Pete Spence (1852–1914), suspected of robbery in 1878 in Goliad County, Texas, changed his name from Elliot Larkin Ferguson. He was later a suspect in a stagecoach robbery outside Bisbee, Arizona and was known for his association with Outlaw Cowboys Frank and Tom McLaury and Ike and Billy Clanton of Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Spence was also a suspect in the assassination of Morgan Earp.
In the 1880 Tombstone census he gave his age as age 28, born in Texas, and listed his occupation as stock raiser. He was also reported as having been born in Louisiana in 1850. Little is known about his youth, but he enlisted in the Texas Rangers under Captain Wallace in 1874.
Ferguson was wanted for robbery in Goliad Co., Texas in 1878 and left the area for the Arizona Territory near Bisbee and Tombstone where he began using the name of Peter M. Spencer. He was one of a number of outlaws from Texas who sought sanctuary on the American frontier and the wild west. Locally known as Cowboys, Tombstone resident George Parson wrote in his diary, "A Cowboy is a rustler at times, and a rustler is a synonym for desperado—bandit, outlaw, and horse thief.".
Tombstone and Bisbee
In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, Spence lived immediately across the street from the Earps in a house which still stands in Tombstone. For a time he ran Vogan's Saloon. In October, 1880 Spence was charged with grand larceny on a charge of possessing stolen Mexican mules, but was not convicted. Spence was a business partner of Frank Stilwell in the Franklin Mine and other mining ventures, and also in a Bisbee saloon. On August 12, 1881, he married Marietta Duarte.
The Sandy Bob Bisbee line stage robbery
On September 8, 1881, a passenger stage on the Sandy Bob line in the Tombstone, Arizon area bound for Bisbee was held up by two masked men. They robbed all of the passengers of their valuables since the stage was not carrying a strongbox. During their robbery the driver heard one of the robbers describe the money as "sugar", a phrase known to be used by Frank Stilwell. Stilwell had until the prior month been a deputy for Sheriff Johnny Behan but had been fired for "accounting irregularities".
Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp assisted by his brother Wyatt and Sheriff's posse led by Behan attempted to track the Bisbee stage robbers. At the scene of the holdup, Wyatt discovered an unusual boot print left by someone wearing a custom-repaired boot heel. The Earps checked a shoe repair shop in Bisbee known to provide widened boot heels, and were able to link the boot print to Frank Stilwell. Stilwell had just arrived in Bisbee with Spence, his livery stable partner, and Virgil and Wyatt arrested both of them at the stable, for the stage robbery, on September 10. Cowboy friends provided Stilwell and Spence with an alibi, saying they were elsewhere during the robbery, and the state robbery charges were dropped.
Spence and Stilwell were re-arrested on October 13 by Virgil Earp for the Bisbee robbery on a new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier. The Cowboys saw the Earp's filing of federal charges as further evidence they were being unfairly harassed and targeted by the Earps. They let the Earps know that they could expect retaliation. Local newspapers erroneously reported that Spence and Stilwell had been arrested for a different stage robbery that occurred on October 8 near Contention City. Stilwell was in jail in Tucson on these federal charges on the day of the gunfight on October 26, 1881, but Spence had been released several days before.
Suspect in Morgan Earp assassination
At 10:50 p.m. on Saturday, March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was shot by assailants who fired through a glass-windowed, locked door at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor in Tombstone. At the time, Morgan was playing a late round of billiards against owner Bob Hatch. The shooters narrowly missed Wyatt Earp, who was watching the game.:97 Spence's wife, Marietta Duarte, testified at the coroner’s inquest that her husband, Frank Stilwell, Frederick Bode, "Indian Charlie" Cruz, and a half-breed named Fries:206:176 bragged about shooting Morgan. Her husband had threatened her with violence if she told what she knew.
The coroner's jury concluded that Spence and his accomplices were the suspects in Morgan's assassination. Spence immediately turned himself in so that he would be protected in Behan's jail. When the prosecution called her to testify at Spence's preliminary hearing, the defense objected because her testimony was hearsay and because a spouse could not testify against her husband. The judge agreed and dismissed the charges.
However, the Earps learned of the coroner's jury findings and took action on their own, setting out to find and kill the Cowboys they felt responsible. Spence owned a ranch and woodcutting camp at South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains, where he employed Indian Charlie Cruz. Cruz was the lookout during the Morgan Earp shooting. He was killed by the Earp posse on March 20, 1882, two days after Morgan's murder. Spence turned himself in to Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, to be safely held in jail while the Earps were riding on the trail of Morgan's murderers. The Earps later concluded that Spence was an accomplice, but that Stilwell had shot Morgan Earp, and "Curly Bill" Brocius had fired the shot that narrowly missed Wyatt Earp.
Manslaughter conviction and later life
In June 1883, Spence was working as a deputy sheriff in Georgetown, New Mexico, when he severely pistol-whipped Rodney O’Hara, killing him. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a 5-year term in the Yuma Arizona Territorial Penitentiary for the death (see photograph above, taken of him as a prisoner). Less than 18 months later he was granted a full pardon by the territorial governor. He operated a goat ranch south of Globe, Arizona near the Galiuro Mountains with his old friend, Phin Clanton, and ran mule teams that were used to bring supplies into the Globe area. Phin Clanton died in 1906, and Spence married Phin's widow four years later on April 2, 1910, using his real name of Elliot Larkin Ferguson. He died in 1914 and is buried in the Globe, Arizona cemetery, in an unmarked plot next to Phin Clanton.
- Roy B. Young (1999). Cochise County Cowboy War. Young and Sons Enterprises, Apache O.K. ISBN not assigned. A self-published but useful compendium of bio information on minor Tombstone characters.