Veil Of Politics
In Wyatt’s later years, he lived in Los Angeles and was a technical advisor on several silent cowboy films. He befriended a young actor named Marion Morrison (who later changed his name to John Wayne) and regaled the young thespian with tales of the Old West.
Enthralled, the young Duke used to fetch Wyatt cups of coffee. Wayne later claimed his portrayals of cowboys and Western lawmen were based on these conversations with Wyatt Earp.
Dennis Quaid in my opinion represented a most realistic and more encompasing representation of Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp. Prejudice perhaps, by my father and son working with Mr Quaid cannot be ignored, never the less, his performance is historically accurate. My father and son did not perform in Wyatt Earp, they did however work with Dennis in another film.
There are factors in Hollywood that do delineate between reality and ideology for profit, but this movie represented an Epic of early American History. Wyatt was called in by higher authority to quash the (Red Sash) outlaws and were not searching for silver gains as many a movie portray. Later, Johnny Ringo was terminated, but fast Doc Holliday was in Colorado dying from Tuberculosis.
It was Wyatt with the slow steady aim who assigned Johnny Ringo to the afterlife.
Very few actors have changed physical appearance for representation of a role. Dennis endured 1000 calories/day for several months to achieve Doc Holliday’s actual physical appearance.
Wyatt Earp at about age 33
|Born||March 19, 1848
Monmouth, Illinois, U.S.A.
|Died||January 13, 1929 (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
|Occupation||Gambler, lawman, buffalo hunter, saloon keeper, gold/copper miner|
|Known for||Gunfight at the O.K. Corral|
|Opponent(s)||William Brocius, Frank McLaury|
|Spouse||Urilla Sutherland (wife)
Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock(Common law wife)
Josephine Sarah Marcus(Common law wife)
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 – January 13, 1929) was an American gambler, investor, and law enforcement officer who served in several Western frontier towns. He was also at different times a farmer, teamster, bouncer, saloon-keeper, miner and boxing referee. He is most well known for his part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral during which three outlawCowboys were killed. The 30-second gunfight would define the rest of his life. Earp’s modern-day reputation is that of Old West’s “toughest and deadliest gunman of his day.”
Earp spent his early life in Iowa. After his first wife, Urilla Sutherland Earp, died he was arrested, sued twice, escaped from jail, and was arrested three times for “keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame“. He landed in the cattle boomtown of Wichita, Kansas where he became a deputy marshal for one year and developed a solid reputation as a lawman. In 1876 he followed his brother James to Dodge City, Kansas where he became an assistant marshal. In the winter of 1878 he went to Texas to gamble where he met John Henry “Doc” Holliday whom Earp credited with saving his life.
Continually drawn to boomtowns and opportunity, Earp left Dodge City in 1879 and with his brothers James and Virgil, moved to Tombstone, Arizona. The Earps bought an interest in the Vizina mine and some water rights. There, the Earps clashed with a loose federation of outlaw Cowboys. Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt held various law enforcement positions that put them in conflict with Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, Billy Clanton, and Ike Clanton, who threatened to kill the Earps. The conflict escalated over the next year, culminating on October 26, 1881 in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which the Earps and Holliday killed three of the Cowboys. In the next two months Virgil was ambushed and maimed, and Morgan was assassinated. Wyatt, his brother Warren, Holliday, and others pursued the Cowboys they thought responsible in a vendetta.
After leaving Tombstone, Earp continually invested in various mining interests and saloons. He and his third wife in their later years moved between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, where the town of Earp, California was named after him. Although his brother Virgil had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, and marshal, because Wyatt outlived Virgil and due to a largely fictionalized biography written by Stuart Lake that made Wyatt famous, he has been the subject of and model for a large number of movies, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19, 1848, to widower Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey. From his father’s first marriage, Wyatt had an elder half-brother, Newton, and a half-sister Mariah Ann, who died at the age of ten months. Wyatt was named after his father’s commanding officer in the Mexican-American War, Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp, of the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers. In March 1849, the Earps left Monmouth for California but settled in Iowa. Their new farm consisted of 160 acres (0.65 km2), 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Pella, Iowa.
On March 4, 1856, Earp’s father sold his farm and returned to Turtle, Illinois, where he was elected the municipal constable, serving at this post for about three years. He was caught and convicted in 1859 for bootlegging; being unable to pay the fines the Earp’s property was sold at auction in November 1859, and the family left again for Pella, Iowa. After their move, Earp’s father returned often to Monmouth, throughout 1860, to sell his properties and to face several lawsuits for debt and accusations of tax evasion.:14
During the family’s second stay in Pella, the American Civil War began. Newton, James, and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11, 1861. Although, at thirteen, Wyatt was too young, he later tried on several occasions to run away and join the army, only to have his father find him and bring him home. While his father was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, Wyatt—with the help of his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren—was left in charge of tending an 80-acre (32 ha) crop of corn. After being severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, James returned home, in the summer of 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later returned. On May 12, 1864, the Earp family joined a wagon train heading to California.
By late summer 1865, Virgil found work as a driver for Phineas Banning‘s Stage Coach Line in California’s Imperial Valley, and 16 year old Wyatt assisted. In the spring of 1866, Wyatt Earp became a teamster, transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. His assigned trail for 1866–1868 was from Wilmington, California, to Prescott, Arizona Territory on the route from San Bernardino throughLas Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. In the spring of 1868, Earp was hired by Charles Chrisman to transport supplies for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. He learned gambling and boxing while working on the railhead in Wyoming, and refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.
In the spring of 1868, the Earps moved east again to Lamar, Missouri, where Wyatt’s father Nicholas became the local constable. Wyatt rejoined the family the next year. When Nicholas resigned on November 17, 1869 as constable to become the justice of the peace, Wyatt was appointed constable in his place. On November 26 and in return for his appointment, Earp filed a bond of $1,000. His sureties for this bond were his father, Nicholas Porter Earp; his paternal uncle, Jonathan Douglas Earp (April 28, 1824–October 20, 1900); and James Maupin.
In late 1869, Wyatt met Urilla Sutherland (1849–c.1870), the daughter of hotel-keeper William and Permelia Sutherland, formerly of New York City. They married in Lamar on January 10, 1870 and in August 1870 bought a lot on the outskirts of town for $50. Urilla was pregnant with and about to deliver their first child when she died from Typhoid fever later that year. In November, 1870 Wyatt sold the lot and a house on it for $75. He ran against his elder half-brother Newton for the office of constable, winning by 137 votes to Newton’s 108.
After Urilla died, Wyatt began having a number of legal problems. On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against Earp and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar, with the collected money intended to fund the local schools; Earp was accused of failing to deliver the fees. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against Wyatt, alleging that he had falsified court documents about the amount of money Earp had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgment. To make up the difference between what Earp turned in and Cromwell owed (and claimed he had paid), the court seized Cromwell’s mowing machine and sold it for $38. Cromwell’s suit claimed Earp owed him $75, the estimated value of the machine.
On March 28, 1871 Wyatt, Edward Kennedy and John Shown were charged for each stealing two horses, “each of the value of one hundred dollars”, from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the charges. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14. Bail was set at $500. On May 15, an indictmentagainst Earp, Kennedy and Shown was issued. Anna Shown, John Shown’s wife, claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life in order to get his help. However, on June 5, Edward Kennedy was acquitted, while the case against Earp and John Shown remained. Earp didn’t wait for the trial. He climbed out through the roof of his jail and headed for Peoria, Illinois.
Wyatt’s biographer Lake reported that Wyatt took to hunting buffalo during the winter of 1871-72, but Earp was arrested three times in the Peoria area during that period. Earp is listed in the city directory for Peoria during 1872 as a resident in the house of Jane Haspel, who operated a brothel. In February 1872, Peoria police raided the brothel, arresting four women and three men: Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. Wyatt and the others were charged with “Keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame.” They were later fined twenty dollars plus costs for the criminal infraction. He was arrested for the same crime in May 1872 and late September 1872. It’s not known if he was a pimp. He may have been an enforcer or bouncer. He may have hunted buffalo during 1873-74 before he went to Wichita.
