Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wyatt Earp -- After The Vendetta

Ever wonder what Wyatt Earp did after the killing spree which we now call his vendetta?

Well, within months of the Earp vendetta, the silver production in Tombstone mines dropped sharply, and the boom town went bust. It seemed headed toward ghost town status, but in the 1930s there was a rekindled interest in the now famous shoot-out at the OK Corral. And that led to another boom of sorts, one that brought in enough tourists to keep the old town alive.

Today, Tombstone, Arizona, is a tourist spot where visitors can walk the same streets where the Earps and Clantons and McLaurys once called home. And yes, OK Corral gunfight re-enactors put on shows of how it supposedly happened so many years ago.

Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury are buried in Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona. But some might find it interesting that the McLaury brothers were buried side-by-side in the same grave, and that Billy Clanton was buried right next to them in a different grave.

By 1882, Wyatt Earp was in Colorado working at staying out of Arizona and the murder charges that would hang over his head for the rest of his life. While there, he talked with his friend Bat Masterson to talk with the Governor to stop extradition back to Arizona. He was also able to get Bat to help stop the extradition of all of those who took place in what would 50 years later become known as his "vendetta".

By 1884, Wyatt tried for the final time to be a lawman when the boomtown of Wallace, Idaho, struck silver. Instead of creating a legend, the soon to be infamous Wyatt Earp was sued in the local courthouse for claim-jumping.

Wyatt Earp supposedly married Josephine Marcus in 1887 but there seems to be a problem with finding a record of that event. The two would travel from boom to bust for many decades.

From San Francisco to Idaho to El Paso to Alaska, Wyatt Earp refereed heavyweight boxing matches, mined for gold and silver, sold real estate, raised race horses, ran saloons and gambling halls, and ran into trouble with the law here and there for one reason or another so much so that he was constantly on police "watch lists".

Unlike Virgil Earp, some say Wyatt was always after a fast buck. Some contend that he was a cheat and crooked gambler. Some say he was a con man because of his arrests in scams and con games and even fight fixing as a boxing referee. And while Wyatt is always portrayed as this soft spoken teetotaler, that's all myth.

In actuality Wyatt was known to tell a lot of different versions of the same incident, as well as spinning yarns especially while drinking heavily. Wyatt told some outlandish stories in his time. He said he hunted buffalo with a shotgun because he didn't like the recoil of a Sharp's .50. He said he knew Wild Bill, and he once bragged how he arrested Ben Thompson and ran Clay Allison out of town -- all of which never happened.

In San Francisco in 1896, Wyatt Earp finally found the fame that he wanted to achieve. Actually, it was this incident that made Wyatt Earp infamous not famous.



Wyatt Earp was the referee of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey heavyweight championship fight. He was the key to what was a fixed heavy weight championship fight. And yes, it is believed that Wyatt Earp was picked to referee that fight because he could be bought.

During the fight, Fitzsimmons was clearly outboxing and outfighting Sharkey in the fight and knocked Shakey to the canvass. Immediately, as if on cue, Earp stepped in and awarded the fight to Sharkey claiming Fitzsimmons fouled the downed fighter.

The $10,000 purse was awarded to Sharkey, but Fitzsimmons' side filed suit claiming there was no foul. When the case went to court, testimony showed Wyatt conspired with Sharkey's agents to go against Fitzsimmons. But then again, since prize fighting wasn't legal and Wyatt Earp claimed in court to be broke, the judge declared him an itinerant and threw the case out of court.

In 1897, Wyatt Earp and Josie made their way to Juneau, Alaska, and opened the Dexter Saloon. There were a lot of eye witnesses there on a night when Wyatt had too much to drink and began to create trouble. Yes, unlike the movies and the myth, Wyatt Earp was a boozer.

It took place in 1900, he was brandishing a revolver in front of U.S. Marshal Albert Lowe. Lowe reportedly slapped Earp upside the head and disarmed him.

Its true. An intoxicated Wyatt Earp threatened Marshal Lowe saying he'd show the Marshal how guns are handled "down Arizona way." But instead U.S. District Marshal Lowe took Wyatt's gun, slapped him in the face, and then told him to go home and go to bed.

Wyatt Earp was 49 years old at the time. And frankly, Wyatt Earp was a lucky man, because brandishing a firearm to a real bad hombre like Federal Marshal Albert Lowe could have gotten him killed that night.

The pistol that U.S. Marshal Lowe took from Earp that night was never reclaimed by Earp and now sits in the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, Alaska.


He didn't fare much better back in California, where, on a visit to San Francisco, he was knocked senseless in a fist fight with a local prizefighter named Mike Mulqueen. Mulqueen claimed Earp was mouthing off about his exploits and then insulted him.

Infamous Wyatt Earp was probably more a legend in his own mind by then, but that didn't matter to Mike Mulqueen who obviously didn't take any guff from Earp. I guess Mulqueen did not realize how much of a bad hombre Wyatt Earp thought he was, because it's said that Mulqueen beat him so soundly that he knocked Earp senseless!

In 1911, Wyatt was charged by Los Angeles Police with attempting to "fleece J.Y. Patterson" out of $2,500 by running a crooked Faro game. In that case, the charges against Wyatt were dismissed on a technicality.

The technicality was that the Los Angeles police moved in and made the arrest prior to money exchanging hands from Patterson to the conspirators. The police, who had been alerted to the con-game by Patterson, had moved in too quickly.

Wyatt Earp, the last survivor of the fight, traveled for decades in the company of Josephine Marcus, working mostly as a gambler and miner. In 1929, he died in Los Angeles of a chronic cystitis at the age of 80.

