On June 22, 1881, a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, decided a barrel of whiskey was too bad to drink. They rolled the offending barrel into the street to prepare for its return to the manufacturer. They popped the bunghole to measure the amount still in the barrel. Unfortunately, a man in the group lit a cigar and a spark from it fell into the bunghole. A massive explosion began a fire that turned four downtown city blocks of wooden buildings into ruins.
Unscrupulous owners of the Townsite Company immediately hired loafers and drifters to move on the vacant lots—possession being 9/10 of the law—and it seemed that Tombstone would experience another kind of explosion, with fire erupting from pistols. The dispossessed owners demanded protection. Ben Sippy, then town chief of police had left town on June 6 “for a two-week leave of absence.”
They turned to Virgil Earp as his temporary substitute. He proved more than adequate for the challenge. With a posse of trusted deputies, including brothers Morgan and Wyatt, Virgil visited every lot in dispute to warn each lot-jumper to vacate and let the court decide who owned it. When some refused and retired to their tent, the posse lassoed the tent poles and dragged the tent into the street. The jumpers grumbled, but complied.
For this action, Virgil Earp was hired as permanent chief of police. In addition he kept his part-time position as U.S. deputy marshal. The Last Gunfight, 167-169.