Wyatt Earp - Fact And Myth

Wyatt Earp is famous as being one of America’s most famous historical figures on the basis that he is regarded as a vigilante who went around in the Wild West dealing out rough justice. Yet this is not really the truth. There is a significant disparity between the 'fairy tale' version of this man's life, and the rather starker, seedier reality. A myth has been created, partly by Wyatt Earp himself, and partly by others.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Wyatt Earp, who was famous for taking part in a notorious gunfight that happened at Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881, met up in California with a would-be screenwriter called Stuart Lake and told him his life story. Lake turned this life story into a screenplay and sold the rights to it four years later to the film makers Fox. They later made the first of the many films that would be made about Earp, creating the myth about him that exists to this day. What people believe they know about Wyatt Earp comes from films such as 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' (1957, starring Burt Lancaster). ABC made a television series called 'The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp between 1955 and 1961 (starring Hugh O’Brian). Coming more up to date, in 1993 Kurt Russell starred as Earp in the film 'Tombstone'. In 1994 Kevin Costner starred as Earp in the film 'Wyatt Earp'. These all present the mythologized version of the man.

The story they tell is that Earp reluctantly became a lawman and got involved in the gunfight at Tombstone because of his strong belief that law and order should prevail, and that he was utterly loyal to his brothers, who were also officers of the law. The Earps killed three cowboys in the gunfight, and their friends exacted their revenge by shooting two of Wyatt Earp’s brothers. One was shot dead, the other was left wounded. The story then goes that Earp realized he wouldn't be able to bring the men who did the shooting to justice through the normal legal means, and so he took the law into his own hands and tracked down and killed several of the men he thought were guilty of the killings and killed them himself. He did this whilst wearing the badge of a deputy U.S. marshal.

There's obviously an element of good and bad, right and wrong, in this story. Earp shouldn't have done what he did, and yet he was seeking justice in the only way he thought it possible. He is a flawed hero. But that makes him all the more attractive. When 'the system' proves inadequate, the individual must act on their own initiative and do what they know to be right.

A fine story perhaps … if it were true. Sometimes you have to be bad to be good. Therefore your badness becomes acceptable, desirable and justifiable.

But this 'reality' was self-created by Earp, and Stuart Lake was the tool he used to propagate it. The other tool was the nascent film industry.

Do you remember Charles Bronson playing a vigilante in the 'Death Wish' movies? People love the idea of an individual exacting extra-legal justice and doing what the authorities cannot or will not do, but what they should do, and what almost all people dare not do. It's a sort of romantically brutal dream. Of course even legal governments use extra-legal means to achieve their ends. Assassinations, weapons' supplies, bribes and blackmail, torture and imprisonment - and this is not necessarily just America that we are talking about. These tactics are employed by governments throughout the world. To achieve 'justice', one must sometimes operate outside the law. So good for old Wyatt Earp, achieving justice in the only way available to him. As a head of the National Rifle Association once said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Yet Wyatt Earp's actions were different from what is believed, and his motivations were different from what is believed. He was not 'a good guy with a gun'.

When he was young, he was arrested for stealing horses and for using prostitutes. He was driven out of one town in Texas because he had tried to sell a yellow-painted rock as a lump of gold. So as someone who had a disregard for the law, why did he become a law officer? It was because at that time corruption in the police force was endemic. It was easy to make money from backhanders and extortion.

In 1896 there was a celebrated 'sports fixing' case where Earp refereed a heavyweight championship prizefight which was alleged to have been fixed. Even when he was 63, in 1911, he was arrested in Los Angeles for organizing fixed card games. The man was, to put it bluntly, dishonest.

So how did Earp gain his reputation for being a man of principal? After the 1896 case he was notorious nationwide in the USA as a 'dodgy' character. Then in 1901 he happened to read Owen Wister's best-selling Western (what we might call 'cowboy') novel 'The Virginian'. In the novel, the hero get's involved in a gunfight, and also a vigilante gang hanging of a man believed to be a horse thief (obviously still a sore point for Earp). This plot gave Earp a new plan.

At that time, the movies were in their early boom stages, so Earp relocated to Hollywood and got in with the people at the studios there. In particular he became friends with two early Western silent-film stars. They were called William Hart and Tom Mix. He told a carefully redacted version of his life to them - missing out the bit about his being a horse thief - and his story was eventually taken up and represented, or misrepresented, in film.

His past had been reinvented in the eyes and minds of the screen-watching masses. This goes to show you that it is not the truth that matters, but people's perception. Who cares about reality? It's what people believe that matters. This was true then, and is even more true now in the age of the manipulation of the minds of the masses by the mass media.

Earp was no longer a crook, a con man and a shady character. Instead he was an upright man fighting for justice.

This is the 'bland' biography of Earp that people accept.

Wyatt Earp was born Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp on the 19th March 1848. (He died on January 13th 1929) He was a gambler. At various times he was the Deputy Sheriff of Pima County, and he was the Deputy Town Marshal at Tombstone in Arizona. He was involved in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral at Tombstone in which he and other law officers killed three fugitive cowboys. Apparently the gunfight only lasted half a minute, but the three cowboys were killed. With Wyatt at the shoot-out was his brother Virgil who was the City Marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal of Tombstone that day. Virgil Earp was a very much more experienced law officer than his brother Wyatt.

Wyatt was also during his life a city policeman, a county sheriff, a union leader, a hunter, a bar and nightclub bouncer, a bar owner, a brother owner, a pimp for prostitutes, a gold miner, and a boxing match referee.

Wyatt Earp's first wife was Urilla. They lived together in Iowa. Urilla during pregnancy less than a year after she and Wyatt had got married. Over the next two years he was arrested, twice taken to court, managed to escape from jail, and then got arrested three more times for running, or being involved in the running of, a brothel.

After this he went to Wichita, Kansas, which at that time was prospering because of the cattle business. There he became, for a period of one year, a deputy city marshal.

