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. For me, it just my opinion, but I believe Boyer proved himself a fraud later in life. 

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 near 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 near the OK Corral.


Yes, most Old West historians agree that Wyatt Earp did not use a Colt pistol at the gunfight near 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.

The standard barrel length was 7". But many Schofields were purchased as surplus by distributors, and had the barrels shortened to 5" and 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.

For more on the other side of the Wyatt Earp legend, more on his character, read Wyatt Earp -- From Unknown To Notorious Desperado. As for books that I use as some of my sources, I take a look at which Earp books that I've found very good, very objection, in my critique of Earp books in my three part series, Wyatt Earp's Biography By Stuart Lake -- Part 1.

You may find that information interesting.

Tom Correa



25 comments:

  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

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  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

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    1. 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.

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

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    3. Hello Charlie Swearingen, I've had to delete a lot of my responses because of the need for space. As for pointing you in the right direction for info or books on the Earps? I'm coming out with an article talking about Stuart Lake's Earp book and how it led me to others. Which ones were found to be bullshit and which ones are more credible. Thanks for visiting my sit. Respectfully, Tom

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    4. Hello Offonroad, Thanks. My research indicates the same thing. Again, much thanks. Thanks for visiting my sit. Respectfully, Tom

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    5. Hello Anonymous from October 31, 2016. I've had to delete a lot of my responses because of the need for space. But I will say this, please read the other articles that I have written on Wyatt Earp. In those articles, I call him a pimp, a horse thief, a con artist, a murderer, and so on. In those articles, I explain why those labels appropriately apply to him. You may find it interesting reading. Thanks for visiting my sit. Respectfully, Tom

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  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

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  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.

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  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.

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    1. I've had to delete a lot of my responses because of the need for space. But please read the other articles that I have written on Wyatt Earp. In those articles, I call him a pimp, a horse thief, a con artist, a murderer, and so on. In those articles, I explain why those labels appropriately apply to him. I'm just looking at a historical figure and examining the facts. Thanks for visiting my sit.

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  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.

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  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

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    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.

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  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

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    1. J.D., I cannot thank you enough for the kind words. And yes, I'm working on a book right now.

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  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?

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  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

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  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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    1. Thank you for your support. I truly appreciate it.

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  12. Your site is truly cool and this is an awesome rousing article. Much obliged to you to such an extent. Combat Handgun Training

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    1. Thank you. I really do appreciate you saying that.

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  13. Mr. Correa,

    You omitted a particular episode of Wyatt Earp's life. The County of San Bernardino, California, made Wyatt Earp an Honorary Deputy Sheriff. A number of years ago, I listened to a historian at Cal State San Bernardino give a presentation on him.

    An elderly Wyatt Earp (in his 60s) was prospecting in the California desert when he was approached by a young, inexperienced peace officer. The young peace officer asked Earp for help. An armed robber was holding up the local general store. Earp told the young peace officer to cover the back of the store. Earp (unarmed) then walked to the front entrance of the general store, announced "I'm Wyatt Earp" to the stunned robber, approached him, disarmed him, grabbed him by the collar, and threw him out the front door. This story is consistent with other accounts of how Earp exhibited fearlessness and cool courage when the need arose.

    You also left out the story of how Wyatt Earp, while serving as a Kansas peace officer, found a drunken man lying unconscious in the street; took him to the jail; and did not steal the $300 that was in his pocket. Because of this, the local newspaper praised Earp as an honest peace officer. This was cited in a recent Earp biography.

    You also left out the story of Wyatt Earp (age 73) attending a group luncheon in Los Angeles in 1923. Apparently two young men of the Jazz Age were sitting across from him at the table, and taking disrespectfully about women. Wyatt Earp responded by standing up at the table, glowering at them, and saying "You don't talk about a woman like that." I believe that in an earlier age, they called this chivalry.

    The frontier was not a black-and-white place. There was no guaranteed employment or government safety net. People were living meal-to-meal. The money was either in the saloons or in prospecting (which very few people were successful at). Earp went where the money was - in the saloons which were town social centers for men at the time (the YMCA wasn't available).

    Women were also in short supply on the frontier, particularly in a violent mining town like Tombstone, in the middle of Apache country, within 30 miles of the lawless Mexican border. That's why a local rancher would occasionally marry a "soiled dove." These ladies appreciated a good man, having seen the worst of men. Common-law marriages were also legal and recognized at the time. So, it's not surprising that Earp had two or three soiled doves as common-law wives.

    As an earlier respondent indicated, Wyatt Earp lost his way for a time after his first wife died. In later life, he lived in poverty. Unlike many of our contemporaries, Wyatt didn't try to lift himself out of poverty by selling drugs or committing violent crimes against innocent people.
    There was also a frontier tradition of cleaning out a "greenhorn" in his first card game in order to teach him a lesson on being careful with whom he played cards.

    Mr. Correa, you seem to dwell excessively on Wyatt Earp's shortcomings as seen from a modern perspective. People should be judged by the standards of their own time -- not by those of another age. Earp was not a saint, but then I've never met a "saint" in my 60 years. Just as Perry Mason inspired many people to study the law, Wyatt Earp inspired many people to become peace officers.

    In closing, Mr. Correa, I believe that this biblical verse applies to you. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

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    1. I have never said that I'm without sin. But really, what does that have to do with examining people and/or events in our history? Since none of us are without sin, does that mean that none of us should examine the lives of people and/or events in our history? That's ludicrous. I examine everyone with the same gauge, the same measuring stick, in the same way. Yes, simply by looking at facts.

      Thank you for visiting my site.
      Tom

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  14. Mr. Correa, Your article which was o.k., should have stuck to its title rather impugning a man's character without posting all the facts. I would suggest you read and look at a lot more facts than you have regarding Wyatt Earp. I suggest reading Wyatt Earp Speaks! written by Wyatt Earp and others, edited by John Stephens published by Fall River Press 2009. It is a well documented book, in which Mr.Earp dispels the legend from Hollywood and other writers.

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