John Harris Behan B. 1844 D. 1912

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About Doc Holiday
About Wyatt Earp

About Virgil Earp

About Morgan Earp

About James Earp

About Warren Earp

About Newton Earp

About William "Curley Bill" Brocius (outlaw)

About Billy Claiborne (outlaw)

About Pete Spence (outlaw)

About Ike Clanton (outlaw)

About Phin Clanton (outlaw)

About Johnny Ringo (outlaw)

About "Old Man" Clanton" (outlaw)

Frank Stillwell (outlaw)

About Frank McLaury (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)
About Tom McLaury (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)

About Billy Clanton (outlaw killed at the OK Corral)

About Johnny Behan (Sheriff)

William Breckinridge (Deputy Sheriff)

About Fred White (Marshal)
About George Parson

About Wells Spicer (Judge)

About George Goodfellow MD

About Nellie Cashman (Angel Of Mercy)

About Big Nose Kate (prostitute & Doc Holiday's girlfriend)

About Ed Schieffelin

About John Clum (editor/publisher of Tombstone Epitaph)


Morgan Earps Death In The Tombstone Epitaph
Tombstone Epitaph Story The Day After The OK Corral Shootout

Tombstone Pioneers Burial Place
Mistakes In The Movie Tombstone

For fallacies in the movie Tombstone please visit this web site:


He was, for 21 months of a two-year term (Feb. 1881 to Nov. 1882), the sheriff of Cochise County in the Arizona Territory. This newly-created county, of which Behan was the first sheriff, included the mining boom city of Tombstone, which served as the new county seat and Behan's headquarters. Immediately previously, Behan had served three months as undersheriff for the southern area of Pima County which included Tombstone, succeeding Wyatt Earp in this position. Behan is known for being county sheriff at the time of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and the Earp Vendetta ride.

Behan was born in what is now Kansas City, Missouri on October 23, 1844, the third of nine children (but the eldest son) of an Irish-born carpenter named Peter Behan and his wife Sarah, as shown by the 1850 Federal Census for Kaw Township, Jackson County, Missouri. [1]. Peter Behan, a native of County Kildare, married Sarah Ann Harris, a native of Madison County, Kentucky, in Jackson County, Missouri on March 16, 1837; their eldest son John was named for his maternal grandfather. Although other sources claim a 1845 date of birth for John, in the 1900 Federal census, when he was living in a boarding house at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., he is listed as a "promoter," born in Missouri in October 1844, with a father, born Ireland, and a mother, born Kentucky, [2].

Behan came to the Arizona Territory from San Francisco in 1863, arriving first in Prescott, the territorial seat. In the territory he was involved in politics (he served a term in the Arizona Territorial legislature) and law enforcement, serving a term as sheriff of Yavapi County. In 1869 he married Victoria Zaff and had two children. Behan and his wife divorced in 1875 and Behan never remarried.

Behan moved to Tombstone in September 1880, perhaps with knowledge that the area was about to be split off from Pima County, with Tombstone as the Cochise County seat. Behan worked for a short time as bartender in the Grand Hotel (a favorite of the cow-boys), and also bought part interest in the Dexter Corral with John Dunbar (the Dexter Corral, across Allen Street south of the O.K. Corral, would later figure as a brief stopping point for the cow-boys less than an hour before the O.K. Corral gunfight).

Wyatt Earp had been appointed undersheriff of the southern/Tombstone section of Pima County (under Pima sheriff Charles Shibell) in July, 1880. In November, 1880, Wyatt Earp resigned after allegations of ballot box stuffing by the cowboy faction in San Simon Cienega precinct. The votes were crucial in re-electing Shibell by 46-vote margin.

In the election Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo had served as election officials for the San Simon precinct, and delivered a 103 to 1 vote for a democratic sheriff in a precinct later estimated to contain only 50 eligible voters. Eventually in April 1881 the San Simon results would be thrown out by the courts (resulting in the removal of Shibell and replacement by Bob Paul), but meanwhile Shibell had picked Johnny Behan to serve as Tombstone-area undersheriff and this position had already allowed Behan to move on.

When the southern area of Pima County containing Tombstone was split off into the new Cochise County in early 1881, undersheriff Behan was appointed first Sheriff of Cochise County by Governor Fremont, and confirmed by the upper house of the Territorial Legislature, on Feb 10, 1881. Wyatt Earp would later say that he had promised not to campaign against the appointment (not election) of Behan, in return for an appointment by Behan as Behan's undersheriff. But after being appointed, Behan appointed another man, Southern Democrat Harry Woods, to the position.