In 1876 his brother James was in Dodge City, Kansas, so Wyatt went there and became an assistant city marshal. An inveterate gambler, Wyatt went to Texas in 1878, as it was a place renowned for gambling. As an aside, it was there and then that Wyatt met another famous 'Western' character, 'Doc' Holliday (John Henry Holliday).

Wyatt was peripatetic by nature and would move from one place to another according to whatever place was doing most well. So in 1879 he left Dodge City, along with his brothers James and Virgil, and went to Tombstone in Arizona. Why did the Earps go there? Because there was a big silver mining boom taking place.

The three brothers bought a share in a silver mine called Vizina. They also bought some water rights. Just as in modern developing economies, they ran foul of a local gang - a mini mafia, if you will. Wyatt, Virgil, and their younger brother Morgan were in the local police force, so their duty was to confront 'the bad boys'. These were Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton. These guys threatened to kill the Earps if they were not paid off. Friction grew, and then on October the 26th 1881, they all faced up to each other in a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Earps, along with 'Doc' Holliday, killed the three cowboys.

This is where the story develops. Five months later, Virgil Earp was ambushed and wounded by friends of the dead men. Morgan was killed. Wyatt wanted revenge, so he and his brother Warren and Doc Holliday and others went after the people they thought were responsible for the killings and killed three of them.

After that, Earp left Tombstone with his third wife, Josephine. They went to Eagle City, Idaho, then San Diego, California, then Nome, Alaska, then Tonopah, Nevada. Eventually they came back to California and settled in Vidal.

Here is extra information.

Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois to a widower named Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey. N. P. Earp had had two children from a first marriage - a boy, Newton, and a girl, Mariah Ann. The latter died when she was only ten months old. Wyatt was named after a commanding officer of his father's from his service in the Mexican-American War - Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp. They were both in the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers.

In March 1849, the Earps went from Monmouth intending to go to California but instead ended up in Iowa. They acquired a farm of government granted land totaling 160 acres. This was near a place called Pella.

When the American Civil War began, Newton, James and Virgil Earp joined the Union Army on November the 11th in 1861. Wyatt's father was a recruiting officer and drill sergeant. Wyatt, with his brothers Morgan and Warren, had to look after the farm. Despite being only thirteen, Wyatt several times tried to join the army, but each time he was sent home.

In Fredericktown, Missouri, James was badly wounded. He was sent home in the summer of 1863. Newton and Virgil fought in several battles and then rejoined the family and went to California.

In May 1864, on the 12th, Nicholas Earp got together a wagon train and headed off to San Bernardino in California. He got there on the 17th December 1864. In the late summer of 1865, Virgil too got there and found work as a driver for the Phineas Banning Stage Coach Line. This ran through Imperial Valley in California. His 16-year-old brother Wyatt also worked along side him. Then in 1866 Wyatt became a driver, shifting cargo for a man called Chris Taylor. Through 1866, 1867 and 1868, he had to go from Wilmington through San Bernardino and Las Vegas (in Nevada) to Salt Lake City in Utah.

In spring 1868 Earp got hired by Charles Chrisman, His job was to shift merchandise for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad. This was the time when he learned how to gamble and also how to box. Becoming involved in boxing led Wyatt to become a referee.

In 1868 in the spring the Earps went to Lamar, Missouri, in the east. There Wyatt's dad Nicholas was able to become the local police constable. Wyatt was able to get back with his family the following year.

In November 1869, on the 17th, Nicholas resigned from being a constable and became a justice of the peace. For those who understand the Earps' machinations and thinkings, this was an irony beyond all irony. Wyatt stepped into his brothers shoes and became a police constable.

Wyatt Earp, in return for this guarantee of income from being a 'law extortioner', handed over $1,000 to guarantee that his father Nicholas, his uncle Jonathan, and James Maupin would pay money to their superiors out of what they received in kickbacks.

In late 1869, Earp met Urilla Sutherland (born in 1849, died in 1870). She was the daughter of a hotel owner called William Sutherland, His wife was called Permellia. They used to live in New York. They got married in Lamar. This was on January the 10th 1870. Shortly afterwards, in August 1870, they bought an area of land nearby for $50. Remember this was a significant amount of money in those days. Urilla got pregnant, but died. In November that year, Earp sold up, and then he managed to get voted in to being constable, against his elder half-brother Newton. There was high competition in those days to get official positions where money could be extorted from people.

After Urilla died, Wyatt had various legal issues to deal with. Barton County, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against him on March the 14th 1871, charging him with collecting license fees for Lamar, which funded the schools in the area, and then failing to hand over those fees. Then on the 31st March, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against him asserting that he had falsified official documents about the amount of money he had received from Cromwell to pay off a court judgment that Cromwell was liable to pay. When the court received the inadequate payment from Earp on Cromwell's behalf, it seized a mowing machine from Cromwell. They then sold the machine for $38. In his court case against Earp, Cromwell demanded that Earp should pay him the full value of the machine that had been seized. He valued it at $75.

Charged With Horse Theft

Earp, John Shown and Edward Kennedy were charged in their absence on the 28th of March 1871 with stealing two horses, alleged to be worth $100 each. The horses had been stolen from William Keys, and the theft had taken place while they were in Indian Country. Earp was arrested on the 6th of April by Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens. Earp was then arraigned on April 14th by Commissioner James Churchill. He was granted bail in the sum of $500. The next day, Earp, Shown and Kennedy were indicted.

Anna, the wife of John Shown, alleged the other two men had got her husband to take part in the theft by getting him drunk and threatening to kill him if he didn't take part.

Edward Kennedy was acquitted on June 5th, and the case continued against Earp and Shown. Not bothering to wait for the outcome of the trial, Earp escaped through the roof of the jail where he was being held and he fled to Peoria in Illinois.

