Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wyatt Earp's OK Corral Gun Was Not A Colt

Wyatt Earp, 1883
Dear Friends,

I just read where the news is reporting that another gun that Wyatt Earp supposedly used at the OK Corral sold for $225,000 at auction.

Yep, on April 18, 2014, an Associated Press report out of Scottsdale, Arizona, said that a gun "thought to have been" used by Wyatt Earp during the famous OK Corral shootout in Tombstone Arizona back in 1881 has sold for $225,000.

The Colt sold for quite a bit higher than its estimated value. That's right, it sold for more than it was worth -- but then again, people who buy such things usually have more money than they know what to do with.

The report said that a telephone bidder in New Mexico made the winning bid for the Colt Single Action revolver in .45 caliber. J. Levine Auction & Appraisal officials say an auction of numerous items related to Earp and his family in Scottsdale brought in more than $445,000.

The auction house initially valued the Colt between $100,000 and $150,000. The items belonged to the estate of Glenn Boyer, an author of several books on Earp. Boyer died in February 2013. Some have questioned the item's authenticity while others say Boyer was a credible researcher.

A Chandler, Arizona, man spent $150,000 on a shotgun owned by Earp, a family archive and other items. Back in 2012 the guns used by Bonnie and Clyde were sold at auction for over half a million dollars. And yes, one of Annie Oakley’s guns sold for $143,400 -- which really does seem like a steal compared to Earp’s gun.

Wyatt Earp

As most already know, Wyatt Earp's main claim to fame was a feud with the Clantons and McLowrys which led to the gunfight at a lot near the OK Corral. It was a feud that started after Wyatt Earp made a deal with Ike Clanton to drop out of the Country Sheriff's race. Some say Clanton reneged on the deal and others say Earp screwed it up and the feud started from there.

Remember, Wyatt Earp wanted to be County Sheriff not long after arriving in Tombstone. The reason, there was a great deal of money to be made as County Sheriff. Besides the payoff and corruption of the age, it was customary that the County Sheriff kept 10% of more of all taxes he collected. That in itself would make someone very well off.

Before the shootout, Doc Holliday and Wyatt were deputized that morning by his brother Virgil Earp who was the City Marshal. Along with Deputy Morgan Earp, the four killed three men while supposedly there to disarm them.

In reality, as far as in the Old West, it was a rather small gunfight compared to many others during that time period. And frankly, for about 50 years, it was really just a local story. Of course that all changed when Wyatt Earp's Biographer Stuart Lake published Earp's life story in 1930.

Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929. And no, contrary to movies and television, Wyatt Earp was not well known at all -- except by the police up and down the West Coast for being a Con Artist.

He was certainly not some sort of "icon" of the American West while he was alive. He was known as a notorious individual who actually became famous for refereeing a boxing match which some say was fixed. And yes, he was also known by some law enforcement because of his indictments, multiple arrests and even the scams which he was involved in.

Wyatt Earp can thank Hollywood for making him a "legend." Because of Hollywood and a 1950's television Western, Wyatt Earp's fame became inflated and exaggerated.

While Wyatt Earp's life was marked with pitiful behavior such as stealing school funds, stealing a horse, being arrested on multiple occasions for being a Pimp, withholding city funds while a police officer which resulted in his firing, being involved with fixing a prizefight when acting as a special referee, and being arrested for swindling people out of large sums of money in con games among other things.

Today most believe the Hollywood version and the gloss that says he was a man of good virtue and solid ethics. The myth, the legend, the exaggeration that make Wyatt Earp something that he was not explains why one of his supposed guns sold at such a high price.

While the Colt was the highlight of the auction, Wyatt Earp’s Winchester shotgun and another Colt revolver owned by Wyatt’s brother Virgil were also sold at the auction. The former sold for less than its estimated value of $125,000, selling for only $50,000. But Virgil Earp’s gun sold for $37,500, higher than the estimated value of $30,000.

Unfortunately, there was a little bit of controversy surrounding the Wyatt Earp gun. Some historians claimed that Boyer fabricated portions of his books and the Colt pistol once had the barrel, grip, and cylinder replaced in addition to having its serial number rubbed off.

So why do I say "supposed" gun used at the OK Corral shootout?

It's because he didn't use a Colt pistol at the OK Corral

In "The History of Smith & Wesson Firearms" by Dean K. Boorman, published by Globe Pequot Press. in 2002, he reported that Wyatt Earp used a Smith & Wesson Model 3 and not a Colt at the gunfight at the OK Corral.