Like Ellsworth, Wichita was a train terminal which was a destination for cattle drives originating in Texas. Such cattle boomtowns on the frontier were raucous places filled with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating at the end of long drives. When the summer-time cattle drives ended and the cowboys left, Earp was searching for something to do. In October 1874, he earned a bit of money helping an off duty police officer find thieves who had stolen a man’s wagon. He got his name in the paper. Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal’s office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal or police chief, making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon.:135 While in Dodge City, he became acquainted with Bat Masterson, Luke Short, and Celia Anne “Mattie” Blaylock who worked as a prostitute. She became Earp’s companion until 1881. When Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1879, she accompanied him to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then Tombstone, Arizona.:47:152
In late 1875, the local paper (Wichita Beacon) published this story::209
On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the ‘cooler’ and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.
Earp was embarrassed in early 1876 when his loaded single-action revolver fell out of his holster while he was leaning back on a chair and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. The bullet went through his coat and out through the ceiling.
Wyatt’s stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876, when Earp took too active an interest in the city marshal’s election. According to news accounts, former marshal Bill Smith accused Wyatt of using his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Wyatt got into a fistfight with Smith and beat him. Meagher was forced to fire and arrest Earp for disturbing the peace, the end of a tour of duty which the papers called otherwise “unexceptionable.” When Meagher won the election, the city council was split evenly on re-hiring Earp. When his brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt joined him.
Bat Masterson (left) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876. The scroll on Earp’s chest is a cloth pin-on badge
After 1875, Dodge City, Kansas became a major terminal for cattle brought up from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City under Marshal Larry Deger in 1876. There is evidence that Earp spent the winter of 1876–77 in another boomtown, Deadwood, Dakota Territory.:31 He was not on the police force in Dodge City in late 1877, and rejoined the force in the spring of 1878. The Dodge newspaper reported in July 1878 that he had been fined $1.00 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell, who (according to the papers) “…heaped epithets upon the unoffending head of Mr. Earp to such an extent as to provide a slap from the ex-officer…” Bell spent the night in jail and was fined $20.00, while Earp’s fine was the legal minimum.
In October 1877, Earp left Dodge City to gamble throughout Texas.:31 He stopped at Fort Griffin, Texas before returning to Dodge City in 1878 to become the assistant city marshal, serving under Charlie Bassett. He may have met John Henry “Doc” Holliday while in Texas. In the summer of 1878, Holliday assisted Earp during a bar room confrontation when Wyatt “was surrounded by desperadoes.” Wyatt said Holliday saved his life. They became friends as a result.
At about 3:00 in the morning of July 26, 1878, George Hoyt (spelled in some accounts as “Hoy”) and other drunken cowboys shot their guns wildly, including three shots into the Comique Theater, causing comedian Eddie Foy to throw himself to the stage floor in the middle of his act. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and Policeman James Masterson responded and “together with several citizens, turned their pistols loose in the direction of the flying horsemen.” As the riders crossed the Arkansas river bridge south of town, George Hoyt “fell from his horse from weakness caused by a wound in the arm which he had received during the fracas. Hoyt developed gangrene and died on August 21. Earp claimed to have sighted on Hoyt against the morning horizon and to have fired the fatal shot, but Hoyt could easily have been shot by Masterson or one of the citizens in the crowd.
Wyatt’s older brother Virgil was in Prescott, Arizona Territory in 1879 and wrote Wyatt about the opportunities in the nearby silver-mining boom town of Tombstone. In the fall of 1879, Wyatt, his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim and his wife, and Doc Holliday and his common-law wife Big Nose Kate, all left for Arizona. They stopped in Las Vegas, New Mexico and at other locations, arriving in Prescott in November. The three Earps moved with their wives to Tombstone while Doc remained in Prescott where the gambling afforded better opportunities. Tombstone had grown from less than 100 souls in March 1879 to about 1000 in less than a year.:50 On November 27, 1879, three days before moving to Tombstone, Virgil was appointed by U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory Crawley P. Dake as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Tombstone mining district, some 280 miles (450 km) from Prescott. The Deputy U.S. Marshal in Tombstone represented federal authority in the southeast area of the territory.
Wyatt brought horses and a buckboard wagon that he planned to convert into a stagecoach, but on arrival he found two established stage lines already running. In Tombstone, the Earps staked mining claims and water rights interests, attempting to capitalize on the mining boom. Jim worked as a barkeep. On December 6, 1879, the three Earps and Robert J. Winders filed a location notice for the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid Mine. When none of their business interests proved fruitful, Wyatt was hired in April or May 1880 by Wells, Fargo & Co. agent John Clum as a shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they transported Wells Fargo strongboxes.:54 In the summer of 1880, younger brothers Morgan arrived from Montana and Warren Earpmoved to Tombstone as well. In September, Wyatt’s friend Doc Holliday arrived from Prescott.
On July 25, 1880, Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp accused Frank McLaury of stealing six Army mules from Camp Rucker. McLaury was a Cowboy, which in that time and region was generally regarded as an outlaw. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers. Stealing the mules was a federal offense because the animals were U.S. property. The Army representative and Earp caught the McLaurys in the act of changing the “U.S.” brand to “D.8.” To avoid a gunfight, the posse withdrew with the understanding that the mules would be returned, which they were not. In response, the Army’s representative published an account in the papers, damaging Frank McLaury’s reputation. U.S. Army Captain Hurst cautioned Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, that the cowboys had made threats against their lives. A month later Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him if he ever followed them as he had done before, they would kill him.
On July 28, Wyatt was appointed deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County which included Tombstone. But Wyatt only served for about three months. The deputy sheriff’s position was worth more than USD$40,000 a year (about $907,310 today) because he was also county assessor and tax collector, and the board of supervisors allowed him to keep ten percent of the amounts paid.:157
On October 28, 1880, popular Tombstone town marshal Fred White attempted to break up a group of late night, drunken revelers shooting at the moon on Allen Street in Tombstone. Wyatt Earp was nearby, though unarmed. He borrowed a pistol from Fred Dodge and went to assist White. When White grabbed Curly Bill Brocius pistol, the gun discharged, striking White in the left testicle.:117 Wyatt pistol-whipped Brocius, knocking him to the ground. Then he grabbed Brocius by the collar and told him to get up. Brocius protested, asking, “What have I done?:117
Fred Dodge arrived on the scene. In a letter to Stewart Lake many years later, he recalled what he saw.
Wyatt’s coolness and nerve never showed to better advantage than they did that night. When Morg and reached him, Wyatt was squatted on his heels beside Curly Bill and Fred White. Curly Bill’s friends were pot-shooting at him in the dark. The shooting was lively and slug were hitting the chimney and cabin… in all of that racket, Wyatt’s voice was even and quiet as usual.:117
Wyatt told his biographer many years later that he thought Brocious was still armed at the time and didn’t see Brocius’ pistol on the ground in the dark until afterward. The pistol contained one expended cartridge and five live rounds.:118 Brocius waived a preliminary hearing so he and his case could be transferred to Tucson District Court. Virgil and Wyatt escorted Brocius to Tucson to stand trial, possibly saving him from a lynching. White, age 31, died of his wound two days after his shooting.:119
On December 27, 1880, Wyatt testified that White’s shooting was accidental. Brocius expressed regret, saying he had not intended to shoot White. It was also shown that Brocius’ single action revolver could be fired when half-cocked. A statement from White before he died was introduced stating that the shooting was accidental. The judge ruled that the shooting was accidental and released Brocius. Brocius remained intensely angry about how Wyatt pistol whipped him and became an enemy to the Earps.
In the personal arena, 32-year-old Wyatt Earp and 35-year-old Johnny Behan shared an interest in the same beautiful 18-year-old woman, Josephine Sarah Marcus. She first visited Tombstone as part of the Pauline Markham Theatre Troupe on December 1, 1879 for a one-week engagement, the same day as Wyatt and his brothers, though it’s not known if they met at that time.:19or May 12, 1881:59 Behan arrived in Tombstone in September 1880 and Marcus returned from a visit to San Francisco in October when they resumed their relationship.