In his last years, he gambled on horses, he sold real estate in Orange County, supposedly mined in Neveda, and during the romancitization of the Old West he  worked as a technical consultant for silent movies.

Like many others who found that the renewed interest in the West could be profitable, Earp searched and finally found a biographer and tried to selling his life story. All the while Wyatt Earp painted himself as a great frontier marshal but no one was interested in his story.

The he found writer Stuart N. Lake who became Earp's biographer. And with that Stuart Lake wrote Wyatt Earp's biographyentitled, "Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal," published in 1931.

Some say Lake sought Earp out, and others say Earp sought out Lake. Either way, it is true that Wyatt Earp was seeking a biographer at about the same time. And yes, Wyatt, who was 79, and was supposedly financially motivated to sell his story because he had little income in his last years of life.

During the interviews and in later correspondence, Wyatt went to great lengths to paint his life as something most didn't recognize later including taking credit for things that he never did.

Following Earp's death in January 1929, Josephine corresponded with Lake. He claimed she attempted to influence what he wrote and hamper him in every way possible, including consulting lawyers. Josephine may have threatened to sue Lake. Supposedly Josephine worked hard to see that Wyatt was portrayed in the book in a positive manner, but some say she wanted a cut from the book.

Lake finally published Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal in 1931, two years after Earp's death. It portrayed Earp as "gallant white knight" and was almost entirely void of the truth.

The book drew considerable positive attention and established Lake as a writer for years to come. However, later researchers have suggested that Lake's account of Earp's early life is embellished, for there is little corroborating evidence for many of the book's stories.

Writers such as Steve Gatto, Frank Waters, and Dr. Floyd B. Streeter have cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of Lake's larger-than-life depiction of Wyatt Earp. The book "is now regarded more as fiction than fact." In fact, when it was published, the book was quickly denounced as grossly inaccurate by those who knew Earp personally, and Allie Earp, who was Virgil Earp's widow, went so far as to call it "a pack of lies".

William M. Breakenridge's book, Helldorado: Bringing Law to the Mesquite, ghost written by Western novelist William MacLeod Raine, was published in 1928 before Wyatt died.

Wyatt and his wife Josie claimed that much of what Breakenridge wrote was biased and more fiction than fact. That's not too surprising since after Breakenridge interviewed Wyatt Earp in Los Angeles, Breakenridge painted Wyatt as a thief, pimp, crooked gambler, and murderer.
Many of the problems that writers have with believing anything that Wyatt said is due to his contradictions, story telling, his claims that cannot be corroborated.

In an interview with a reporter in Denver in 1896, Wyatt Earp denied that he had killed Johnny Ringo. But then he flip floped his story, and claimed that he had killed Ringo yet he couldn't have because he was no where near where they found Ringo's body.

In about 1918, Earp told Forrestine Hooker, who wrote an unpublished manuscript, and then Frank Lockwood, who wrote Pioneer Days in Arizona in 1932, that he was the one who killed Johnny Ringo as he left Arizona in 1882.

The problem with Earp's story is that he included details that do not match what is known about Ringo's death. Wyatt repeated that claim to at least three other people.

During an interview with his future biographer Stuart Lake during the late 1920s, Wyatt said that he arrested notorious gunslinger Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, on August 15, 1873, when news accounts and Thompson's own contemporary account about the episode do not mention Earp even being there.

As for Earp telling Lake that he had hunted buffalo during 1871 and 1872, arrest records show that he was arrested and jailed on a horse theft charge on April 6th, 1871, and arrested as a pimp in Peoria during February 1872.

At the hearing following the Tombstone shootout, Wyatt told folks that he had been the Marshal of Dodge City. That was a claim that Wyatt repeatedly told folks for years, including in an interview that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1896.

Fact is that wasn't true because Wyatt had only been the assistant city marshal there. He was the number two man of a four man police department. In the same interview, Wyatt claimed that George Hoyt had intended to kill him. He said he killed Hoyt when most at the time thought it more likely that James Masterson actually shot Hoyt since they both fired at the same time.

Wyatt also said he and Bat Masterson had confronted Clay Allison when he was sent to Dodge City "to finish George Hoyt's job" of supposedly killing Wyatt. He said that he had forced both to back down. While that was not true, the truth really didn't matter to Earp.

As for Hoyt, James Masterson's account of a wonded Hoyt falling from his horse and dying days later contradicts Wyatt's account of shooting Hoyt dead when he hit the ground. As for Clay Allison, other accounts contradict Earp's.

Credit belonged with cattleman Dick McNulty and Long Branch Saloon owner Chalk Beeson for convincing Clay Allison and his cowboys to leave town. Famed Charlie Siringo witnessed the incident and left a written account of what took place, and he insists that Wyatt Earp had not even met Clay Allison. Of course that fact didn't stop Wyatt from telling folks that he once ran notorious gunmen Clay Allison out of town. He did so knowing he was lying.

But really, none of that matters because all in all most folks say print the legend. And yes, it's kinder for Wyatt Earp if folks would. But frankly, as far as I'm concerned, he doesn't deserve it.

Tom Correa




2 comments:

  1. I'm glad the shine is finally starting to wear off this man. I have read a lot about him going all the way back to 1869 and his time in Lamar. He was nothing but a bully, con man, wife beater and deadbeat, just like his father. He went to a different town every couple of years and got what he could out of it (legal and illegal) and then moved on, most of the time with the law right behind him.

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  2. Agreed! James Kevin Purcell

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