In Peoria, Earp was said by biographer Stuart Lake to have taken up buffalo hunting in the winter 1871/72 in order to earn a living, but records show that during that time, Earp got arrested three times in Peoria. In 1872 he was recorded in Peoria city's directory as residing in a house that was operated as a brothel by its owner, Jane Haspel.

Police raided the brothel in February 1872 and arrested four women and three men. The three men were Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. They were charged with 'keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame.' For this they were fined twenty dollars each and they had to pay the court's costs.

Wyatt was arrested for the same thing in May that year, and again in September. He could have worked as a 'doorman' or a pimp, or both, or neither, but it is unlikely he was merely innocently residing in a brothel.

Although there is no evidence that Earp hunted buffalo during his years in Peoria, this does not mean that he may not have done it.


In 1874, Earp left Peoria and went to Wichita, Kansas. Wichita was a stop-off point for cattle drovers. It had a railroad terminal. With all the cowboys there, spending their earnings, getting drunk and whoring, there was a lot to keep the local law officers busy. Earp would help them. When the drovers weren't around, Earp needed to earn money by helping the law officers in other ways, and in October of 1874 there was a report in the local newspaper that Earp had been paid to help an off-duty police officer track down some thieves who had stolen a wagon from a man.

Earp was appointed a Wichita marshal on the 21st April 1875. He got paid $100 a month. At that time Mike Meagher was the head of police in the city (officially he was called the 'city marshal'.

$100 was not enough for Wyatt. To boost his income, he worked as a faro dealer at the Long Branch Saloon.

Towards the end of 1875, the local newspaper, the Wichita Beacon, published the following story:

On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the 'cooler' and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.

It is difficult to reconcile this account with what is known of Earp's character and the various means he employed to get money for himself.

At the beginning of 1876, Earp's gun, a single-action revolver, fell out of its holster and went off. The bullet narrowly missed him, passing through his coat.

In 1876 a former police marshal, Bill Smith, accused Earp of using his position in the police force to try to get his brothers taken on as law officers. Wyatt beat Smith up. This resulted in Meagher firing Earp. He also had him arrested for disturbing the peace. Meagher won the election to retain his position that year.

Wyatt's brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, Kansas, that same year, so Wyatt went and joined him

Dodge City

Like Peoria, Dodge City, Kansas was a major cattle transport train-terminal. The cattle were driven from Texas along what was known as the Chisholm Trail. In Dodge, Earp secured the position of assistant marshal. The head of police in the city then was Larry Deger. Yet there is some evidence that Wyatt was in Deadwood, Dakota Territory in the winter of 1876/77. Certainly by late 1877 he was not on the police force in Dodge City.

In the spring of 1878 he was back on the Dodge City police payroll. Then in July of 1878 it was reported in the local newspaper that he had been fined $1 for slapping a prostitute who had been abusive to him. The prostitute was named Frankie Bell. Bell got fined $20 and spent the night in jail, but Earp also got fined for his behavior.

Wyatt left Dodge City in October of 1877. He tried to earn a living through gambling (honest or otherwise). He travelled through the state of Texas. One place he stayed at was Fort Griffin. After that, in 1878, he returned to Dodge City. There he joined the police again and became assistant city marshal. His boss was Charlie Bassett.

At some point around this time, Earp met 'Doc' Holliday - John Henry Holliday - although it isn't known exactly where or when. But in the summer of 1878, Holliday backed Earp up during a bar room brawl, during which Earp was outnumbered. Earp later said that Holliday saved his life that day. The two men became firm friends.

Back in Dodge, Earp got to know the brothers James and Bat Masterson, as well as Luke Short, and also a prostitute called Celia Anne Blaylock - otherwise known as Mattie. Blaylock and Earp started living together. (They stayed together until 1881.)

Wyatt quit the Dodge City police force in 1879, on September the 9th. Mattie went with him to Las Vegas, then in New Mexico Territory. After that they went to Tombstone, Arizona.

The Shooting Of George Hoyt

This is usually accredited to Earp, but the incident unfolds as follows. On the morning of July the 26th 1878 in Dodge, at about 3 am, George Hoyt and his drunken friends fired their guns. Some bullets went into the Comique Theater. The comedian performing there, Eddie Foy, and members of the audience, threw themselves to the floor. No one got hit. Earp and another policeman, James Masterson, along with several citizens, fired after the miscreants , who were fleeing on horseback, and then set off in pursuit of them. When the culprits were riding over the bridge over the Arkansas river (to the south of the town), Hoyt fell from his horse. He had been hit by a bullet whilst fleeing from Dodge, and this had weakened him, and that caused him to fall.

Later Hoyt developed gangrene. He died on the 21st of August. Earp claimed that he had been the one who had hit Hoyt, but there is no specific evidence for this. Hoyt could have been shot by any of the various people who had fired at him


In1879, Wyatt's older brother Virgil was in Prescott, Arizona. Prescott wrote to Wyatt to tell him about the apparently great opportunities that were up for grabs in the town of tombstone, where there was a silver-boom going on. So towards the end of 1879, Wyatt, his partner - the prostitute Mattie Blaylock - and Wyatt's brother Jim, along with his wife, along with 'Doc' Holliday Doc's partner 'Big Nose Kate', set off for Arizona. On the way they stopped off at Las Vegas, as well as at other places. They arrived at Prescott in November of 1879.

The three Earp brothers and their partners stayed in Tombstone, but Doc Holliday and his partner stayed in Prescott. This was because, for a 'skilled' gambler like Doc, there were richer pickings to be had.

When Tombstone was created in March 1879, there were fewer than 100 people there. When the Earps arrived, there were over 1000 there. Hardly a city, but enough people to make life interesting and to present opportunities to the Earps.

This is where things take an interesting turn. On November the 27th in 1879, Wyatt's brother Virgil was appointed Deputy Marshal in the Tombstone mining area. This was about 450 kilometers from Prescott. He was appointed by Crawley Dake, who was the Marshal overseeing Arizona Territory. Therefore Virgil represented federal authority in the southeast of Arizona.

