Monday, August 8, 2011

Wyatt Earp -- Was Wyatt A Pimp?

Wyatt Earp in his 20's
So let's see, in 1871 Wyatt Earp was arrested for being a horse thieve. After he was arrested, he escaped from jail.

To my way of thinking, from what I've seen of the lawless type, I'd say that since he was running from the law in the Indian Territory which is present day Oklahoma, he must have left there as fast as he could on whatever stolen horse would carry him.

Some say he didn't show up again until he arrived in Wichita, Kansas in 1873. Some have called 1871 and 1872, "Wyatt's Lost Years." But fact is, he wasn't lost at all. 

According to Wyatt himself, among his other adventures, he was supposedly a Buffalo Hunter at that time. That's right, Wyatt Earp told his biographer Stuart Lake that he hunted buffalo during the years 1871 and 1872. 

But really, that can't be true. Besides, according to Wyatt's own autobiography, he was a Buffalo Hunter unlike all other Buffalo Hunters. You see, according to him, while others used a Sharps rifle and shot from a distance which made the shot resemble thunder and didn't stampede the herd, Wyatt Earp claimed to have crept up on the herd and used a shotgun. Imagine that! And yes, he really said that!

Of course the main reason that he couldn't have been a Buffalo Hunter when he said he was is that he was arrested on multiple occasions as a pimp. Really, arrest records prove that he was really a "pimp" in Peoria, Illinois, in 1871 and 1872.

So now, let's find out if he really was just a pimp and opportunist. Let's start taking a look at his character be looking at his stealing school funds. How low do you have to be to steal school funds?
On March 14th, 1871, Barton County, Missouri, filed a suit against Wyatt Earp and his sureties for $200. The lawsuit was based on the fact that Wyatt Earp, while Constable for Lamar from late 1869 to the middle of 1871, had collected fees for licenses for the town and kept it for himself.

The licensing fees were supposed to be used to support the local school fund. But they did not get there and the county announced that Wyatt had not turned over the money that he had collected. The action against Wyatt Earp was eventually vacated because Wyatt Earp fled town and couldn't be found. It was believed that he left the state.

Constable Charles Morgan, in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, commented, ". . . he has good reason to believe & does believe that Wyatt S. Earp deft. is not a resident of this state, that Wyatt S. Earp has absconded or absented himself from his usual place of abode in this state so that the ordinary process of law cannot be served against him . . . ."

On March 31, 1871, a second lawsuit was filed aginst Wyatt Earp by a man named James Cromwell. That suit alleged that Wyatt Earp had falsified court documents that referred to the amount of money that he had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgement. A summons was issued for Wyatt Earp to appear before the court on April 5, 1871. It was returned not served. Wyatt could not be located in the county. Yes, he skipped town.

On April 21, 1871 the case went forward, the court issued an "Execution For Costs." It ordered the Barton County Sheriff to seize the "Goods, Chattels and Real Estate" of Wyatt S. Earp. It is impossible to now know if the allegations against Wyatt Earp were true or not. Though that was the case, he chose to leave the state rather that face the allegations against him.

Of course in April 1871, Wyatt Earp was accused of horse theft in the Indian Territory. The Federal Government started legal action against Earp and his alleged accomplices. A Bill of Information was filed on April 1, 1871:

"April 1, 1871, Bill Of Information. U. S. vs Wyatt S. Earp, Ed Kennedy, John Shown, white men and not Indians or members of any tribe of Indians by birth or marriage or adoption on the 28th day of March A. D. 1871 in the Indian Country in said District did feloniously willfully steal, take away, carry away two horses each of the value of one hundred dollars, the property goods and chattels of one William Keys and prey a writ [signed] J. G. Owens."

On April 6, 1871, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens took Wyatt Earp into custody on a charge of horse theft. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14, 1871, and bond was set at $500.

On May 15, 1871, Wyatt Earp was indicted on the charge. He failed to appear in court in May and a warrant was issued for his arrest. It was returned not served on November 21, 1871.