In "Age of The Gunfighter" by Joseph G. Rosa, published by University of Oklahoma Press, in 1993, he states that Wyatt Earp preferred the Smith & Wesson Model 3 over a Colt at the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Yes, most Old West historians agree that Wyatt Earp did not use a Colt pistol at the gunfight at the OK Corral. In fact, according to Wyatt Earp himself through his biographer Stuart Lake, he was actually armed with a Smith & Wesson Model 3 during that shootout.

In Earp's case, as stated above, he was given the S&W Model 3 American by The Tombstone Epitaph owner and who was also Tombstone's Mayor, John Clum. We know this to be fact.

The U.S. Army adopted the .44 S&W American caliber Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver in 1870, making the Model 3 revolver the first standard-issue cartridge-firing revolver in US service.

Most military pistols until that point were black powder cap and ball revolvers. The Smith & Wesson Model 3 was a single-action, cartridge-firing, top-break revolver produced by Smith & Wesson from circa 1870 to 1915. It was produced in several variations and sub-variations.
Smith & Wesson New Model 3
In 1877, Smith & Wesson discontinued production of its other Model 3 variation's such as the American, Russian, and Schofield -- in favor a new improved design called the New Model 3 in 1878.

Smith & Wesson New Model 3 was their perfected single action top break revolver, generally smaller and lighter than previous models. Because it was smaller and lighter, it was more concealable.

That model returned to the original Smith & Wesson barrel latch system, a change stemming mainly from the company's desire to stop paying royalties to George W. Schofield. It was the most popular revolver of the later frontier era. In fact, according to records, more Smith & Wesson New Model 3's were made than Colt Single Action Army pistols during the 19th century -- though the majority went to foreign military contracts.

Among Lawmen and Outlaws

Smith and Wesson Model 3's were reportedly popular with lawmen and outlaws in the American West, and were reportedly used by Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett, Theodore Roosevelt, Virgil Earp, Billy the Kid, and many others.

While the standard barrel length was 7", many Schofields were purchased as surplus by distributors, and had the barrels shortened to 5", and were refinished in nickel. And yes, the Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver was famously used by Wyatt Earp during the OK Corral gunfight.

In life, Wyatt Earp had been mostly a saloon-keeper, a bartender, a gambler. He was also said to be an opportunist, a Confidence-man, and swindler. For some, those facts get 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. There are writers and historians, movie makers and actors, who have made a lot of money on the supposed legend of Wyatt Earp. Yet facts being what they really are, sans the revision and the rewriting of history, he was factually more notorious and crooked than he was a legend in his own time.

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

Tom Correa


  1. I attended (and participated in) that 2014 auction in Scottsdale and have a nice file of pre- and post-sale news clippings, pictures, and catalogue notes. It was quite an event. Boyer's files got quite a bit of attention---of personal interest was a display which showed several prominent figures of "the day", including Holliday, Masterson, and my g-grandfather, but NOT Wyatt. Kinda interesting. The copious back-up notes on the W.E. Colt are an interesting memento. Bob Paul

  2. There's a lot of talk in this article about Wyatt Earp being a con-man, a swindler and in trouble with the law on occasion. Where's the proof of this? I am not disputing anyone, but what book(s), local records or where does this opinion come from?

    It's hard to make a living and I have worked as a bartender, bouncer, cowboy, outfitter/packer, gold prospector, miner and earned my money on horseback chasing cows and sheep for many years. I have been in trouble with the law disturbing the peace, punched the Sheriff, etc. In addition, I have served my country, paid my taxes, raised a family and have been a contributing member of the community.

    That's why I have a hard time viewing Wyatt Earp as a confidence man, swindler or being notorious when we all make a living and get through life the best we can. Anyway, I would be interested in reading any "documented" info that proves Mr. Earp's dark side. Can you please point me in the right direction for info or books on this fascinating subject? Thanks... Charlie

    1. Hello Charlie, Like you, I have worked various jobs after getting out of the service. While you might not want to believe it, Wyatt Earp was a pimp, a hustler, a con man, a liar, a vagrant even in his later years. He was on the watch lists of most Police and Sheriff Departments up and down the West Coast. He did drink and was slapped upside the head and had his gun taken away from him in Alaska, and he did get his but kicked by a prize fighter in San Francisco. He was arrested trying to swindle someone in a rigged card game, and yes he even tried to sell a painted brick as gold once. Fact is he was nothing like Hollywood has made him out to be. While I care that you like my website, I won't print lies to makes folks happy. I don't print lies. No, not if it's my article with my name on it. My name means a lot to me. Also I won't print some bullshit myth that I know is a lie or something that I haven't personally researched and fact checked. And I usually fact check everything. Thanks, Tom