Three days later, Wyatt moved to join his brother in Tombstone.

With him, Wyatt had brought some horses and a wagon. He wanted to convert this into a stagecoach. Unfortunately, when he got to Tombstone he found there were already two well established stagecoach lines operating there.

The Earp brothers staked mining claims and rights to water in Tombstone. Wyatt's brother Jim worked as a barman. The three Earp brothers, along with Robert J. Winders, filed a claim on the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid Mine on December the 6th 1879. However, none of their claims proved profitable.

Later, in May 1880, Earp got hired got hired by Wells, Fargo & Co., through their agent Frederick James Dodge, as an armed guard on the stagecoaches carrying Wells Fargo strongboxes..

In the summer of 1880 Earp's brother Morgan arrived from Montana and then Warren Earp also moved to Tombstone. Then, in September, Doc Holliday arrived.

It was on the 25th July 1880 that U.S. Army Captain Joseph H. Hurst requested that Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp help him track down some cowboys who had stolen six U.S. Army mules from Camp Rucker. Virgil then asked if he could be assisted by his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, as well as Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams. This permission was granted. The posse then tracked down the mules to the ranch of the outlaw McLaury. Outlaws were called cowboys. Honest men in the cattle business were called cattle herders or ranchers. The Earps and the others found the branding iron that McLaury had used to change the brand on the cattle from 'U.S.' to 'D.8.' The mules had of course been U.S. government property.

One cowboy called Frank Patterson did a deal with Captain Hurst. Hurst then told the posse to back off, saying that the mules would be handed back. Unfortunately the cowboys then turned up two days later, but instead of handing the mules back, they simply laughed in the faces of Captain Hurst and the Earps. So Captain Hurst printed posters describing the mule theft. The posters charged Frank McLaury with hiding the mules. Hurst had this poster reproduced in the local newspaper The Tombstone Epitaph. The article appeared the 30th July 1880.

In an angry response, Frank McLaury reposted in another paper, Nuggett, an article accusing Hurst of being 'unmanly' and 'a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, and a malicious liar'. Strong stuff, coming from a criminal to a lawman. McLaury, idiotically, then went further and accused Hurst himself of stealing the mules. Such idiocy must surely go down in the annals of history.

Captain Hurst quite reasonably told the Earps - Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan - that their lives had been threatened by McLaury and has compadres. Virgil is reported to have said that Frank McLaury told him that if the Earps came after the McLaurys, the Earps would be in for a fight.

A month later, Wyatt Earp accidentally Frank and Tom McLaury in the twon of Charleston. They told him that if he and the other marshalls came after them, the McLaurys would kill them.

On July the 28th 1880, Wyatt Earp got appointed as the deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County. This area naturally included Tombstone. The appointment was made Charlie Shibell, the Democrat County Sheriff. At this point, Earp handed over his Wells Fargo job to his brother Morgan.

Apparently Wyatt was a good law officer. He was mentioned regularly in the local rag The Tombstone Epitaph, as well as the more anti-establishment paper the Nugget.

The deputy sheriff's job paid more than US$40,000 a year. In today's money that's about one million dollars. This was because the deputy sheriff was also the county assessor and the tax collector. (You don't have to be too bright to see how a government tax-extortioner can line his - or her - pockets.) Even officially, the board of supervisors allowed the tax-extortioner to keep ten per cent of the money extorted from the citizens.

Unfortunately Wyatt only lasted about three months in this job. Your guess as to why his tenure was so short is as good as mine.

In November 1880, Shibell put himself forward for re-election. His challenger was the Republican Bob Paul. A republican, Wyatt, backed Paul, and when Shibell came out on top, Wyatt resigned. This was on November the 9th. It was only 12 days after the shooting of White. Shibell immediately appointed Behan to be the new deputy sheriff for the eastern area of Pima County. But then Paul filed charges saying that Shibell's men Frank McLaury, Ike Clanton and Curly Bill Brocius had cooperated in fiddling the results of the election.

Eventually Paul was pronounced the winner of the Pima County sheriff election. However, this declaration took until April 1881. But by then Paul could not replace Behan with Earp because on the 1st of January 1881 Cochise County was made, having been created by subdividing it from the east side portion of Pima County. Both Wyatt and Behan applied for the new position of Cochise County sheriff. This, like the Pima County Sheriff job, enabled the holder to get 10% of the fees and taxes collected.

During the Spicer hearing after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Earp declared that he and Behan had done a deal. The deal was that if Earp withdrew his application to become one of the legislature, Behan would then make Earp undersheriff. In the end, Behan got his appointment in February of 1881. Not surprisingly, he did not keep his side of the bargain. He actually nominated Harry Woods, who was a prominent Democrat, to be the undersheriff. Later Behan testified that he had not made any deal with Earp, but then he later recanted. He then said that he had broken his promise to Earp because of a certain incident that had occurred shortly before he go appointed.

Wyatt had found out that one of his prize horses, which had been stolen over a year before, was now in the possession of Ike Clanton and Ike's brother Billy. Consequently Wyatt and Doc Holliday rode over to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to get the horse back. On their way there, they overtook Behan, who was riding in a wagon. Behan too was heading to the ranch. His purpose was to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike.

Now the accounts differ as to what happened next. Earp said that when he arrived at the Clanton ranch, Billy Clanton handed over the horse to him without any argument. But Behan said that Wyatt told the Clantons that Behan was on his way, and that therefore they should hand over the horse in order to avoid arrest for horse theft. This misunderstanding turned Behan against Earp.

On the 28th of October 1880, Fred White, a popular Tombstone town marshal, tried to break up a group of drunken men who were letting off shots from their guns. This was in Allen Street. Wyatt happened to be nearby, and because he was unarmed he borrowed a gun from Fred Dodge and went to help his fellow law officer. At one point, Fred White grabbed a gun being held by Curly Bill Brocius. The gun went off, and White was shot in the groin. Earp then pistol-whipped Brocius. Having knocked him to the ground, he then told Brocius to get. The latter apparently said, “What have I done?” Perhaps this is understandable as he would have seen the shooting of White as purely accidental and caused by White's own actions.

