Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wyatt Earp's Alaska Smith & Wesson Model 3


Dear Readers,

Many of you have written to ask if I can post this separately from the article on Wyatt Earp's OK Corral Gun Was Not A Colt, so here it is.

Yes, Wyatt Earp was known to carry a Smith&Wesson Model 3 even in Alaska. It actually hangs in the Red Dog Saloon. The Red Dog Saloon is located in Juneau. Because it's been there since before the turn of the The saloon has been recognized by the State of Alaska for its longevity as the oldest man-made tourist attraction in Juneau.

Founded during Juneau's mining era, the Saloon has been in operation for over 100 years. The saloon has had several a couple of different locations in Juneau before ending up where it is today. In fact, the saloon was originally located about two blocks up Franklin street and later across the street next to the Alaskan Hotel. In 1988, the saloon was moved, kept completely intact, to where it sits today. According to the owners, "great care was given to replacing most everything to its original place within the room."

In territorial days, it's said that the owners would meet boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, "Follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon." As for it's history, a lot of famous and infamous people have walked into The Red Dog Saloon. In her time, "Ragtime Hattie" played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top.

On exhibit at the Red Dog Saloon is a Smith & Wesson Model 3 owned by Wyatt Earp. Above is a picture of the pistol left in Juneau by Wyatt Earp, who was on his way to Nome.

In the fall of 1897, Wyatt Earp and common-law "wife" Josie joined in the Alaska Gold Rush and headed for Nome, Alaska. Many believe he was running from the spotlight of his involvement as the key perpetrator in the fixed 1896 Heavyweight Championship Fight between boxers Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. 

It's said that many prospectors who made Tombstone their home in the late 1882 when the silver boom there went bust, picked up and left for Alaska and the Yukon after the demise of that Arizona town. We have to remember that Tombstone's mining boom went bust when its silver mines struck water and soon the silver ore they sought was actually underwater. In 1881, that town have a population of over 10,000 residents. Eleven years later in 1900, that town would have less than 700 people still hanging on there. 

Earp arrived in Alaska at the height of the gold rush in Nome. But he didn't go there to mine for gold in the ground. He was there to take gold out of the pockets of prospectors and anyone else who want to venture into his saloon. It was something he knew a great deal about. Throughout his life, his primary occupation was gambler, saloon-keeper, and bartender. So no, it wasn't out of the ordinary  that he would open the Dexter Saloon once in Nome.

After the killing of the Clantons and McLaurys near the OK Corral, Virgil Earp was ambushed but fortunately wasn't killed. The same couldn't be said for Morgan Earp months later when he was shot dead while playing pool. It was after Morgan's murder that Wyatt and youngest Earp brother Warren, Doc Holliday and others, caught up with Frank Stilwell. 

Each took turns shooting Stilwell, the Coroner concluded he was shot with shotguns, pistols, and rifles rounds. It's no wonder the person who found his later stated that he was the most shot up man that he'd ever saw. Because of that killing, Wyatt Earp couldn't hide behind his Deputy U.S. Marshal's badge and fled Arizona under indictment for murder. It's believed he was smart enough to stay out of Arizona, while he had friends on the Tombstone Epitaph and with the Mayor, they wouldn't be able to protect him in Tucson where killing such as what was done to Stilwell wouldn't be allowed to go unanswered. 

As a result of the horrible shotgun shooting of Frank Stillwell, Wyatt Earp was not so much famous as he was "Wanted." After the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight some newspapers called him a "Notorious Bad Man," an "Arizona Killer," a "Desperado." Infamous is a good term to describe how he was looked at after he tried to swindle Fitzsimmons out of his prize winning and throw the fight for Sharkey. He became famous over night from coast to coast. While other than a few cowtowns may have heard of him, that all changed with his role in fixing that Championship Boxing match. That's most likely how the law knew who he was when he reached Alaska. 

A letter found in the basement of the Juneau federal jail in the 1960s shows that Wyatt Earp may have intended to settle in the Southeast area for a while -- but was persuaded to move on. Written to the U.S. Marshal in Sitka by the Deputy U.S. Marshal at Juneau, the letter said that the deputy marshal, along with a posse of local citizens deputized for the encounter, met Earp as his ship docked. 

In the letter calls Earp, "Wyatt Earp the notorious desperado."

The deputy disarmed Earp and told him he was not welcome in Juneau, at least that's according to Alaska State Troopers 50 Years of History. Earp left on the next steamship and headed to Nome. That's supposedly how Wyatt Earp's Smith&Wesson Model 3 ended up being checked into the U.S. Marshal's Office and today the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau.

And by the way, take note of how Earp's Smith&Wesson has had its trigger guard removed. Since the start of manufacturing handguns with trigger guards in the 1800s, there has been people who have cut them off. Along with other modifications such as bobbing the hammer spur, shortening the barrel to only a couple of inches, rounding the butt, removing the front half of the trigger guard or the whole trigger guard was very common among gunmen. Reshaping the hammer and the butt allows the gun to be drawn quickly with little risk of the weapon snagging on clothing. A halved trigger guard or removing it completely is said to help the shooter facilitate quicker trigger acquisition. The same goes for a shorter barrel which is great for getting a handgun out and into play when needed. A long barrel pistol would get one killed since, besides being harder to conceal, it took longer to get into play when seconds count.