    2. Both of the more recent Hollywood movies ("Wyatt Earp" and "Tombstone") have covered his horse-stealing, relationships with "soiled doves", work in gambling parlors, refereeing prize fights, etc., so you aren't exactly breaking new ground with this stuff. For someone who USUALLY "fact checks everything", you've got precious little on display here in the way of documented sources to back up your more odious assertions about Wyatt Earp. In fact, the only primary sources you mention here deal only with what type of pistol Wyatt used at the OK Corral, and bring nothing to bear on the man's general character.

      Actually, this whole blog post reads like the opinions of someone who is a descendant of either the Clanton or McLowry family, trying to smear a legend.

    3. All of the Wyatt Earp movies ever made gloss over the achievements of Virgil and Morgan who were the real lawmen in the Earp family. Movies have glorified Wyatt Earp's fictional life as was depicted in his autobiography. You can accuse me of a lot of things, put to say I'm out to smear a so-called legend is bullshit. I only report what my research has found. I do not want to repeat the same lies, the hoax, the fraud, that we have been lead to believe. Go to my Old West section and look at all of the research that I have done on Wyatt Earp and other over the last 30 years. I present my evidence in those articles, and I'm not even done yet. And by the way, I'm no relation to the Clantons and McLowrys. While I see them as low down criminals, I also view Wyatt Earp in the light that he should be seen in. He was not a saint and far from the hero that some out there make him out to be based on his autobiography. He was a horse thief, he was a pimp, he was a con man, a notorious badman who he himself claimed to be a vagrant cause so he wouldn't go to jail for fixing a fight in San Francisco, he was a claim jumper in Idaho in 1884, he got his ass handed to him when he tried to bully a prizefighter who obviously didn't care what he thought of himself, he was arrested a number of times in con games, he was not what he portrayed himself to be and people in those days knew it. Too bad, even when evidence is provided to the prove the sort of person that he was, there are people who would rather stay blind to the true and accept the lies. And no, I'm not talking about Hillary Clinton supports thought they are just like that, I'm talking about people like the above person who writes and tells me that I'm making "odius assertions" when in fact I'm only reporting facts.

    4. The research I've done indicated that Wyatt used a model 3. I agree with you.

  3. I dont agree and although the legend is never all that they make it out to be , Wyatt had been a law man all of his life and was indeed well known because of it , in the day , that got around fast , which being a lawman was why he was able to be involved the the OK corral stuff in the first place. Im not sure where you got your information but its far from correct, There is documented proof to the contrare

    1. Hello Scott, I traveled a great deal for a living, and I did that for many years. I've researched Old West history for more than 30 years. I don't print lies and I try to be correct as humanly possible. Your assertion that Wyatt Earp was a lawman all of his life is not correct at all. If you total up each time he became a lawman, whether it was a town constable or police officer, he has about 3 years on the job as a lawman. His pistol was a S&W that was given to him by Clum. He was working as a bartender when his brother Virgil asked him to help at the OK Corral. Virgil and Morgan were the real lawmen in that family, not Wyatt. Read the article again because I do list sources. Thanks. Tom

  4. Gotta agree with Tom, I have seen a photo copy of the writ for “horse theft,” actually I think there were 2 horses. Likewise the “pimp,” bartender and brothel owner/manager days of Wyatt’s life are all well documented. Additionally, at least two of the women Wyatt lived with or married were “soiled doves” as they were known in those days. As far as his days as a lawman they were sporadic throughout his life and never seemed to last long. I don’t know if the “three years” that Tom mentioned in his article is correct or not but I don’t think it’s far off. Most “police” jobs in those days were temporary at best with nothing like civil service protection. Except for the various states that had elected County Sheriff’s (with specific terms of office) virtually all law enforcement officers served “at will” to a fickled city or town council, Mayor and even the US Marshal (who hired and fired at will.) So Wyatt’s law-dog days were probably very short lived and sporadic and further effected by his nomadic ways. I remember reading Lakes biography of Wyatt as a kid and I’ve watched “Tombstone” several times but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of FACT in either one, sad to say! It’s a fact that everyone has peaks and valleys in their lives. I also don’t think those peaks should be discounted just because of the valleys. They just need to be balanced with the realities of the time and a man’s moment in history.