Fred Dodge then arrived on the scene. Years later he gave a written account of the incident to Stuart Lake.

Wyatt's coolness and nerve never showed to better advantage than they did that night. When Morg and I reached him, Wyatt was squatted on his heels beside Curly Bill and Fred White. Curly Bill's friends were pot-shooting at him in the dark. The shooting was lively and slugs were hitting the chimney and cabin… in all of that racket, Wyatt's voice was even and quiet as usual.

Wyatt himself later told Lake that at the time of the incident he had believed that Brocious still had his gun on him. In fact it was lying on the ground, but in the darkness Earp couldn't see it. Later the revolver was found to have one empty chamber (the one from which the bullet had come that had hit Fred White) and five chambers with live rounds in them.

Brocius chose to waive a preliminary hearing in order that he could get his case transferred over to the District Court at Tucson. Wyatt and Virgil him there for the trial. Because Fred White was such a popular law officer, there was a risk that the Dodge citizens might have tried to lynch Brocius. White had died from his shooting two days after the incident. He was 31 years old.

Wyatt testified in court on the 27th December 1880 that the shooting had been accidental. Brocius confirmed this, saying he had not deliberately shot Fred White. He expressed regret over the incident. The court also heard that that Brocius's gun, a single action revolver, could be fired even when only half-cocked. Before he died, Fred White made a statement saying that the shooting had been accidental.

At the end of the court case, the judge declared that the shooting ad been accidental. Brocius was released. Nonetheless he was still angry about being pistol whipped by Wyatt, and he became an avowed enemy of the Earps.

Wyatt attracted yet more enmity when 18-year-old Josephine Sarah Marcus left Johnny Behan and entered into a relationship with Wyatt. This added fuel to Behan's dislike of his personal and political foe. At the time, Behan was 35 and Wyatt was 32.

Josephine had first come to Tombstone the 1st of December 1879 as a performer in the Pauline Markham Theatre Troupe. The Troupe had a one-week engagement there. This had been the same day that Wyatt and his brothers had arrived there. Behan didn't come to Tombstone until September 1880. Josephine then returned to Tombstone in October.

In the spring of 1881 Josephine found Behan in bed with another woman, the wife of a friend. She promptly kicked him out. However, she still continued using Behan's surname until the end of the summer.

Although Wyatt was not married, he was in a settled relationship with Mattie Blaylock. Indeed in the city's June 1880 census she was put down as being his wife. These days we might say they were common-law husband and wife, although there is actually no such thing. Mattie suffered from bad headaches, for which she took laudanum, a tincture of opium. Unfortunately she had become addicted to this. Wyatt and Josephine may have come into contact with each other because both Wyatt and Behan had offices in the same place, above the Crystal Palace Saloon.

Later, Wyatt would endeavor to keep his biographer Stuart Lake from mentioning Mattie and Josephine. Indeed he and Josephine threatened Lake with legal action. It was Josephine who asserted that Wyatt never pimped for the prostitutes at the saloon, and that he never owned or ran any gambling dens.

When Wyatt lost his job as a law officer, it was fortunate that he and his brothers were starting to make money from their mining stakes in the area. Then in the January of 1881, Lou Rickabaugh, the owner of the Oriental Saloon, gave Wyatt a quarter share in the faro concession at his saloon. This was in return for Wyatt becoming the enforcer and manager there. Wyatt asked his friend, Bat Masterson, another law officer and gambler, to help him run the faro tables. In June of that year, he also invited Luke Short from Dodge City, another gambling friend, to come and work for him as a faro dealer. At that time, Short was living in Leadville in Colorado.

Masterson stayed in Tombstone until the April of that year, and then he went back to Dodge City to help out his brother Jim.

At the Oriental Saloon on October the 8th in 1881, Doc Holliday got into a fight with a man called John Tyler, who had been paid by a rival gambling operation to cause trouble at the Oriental. Basically they wanted Wyatt's operation disrupted. Tyler provoked a fight when he lost a bet. Wyatt then threw him out of the place. Doc Holliday later fought with Milt Joyce and Lou Rickabaugh, the owners of the Oriental Saloon. Holliday was subsequently convicted of assault.

Somewhere around this time, Wyatt saved the gambler Mike O'Rourke, who was nicknamed 'Johnny Behind the Deuce', from being hanged. O'Rourke had murdered a miner and been arrested for the crime. O'Rourke said that he had killed the miner in self-defense. A large mob wanted to lynch O'Rourke, but Wyatt faced them down. It was incidents like these that helped build up Wyatt's reputation as a tough and principled law enforcer.

There was still a lot of animosity between the Earps and both the Clantons and the McLaurys. This got worse through 1881. On March the 15th of that year, at 10 in the evening, three cowboys robbed a Kinnear & Company stagecoach. It was carrying silver bullion at that time valued at $26,000. In today's money that might be something like a million dollars. The incident took place near Benson. During the robbery attempt, the driver, a popular man called Eli 'Budd' Philpot, and a passenger called Peter Roerig were shot and killed.

The Earp brothers formed a posse and hunted the robbers down. They arrested Luther King, who confessed that he had been holding the reins for the robbers, whom he named as Harry 'The Kid' Head, Jim Crane and Bill Leonard. Johnny Behan escorted Luther King to jail. Unfortunately, once King had been walked through the front door there, he walked out the back door.

Later, during the hearing into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp testified that he had offered the Wells Fargo reward money of $3,600 - $1,200 for each robber - to Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton if they would provide him with information about the identities of the three robbers. Wyatt also admitted that he had another reason for doing this, which was he hoped that by arresting the robbers he would increase his chances of being elected sheriff of Cochise County. He went on to say that McLaury and Clanton said they would give information to help Wyatt capture the robbers, but in the event they did not get the opportunity to fulfill their side of the agreement. This was because the three robbery suspects got killed in attempting other robberies.