In the summer of 1881, Marcus found Behan in bed with the wife of a friend and kicked him out. Earp had until this time a common-law relationship with Mattie Blaylock, who was listed as his wife in the 1880 census. She suffered from severe headaches and became addicted to laudanum, a commonly used opiate and pain killer. The exact details of how Marcus and Wyatt developed a relationship are not known. Marcus and Wyatt went to great lengths to keep her name out of Lake’s book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall, and Marcus threatened litigation to keep it that way.:101
In the professional and political arena, Earp and Behan competed for the position of Cochise County sheriff. The job was potentially very lucrative because the office holder was also county assessor and tax collector. The board of supervisors allowed the office holder to keep ten percent of the amounts paid.:157
Wyatt was initially appointed deputy sheriff by Democrat County Sheriff Charlie Shibell on July 28, 1880.:65 Wyatt passed on his Wells Fargo job as shotgun messenger to Morgan. Wyatt did his job well, and from August through November his name was mentioned nearly every week by the Epitaph or the Nugget newspapers.
In November, just three months later, Shibell ran for re-election against Republican challenger Bob Paul. Wyatt, a Republican, favored Paul, and when Shibell won the election, Wyatt resigned on November 9, 1880, only twelve days after the White shooting. Shibell immediately appointed Behan as the new Pima deputy sheriff for eastern Pima County.
However, Paul filed charges alleging that Cowboy supporters Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury had cooperated in ballot stuffing. Paul was eventually declared the winner of the Pima County sheriff election in April 1881. But by that time Paul could not replace Behan with Earp because on January 1, 1881, Cochise County was created out of the eastern portion ofPima County.
Both Earp and Behan applied to fill the new position of Cochise County sheriff. Earp thought he had a good chance to win the position because he was the former undersheriff in the region and a Republican, like Arizona Territorial Governor John C. Fremont. However, Behan had political influence in Prescott.
Earp testified during the Spicer hearing after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that he and Behan had made a deal. If Earp withdrew his application to the legislature, Behan agreed to appoint Earp as undersheriff. Behan received the appointment in February 1881, but did not keep his end of the bargain and instead chose Harry Woods, a prominent Democrat. Behan testified at first that he had not made any deal with Earp, although he later admitted he had lied. Behan said he broke his promise to appoint Earp because of an incident that occurred shortly before his appointment.
This incident arose after Earp learned that one of his prize horses, stolen more than a year before, was in the possession of Ike Clanton and his brother Billy. Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse. On the way, they overtook Behan, who was riding in a wagon. Behan was also heading to the ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike Clanton. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Earp later testified that when he arrived at the Clanton ranch, Billy Clanton gave up the horse even before being presented with ownership papers. According to Behan’s testimony, however, Earp had told the Clantons that Behan was on his way to arrest them for horse theft. After the incident, which embarrassed both the Clantons and Behan, Behan testified that he did not want to work with Earp and chose Woods instead.
Losing the undersheriff position left Wyatt Earp without a job in Tombstone; however, Wyatt and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area. In January 1881, Oriental Saloon owner Lou Rickabaugh gave Wyatt Earp a one-quarter interest in the Faro concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer.:41 Wyatt invited his friend, lawman and gambler Bat Masterson, to Tombstone to help him run the faro tables in the Oriental Saloon. In June 1881, Wyatt also telegraphed another friend and gambler from Dodge, Luke Short, who was living in Leadville, Colorado, and offered him a job as a faro dealer.
Bat remained until April, 1881, when he returned to Dodge City to assist his brother Jim.:206:206 On October 8, 1881 Doc Holliday got into a dispute with John Tyler in the Oriental Saloon. A rival gambling concession operator hired Tyler to make trouble at the Oriental and disrupt Wyatt’s business. When Tyler started a fight after losing a bet, Wyatt threw him out of the saloon.
Holliday later wounded Oriental owners Milt Joyce and his partner Lou Rickabaugh and was convicted of assault. Around this time Earp saved gambler Mike O’Rourke (“Johnny Behind the Deuce”) from being hanged after he was arrested for murdering a miner. O’Rourke said he killed the miner in self-defense. Earp stood down a large crowd that wanted to lynch O’Rourke, an incident that added to Earp’s legend as a lawman.:39
Tensions between the Earps and both the Clantons and McLaurys increased through 1881. On March 15, 1881 at 10:00 pm, three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying USD$26,000 in silver bullion (about $589,752 in today’s dollars) near Benson, during which the popular driver Eli “Budd” Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.
The Earps and a posse tracked the men down and arrested Luther King, who confessed he had been holding the reins for Bill Leonard, Harry “The Kid” Head, and Jim Crane as the robbers. King was arrested and Sheriff Johnny Behan escorted him to jail, but somehow King walked in the front door and almost immediately out the back door.
During the hearing into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt testified that he offered the USD$3,600 in Wells Fargo reward money ($1,200 per robber) to Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury in return for information about the identities of the three robbers. Wyatt testified that he had other motives for his plan as well: he hoped that arresting the murderers would boost his chances for election as Cochise County sheriff.
According to Earp, both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton agreed to provide information to assist in their capture, but never had a chance to fulfill the agreement. All three cowboy suspects in the stage robbery were killed when attempting other robberies. Wyatt told the court at the hearing after the O.K. Corral shootout that he had taken the extra step of obtaining a second copy of a telegram for Ike from Wells Fargo assuring that the reward for capturing the killers applied either dead or alive. In his testimony at the court hearing, Clanton offered different testimony about the incident and accused Earp of leaking their deal to his brother Morgan or to Holliday.:42
He said that Morgan Earp had asked him about whether he would make the agreement with Wyatt, and four or five days afterward Morgan confided in him that he and Wyatt had “piped off $1,400 to Doc Holliday and Bill Leonard” who were supposed to be on the stage the night Bud Philpot was killed. During his testimony, Clanton told the court “I was not going to have anything to do with helping to capture—” and then he corrected himself “—kill Bill Leonard, Crane and Harr.” Ike Clanton denied having any knowledge of the telegram confirming the reward money.
Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased with the holdup of another stage in the Tombstone area on September 8, this one a passenger stage in the Sandy Bob line, bound for nearby Bisbee. The masked robbers shook down the passengers and robbed the strongbox. They were recognized by their voices and language. They were identified as Pete Spence(an alias for Elliot Larkin Ferguson) and Frank Stilwell, a business partner of Spence who had shortly before been fired as a deputy of Sheriff Behan’s (for county tax “accounting irregularities”). Spence and Stilwell were friends of the McLaury brothers. Wyatt and Virgil Earp rode with the sheriff’s posse attempting to track the Bisbee stage robbers, and Wyatt discovered an unusual boot heel print in the mud. They checked with a shoemaker in Bisbee and found a matching heel that he had just removed from Stilwell’s boot. A further check of a Bisbee corral turned up both Spence and Stilwell. Stilwell and Spence were arrested by sheriff’s deputies Breakenridge and Nagel for the stage robbery, and later by Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp on the federal offense of mail robbery.
Released on bail, Spence and Stilwell were re-arrested by Virgil for the Bisbee robbery a month later, October 13, on the new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier. The newspapers, however, reported that they had been arrested for a different stage robbery that occurred (October 8) near Contention City. Occurring less than two weeks before the O.K. Corral shootout, this final incident may have been misunderstood by the McLaurys. While Wyatt and Virgil were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearing, Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp, telling him that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or the McLaurys again.:43
On Wednesday, October 26, 1881, the tension between the Earps and the Cowboys came to a head. Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and other Cowboys had been threatening to kill the Earps for several weeks. Tombstone city Marshal Virgil Earp learned that the Cowboys were armed and had gathered near the O.K. Corral. He asked Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday to assist him, as he intended to disarm them. Wyatt was acting as a temporary assistant marshal, Morgan was a Deputy City Marshall, and Virgil deputized Holliday for the occasion. At approximately 3:00 p.m. the Earps headed towards Fremont Street where the Cowboys had been reported gathering.
They confronted five Cowboys in a vacant lot adjacent to the O.K. Corral’s rear entrance on Fremont street. The lot between the Harwood House and Fly’s Boarding House and Photography Studio was narrow—the two parties were initially only about 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) apart. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled the gunfight. Tom and Frank McLaury along with Billy Clanton were killed. Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back that nicked both shoulder blades and a vertebra. Virgil was shot through the calf and Holliday was grazed by a bullet.
On October 30, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Justice Spicer convened a preliminary hearing on October 31 to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial. In an unusual proceeding, he took written and oral testimony from a number of witnesses over more than a month.
