon deem as cruel and unforgiving. ". . . we never realized what things were commin' to," Allie Earp recalled. "The men didn't talk much about it at home for fear of scarin' us I guess." On October 26, 1881, Allie and Lou were quietly sewing when gun shots echoed from the OK Corral. "The noise was so awful it was so close - just a couple of short blocks up the street," Allie recalled. It was terrifying. "Lou laid her hands in her lap and bent her head." By Christmas, "me and Lou believed all the troubles had blown over,"Allie said, until Virgil was ambushed three days later from the second floor of what is now the Longhorn Restaurant on Allen Street. With tensions mounting and hatred escalating, Morgan fearing for Lou's safety as well as her fragile health ,sent her back to California to live with her in-laws now living in Colton. She enjoyed being with them once again; they were "old fashioned," she said. They treated her as their own daughter and she felt very much at home. Her health improved too. In a letter dated January 31, 1882 she wrote to her sister Kate, "I am much healthier now than when I first came to Arizona."
Although Colton was a tranquil serenity far away from the danger of Tombstone, she must have been deathly afraid to leave Morgan behind. When word arrived that he had been killed, poor Lou, beside herself from grief, ". . . just fell to the floor and sobbed and sobbed." "I have often heard him say he would diligently lay down his own life to save any of his brothers . . . ," she wrote on March 22, 1882, " . . . it is so hard to give up the most dearest of all to the earth . . . but death there is no disputing, no bringing back. He was so generous, so charitable. He has always had so many friends. God is too just to let his murderers go unpunished, whoever they are. . . "
The death of her most beloved bore an emptiness into her very being. The vivid memories of him and their life together haunted her very soul. She wished to break away, so on December 31, 1885 she married Gustave Peters and from that day on she was never to keep in contact with her Earp family. In the interim, Lou's illness afflicted her more and more. By 1891 her condition was in a severe state and after suffering for three years, died peacefully on June 12, 1894. She was thirty-nine years old.
On September 6, 1894, Gustave wrote to her sister Agnes, "We have been very happy during our married life which ended on June 12, 1894. My dear Lou was attacked with Sciatic Rheumatism for the last three years to which dropsy added itself and ended her suffering of the above date." Did Gustave really love Lou? That question arises when he attempted to ignite a romance with Agnes, a proposition she fiercely declined. Several years later, Gustave remarried and vanished. No one heard from him again.
It's sad that Lou was to pass at such a young age, but perhaps it wasn't just her illness; many have said her death was attributed to a broken heart. Morgan was the love of her life and she possibly never recovered from her loss. Interred at Evergreen Cemetery in East Los Angeles, her grave site deteriorated over years of neglect, but thanks to two good Samaritans who took it upon themselves to restore it, Mrs. Louisa Houston Earp Peters is forever immortalized as the "star crossed beauty," the stunning rose of the Wild West.
This article would not be possible without the generous contributions provided by Mr. Kenneth Vail, 2012.