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.

The Red Dog Saloon is a drinking establishment in Juneau, Alaska, U.S. The Red Dog has been recognized by the Alaska Legislature 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 decades. And yes, for a time, "Ragtime Hattie" played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top.

Later, in territorial days, the owners would often meet the tour boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, "follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon."

One item on exhibit at the Red Dog Saloon is a Smith & Wesson Model 3 owned by Wyatt Earp.

This is a picture of the pistol left in Juneau, Alaska, by Wyatt Earp, who was on his way to Nome.

In the fall of 1897, Wyatt Earp and "wife" Josie joined in the Alaska Gold Rush and headed for Nome, Alaska.

Many prospectors who made Tombstone their home in the late 1882 when the silver boom there went bust, landed in Alaska and the Yukon after the demise of the Arizona city.

Earp arrived in the north during the height of the Alaska gold rush in Nome.

But he didn't go there to mine for gold, he was a saloon-keeper and bartender, and in Nome he would open the Dexter Saloon.

Because he had fled Arizona under indictment for murder after the notorious massacre of the Clantons at the OK Corral and the horrible shotgun shooting of Frank Stillwell, he was not so much famous as he was "Wanted."

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 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, the deputy marshal 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 is 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. 

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.

And yes, 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 a he got out-of-hand in front of someone who didn't care how he was -- or his supposed reputation.

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, who responded by slapping Earp and disarming him -- supposedly saying, "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, Earp's drinking got him into big trouble with a prizefighter who 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 May 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, and was subsequently knocked senseless in a fist fight with local prizefighter named Mike Mulqueen. 

In life, Wyatt Earp had been mostly a saloon-keeper, a bartender, a gambler, an opportunist, and yes a confidence-man, 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. Indeed, there are some who have a vested interest in the legend.

For example, like say someone who shelled out $225,000 for a gun that was supposedly used at a gunfight by a man who may have been notorious -- but certainly wasn't legendary in his own time.

And yes, that's just how I see it.

Tom Correa

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