Sheriff Behan, testifying for the prosecution, said the Cowboys had not resisted but either thrown up their hands and turned out their coats to show they were not armed. He said that Tom McLaury threw open his coat to show that he was not armed and that the first two shots were fired by the Earp party. Sheriff Behan insisted Doc Holliday had fired first using a nickle-plated revolver when he had been seen carrying a messenger shotgun immediately beforehand.
The Earps hired an experienced trial lawyer, Thomas Fitch, as defense counsel. Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols. He detailed the Earps’ previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys and explained that they intended to disarm the cowboys. He said they fired in self-defense. Fitch managed to produce testimony from prosecution witnesses during cross-examination that was contradictory and appeared to dodge the question.
After extensive testimony, Justice Spicer ruled on November 30 that that there was not enough evidence to indict the men. He said the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and that Holliday and Wyatt had been deputized temporarily by Virgil. Even though the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputations had been tarnished. Supporters of the Cowboys in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as robbers and murderers and plotted revenge.
On December 28, while walking between saloons on Allen Street in Tombstone, Virgil was ambushed and maimed by a shotgun round that struck his left arm and shoulder. Ike Clanton’s hat was found in the back of the building across Allen Street from where the shots were fired. Wyatt wired U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake asking to be appointed deputy U.S. marshal with authority to select his own deputies. Dake granted the request in late January and provided the Earps with some funds he borrowed from Wells, Fargo & Co. on behalf of the Earps, variously reported as $500:238 to $3,000.:238
In mid-January, when Earp ally Rickabaugh sold the Oriental Saloon to Earp adversary Milt Joyce, Wyatt sold his gambling concessions at the hotel. The Earps also raised some funds from sympathetic business owners in town. On February 2, 1882, Wyatt and Virgil, tired of the criticism leveled against them, submitted their resignations to Dake, who refused to accept them because their accounts had not been settled.:470On the same day, Wyatt sent a message to Ike Clanton that he wanted to reconcile their differences, which Clanton refused. Clanton was also acquitted that day of the charges against him in the shooting of Virgil Earp, when the defense brought in seven witnesses who testified that Clanton was in Charleston at the time of the shooting.:242
The Earps needed more funds to pay for the extra deputies and associated expenses. Contributions received from supportive business owners were not enough. On February 13, Wyatt mortgaged his home to lawyer James G. Howard for $365.00 (about $8,279 today) and received $365.00 in U.S. gold coin. (He was never able to repay the loan and in 1884 Howard foreclosed on the house.)
After attending a theater show on March 18, Morgan Earp was assassinated by gunmen firing from a dark alley through a door window into room where he was playing billiards. Morgan was struck in the right side. The bullet shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and lodged in the thigh of George A.B. Berry. Another round narrowly missed Wyatt. A doctor was summoned and Morgan was moved from the floor to a nearby couch. The assassins escaped in the dark and Morgan died forty minutes later.
The day after Morgan’s murder, Wyatt, his brother James, and a group of friends took Morgan’s body to the railhead in Benson. They put Morgan’s body on the train with James, to accompany it to the family home in Colton, California, where Morgan’s wife waited to bury him. They guarded Virgil and Addie through to Tucson, where they had heard Frank Stilwell and other Cowboys were waiting to kill Virgil. The next morning Frank Stilwell’s body was found alongside the tracks riddled with buckshot and gunshot wounds. Wyatt and five others were accused of murdering him and Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued warrants for their arrest.
The Earp posse briefly returned to Tombstone where Sheriff Behan tried to stop them. The heavily armed posse brushed him aside and set out for Pete Spence’s wood camp in the Dragoon Mountains. They found and killed Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz. Two days later, near Iron Springs (later Mescal Springs), in the Whetstone Mountains, they were seeking to rendezvous with a messenger for them, until they, unexpectedly, stumbled onto the camp of Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Diehl, and other Cowboys. The witness reports from both sides, explained both the Cowboys and the Earp Party, immediately, exchanged gun fire. A few of the Earp party members withdrew to protection from the heavy gunfire.
Curly Bill then fired at Wyatt with a shotgun, but missed. Eighteen months prior Wyatt had protected Curly Bill against a mob ready to lynch him and then provided testimony that helped spare Curly Bill from a murder trial for killing Sheriff Fred White. Now, Wyatt returned Curly Bill’s gunfire with his own shotgun and shot Curly Bill in the chest from about 50 feet (15 m) away, he fell into the water by the edge of the spring and died. The Cowboys fired a multiple of shots at the Earp party but only Texas Jack Vermillion’s horse was struck and killed.
Wyatt received bullet holes in both sides of his long coat and another struck his boot heel. Firing his pistol, Wyatt shot Johnny Barnes, mortally wounding him, in the chest and Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys’ gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him gain cover. Wyatt had trouble remounting on his horse due to a cartridge belt that had slipped down his legs. He was finally able to get atop the horse, and while the shootout was diminishing, the Earp posse retreated into the desert.
The Earp Party rode north to the Percy Ranch, but were not welcomed by Hugh and Jim Percy, who feared the Cowboys; after a meal and some rest, they left at about 3:00 a.m. in the morning of March 27. The Earp party slipped into the area near Tombstone and met with supporters, including “Charlie” Smith and Warren Earp. On March 27, the posse arrived at the Sierra Bonita ranch of Henry C. Hooker, a wealthy and prominent rancher.
That night Dan Tipton caught the first stage out of Tombstone and headed for Benson, carrying $1,000 from mining owner and Earp supporter E.B. Gage for the posse. Hooker congratulated Earp on the murder of Curly Bill. Hooker fed them and Wyatt told him he wanted to buy new mounts, but Hooker refused to the take money. When Behan’s posse was observed in the distance, Hooker suggested Wyatt make his stand there, but Wyatt moved into the hills about three miles distant near Reilly Hill.
The Earp posse did not meet with the posse, led by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, searching for the Earps, and in the middle of April 1882 the Earp party fled the Arizona territory, heading east into New Mexico Territory and then into Colorado. :263
The coroner reports credited the Earp party with killing four men in their two-week long ride. In 1888 Wyatt Earp gave an interview to California historian H. H. Bancroft during which he claimed to have killed “over a dozen stage robbers, murderers, and cattle thieves” in his time as a lawman.
In Wyatt’s later years, he lived in Los Angeles and was a technical advisor on several silent cowboy films. He befriended a young actor named Marion Morrison (who later changed his name to John Wayne) and regaled the young thespian with tales of the Old West.
Enthralled, the young Duke used to fetch Wyatt cups of coffee. Wayne later claimed his portrayals of cowboys and Western lawmen were based on these conversations with Wyatt Earp.
The gunfight in Tombstone lasted only 30 seconds, but it would end up defining Earp for the rest of his life.:135 After Wyatt killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson, his movements received national press coverage and he became a known commodity in Western folklore.
After killing Curley Bill, the Earps left Arizona for Colorado. They stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they met Deputy U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson, Wyatt’s friend. The Earps, Sherman McMasters, and Holliday rode with Masterson to Trinidad, Colorado where Masterson owned a saloon. Wyatt dealt Faro for several weeks before he, Warren, Holliday, and several others rode on to Gunnison, Colorado.
Holliday headed to Pueblo and then Denver. The Earps and Texas Jack set up camp on the outskirts of Gunnison, Colorado, where they remained quietly at first, rarely going into town for supplies. Eventually, Wyatt took over a faro game at a local saloon.:66
As he lay dying, Holliday is reported to have asked the nurse attending him at the Hotel Glenwood for a shot of whiskey. When she told him no, he looked at his bootless feet, amused. The nurses said that his last words were, “This is funny.” He always figured he would be killed someday with his boots on. Holliday died at 10 am on November 8, 1887. He was 36. Wyatt Earp did not learn of Holliday’s death until two months afterward.
After Morgan Earp‘s assassination, Wyatt’s former common-law wife, Celia Anne “Mattie” Blaylock, waited for him in Colton but eventually accepted that Wyatt was not coming back. Wyatt left Mattie their house when he left Tombstone. She moved to Pinal City, Arizona and resumed life as a prostitute. Wyatt instead went to San Francisco and joined Josephine, Warren and Virgil in late 1882. Josie, or Sadie as he called her, was his common-law wife for the next forty-six years.:29 Mattie struggled with her addictions and committed “suicide by opium poisoning” on July 3, 1888.