Popular understanding of the times portrays Behan, a county lawman, as a friend of Ike Clanton, William B. Brocious, Johnny Ringo, and a group of Mexican cattle importers, dealers, rustlers and fencers, known colloquially as "cow-boys or Cowboys." Some of the Cowboys were also active as rustlers in the U.S. side of the border, especially after mid-1880. (Honest ranch hands and dealers of the area after this began happening, tended to be called "drovers"). Behan did employ a number of cow-boys as sheriff's deputies and county tax assessors and collectors.

During his time of holding the office of Sheriff, Behan did have some effect on cattle rustling, but generally only took real action against those whose cattle rustling cut into the business or criminal ventures of the "Cow-boys" organization. He was a good office manager, and good at managing finances, especially to his own benefit.

Behan spent most of his term in office in personal and legal conflict with the Earps. Behan eventually lost his girlfriend, Josephine Marcus, to Wyatt Earp, although the details of this are lost, and Josephine is known to have spent time in San Francisco between leaving Behan and publicly going with Earp. She also had worked off and on as a prostitute in Tombstone prior to her involvement with Earp. Contrary to later portrayals of her, she was not a popular or well known actress at the time, although she did work as an actress in theatre. For a time in Tombstone Josephine Marcus signed her name as Josephine Behan, but no marriage document has ever been located. However, Josie would form a close bond with Behan's 10 year-old son Albert, and stay in contact with him throughout the rest of her life.

Although it has sometimes been indicated that Behan and Wyatt Earp's feud over Josephine Marcus helped fuel the now famous gunfight at the OK Corral, this was not the case. No doubt, the two men disliked one another greatly due to the fact that they were sleeping with the same woman, but this did not influence the events that played out during the gunfight. Had that been the case, it would have been Behan that Earp confronted, rather than the "Cowboys". Behan was friends with the Cowboys faction, which placed him and Earp on different sides simply by association. However, regardless of their differences, the gunfight was sparked from clashes between the Earps and the Clantons, from a personal as well as business standpoint.

Behan was a witness to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral of October 26, 1881. He physically attempted to stop this fight, but utterly failed to influence either faction, as the Earp's had no respect for him whatsoever, and the "Cow-Boys" were by then past the point of no return. In particular, Frank McLaury refused to give up his pistol to Behan, saying he would only do so when the police chief Virgil Earp had been disarmed, knowing that was not going to happen.

The Earps then ignored Behan's warning that attempting to disarm the McLaurys and Clanton would result in violence, and also ignored Behan's probable misdirection (or lie) that the Cowboys already had been disarmed by him. Behan would later claim he'd only said that he'd gone down to disarm the Cowboys, not claiming that he'd actually succeeded in doing so. On this fine point, lives would hang.

Several weeks after the gunfight, Behan was involved in a fistfight with Morgan Earp. The fight was believed to have been caused after Behan cursed at Josephine Marcus for leaving him, for Wyatt. What ever the case, Behan received a right hook to the mouth, that he would never forget.

Less than five months after the O.K. fight, Morgan Earp was murdered. Doc Holliday, who was an extremely close friend to Morgan, believed that Behan was in on it, and went out to find and kill him. He was unsuccessful. A few days after Morgan Earp's assassination, Wyatt Earp caught Behan's former deputy, Frank Stilwell in the train yard with a shotgun. Stilwell had planned to kill the wounded Virgil Earp as he boarded the train in Tucson. Wyatt pointed his shotgun at Stilwell, and Stilwell called out "Morg!" (either believing he was seeing Morgan's ghost, or not knowning Morgan was dead). Wyatt shot him, and then again, and then (or others in his party) continued to shoot the body. The next day, a sheriff's posse led by Behan pursued the Earp posse in the Earp Vendetta Ride, but again failed to have any effect, except to drain county funds, and never came into contact with the Earp faction, either by incompetence or by choice. During his less than two-year term Behan somehow banked $5,000, a sum which would be worth about 25 times as much today. Exactly where the money came from, remains a mystery.

In September, 1882, after the Earp Vendetta Ride fiasco and a he had a feud with his own deputy Breakenridge, public and legislative unhappiness with Behan resulted in his showing last on the ballot of possible sheriff nominees for his own party-- an unusual result for a seated sheriff. Behan thus lost the nomination, and was forced out of office in November, 1882, at the natural end of his first term. He would never serve in law enforcement again.

Later in life, Behan served as the Deputy Superintendent (deputy warden) of the Yuma Penitentiary, causing former Tombstone resident and writer George Parsons to suggest Behan was on the wrong side of the bars. Behan also served as a soldier in the Spanish American war.

Behan died of "Bright's disease" (immune-related renal failure) in Tucson, and (as a Roman Catholic) was buried in a now-lost site in the Holy Hope Cemetery, in Tucson.

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