William Brocius, known as Curly Bill Brocius (c. 1845 – March 24, 1882) was a gunman, rustler and an outlaw Cowboy in the Cochise County area of the Arizona Territory during the early 1880s. His name is almost certainly an alias, and there is evidence linking him to another outlaw named William "Curly Bill" Bresnaham who had committed an 1878 attempted robbery in El Paso, Texas.
Brocius had a number of conflicts with the lawmen of the Earp family, and he was named as one of the individuals who participated in Morgan Earp's assassination. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and a group of deputies including his brother Warren Earp pursued those they believed responsible for Morgan's death. The Earp posse unexpectedly encountered Curly Bill and other Cowboys on March 24, 1882, at Iron Springs (present day Mescal Springs). Wyatt killed Curly Bill during the shoot out. In his journal written in October 1881, George Parsons referred to Brocius as "Arizona's most famous outlaw".
Following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881, Brocius robbed the Tombstone-Bisbee stagecoach on January 6 and the Tombstone-Benson stage the next day. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp gathered a posse and rode after the men but was unable to find them in the Chiricahua Mountains. Brocius returned to Tombstone on March 17. He was named by Pete Spence's wife Marietta Duarte as a participant in the assassination of Morgan Earp. Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer disallowed her testimony because it was hearsay and because she could not testify against her husband. Lacking evidence, the prosecution dropped all charges against all of the Cowboys. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp killed outlaw Cowboy Frank Stilwell in Tucson on March 20, 1882 while guarding his brother Virgil en route to California.
Gunfight at Iron SpringsEditOn March 24, 1882, the Earp party was expecting to meet Charlie Smith at Iron Springs (later Mescal Springs), in the Whetstone Mountains Charlie was bringing cash from Tombstone about 20 miles (32 km) to the east to help pay posse expenses. As they surmounted the edge of a wash near the springs, they stumbled upon Brocius, Johnny Barnes, Frank Patterson, Milt Hicks, Bill Hicks, Bill Johnson, Ed Lyle, and Johnny Lyle, cooking a meal alongside the spring.
According to Wyatt Earp, who left the only record of the fight, he was in the lead of the Earp party when they suddenly came upon the Cowboys' camp less than 30 feet (9.1 m) behind an embankment. He dismounted, shotgun in hand, as the Cowboys seized their weapons. Texas Jack Vermillion remained cool under fire and stuck close to Wyatt during the fight. Lacking cover, Doc, Johnson, and McMasters retreated. Warren Earp was away on an errand at the time.
Eighteen months prior, Wyatt had protected Curly Bill against a mob ready to lynch him for killing Sheriff Fred White, and then provided testimony that helped spare Curly Bill from a murder trial. Now Curly Bill fired at Wyatt with his shotgun from about 50 feet (15 m) but missed. Wyatt returned fire with his own shotgun, killing Brocius with a load of buckshot to his chest. Curly Bill fell into the water at the edge of the spring and lay dead.
The Cowboys fired a number of shots at the Earp party. Texas Jack Vermillion's horse was struck and killed. Wyatt's long coat was punctured by bullets on both sides. Another bullet struck his boot heel and his saddle-horn was hit as well, burning the saddle hide and narrowly missing Wyatt. Firing his pistol, Wyatt shot Johnny Barnes in the chest and Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys' gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him gain cover. Wyatt had trouble remounting his horse due to a cartridge belt that had slipped down his legs. He was finally able to get on his horse and retreat. McMaster was grazed by a bullet that cut through the straps of his field glasses.
Earp biographer John Flood wrote that Curly Bill's friends buried his body on the nearby ranch of Frank Patterson near the Babocomari River. This is close to the original McLaury ranch site about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Fairbank (before the McLaurys moved to the Sulphur Springs Valley in late 1880) and is believed to have originally belonged to Frank Stilwell. Brocius's grave site has never been identified.