Wyatt told the court hearing after the shootout at the O.K. Corral that he had obtained a copy of a telegram from Wells Fargo to Clanton that the reward would be paid whether the robbers were taken dead or alive. However, at the same hearing, Clanton said Wyatt had leaked information about the proposed deal either to his brother Morgan or to Doc Holliday. Clanton then said that Morgan Earp had asked him whether he would in fact exchange information in return for the reward money, but then a few days later Morgan told Clanton had siphoned off $1,400 of the reward money and given it to Bill Leonard and Doc Holliday, who supposedly were on the stagecoach on the night of the robbery when the driver and passenger got killed. Clanton told the court that then decided he was not going help in the capture, or the killing, of the robbers Crane, Harr and Leonard. He denied knowing about the Wells Fargo telegram saying that the reward would be paid even if the robbers were dead when found.

Again animosity between the McLaurys and the Earps flared up when on the 8th September 1881 a passenger stagecoach on the Sandy Bob Line was held up in the Tombstone area. It was on its way to Bisbee. The robbers, who were masked, took money and possessions off the passengers and they took the contents of the strongbox. Unfortunately for them, they were recognized by their voices. They were Elliot Larkin Ferguson, otherwise known by the alias of Pete Spence, and Frank Stilwell. The latter was a business partner of Spence, and he had recently been fired as one of Sheriff Behan's deputies, the reason given being 'county tax accounting irregularities'. Stilwell and Spence were friends of the McLaurys.

Wyatt and his brother Virgil formed a posse and rode with it to hunt down the robbers. At the scene, Wyatt noticed the imprint of an unusual boot heel in the mud. In Bisbee he checked with a boot-maker and found a matching heel that the boot-maker had just removed from one of Stilwell's boots. Stilwell, along with Spence, was then tracked down to corral in the Bisbee area. The two men were arrested there by two sheriff's deputies called Nagel and Breakenridge. Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp then officially charged them with mail robbery - a federal offense.

Stilwell and Spence were released on bail, but immediately re-arrested by Virgil Earp and charged with interfering with a mail carrier. The local newspapers, however, said that the two men had been arrested for another stagecoach robbery that had taken place on October the 8th not far from Contention City. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was to take place two weeks later, and it may be that the McLaurys were angered by what was reported wrongly as being a false criminal charge.

While Wyatt and Virgil were out of town dealing with the Stilwell/Spence hearing, Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp. He told Morgan that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they ever tried to arrest Stilwell, Spence or the McLaurys again.

The Gunfight

On October the 26th 1881, a Wednesday, things came to a head. The McLaurys, Billy Claiborne, Ike Clanton, and other cowboys had been threatening for several weeks to kill the Earps. When Tombstone city Marshal Virgil Earp found out that these people had gathered near the O.K. Corral and were armed, he asked his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with Doc Holliday, to join with him in tackling them. He wanted them disarmed, not killed.

At that time Wyatt was acting as a temporary assistant marshal, and Morgan was a Deputy City Marshal. For this particular occasion, Virgil deputized Holliday. At about 3 in the afternoon, the Earps and Holliday headed off towards Fremont Street, which is where they had been told the cowboys had gathered. There, in an empty lot next to the O.K. Corral's rear entrance on Fremont street they confronted five cowboys. The lot, situated between Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio and Harwood House was quite narrow, so the two groups of men ended up being only two or three meters from each other. Billy Claiborne and Ike Clanton immediately fled, but Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury faced up to the Earps and Holliday. Both of them got killed. In the shooting, Morgan Earp got nicked by a bullet that passed across his back, going through both shoulder blades as well as one of the vertebra in his spine. Virgil Earp got shot through the calf muscle of one of his legs. Doc Holliday got grazed by a bullet.

The Earps And Holliday - Good Guys Or Bad Guys?

Ike Clanton lodged murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday on October the 30th 1881. The judge for the case was Justice Spicer, and he called for a preliminary hearing on October the 31st. This was to decide whether there was sufficient evidence for there to be a case for the Earps and Holliday to answer. Rather unusually, he then took oral and written evidence from various witnesses over a period of more than a month.

Sheriff Behan gave evidence. Of course he was an enemy of Wyatt for both personal and work reasons. Not surprisingly, he stated that the cowboys had offered no resistance, and that instead they had either held up their hands or opened their coats to show that they had no weapons. This is ludicrous considering that Morgan, Virgil and Doc Holliday suffered bullet wounds. Behan then went on to say that the first two shots of the gunfight were fired by the Earp posse. Rather explicitly, Behan stated that Doc Holliday was the first one to fire, and had used a nickel-plated revolver. Unfortunately other witnesses recalled Holliday having a shotgun.

Because of the seriousness of the allegations, the Earps and Doc Holliday hired a well respected lawyer called Thomas Fitch to defend them. Wyatt asserted that he had drawn his pistol only once Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton reached for their pistols. He was open about his brothers' ongoing conflict with the McLaurys and the Clantons, and he stated that he and his brothers and Doc Holliday intended only to disarm the cowboys. In short, Wyatt and his brothers and Doc Holliday were shot at first, and they then reacted to defend themselves.

Fitch, on questioning the prosecution's witnesses, made them contradict each other and appear to be evasive.

Eventually Justice Spicer decreed, on the 30th of November, that there was insufficient evidence to justify bringing the Earps and Holliday to court. The Earps and Holliday acted within the law. Both Wyatt and Holliday had been properly deputized before the incident.

But of course Holliday and the Earps had their reputations tarnished by this whole sorry affair. Allies of the killed cowboys wanted to wreak revenge on the Earps and Holliday.