The “Dodge City Peace Commission,” June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.
On May 31, 1883, Earp returned along with Bat Masterson to Dodge City to help Luke Short, part owner of the Long Branch saloon, during what became known as the Dodge City War. When the Mayor tried to run Luke Short first out of business and then out of town, Short appealed to Masterson who contacted Earp. While Short was discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick in Kansas City, Earp showed up with Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green. They marched up Front Street into Short’s saloon where they were sworn in as deputies by constable “Prairie Dog” Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused to compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. Short’s Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without a shot being fired.:67
Earp spent the next decade running saloons and gambling concessions and investing in mines in Colorado and Idaho, with stops in various boom towns. He also owned several saloons outright or in partnership with others.
In 1884, Wyatt and his wife Josie, Warren, James and Bessie Earp were in Eagle, Idaho, another boom town. Wyatt was looking for gold in the Murray-Eagle mining district. They opened a saloon called The White Elephant in a circus tent. An advertisement in a local newspaper suggests gentlemen ‘come and see the elephant'”.
Earp was named sheriff of the newly incorporated Kootenai County, Idaho. In Idaho Wyatt was involved in a brief shootout. On March 28, several feet of snow was still on the ground. Bill Buzzard, a miner of dubious reputation, began constructing a building when one of Wyatt’s partners, Jack Enright, tried to stop the construction. Enright claimed the building was on part of his property. Words were exchanged and Buzzard reached for his Winchester. He fired several shots at Enright and a skirmish developed. Allies of both sides quickly took defensive positions between snowbanks and began shooting at one another. Kootanie County Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp and Shoshone County Deputy W. E. Hunt ended the fight.
In about April 1885, it was reported that Wyatt Earp used his badge to join a band of claim jumpers in Embry Camp, later renamed Chewelah, Washington. Within six months their substantial stake had run dry, and the Earps left the Murray-Eagle district.
In 1885, Earp and Josie moved to San Diego where the railroad was about to arrive and a real estate boom was underway. They stayed for about four years. Earp speculated in San Diego’s booming real estate market. Between 1887 and around 1896 he bought three saloons and gambling halls, one on Fourth Street and the other two near Sixth and E, all in the “respectable” part of town. They offered twenty-one games including faro, blackjack, poker, keno, and other Victorian games of chance like pedro and monte. At the height of the boom, he made up to $1,000 a night in profit. Wyatt particularly favored and may have run the Oyster Bar located in the Louis Bank of Commerce on Fifth Avenue.:71 In 2003, the Oyster Bar saloon was converted into a restaurant by former San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock who opened Roger’s On Fifth. Wyatt had a long-standing interest in boxing and horse racing. In the 1887 San Diego City Directory he was listed as a capitalist or gambler. He won his first race horse “Otto Rex” and began investing in racehorses. He also judged prize fights on both sides of the border and raced horses. Earp was one of the judges at the County Fair horse races held in Escondido in 1889.
The Earps moved back to San Francisco in 1890 or 1893 so Josie could be closer to her family. Wyatt took a job managing a horse stable in Santa Rosa. Earp developed a reputation as a sportsman as well as a gambler. His first race horse, Otto Rex, was won in a card game. He owned a six-horse stable in San Francisco. At Santa Rosa, Earp personally competed in and won a harness race. From 1890 to 1897, they lived at four different residences in the city: 145 Ellis St., 720 McAllister St., 514A Seventh Ave. and 1004 Golden Gate Ave.:171 Josephine wrote in I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus, that she and Wyatt were married in 1892 by the captain of multimillionaire Lucky Baldwin‘s yacht aboard his yacht. Raymond Nez wrote that his grandparents witnessed their marriage aboard a yacht off the California coast. Baldwin also owned the Santa Anita racetrack which Wyatt, a long-time lover of horseflesh, frequented when they were in Los Angeles.
During the summer of 1896, Earp began to write his memoirs with the help of John H. Flood, who he had hired as his secretary.
On December 2, 1896, Earp refereed a heavyweight boxing match at Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. He had refereed 30 or so matches in earlier days, though not under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Fitzsimmons was favored to win, and bets flowed heavily his way. Wyatt entered the ring still armed with his Colt .45 and had to be disarmed. He later said he forgot he was wearing it. Fitzsimmons carried the fight until the eighth round when Wyatt stopped the bout on a foul, ruling that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey when he was down. His ruling was greeted with loud boos and catcalls. Earp based his decision on the Marquis of Queensbury rules which state in part, “A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes.” Very few witnessed the foul Earp ruled on. He awarded the decision to Sharkey, who attendants carried out as “limp as a rag.”
Fitzsimmons obtained an injunction against distributing the prize money until the courts could determine who the rightful winner was. The judge ruled that prize fighting was illegal in San Francisco and the courts would not determine who the real winner was. The decision provided no vindication for Earp and he soon left San Francisco for good. The San Francisco papers lampooned and scrutinized Wyatt for a full month, questioning his honesty. The San Francisco Call vilified him, calling him a crook and a cheat. Earp was accused of having a financial interest in the outcome.
In the fall of 1897, Earp and Josie joined in the Alaska Gold Rush and headed for Nome, Alaska. He operated a canteen during the summer of 1899 and in September, Earp and partner Charles E. Hoxie built the Dexter Saloon in Nome, Alaska, the city’s first two story wooden building and its largest and most luxurious saloon. The building was used for a variety of purposes because it was so large: 70 by 30 feet (21 × 9.1 m) with 12 feet (3.7 m) ceilings.
Wyatt Earp’s Northern Saloon, Tonopah, Nevada, circa 1902. The woman on the left is thought to have been Josie Earp.
Wyatt and Josie returned to California in 1901 with an estimated $80,000. In February, 1902, they arrived in Tonopah, Nevada, where gold had been discovered and a boom was under way. He opened the Northern Saloon in Tonopah, Nevada and served as a deputy U.S. Marshal under Marshal J.F. Emmitt. His saloon, gambling and mining interests were profitable for a period. Wyatt was arrested twice in Nome for minor offenses, including being drunk and disorderly, although he was not tried.
After Tonapah’s gold strike boom waned, Wyatt staked mining claims just outside Death Valley and elsewhere in the Mojave Desert. In 1906 he discovered several deposits of gold and copper near the Sonoran Desert town of Vidal, California on the Colorado River and filed more than 100 mining claims near the Whipple Mountains.:83 Wyatt and Josie Earp summered in Los Angeles and lived in at least nine small Los Angeles rentals as early as 1885 and as late as 1929, mostly in the summer. They bought a small cottage in Vidal and lived there during the fall, winter and spring months of 1925 – 1928, while he worked his “Happy Days” mines in the Whipple Mountains a few miles north. It was the only permanent residence they owned the entire time they were married. Wyatt had some modest success with the Happy Day Gold Mines and they lived on the slim proceeds of income from that and Kern County Oil.
In about 1910, at age 62, the Los Angeles police department hired Wyatt and former Los Angeles detective Arthur Moore King at $10.00 per day to carry out various tasks “outside the law” such as retrieving criminals from Mexico, which he did very capably. This led to Wyatt’s final armed confrontation. In October, 1910 he was asked by former Los Angeles Police Commissioner H. L. Lewis to head up a posse to protect surveyors of the American Trona Company who were attempting to wrest control of mining claims for vast deposits of potash on the edge of Searles Lake held in receivership by the foreclosed California Trona Company. Wyatt and the group he guarded were regarded as claim jumpers and were confronted by armed representatives of the other company. King wrote, “…that it was the nerviest thing he had ever seen.” With guns pulled, Wyatt came out of his tent with a Winchester rifle, firing a round at the feet of Federal Receiver Stafford W. Austin. “Back off or I’ll blow you apart, or my name is not Wyatt Earp”. The owners summoned the U.S. Marshal who arrested Earp and 27 others, served them with a summons for Contempt, and sent them home. Earp’s actions did not resolve the dispute which eventually escalated into the “Pot Ash Wars” of the Mojave Desert.