  5. I'd just like to comment on what I've read on this site. I remember reading quite a well researched, recent biography on Wyatt Earp, he did get into trouble in his early years with stealing a horse; however, it wasn't as cut and dried as you make out, he was never convicted of horse theft. Wyatt appears to have lost his way for a number of years, especially after the death of his young wife. I don't understand exactly what you're trying to make him out to be. Was the man a saint, certainly not, was he human, definitely yes. He wasn't a cold blooded murderer or a bank robber. He was like a lot of men on the frontier at that time, trying to make a living. Truth be told he didn't have a particularly distinguished law career before Tombestone, and he went there to make it rich. He ended up involving himself in a complex situation that spiralled out of control, one brother was murdered another was crippled for life. He responded the only way he thought he could. I don't necessarily agree with everything he did, or how he's been portrayed over the years; but he was a man of his times, can you or I imagine ourselves in his position and what we'd do, I think not.

    1. Hello, If you read my articles, you will find that I don't make excuses for bad conduct by anyone. Since I'm not a mind reader or a psychologist, I usually just report their works and deeds. Other than that, I can only speculate to what people were thinking. As for Wyatt Earp, while he was not convicted as a horse thieve -- that doesn't change the fact that he was indeed a horse thieve. Remember, he escaped jail and evaded the law. As for saying he was like everyone else at the time? No, he was not like "a lot of men on the frontier" -- not very many tried to sell a paint brick as a gold brick. As for the OK Corral? He did not involve himself in the OK Corral situation. Fact is his brother who was the City Marshall asked him to help out and deputized him for the day. And by the way, just as people do today, the vast majority of people in the Old West simply worked hard and never stooped to lawlessness. Please don't make the mistake of thinking Wyatt Earp is an example of the way everyone in the Old West behaved themselves or made a living. Thankfully, they did not.

  6. Hollywood has tainted the history of the west. From what the American Indian to Wyatt Earp. Sadly a lot of what really went on in the old weast has been lost and retold through Hollywood and Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West show.

  7. "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." --The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I'm grateful for Mr. Correa's extensive, painstaking research to uncover the legend of Wyatt Earp and to expose the truth about the man. A real man--a real cowboy lives by a code: always tell the truth, regardless. If man's word is not his bond, then he has nothing. And good reputation is more valuable than gold. Mr. Correa lives by that code. Perhaps, sir, you will write an in-depth book on the so-called myths, legends, and lies about the men and women of the old west that Hollywood has seen fit to perpetuate for decades. --J.D. Lone Bear McGowan

    1. Thank you. You cannot know how much I appreciate that all of my research is appreciated. And yes, I am working on a book. Thanks again J.D.

  8. "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." --The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I'm grateful for Mr. Correa's extensive, painstaking research to uncover the legend of Wyatt Earp and to expose the truth about the man. A real man--a real cowboy lives by a code: always tell the truth, regardless. If man's word is not his bond, then he has nothing. And good reputation is more valuable than gold. Mr. Correa lives by that code. Perhaps, sir, you will write an in-depth book on the so-called myths, legends, and lies about the men and women of the old west that Hollywood has seen fit to perpetuate for decades. J.D. Lone Bear McGowan

  9. If somebody had killed one of my brothers, and crippled the other one, I don't know if I could do what he did to hunt them down and kill them, risking his own life. I take my hat off to him and the vengeance ride posse for that. Did he create peace in Tombstone and the county, well after the McClaurys, most of the Clantons, Curly Bill Brocious, Johnny Ringo. Frank Stillwell, the Indian Cruz, and others were gone, yes, there was finally peace from the cowboys in Tombstone. Hey Tom, what great work for mankind have you risked your life for and done in your lifetime?

    1. I understand your support of what Wyatt Earp did. I understand it very well because I've taken the law into my own hands when the police and courts refused to act. I understand the frustration and the desire for revenge very well. The difference is that I never hid behind a badge to do it like Wyatt Earp did. He broke the law and fled. He murdered and fled the whole while calling himself a lawman. He used his badge on many occasions in his life as a shield to break the law. Like it or not, that's the real Wyatt Earp. He was not who you think he was. And as for him bringing peace to the area before fleeing to Colorado, that is absolutely not the case. Rustling still went on, just with different people doing it.

      As for "what great work for mankind have you risked your life for and done in your lifetime?" I was a Marine during the end of the Vietnam War. I was an Instructor in the Corps, and after leaving I've had various careers. Some which I'm very glad are behind me. And in my time, I've seen more death and have been shot at. More than some, but thankfully not as much as others. I live knowing that I helped a lot of good folks in my lifetime. I know that I got some good folks out of a lot of scraps. And no, no one is going to take that away from me. Since you don't know me or my background, please don't ask me "what great work for mankind have you risked your life for and done in your lifetime." I know what I've done. But hey, thanks for visiting my site!