Virgil Earp was attacked on December the 28th while he was walking between the various saloons on Allen Street. He was fired at with a shotgun. His left shoulder and arm were hit. Later Ike Clanton's hat was found behind a building on the other side of Allen Street, which is where the shots had come from.

Wyatt got in touch with U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake and asked if he could be made a deputy U.S. marshal. He also wanted to be able to choose his own deputies. Dake agreed to this towards the end of January 1882. He also gave the Earps some money borrowed from Wells, Fargo & Co.

In the middle of that month, Wyatt's friend Rickabaugh sold the Oriental Saloon to Milt Joyce, who was no friend of Earp's. Wyatt then sold on his gambling concessions at the saloon. The Earps were also able to raise money from other business people in Tombstone.

Both Virgil and Wyatt were by this time tiring of the constant being directed against them, so they handed in their resignations to Dake. However, he refused to accept them until he could check the figures for the gaming operation. Wyatt then sent a message to Ike Clanton saying that he wanted to sort out the differences between them. Clanton turned down this offer.

That same day, Clanton was acquitted of the charges against him regarding his shooting of Virgil Earp. His defense brought in seven witnesses to testify, rather incredibly, that Clanton had been in Charleston at the time of the gunfight. The Earps needed more money to cover the costs of having extra deputies, along with covering additional expenses. The money they got from supportive business owners was insufficient. So on February the 13th Wyatt mortgaged his house to a lawyer named James G. Howard. He received $365 in gold coins.

He wasn't able to repay the mortgage, and Howard took possession of his house in 1884.

On the 18th March, Morgan Earp was shot dead by gunmen who fired from a dark alley through the window of a door into a room where he was playing billiards. The bullet hit Morgan on his right side, went through his spine, came out his left side, and then hit the thigh of another man, George Berry. Another shot almost hit Wyatt. A doctor was called. Morgan was lifted from the floor to a nearby couch, where he died forty minutes later. The killers got away in the dark.

Wyatt believed that lawful means would be inadequate to bring justice to the situation, so he resolved to kill the people he believed were responsible for Morgan's murder.

Vigilante Justice

The day after Morgan's murder, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, his brother James, Doc Holliday, and several other temporarily deputized men took Morgan's body to the railway terminal in Benson. There they put it on a train, and James accompanied it to the family home in Colton, California. There Morgan's parents and his wife were waiting to bury him.

The posse guarded Virgil and Addie to Tucson. This is where they had heard that Frank Stilwell and some others were lying in wait to kill Virgil.

The next morning, Stilwell's body was found lying beside the railway tracks. He had been shot multiple times with bullets and buckshot.

Wyatt and five other men were accused of Stilwell's murder. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued warrants for their arrests.

Wyatt and his posse went back to Tombstone where Sheriff Behan tried to arrest them. But Earp and his men were well armed and they ignored him. They then set off for Pete Spence's camp up in the Dragoon Mountains. There they found Florentino 'Indian Charlie' Cruz and killed him. Two days after that, near Iron Springs in the Whetstone Mountains (it would later have its name changed to Mescal Springs) they inadvertently came across the camp of Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Diehl and various other cowboys.

According to later statements made by both sides, the two groups straightaway exchanged gun fire. All of Earp's group withdrew except for Wyatt himself and Texas Jack Vermillion, whose horse had been hit. Curly Bill Brocius shot at Wyatt with a shotgun, but he missed. Remember that only eighteen months earlier Wyatt had prevented Brocius from being lynched by an angry mob after he had accidentally killed Sheriff Fred White, and he had also given supporting testimony to help him escape trial for murder. Now, however, they were enemies. Wyatt returned Curly Bill's gunfire and managed to shoot him with a shotgun. Curly Bill was hit in the chest and fell down dead.

In the gunfire, Wyatt got bullet holes in his coat and in one of his boot heels. When his shotgun was empty, he used his pistol to shoot Johnny Barnes in the chest, fatally wounding him. He also hit Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion made a dash to get his rifle that was lodged under his fallen horse and came under fire from the cowboys, but Doc Holliday covered him and kept him safe. Wyatt was able to mount his horse, rejoin the rest of his posse, and they all retreated.

The posse rode north to the Percy Ranch. However, Jim and Hugh Percy were fearful of the cowboys, so they didn't want the posse to stay. Nonetheless they fed the posse and let the men have a rest. Earp's posse then left at about three in the morning. This was on March the 27th.

Next the Earp posse met up with some of their supporters near Tombstone. Amongst these were Warren Earp and Charlie Smith. They then went to Henry C. Hooker's Sierra Bonita ranch. Hooker was a rich, prominent local figure. That evening, Dan Tipton got a stagecoach out of Tombstone. He headed for Benson. On him he had $1,000 given to Earp's posse by a mine owner called E. B. Gage.

Hooker was pleased that Wyatt had killed Curly Bill. He fed Earp and his men. Wyatt wanted to buy fresh horses, but Hooker gave them to him and wouldn't take his money.

It was then that Behan's posse was spotted in the distance. Hooker suggested that Wyatt and his men should make a stand here, on Hooker's ranch, against Behan and his men, but Wyatt decided to take his men about five kilometers away to a place near Reilly Hill.

Earp's posse managed to keep out of the way of Behan's men, and in the middle of April 1882, Wyatt's posse left Arizona territory and crossed over into New Mexico Territory. From there they went into Colorado.

The coroner's report into the killings said that Wyatt's men killed four men during their two-week long ride. Wyatt Earp gave an interview in 1888 to the Californian historian H. H. Bancroft. In it he said that he had killed 'over a dozen stagecoach robbers, murderers and cattle thieves' during the time he was a law officer.

After Tombstone

The gunfight in Tombstone may only have lasted about half a minute, but Wyatt would be famous for it for the rest of his life. Then when he killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson, he gained fame - or notoriety - in the national press, and that established his reputation in American cowboy folklore.