Earp eventually moved to Hollywood and became an unpaid film consultant for several silent cowboy movies. He met several well-known and soon to be famous actors on the sets of various movies. On the set of one movie, he met Marion Morrison, who served Earp coffee on the sets. Later assuming the name John Wayne, he later told Hugh O’Brian that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp. Director John Ford worked as an apprentice on the studio lots about the time that Wyatt Earp used to visit friends on the set, and Ford later claimed he reconstructed the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral based on Wyatt’s input.:234 In the early 1920s, Earp was given the honorary title of Deputy Sheriff in San Bernardino County, California.
The last surviving Earp brother, Wyatt Earp died at home in the Earps’ small apartment at 4004 W 17th Street, in Los Angeles, of chronic cystitis (some sources cite prostate cancer) on January 13, 1929 at the age of 80. His pallbearers were prominent men: George W. Parsons, Charles Welch, Fred Dornberge, Los Angeles Examiner writer Jim Mitchell, Hollywood screenwriterWilson Mizner, Earp’s good friend from his days in Tombstone, John Clum, and Western actors William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Mitchell wrote Wyatt’s obituary. The newspapers reported that Tom Mix cried during his friend’s service. His wife Josie was too grief-stricken to attend. Josie had Earp’s body cremated and buried Earp’s ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery (Josie was Jewish) in Colma, California.
According to his wife of 47 years, Wyatt’s last words, just before he died in January of 1929 were “Suppose, suppose…” Wyatt’s wife, friends, and biographers all have only made guesses at what he was about to say to complete his
Although it never was incorporated as a town, the settlement formerly known as Drennan located near the site of some of his mining claims was renamed Earp, California in his honor when the post office was established there in 1930.
When she died in 1944, Josie’s ashes were buried next to Earp’s. The original gravemarker was stolen on July 8, 1957 but was later recovered. Their gravesite is the most visited resting place in the Jewish cemetery.
Wyatt Earp’s modern-day reputation is that of Old West’s “toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day.” He is “a cultural icon, a man of law and order, a mythic figure of a West where social control and order were notably absent.” He has been portrayed in a number of film and books as a fearless Western hero.
Wyatt is often viewed as the central character and hero of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, at least in part because of all of his brothers, he was the only one who was never wounded nor killed. In gunfight after gunfight, from Wichita to Dodge City, during Tombstone and the Earp Vendetta Ride, Wyatt was never scratched, although his clothing was shot through with bullet holes. According to Flood’s biography, Wyatt vividly recalled a presence that in several instances warned him away or urged him to take action. This happened when he was on the street, alone in his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, at Bob Hatch’s Pool Hall, where he went moments before Morgan was murdered, and again when he approached Iron Springs and surprised Curly Bill Brocius, killing him.
He wasn’t a hard drinker. In fact, he wasn’t a drinker at all. No, the great Wyatt Earp, as macho as they come, never let liquor touch his lips. But he did have a vice: his love of ice cream. Every day in Tombstone, he would stop into the local ice cream parlor and indulge in a scoop.
Like his brothers, Wyatt Earp was a physically imposing figure for his day: 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, when most men were about 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m). He weighed about 165 to 170 pounds (75 to 77 kg), was broad-shouldered, long-armed, and all muscle. He was very capable of using his fists instead of his weapon to control those resisting his authority, and was reputed to be an expert with a pistol. He showed no fear of any man.:83 The Tombstone Epitaph said of Wyatt, “bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place.”
Virgil Earp actually held the legal authority in Tombstone the day of the shoot out. Virgil was both Tombstone City Marshall and Deputy U.S. Marshal. Virgil had considerably more experience with weapons and combat as a Union soldier in the Civil War, and in law enforcement as a sheriff, constable, and marshal than did Wyatt. As city marshal, Virgil made the decision to disarm the Cowboys in Tombstone. Wyatt was only a temporary assistant marshal to his brother. But because Wyatt outlived Virgil and due to a creative biography written by Stuart Lake that made Wyatt famous, his name became well-known and the subject of many movies, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction.
Public perception of his life has varied over the years as media accounts of his life have changed. The story of the Earps’ actions in Tombstone were published by newspapers nationwide. When citizens of Dodge City learned the Earps had been charged with murder after the gunfight, they sent letters endorsing and supporting them to Judge Wells Spicer.
Among his peers, Wyatt was respected. His deputy Jimmy Cairns described Wyatt’s work as a police officer in Wichita, Kansas. “Wyatt Earp was a wonderful officer. He was game to the last ditch and apparently afraid of nothing. The cowmen all respected him and seemed to recognize his superiority and authority at such times as he had to use it.”  He described Wyatt as “the most dependable man I ever knew; a quiet, unassuming chap who never drank and in all respects a clean young fellow.”
Wyatt’s manner, though friendly, suggested a quiet reserve… Frequently it has happened that men who have served as peace officers on the frontier have craved notoriety in connection with their dealings with the outlaw element of their time. Wyatt Earp deprecated such notoriety, and during his last illness he told me that for many years he had hoped the public would weary of the narratives—distorted with fantastic and fictitious embellishments—that were published from time to time concerning him, and that his last years might be passed in undisturbed obscurity.
Bill Dixon knew Wyatt early in his adult life. He wrote:
Wyatt was a shy young man with few intimates. With casual acquaintances he seldom spoke unless spoken to. When he did say anything it was to the point, without fear or favor, which wasn’t relished by some; but that never bothered Wyatt. To those who knew him well he was a genial companion. He had the most even disposition I ever saw; I never knew him to lose his temper. He was more intelligent, better educated, and far better mannered than the majority of his associates, which probably did not help them to understand him. His reserve limited his friendships, but more than one stranger, down on his luck, has had firsthand evidence of Wyatt’s generosity. I think his outstanding quality was the nicety with which he gauged the time and effort for every move. That, plus his absolute confidence in himself, gave him the edge over the run of men.
Famous lawman Bat Masterson described Wyatt in 1907.
Wyatt Earp was one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusions, that what goes for courage in a man is generally fear of what others will think of him – in other words, personal bravery is largely made up of self-respect, egotism, and apprehension of the opinions of others. Wyatt Earp’s daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn’t enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others, and it is his own good report he seeks to preserve… He never at any time in his career resorted to the pistol excepting cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fists, and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by nature.:150
After the shootout in Tombstone, his pursuit and murder of those who attacked his brothers, and after leaving Arizona, Wyatt was often in doubt about the public’s perception of his and his brothers’ reputation. His role in history has stimulated considerable ongoing scholarly and editorial debate. A large body of literature has been written about Wyatt Earp and his legacy, some of it highly fictionalized. Considerable portions of it are either full of admiration and flattery or hostile debunking.
Wyatt was repeatedly criticized in the media over the remainder of his life. His wife Sadie wrote, “The falsehoods that were printed in some of the newspapers about him and the unjust accusations against him hurt Wyatt more deeply than anything that ever happened to him during my life with the him, with the exception of his mother’s death and that of his father and brother, Warren.”:xiv
On April 16, 1894, the Fort Worth Gazette wrote that Virgil Earp and John Behan had a “deadly feud.” It described Behan as “an honest man, a good official, and possessed many of the attributes of a gentleman.” Earp, on the other hand, “was head of band of desperadoes, a partner in stage robbers, and a friend of gamblers and professional killers… Wyatt was the boss killer of the region.”
His handling of the Tom Sharkey – Bob Fitzsimmons boxing match in San Francisco on December 2, 1896 left a smear on his character. In late 1899, Wyatt opened a gambling concession in Seattle, Washington. On November 25, the local paper, the Seattle Star, described him as “a man of great reputation among the toughs and criminals, inasmuch as he formerly walked the streets of a rough frontier mining town with big pistols stuck in his belt, spurs on his boots and a devil-may-care expression upon his official face.” The Seattle Daily Times was less full of praise, announcing in a very small article that he had a reputation in Arizona as a “bad man.”
