In December 1874, Wyatt Earp and John Behrens took jobs as drovers to protect a herd of cattle in the possession of Edward R. Ulrich, who was involved in a dispute over the ownership of the heard, known as the "Pole Cat War." Earp wintered with the Ulrich herd in the Indian Territory until the opposition enlisted the aid of the Sumner County, Kansas vigilantes and took possession of the herd at gunpoint the following spring of 1875.
On March 3, 1875 the Wichita Beacon reported that "John Behrens is home again. He participated in the McMurray Ulrich contest over a large herd of cattle now held in the Territory. Twenty men were marshaled against each other on both sides. Fortunately no blood was shed."
It would seem that E.J. McMurray claimed 800 head of cattle, for the suit against Edward Ulrich, filed in February, 1875, he so stated in giving the road brand; this brand was identified as "the letter D with a bar underneath." This was the traveling brand he had put on the stock in Texas. He asked for return of the stock and possession of twelve horses; he figured the steers were worth $25 per head. Court records also indicate that McMurray and Andrew Wilson had possession of the cattle as late as December, 1874, and at that time they were involved in litigation over the herd, but in Lyon County. Ulrich's men got control of the herd near Wichitak, Kansas and drove them south. McMurray had only four men, so he recruited more and followed, trying to overtake the herd before it reached the southern Kansas line. Ulrich claimed he had bought the herd from Wilson, or someone, saying he had paid him $10,000 cash, and the balance was paid by a note that Wilson allegedly owed. Ulrich evidently had taken the herd with some sort of court order in December. His recruits had driven the cattle into the Indian Territory and were holding them on Pole Cat Creek. It was then that Wyatt Earp, John Behrens and others were hired by Ulrich, the Illinois banker, to hold the cattle on Pole Cat creek [near where Tulsa, OK is now located] through the winter and to protect them if necessary.
Said the Wichita Eagle, in recounting the Pole Cat War; "McMurray gathered a force of some twelve or fifteen men, and about three weeks ago, (late February 1875) entered the Territory for the purpose of taking the cattle. But finding that those in charge of them were fully prepared to resist such an undertaking he changed his mind, and quietly went into camp in close proximity to the cattle."
Reported the Wichita Beacon, on April 28, 1875: "The Ulrich-McMurray contest for 760 head of cattle and ten ponies is drawing to a close." The paper reported that "last falls" debtors of Wilson at Manhattan, Kansas had attached the herd while it was being held at Wichita, "but the matter was arranged in some way and the cattle were released. The next move was the sale of the herd by Wilson to Edward R. Ulrich, of Springfield, Illinois."
This is how Ulrich had obtained possession of the herd at Wichita, Kansas in the first place, and had started it south, with Earp, Behrens and others acting as drovers. Both factions experienced a pretty miserable winter and the Wichita Beacon indicated that the controversy continued around the herd on Pole Cat Creek, most of the winter.
"Sorties were made, Indian scares gotten up, and every scheme devised to catch Ulrich napping and get possession of that bunch of cattle," said the paper. The men and cattle must have suffered. On several occasions the two forces coursed each other, but no armed clashes resulted. The end of Earp's service as a drover for Ulrich is explained in the following report from the Beacon:
"Week before last, (April 14) McMurray succeeded in securing the sympathy and cooperation of the Sumner County Vigilance Committee, the members of which went in force with McMurray, captured the cattle and drove them into Sumner county. They were afterwards taken to Kingman county, Kansas where they were taken in possession of by the sheriff of the former county on a writ of replevin.