Yes, there were all sorts of gimmicks thought to give one an edge in a gunfight.  

In Nome, Earp would operate a saloon during the summer of 1899. The Dexter Saloon in Nome, Alaska, was a saloon with gambling and the mining interests kept it profitable for a few years.

Many paint Wyatt Earp as a non-drinker, a man with an aversion to alcohol, but that is not the truth. In fact, Earp got himself in some real scrapes while drinking, and while in Alaska was arrested twice for being drunk and disorderly -- although he was not tried. Earp was drunk and disorderly in front of the wrong person a few times.

While he spent most of the time from 1897 until 1901 in the gold rush area of Alaska operating the Dexter Saloon, one night he got out-of-hand in front of someone who didn't care who he was, where he was from, or what his supposed reputation may have been. The man certainly wasn't impressed by Earp's antics.

According to an eyewitness, "After Wyatt struck Alaska, one night he started to show the boys up there how they used to pull a little show down Arizona way." Wyatt Earp brandished his revolver, whipping it out and he supposedly saying, "That's how we do it down Arizona way!"

Nearby was U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe. He responded by slapping Earp and disarming him. Then supposedly Lowe told Earp, "That's how we do it in Alaska!"

According one eyewitness, "U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe took his (Earp's) gun away, slapped his face and told him to go home and go to bed or he would run him in."

Another eyewitness said, "Wyatt got a drink or two too much and got the idea he was a bad man from Arizona and was going to pull some rough stuff, when U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe slapped his face and took his gun away from him."

U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe told Earp that he was checking his pistol in at his office and could pick it up in the morning. Wyatt Earp was in Alaska on-and-off for four years. He did not stay during the rough winter months, instead always traveled south to California for the winter -- where he worked on his autobiography.

And just for the record, during one of his trips to California, Wyatt Earp's drinking got him into big trouble with Tom Mulqueen who was a well-known "racehorse man," a trainer. Mulqueen is said to have been someone much younger who never heard of supposedly famous Wyatt Earp.

The story goes that one trip back in California in April of 1900, on a visit to San Francisco, Earp said some things he shouldn't have, and picked a fight with someone he shouldn't have. Earp who is said by some historians to be the toughest of the tough was subsequently knocked senseless in a fist fight with racehorse-trainer Tom Mulqueen. The newspapers reported it the following day since Wyatt Earp was known in that city as a notorious bad man.

As reported in The San Francisco Call on April 30th, 1900:

GUN FIGHTER IS KNOCKED OUT BY BOLD HORSEMAN

Wyatt Earp Floored by a Single Blow From Tom Mulqueen.

Engaged in a Saloon Row Over the Recent Turf Scandal and the Gambler Gets the Worst of It. Wyatt Earp. gun-fighter and all around bad man, was knocked down and out late Saturday night by Tom Mulqueen, the well-known racehorse man. The trouble occurred In a Market street resort, near Stockton, and was precipitated by Earp. Both men had been drinking at the bar, when Earp brought up the subject of the recent scandal at the Tanforan track. He made several disparaging remarks about a jockey who is on very friendly terms with Mulqueen.

When called down he became belligerently indignant and threatened to wipe the floor with the horse owner. Instantly Mulqueen grabbed him. and after throwing him against the bar landed a blow on the gun-fighter's face, knocking him out.

John Farley, the proprietor of the saloon, fearing serious trouble between the two men, managed to induce Mulqueen to leave the place. Earp, after recovering from the effects of the blow, was also led from the saloon and placed aboard a passing street car. Earp was not armed at the time, having left his trusted "gun" with a friend shortly before the occurrence. Mulqueen was around as usual yesterday but refused to discuss the affair.

He gained considerable notoriety several years ago by calling down Bob Fitzsiminons, the prize-fighter. They were in a saloon drinking, when the ex-champion referred to Jim Corbett as a looking-glass fighter. Mulqueen promptly resented the remark and threatened to break Fitzsimmnns' head if he repeated it. Fitzsimmons, scenting trouble, left the place, not caring to mix it with the plucky horseman.

Earp first came into prominence in this city when he officiated as referee in the fight between Fitzsimmons and Sharkey several years ago and gave the decision to the sailor on an alleged foul after he had been knocked out, a decision that created general dissatisfaction.

-- end of article.

In life, Wyatt Earp had been mostly a saloon-keeper, a bartender, a gambler, an opportunist, and yes a confidence-man. His time as a peace officer was relatively short, sporadic, and interrupted with firings over dishonorable conduct such not turning in taxes and fines collected, fighting with superiors, and hiding behind his badge to skirt the law. But let's not get the facts in the way of the legend. After all, there are people out there who want the legend to survive. In fact, there are some who have a vested interest in perpetuating the legend -- no matter what the truth really is.

Tom Correa

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