On March 12, 1922, the Sunday Los Angeles Times ran a scandalous article by J.M. Scanland about Wyatt’s life as a lawman. During the same year, Frederick R. Bechdolt published When the West Was Young, a story about Wyatt’s time in Tombstone, but he mangled many basic facts. He described the Earp-Clanton differences as the falling out of partners in crime. Both of these reports bothered Wyatt a great deal, but he remained stalwart. In 1924, a story in a San Francisco paper said interviewing him was “like pulling teeth”. Earp didn’t trust the press and he preferred to keep his mouth shut.:xiv
Expressing his dismay about the controversy that followed him his entire life, he wrote in a letter to John Hays Hammond on May 21, 1925, saying “notoriety had been the bane of my life.” But Earp told his biographer White in 1926, “For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done over again, I would do exactly as I did at that time. If the outlaws and their friends and allies imagined that they could intimidate or exterminate the Earps by a process of assassination, and then hide behind alibis and the technicalities of the law, they simply missed their guess.”
Finally attempting to counter the negative reporting, Earp tried to persuade Hart to make a movie about his life, feeling he had been unfairly depicted in the media. One of Earp’s friends in Hollywood was William S. Hart, a well-known cowboy movie star of his time. “If the story were exploited on the screen by you,” he wrote Hart, “it would do much toward setting me right before a public which has always been fed lies about me.” Hart encouraged Wyatt to find an author to pen his story. Wyatt worked with John Flood to get his life committed to paper.
In February 1926, Hart encouraged The Saturday Evening Post to publish John Flood’s biography so “that … the rising generation may know the real from the unreal.”, but Flood was a horrendous writer and publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript.:xvi
Author Walter Noble Burns visited Earp in September 1926 and asked Wyatt questions for the book he was writing about Doc Holliday. Wyatt told him he was working on his own book and turned him away. Burns visited Tombstone and based on what he learned about Wyatt decided instead to focus his book on him. He pestered Wyatt for facts, and on March 27 the next year, Wyatt finally responded to Burn’s repeated requests in an 11 page letter outlining the basic facts from Earp’s point of view.
When their efforts to get the Flood manuscript published failed, the Earps decided to appeal to Burns, whose own book was near publication. Burns responded and told them, “I should not now care to undertake another book which, in part at least, would be upon much the same lines… I should have been delighted six months ago to accept your offer but it is too late now. My book has championed Mr. Earp’s cause throughout and I believe will vindicate his reputation in Tombstone in a way that he will like.” When Burns turned them down, Josephine actively worked to stop the publication of his book, fearful that their efforts to publish Wyatt’s biography would be thwarted as a result.
In February 1927, Bobbs Merrill editor Anne Johnston wrote a painfully direct criticism of Flood’s writing. She said the language was “stilted, florid and diffuse.” She said, “Now one forgets what it’s all about in the clutter of unimportant details that impedes its pace, and the pompous manner of its telling.” Earp, Hart and Flood finally decided to turn to Burns. But he was not interested. His book was about to be published free of the constraints imposed by a collaboration with Earp.
In late 1927, Burns published Tombstone, An Iliad of the Southwest, a mesmerizing tale “of blood and thunder”, that christened Earp as the “Lion of Tombstone.”:xvi. Readers and reviewers found they had a difficult time discerning between “fact and fiction.” One reader notes, “Walter Noble Burns would become famous as one of the first authors to paint Wyatt Earp as the hero in white who saved Tombstone.”
In contrast, author Stuart N. Lake wrote that the Earps stood for law and order. He wrote the first biography of Earp, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal published in 1931, two years after Earp’s death. It portrayed Earp as a hero wherever he went. It drew considerable attention and established Lake as a writer for years to come. Lake sought Earp out, hoping to write a magazine article about him. Earp was seeking a biographer at about the same time. Lake wrote that the lawmen justifiably arrested some of the Cowboys, and when they resisted, fought the outlaws to a final finish.:36
However, later researchers have suggested that Lake’s account of Earp’s early life is embellished, for there is little corroborating evidence for many of his stories. Scholars and historians like Steve Gatto, Frank Waters, and Dr. Floyd B. Streeter have cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of Lake’s larger-than-life depiction of Wyatt Earp. Lake and Earp only met a few times, during which Earp sketched out the “barest facts” of his life for Lake.
Lake later told Burton Rascoe of the New York Herald Tribune that during his interviews Earp had been “inarticulate,” that “in speech, he was at best monosyllabic.” Lake told Frank Waters, author of The Earp Brothers of Tombstone, that Wyatt had not dictated a word of his book, never saw the edited manuscript, and died two years before the book was published.:9 Lake admitted many years afterward that he fabricated quotes and more when he wrote the book. He said he felt “journalistically justified in inventing the Earp manuscript.”
Lake’s creative biography and later Hollywood portrayals exaggerated Wyatt’s profile as a western lawman. Lake wrote another version of Wyatt’s story in 1946 that Director John Ford developed into the movie My Darling Clementine, which further boosted Wyatt’s reputation. The book later inspired a number of stories, movies and television programs about outlaws and lawmen in Dodge City and Tombstone, including the 1955 television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
One of the largest myths about Earp perpetrated by Lake was about a long-barreled revolver called the “Buntline Special“, a Colt six-shooter with a 12-inch barrel. Earp was described by Lake as using this weapon to pistol-whip and disarm cowboys who resisted town ordinances against carrying of firearms. Earp’s biography claimed the Specials were given to “famous lawmen” Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown by author Ned Buntline in return for “local color” for his western yarns. This is technically inaccurate since neither Tilghman nor Brown were lawmen then. Buntline wrote only four western yarns, all about Buffalo Bill. There is no conclusive proof as to the kind of pistol Wyatt carried on a regular basis, though it is known that on the day of the Fight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881, Wyatt Earp carried a .44 caliber 1869 American model Smith & Wesson with an 8 inch barrel. Earp had received the weapon as a gift from Tombstone mayor and Tombstone Epitaph newspaper editor John Clum.
Lake spent much effort trying to track down the Buntline Special through the Colt company, Masterson and contacts in Alaska. Lake described it as a Colt Single Action Army model with a long, 12 inches (30 cm) barrel, standard sights, and wooden grips into which the name “Ned” was ornately carved. Researchers have never found any record of an order received by the Colt company, and Ned Buntline’s alleged connections to the Earp’s have been largely discredited. The famous long-barrelled Colt revolver, ‘The Buntline Special’, was created by Lake.
Wyatt’s reputation has been confused by inaccurate, conflicting, and false stories told about him by others, and by his own claims that cannot be corroborated. For example, in an interview with a reporter in Denver in 1896, he denied that he had killed Johnny Ringo. He then flipped his story, claiming he had killed Ringo. In about 1918 he told Forrestine Hooker, who wrote an unpublished manuscript, and then Frank Lockwood, who wrote Pioneer Days in Arizona in 1932, that he was the one who killed Johnny Ringo as he left Arizona in 1882. However, Wyatt included details that do not match what is known about Ringo’s death. Wyatt repeated that claim to at least three other people.
During an interview with his future biographer Stuart Lake during the late 1920s, Wyatt said that he arrested notorious gunslinger Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, on August 15, 1873, when news accounts and Thompson’s own contemporary account about the episode do not mention his presence. He also told Lake that he had hunted buffalo during 1871 and 1872, yet arrest records show he was arrested and jailed on a horse theft charge on April 6, 1871, and arrested in Peoria during February 1872.
After Wyatt’s signature moment, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, he was tried for murder, along with his best pal, Doc Holliday. If convicted, the two would have been hanged. Fortunately for Wyatt and his legend, he and Doc were both acquitted.
At the hearing following the Tombstone shootout, Wyatt said he had been marshal in Dodge City, a claim he repeated in an August 16, 1896, interview that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. But Wyatt had only been an assistant city marshal there.
In the same interview, Wyatt claimed that George Hoyt had intended to kill him. He also said he and Bat Masterson had confronted Clay Allison when he was sent to Dodge City to finish George Hoyt’s job, saying that they had forced him to back down. Two other accounts contradicted Earp, crediting cattleman Dick McNulty and Long Branch Saloon owner Chalk Beeson with convincing Allison and his cowboys to surrender their guns. Cowboy Charlie Siringo witnessed the incident and left a written account.
One of the most well known and for many years respected books about Wyatt Earp was I Married Wyatt Earp, originally credited as a factual memoir by Josephine Marcus Earp. Published in 1976, it was edited by amateur historian Glen Boyer, and published by the University of Arizona Press. It was immensely popular for many years, capturing the imagination of people with an interest in western history, studied in classrooms, cited by scholars,:50 and relied upon as factual by filmmakers.
