Monday, August 8, 2011

Old West: Wyatt Earp - Was Wyatt A Pimp?

So let's see, in 1871 Wyatt Earp was arrested for being a Horse Thieve - and 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 another stolen horse would carry him.

Some say he didn't show up again until he arrived in Wichita, Kansas in 1873.  Some have called 1872, "Wyatt's lost year."

But it wasn't lost at all. Or to be more precise, he wasn't lost at all.

According to Wyatt, among other adventures, he was supposedly a Buffalo Hunter in 1872.

That's right, Wyatt Earp told his biographer Stuart Lake that he hunted buffalo during 1871 and 1872.

I say that that couldn't be true, because during 1871 and 1872 arrest records prove that he was really a Pimp in Peoria, Illinois.

Besides, according to Wyatt, 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 that made the shot resemble thunder - he claimed to have snuck up on the herd and used a shotgun!

Imagine that! And yes, he really said that! 

But friends, that story is for my next article on Wyatt Earp. Right now, let's find out if he was really just a  pimp and opportunist?
Stealing the school fund? How low do you have to be to steal the school fund?
On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri, filed a suit against Wyatt Earp and his sureties for $200.

The lawsuit was based on the allegation that Wyatt Earp, while Constable for Lamar from late 1869 to the middle of 1871, had collected fees for licenses for the town. 

The proceeds of these fees were supposed to be used to support the school fund. However, the county announced that Wyatt had never turned over the money that he had collected.

The action against Wyatt Earp was eventually vacated -- probably because the Earp family couldn't be found and believed to have 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.

This suit alleged that Wyatt Earp had falsified court documents that refered 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 unserved. 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. However, 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 unserved 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 1871 to late September 1872 put him living in Peoria and the nearby communities during 1872.

Supposedly he ended up in Peoria, Illinois, where Virgil was working as a bartender.

So here was the Wyatt Earp that I never heard of as a kid.  Here was the Wyatt Earp in his mid-20s 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 always communicate. 

Fact is, Wyatt stayed on the run for a while before returning out West again.

Wyatt needed money and was not one to walk on the seedier side of life to get it. 

Fact is that 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 brothel that was raided was being run 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 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 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 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 10: 

"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. 

After paying his fine, Wyatt Earp, "The Peoria Bummer," is said to have left the area.

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 solicits for a prostitute or brothel and lives off the earnings.

But the interesting thing to me, that along with naming Wyatt Earp, 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 wed on January 10, 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 they did get married, but again there is nothing to prove that.  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.

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.

It 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 policeman.  

As one writer put it, "Some Wyatt worshippers 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 yes, not only was Wyatt Earp a horse thief, he was also a pimp!

Story by Tom Correa


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

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  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.


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