  10. Pimping and bookers were legal in most places in the West especially in the boomtowns. Wyatt. Wasn't breaking the law running whore houses. Look as most of the,other law men of the old west. Most were gamblers and killers. They used their badges to collect bounties on some very nasty evil people. I was in law enforcement for 17 years and I wish we could have just shot some bad guys, instead of waitting til they shot first. Times were very different back then. Very few laws or trained law men. I think Wyatt did what needed to be done at the time. Bat Masterson has very high regards for Wyatt. And I don't think Bat would have felt that way if Wyatt was as bad as you think he was. No body is perfect aspecailly in the Old West. Imho

    1. Hello Rupedog,

      While I understand where you are coming from, please understand that I don't care one why or another if Wyatt was a saint or not. I'm merely concerned with reporting what took place and what he did. I let his actions speak to the quality of his character. I can't change the fact that he was in fact arrested 11 times in his life for various acts including as a horse thief, a pimp, and a con-artist among other things. I cannot change the fact that he was involved with fixing the 1896 Heavyweight Championship Fight in San Francisco, or the fact that he evaded prosecution after warrants were issued for his arrest for the murders of Frank Stilwell and Florentino Cruz. As for his arrests for pimping, that did in fact take place in Illinois? While pimping and working in a brothel may have not been illegal in some places around the nation at the time, it certainly was for others. As for his actions during his "vendetta" and those who say "it was OK to commit murder since the courts weren't working in his favor." That's not true since the courts had worked in his favor when he and his brothers and Holliday had gotten off murder charges after the OK Corral. You state that you yourself were a police officer for 17 years, so can you imagine having warrants to serve but instead kill that person and then just flee the scene? Do you really think that that was OK back then? As a Deputy U.S. Marshal, he didn't need to flee and avoid questioning regarding both shootings if he was in the right. Yet he and his posse did so twice. Some say that that was the times. I assure you that many a great lawmen in the Old West had to stop a pursuit to answer for their actions. For example, right after what took place in what would become known as the Battle of Ingalls in Oklahoma. That was a gunbattle where Deputy U.S. Marshals took on the Doolin-Dalton gang, the original Wild Bunch. What resulted was 3 marshals and two residents being killed. Also, a local saloon owner sued the Federal government for damages. It's said that the surviving marshals took weeks writing those reports, had to appear in coroner's inquests, and be in court over the suit that was filed. That really does not sound much different than today. Lawmen back then might not have had the "training" that we have today, but they were trained before put out. Many were first hired to work in the jails before being turned out, and many were "trained OJT". Fact is, Morgan Earp was a lawman for a lot longer than Wyatt was even though he died early. And yes, Morgan Earp was said to have been trained by Charles Basset at one point. As for most being gamblers and killers? While there certainly were some who were and used different names because they may have been wanted in other parts of the nation, the fact is that majority were not of that ilk. Most were good citizens simply doing a job that they were asked to do by the citizenry. As a former lawman, you know that that's how the law started. It started with citizens groups caring for their security and creating the "hue and cry" where when someone saw something, every able bodied man showed up when the cry went out. From there people asked to have someone in charge and they were usually picked to do the job. Organized law did not come about until later for most places. But when it did, most were good and honest people. That might not be Hollywood's Old West, but it was the real Old West. Thanks for visiting my site.

  11. Seriously, I can't believe some of the comments here that question,totally misunderstand, contradict or spin what looks like to me Mr.Correa's thoughtful,reasoned,researched statements. It feels like some people, perhaps 1/3 of Americans now? will believe any fantasy, any distortion, exaggeration or downright lie that appeals to them about anything, not just history but current events? Why, because "their side" believes it or it's more "exciting",or "romantic", or gets one "stirred up?" What a sad state of affairs for this great nation. Factual history and current events are so much more complex and interesting than imaginary scenarios anyway.
    But Years ago, the Franklin Mint company sold "exact reproductions" of a/the "Earp pistol", a full scale, rather well made, soft metal non-firing close copy of the No. 3 2ND Model S&W American. In fact though, I see here that the Joseph Rosa book states that Earp had the "New" Model No. 3, which is very, very different from the older Model 3. Much easier to handle, carry for one thing. Now that is interesting, and I feel fairly safe believing that, given the context of this blog. So thanks for that.

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