So where did he go after running from the law? Where you ask? Well, some believe he most likely went back to Illinois because there are newspaper reports putting him there in 1872. As for his "lost years," none of what Wyatt says in his autobiography matters because we know that Wyatt's whereabouts from May of 1871 to late September of 1872 put him living in Peoria, Illinois in 1872. Supposedly he ended up in Peoria because Virgil was working as a bartender there. 

So here was the Wyatt Earp that I never heard of as a kid.  Here was the Wyatt Earp in his 20's who was already acquiring a reputation. Though of dubious one, it was a reputation. He was on the run from Federal authorities for stealing horses, and I'm sure he was grateful that the law in those days didn't communicate real well. And fact is, Wyatt stayed on the run for a while before returning out West again.

Wyatt needed money and was not one above walking on the seedier side of life to get it. That's when Wyatt Earp began working as a pimp in Peoria.  And yes, he was actually known as the "Peoria Bummer" because Wyatt was involved in the ownership and operation of a brothel.  

In fact, on February 24, 1872, Wyatt and his brother Morgan were arrested for "Keeping and Being Found In A House Of Ill-Fame." The whorehouse where he worked was ran by a gal by the name of Jane Haspel. Four women and three men were arrested that day in an effort to clean up Peoria.

Peoria Mayor Peter Brotherson and Police Chief Samuel L. Gill were said to be on a quest to clean up the city and stop prostitution. Two days after that arrest, a Peoria judge fined Wyatt and Morgan $20 each plus court costs. Wyatt continued to reside in Jane Haspel's brothel, and in fact Wyatt Earp was listed in the Peoria City Directory as residing there. 

Yes, it is a fact that Root's Peoria City Directory for 1872-1873 lists Wyatt Earp as living at the same address as Jane Haspel on Washington Street near the corner of Hamilton. Since the city directory went to press on March 1, 1872, and putting it together took months, it's extremely probable that Wyatt was residing in the brothel and not merely patronizing it at the time of his arrest.

But Wyatt's troubles in Peoria didn't end with his February arrest. Three months later, Wyatt and Morgan were arrested again on May 9th.  This time they moved to the McClellan brothel to pimp their trade. 

On May 11, 1872, The Daily Transcript, reported the following:

"That hotbed of inequity, the McClellan Institute on Main Street near Water was pulled on Thursday night, and quite a number of inmates transient and otherwise were found therein. Wyatt Earp and his brother Morgan Earp were each fined $44.55 and as they had not the money and would not work, they languished in the cold and silent calaboose"
Wyatt decided that he should relocate his business to the Illinois River and started a floating brothel named the Beardstown Gunboat. In August 1872, Wyatt was "detained" again by authorities.  But this time it was in Henry, Illinois, and he was again fined.

Then a month later on September 10, 1872, back in Peoria, the Daily Transcript in a very lengthy account of the police raid on the floating brothel reported that Wyatt Earp had been arrested in the raid on the Beardstown Gunboat. That raid must have net some big fish, because that arrest is said to be the single largest successful raid on a brothel in Peoria during all of 1872.

This is part of the newpaper account that The Peoria Daily National Democrat ran on September 10th: 

"Some of the women are said to be good looking, but all appear to be terribly depraved. John Walton, the skipper of the boat and Wyatt Earp, the Peoria Bummer, were each fined $43.15. Sarah Earp, alias Sally Heckell, calls herself the wife of Wyatt Earp."

Two days after the seizure of the gunboat, all of the prisoners were lined up before Police Magistrate James Cunningham in Peoria's City Hall. Wyatt's fine was the highest of all of the people arrested.

The newspapers of the time referred to Wyatt Earp as "The Peoria Bummer." A "bummer" during those days was a term used for a "loafer" or a "beggar."  It was an insulting way of calling Wyatt a man who pimps for a prostitute or brothel and lives off her earnings. After paying his fine, Wyatt Earp, "The Peoria Bummer," is said to have left the area. 

