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 “Turkey Creek Jack” Johnson

aka John W. Blount

(1847-1906)

By

Peter Brand

© 2006

Researching the life of the gunman known as ‘Turkey Creek Jack” Johnson would have proved impossible had it not been for the discovery of Wyatt Earp’s testimony at the Lotta Crabtree Estate. Earp’s testimony stated that Johnson was an alias and that his real name was actually John Blount. After extensive genealogical and historical research by Jean Smith, and a five year hunt for information that took me to Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona and California, I published an article in 2003 titled Wyatt Earp, Jack Johnson & The Notorious Blount Brothers © 2003. The article appeared in the Quarterly of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History. The introduction section of this article appears below -  

 In 1926, Wyatt Earp was asked to give evidence in the Lotta Crabtree estate case. Crabtree, a famous actress of her day, had died in 1924 leaving a fortune to be divided among her extended family. There were many claims on the estate, the strongest of which came from Carlotta Cockburn, nee Crabtree. She claimed to be the daughter of Lotta Crabtree’s brother Jack. Jack Crabtree had lived in Tombstone during its heyday and therefore had known Wyatt Earp. Earp was asked to verify different parts of her story. His evidence was unspectacular, but he did inadvertently provide a wealth of information and reasoned speculation about his former posse rider and friend, known as Jack Johnson.

What’s in a name? 

Prior to the discovery of Wyatt’s testimony at the Crabtree hearing, accurate information about Johnson was hard to come by. The newspapers of the day were not aware of his first name and referred to him appropriately at times as “Mysterious” Johnson. Billy Breakenridge, a former deputy, went so far as to bestow upon him the title of the “Unknown” in his recollections of the Tombstone days. The Nugget newspaper confused Johnson with a Texas outlaw named Frank Jackson, while most other references were content with simply “Johnson”. The Tombstone Prospector newspaper added to the puzzle in 1887 when it referred to him as “Man-Killer” Johnson and confused him with a New Mexico desperado. In his myth-making book, Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal, author Stuart Lake added to the legend by christening him “Turkey Creek Jack” Johnson. Lake’s notes indicate that this information may have come from Wyatt but it is possible that Lake simply appropriated the catchy name to add color to his story. In the Flood manuscript and in a letter to Walter Noble Burns, Wyatt however, consistently used the name John or Jack Johnson, but never “Turkey Creek Jack”.

 The conflicting information regarding his real identity was probably very welcome to Johnson, as he was about to participate in a vendetta which included at least two revenge killings and he would eventually have a murder warrant issued in his name. His participation in these events was due in part to the shotgun attack on Virgil Earp in December 1881. After this attempted assassination of his brother, Wyatt Earp had surrounded himself and his family with gunmen, who would not be intimidated by cowboy threats. These men acted as bodyguards, law enforcers and eventually deputy US Marshals during the so-called Vendetta ride. This select group included an ex-Virginian cavalryman known as “Texas Jack” Vermillion, the southern dentist turned gambler, known as “Doc” Holliday, a former Texas Ranger named Sherman McMaster, a gambler named Origen Charles Smith, a former sailor turned miner named Daniel Tipton and the elusive Jack Johnson.  

 The story of how Johnson came to be involved with the Earps and Tombstone was explained during Wyatt’s evidence at the Crabtree trial. Wyatt stated that Jack Crabtree’s “wife” was friendly with a woman in Tombstone whom Wyatt thought was Johnson’s sister. Earp stated that Johnson, a native of Southwest Missouri, would visit with his sister and had asked Wyatt to accompany him on several occasions. Johnson had ridden with the cowboys on raids into Mexico but had grown tired of it and had agreed to join Earp’s men and pass on information about various illegal activities. The attack on Virgil Earp had convinced the Earps and Johnson that there was safety in numbers and Wyatt stated that he had joined Johnson on several visits to the sister’s home.

Wyatt then further revealed that Johnson also asked for his assistance in relation to the death of a Tip Top miner named George McDonald. A fellow miner named Bud Blount had been convicted of his manslaughter and was serving a stiff sentence in Yuma prison. Johnson asked Earp to help organise several petitions to the Governor in an attempt to free Blount. Earp then explained that in his opinion Johnson was actually Bud Blount’s brother, John Blount. Wyatt agreed to help and John Blount, aka Jack Johnson, repaid Earp with information, steadfast loyalty and a willingness to ride at his side during the bloodiest days of the Tombstone conflict. It was obvious that Earp had heard, or read, of the Blount brothers and in his Crabtree testimony he further mentioned that both the boys had been involved in a street fight in Missouri. Wyatt claimed that several people had been killed and that the Blounts had been forced to leave Missouri as a result. He further added that they had lived in Prescott, Arizona and Leadville, Colorado. 

Wyatt was giving this testimony in 1926, concerning events that had occurred 45 years earlier, but his testimony was, for the most part, quite clear. How accurate was his memory and how accurate was this information in relation to the Blount brothers? Was he correct in thinking that Jack Johnson was actually John Blount? The circumstantial evidence certainly points to that conclusion. The available records also indicate that Wyatt’s recollections were incredibly close to the mark and that the Blount brothers had a lot in common with the Earps. In fact, the records show that Earp could not have selected a man more suited to the coming Vendetta than John Blount, aka Jack Johnson.

 

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For a complete copy of the above Johnson article, please see –

 

Wyatt Earp, Jack Johnson & The Notorious Blount Brothers.

By Peter Brand © 2003

Quarterly of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History: Vol. XXVII, No. 4 (October-December 2003).

 

For a complete transcript of Wyatt Earp’s deposition in the Lotta Crabtree case, please see pages 165 to 196 of –

 

Wyatt Earp Speaks!

Edited by John Richard Stephens

Fern Canyon Press 1998

 

For an excellent examination of Bud Blount’s troubles in Tip Top, Arizona, see –

 

He was About Half Way Right: Territory v Blount, 1881.

By Robert F. Palmquist

The Journal of Arizona History: Winter 1999.

 

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Peter Brand continues to research the lives of the Notorious Blount boys and any readers with questions or information regarding the brothers are encouraged to contact him. See the “Contact Us” section of this website for further details.  

Turkey Creek Jack Johnson
 
Sherman McMaster
 
Charlie Smith
 
Dan Tipton

Texas Jack Vermillion
 
Perry Mallon
"The Man Who Arrested
Doc Holliday"
;
James V. Parks