In 1998, writer Tony Ortega wrote a lengthy investigative article for the Phoenix New Times during which he interviewed Boyer. Boyer said that he is uninterested in what others think of the accuracy of what he has written. “This is an artistic effort. I don’t have to adhere to the kind of jacket that these people are putting on me. I am not a historian. I’m a storyteller.” Boyer admitted that the book is “100 percent Boyer.” He said the book was not really a first-person account, that he had interpreted Wyatt Earp in Josephine’s voice, and admitted that he couldn’t produce any documents to vindicate his methods.
The book also “further embroidered upon Frank Waters’s imagining about Wyatt’s adulterous affair with her.” Boyer and the University Press’ credibility was severely damaged. In 2000 the University referred all questions to university lawyers who investigated some of the allegations about Boyer’s work. Later that year the Press removed the book from their catalog. The book has been discredited as a fraud and a hoax that cannot be relied on.:154
Other work by Boyer subsequently were questioned. His book Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta, published in 1993, was allegedly based an account written by a previously unknown Tombstone journalist that Boyer named “Theodore Ten Eyck,” but whose identity could not be independently verified. Boyer claimed that the manuscript was “clearly authentic” and that it contained “fascinating revelations (if they are true) and would make an ace movie.” Boyer later said the character was in fact a blend of “scores of accounts,” but could not provide any sources.
In some cases, one critic accuses another of bias, as did S. J. Reidhead, author of Wyatt Earp, Senior Citizen, who said William Urban, a professor of American history and critic of Alan Barra, was biased.
William M. Breakenridge‘s book, Helldorado: Bringing Law to the Mesquite, ghost written by Western novelist William MacLeod Raine, was published in 1928 before Wyatt died. Wyatt and his wife Josie claimed that much of what Breakenridge wrote was biased and more fiction than fact. Breakenridge interviewed Earp in Los Angeles but the picture he painted of Wyatt was that of a thief, pimp, crooked gambler, and murderer. Earp loudly protested the book’s contents until his death in 1929, and his wife continued in the same vein afterward. One critic writes that, “Breakenridge was insanely jealous of the notoriety Wyatt Earp had received and he made it very clear on more than one occasion that he thoroughly disliked the Earps.” Breakenridge referred to the Clantons and McLaury brothers as “cowboys” and said the Earps and Doc Holliday aggressively mistreated the guiltless cowboys until they were forced into a fatal confrontation.
Edwin V. Burkholder, who specialized in stories about the Old West, published an article about Wyatt in 1955 in Argosy Magazine. He pronounced Wyatt Earp to be a coward and a murderer. He even manufactured evidence to support his outrageous allegations. He also wrote, using the pseudonyms “George Carleton Mays” and “J. S. Qualey”, for the Western magazine Real West. His stores were filled with sensational claims about Wyatt Earp’s villainy, and he made up fake letters to the editor from supposed “old-timers” to corroborate this story.
Frank Waters interviewed Virgil Earp’s widow, Allie Sullivan Earp, to write The Earp Brothers of Tombstone. Waters used her anecdotes as a frame for adding a narrative and “building a case, essentially piling quote upon quote to prove that Wyatt Earp was a con man, thief, robber, and eventually murderer.” Allie Earp was so upset by the way he distorted and manipulated her words that she threatened to shoot him. So he waited until 1960, 13 years after her death, to publish the book. It was described by one reviewer as “a smear campaign levied against the Earp brothers.”
The problem with Frank Waters</a> is that there are no notes for The Earp Brothers of Tombstone. The final 1961 version was at least the third version of Tombstone Travesty, the original manuscript that was completed in the mid-1930s. After being threatened with a lawsuit by Allie Sullivan, wife of Virgil Earp, who said the manuscript was entirely wrong, Waters deposited it in the Arizona Historical Society. There it remained, until he finally, after nearly a quarter century, attracted a publisher.
It was Waters’ intention to cash in on the publishing bonanza created by Stuart Lake’s Frontier Marshal. At the time, Waters was a little known author of a string of quasi-successful books about the southwest. He was so little known that he had to do a tremendous amount of self promotion to attract the attention of a New York editor. Even after selling the manuscript, he was kept on something of a leash. He was required to make extensive changes to the original manuscript. While doing so, the final version is far different from the original. His dislike of the Earps was evident in the original manuscript. In the final version, his hatred of them was almost poisonous.
SJ Reidhead, author of Travesty: Frank Waters Earp Agenda Exposed, spent nearly a decade searching for the original manuscript, researching Waters, his background, and his bias against the Earps. In doing so, the author discovered that the story Waters presented against the Earps was primarily fictitious. Nothing is documented. There are no notes nor sourcing. There is only the original Tombstone Travesty manuscript and the final Earp Brothers of Tombstone. Because of his later reputation, few writers, even today, dare question Waters’ motives. They also do not bother fact checking the Earp Brothers of Tombstone, which is so inaccurate it should be considered fiction, rather than fact.
Anti-Earp writers and researchers use Frank Waters’ Earp Brothers of Tombstone, as their primary source for material that presents Wyatt Earp as something of a villainous monster, aided and abetted by his brothers who were almost brutes. Waters detested the Earps so badly that he presented a book that was terribly flawed, poorly edited, and brimming with prevarications. In his other work, Waters is poetic. In the Earp Brothers of Tombstone, he is little more than a tabloid hack, trying to slander someone he dislikes.
To date, no reason has yet to be uncovered for the extreme bias Frank Waters exhibited against Wyatt Earp and his brothers.
In 1963, Ed Bartholomew published Wyatt Earp, The Untold Story followed by Wyatt Earp: Man and Myth in 1964. His books were obviously anti-Earp and were intended to destroy Wyatt Earp’s image as a hero. Bartholomew went about this by reciting snippets of accumulated anti-Earp facts, rumors, gossip, and innuendo piled on top of one another. Bartholomew’s books set in place a trend debunking Earp, and the academic community followed his lead, pursuing the image of Earp as a “fighting pimp”.
In reviewing Allen Barra’s Inventing Wyatt Earp. His Life and Many Legends, William Urban, a Professor of History at Monmouth College in Warren County, Illinois, pointed out a number of factual inaccuracies in the book. Another inconsistency in Barra pointed out by another reviewer include a description of the poker game the night before the shoot out. Ike Clanton’s account of the game (the only one that exists) gives the participants as John Behan, Virgil Earp, Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, and a fifth man Ike didn’t recognize.:115 Barra is criticized for adding Doc Holliday as the game’s winner, although this is possibly done as a joke, since Barra also notes Wyatt and Doc have gone home for the night, before the game.
Willian Urban also describes “the questionable scholarship of Glenn Boyer, the dominant figure in Earpiana for the past several decades, who has apparently invented a manuscript and then cited it as a major source in his publications. This does not surprise this reviewer, who has personal experience with Boyer’s pretentious exaggeration of his acquaintance with Warren County records.”
According to his wife of 47 years, Wyatt’s last words, just before he died in January of 1929 were “Suppose, suppose…” Wyatt’s wife, friends, and biographers all have only made guesses at what he was about to say to complete his thought before he passed away.
The character of Wyatt Earp has been a central figure in at least 10 films and a secondary figure in many others. Among the best-known actors that have portrayed him are Randolph Scott, Guy Madison, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Jimmy Stewart, Hugh O’Brian, Kevin Costner, and Kurt Russell. His character has influenced the way in which many others are presented as well as how law enforcement in the Old West is depicted on the screen.
Earp’s life gained nationwide attention with the publication of Stuart Lake’s book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall. But it was the popular movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that cemented his actions and character in popular consciousness. The movie and accompanying mythologizing altered the way the public thought of cowboys. In Earp’s time, they had been the outlaws. In the movies, they became the good guys, always ready to assist the lawmen in arresting the outlaws.
With the widespread sales of television sets after World War II, producers spun out a large number of western-oriented shows. At the height of their popularity in 1959, there were more than two dozen “cowboy” programs on each week. At least six of them were directly or indirectly connected with Wyatt Earp: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory. Broken Arrow, Johnny Ringo, andGunsmoke. Hugh O’Brien portrayed Earp on the namesake show, Wyatt Earp, which ran for six seasons.