So now, one of the interesting things to me, along with naming Wyatt Earp "The Peoria Bummer," is that the newspapers stated that that police arrested a women by the name of "Sarah Earp, alias Sally Heckell," who claimed to be his wife. Could this woman have been another wife of Wyatt Earp?  Is she one wife that most Western Historians neglect to mention?

It is generally assumed that Wyatt Earp was "married" three times, but the only marriage license that exists is when he was married to his first wife, Urilla Sutherland. They were married on January 10th, 1870 in Lamar, Missouri. Then supposedly because of illness, some say typhoid, Urilla died less than a year later.

No official record has ever been found that proves that Wyatt was married to either of his other so-called "wives," Mattie Blaylock and Josephine Sarah "Sadie" Marcus Earp, though he maintained a life with both of them. It is said that Josie claimed that they did get married, but again there is nothing to prove out that claim. It is taken for granted that these two were "common-law" marriages.

So was Sarah Earp simply a prostitute who had taken the name of her pimp?  Could she really have been his wife?  Very little is know about her. The newspaper article gives her "alias" as Sally Heckell, but while that name may have been assumed in whole or in part, it was very likely that that may have been her real name or maybe something close to it. Of course there is evidence that points to Sarah Earp, Sally Heckell, Sally Haskell and Sally Haspel, as all being one and the same person.  But really, who knows? 

By early 1874 when Wyatt showed up in the fairly new cattle town of Wichita, Kansas.  Municipal records show that a prostitute using the name Sally Earp operated a brothel with Wyatt Earp's sister-in-law Bessie in Wichita from early 1874 to the middle of 1876. That was a brothel that Wyatt made a living off of while he provided it protection, after all Wyatt did become a Deputy in Wichita. And honestly, just how much more protection can you get when your pimp is also a police officer?  

As one writer put it, "Some Wyatt worshipers continue to whitewash this damning evidence with the wishful thinking that Wyatt Earp was merely a bouncer on these floating brothel boats." 

Well friends, we know that Wyatt Earp was arrested for stealing horses, operating and being involved in prostitution, bunco games, and swindles during his life. So my conclusion is that not only was Wyatt Earp a horse thief and someone who would steal school funds, he was also a pimp!

Tom Correa


  1. Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

    My site:
    Rachat de credit

  2. I live in Wichita, is there a way to find the location of the old brothel

    1. I've read where Wyatt was arrested in a brothel by the name of the McClellan Institute in Peoria, Illinois, in May of 1872. Then in September, Wyatt were working in a floating brothel on the Illinois River when they were arrested again by Peoria police. Both arests were for pimping. For right now anyway, I really couldn't tell you what the name of the brothel was or where it was located in Wichita. Sorry, I wish I could have helped. It would be interesting to see if the building is still there, wouldn't it?
      Thanks for visiting and reading our blog.

  3. Joyce in Stockton,ILAugust 28, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    This was very informative. The specials on T.V. don't show this much information. A lot of us in IL. never knew this. Thank You Much :-)

  4. As a born and raised in Peoria and the area I thank you for your work here. Washington and Hamilton streets are now the site of Caterpillars world hdqts. And main and water streets are the current location of the Caterpillar visiters center and Peoria Riverfront Museum.The 1994 Costner movie didnt mention the river city for obvious reasons. This is part of the history of a great city that had a tuff upbringing. Mike

  5. Nice blog, interesting, and some things I didn't know prior to reading it. Pretty much a tough guy, also proficient with fisticuffs, and was not afraid of any man. Proved that by tracking down the suspected killers of Morgan Earp. One by one.

  6. I live in Beardstown and have heard this story for many years,due to Lake's question of Wyatt's answer to where his first gun fight happened. I know where the hotel stood not to mention the fact the rail road bridge was built in 1869 and construction went on into the 1870's. It makes sense according to records and Beardstown being a huge rail road hub.


Thank you for your comment.