In New Mexico, Wyatt and his men stopped in Albuquerque. There they met up with Bat Masterson, who was a Deputy U.S. Marshal there. From there, the Earps, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMasters and Masterson rode to Trinidad, Colorado. Here Masterson had a saloon. Wyatt worked as a faro dealer for several weeks in the saloon, and then he, Holliday, Warren and a few others rode on to Gunnison in Colorado.

From Gunnison, Doc Holliday went on to Pueblo and then on to Denver. Meanwhile the Earps and Texas Jack established a camp on the outskirts of Gunnison. Initially they stayed there, only infrequently going into town, but after a while, in need of money and occupation, Wyatt took over a faro game at a saloon in Gunnison.

After Morgan's death, Wyatt gave Mattie Blaylock their house in Tombstone. However, she went to Colton, where his parents and his brother Virgil were living, and she waited for him there. In the end she had to face up to the fact that Wyatt wasn't coming back to her. She moved to Pinal City in Arizona and worked once more as a prostitute. Her laudanum addiction worsened, and she died from taking an overdose of it on the 3rd of July 1888.

Wyatt joined Josephine Marcus and his brother Warren in San Francisco towards the end of 1882. He and Josephine were to be together for the next 46 years.


For the next decade, Earp ran gambling concessions and saloons. He also invested in mines in Idaho and Colorado. He spent time in several boom towns. Some saloons he owned himself, other saloons he owned in partnership with other men.

After running the faro game in Gunnison, Earp went to Dodge City because he had received a call for help from Luke Short.

Dodge City War

Wyatt and Sadie, along with Bat Masterson, got to Dodge City on the 31st May 1883. Luke Short was a part owner of the Long Branch saloon there. The Dodge City Mayor wanted to put Short out of business, but failed, so he then tried to get him driven out of Dodge. This was when Short got in touch with Masterson, who then got in touch with Earp.

Short was in Kansas City, discussing the situation with Governor George Washington Glick, when Earp, Johnny Green, Johnny Millsap, Texas Jack Vermillion and Shotgun John Collins arrived in Dodge. They went to Short's saloon in Front Street, and there they got sworn in as deputies. This was carried out by a constable named 'Prairie Dog' Dave Marrow.

Dodge's city council then offered to allow Short to come back to Dodge for ten days so he could get his affairs in order, but Earp said this wasn't acceptable. When Short did return to Dodge, no one was prepared to drive him out again. He opened his saloon again, and the so-called 'Dodge City War' was over without a single shot ever having been fired.

Mining In Idaho

Wyatt, Sadie, Warren and James Earp, and James' wife Bessie went to Eagle City in Idaho in 1884. Eagle City was a new boom town that arose when gold, silver and lead were found in the Coeur d'Alene area. (These days Eagle City is a deserted ghost town located in Shoshone County). The group's intention was to search for gold in the Murray-Eagle mining district. They also bought, for $2,250, a circular white marquee fifteen meters in diameter. In it they created a saloon and dance hall. They named it 'The White Elephant'.

Wyatt got appointed Deputy Sheriff. At the time, both Shoshone Country and Kootenai County were claiming control of Eagle City, so Wyatt could work in both counties. With so many valuable property stakes and mining claims, it is understandable that both counties would come into conflict over the resources.

On the 28th of March, when it was still so wintry that there was about a meter of snow on the ground, a miner called Bill Buzzard started to construct a building on land that Jack Enright, one of Wyatt's partners, claimed was partly his. The situation got out of hand when, after a verbal dispute, Buzzard grabbed his rifle and tried to shoot Enright.

Friends of both men joined in, and the parties began shooting at each other. Then Wyatt and his brother James, as officers of the law, intervened and calmed the situation down. Then Shoshone County Deputy W. E. Hunt arrived on the scene, and he got the two groups to hand over their guns.

In the mid-1890's, a reporter tracked down Buzzard to interview him about Earp. (This was when Earp was again in the news, this time because of what was called 'the Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight'.) Buzzard said that around April 1885, Earp had used his position as a law officer to join up with a group of claim jumpers who seized a stake in Embry Camp, Washington. (The place was later renamed Chewelah. However, after six months the stake was dry. The Earps then left the Murray-Eagle district. Buzzard said that Wyatt engaged in other claim jumping activity, as well as in fraudulent real estate schemes.

When this report came out, it further damaged Earp's already dubious reputation.

San Diego

Next Earp and Sadie moved to El Paso, Texas, and then in 1887 they went to San Diego. There was a real estate boom going on here because of the arrival of the railroad. They were to stay in San Diego for around four years. Here Earp became a real estate speculator.

Over about the next nine years, Wyatt bought four saloons that had gambling parlors. In those days the games played included faro, monte, pedro and keno, which are little played these days, but poker and blackjack were also played. On a good night, during boom times, Wyatt could make up to as much as $1,000 in a single night.

One of Wyatt's saloons was the Oyster Bar, which was in the Stingaree district of San Diego. It was at 837 on 5th Avenue in the Louis Bank Building. It was a popular place. Possibly that was because Wyatt ran a brothel there. As an attractive gimmick, each girl's room was painted in a different colors, and each girl had to wear clothes that matched the color of her room.

Today Earp's saloon still exists, but it is now a restaurant.

Wyatt had always been interested in horse racing and boxing. He acted as a referee for bouts not only in San Diego, but also in San Bernardino and Tijuana. At one point he won a card game which resulted in him being given ownership of a racehorse called 'Otto Rex' After that he bought other racehorses. In 1889 he was one of the judges for the County Fair horse races which were held in Escondido.

Unfortunately San Diego's boom collapsed as quickly as it had exploded. In 1885 the city's population was 40,000. By 1890 it had fallen to 16,000.

San Francisco

At this time, 1890, when San Diego had declined to such an extent that it was no longer worthwhile being there, the Earps went to San Francisco. Sadie's family was there, so that was a contributing factor. Wyatt got a job in Santa Rosa managing a stable. His reputation now was not just of being a gambler and saloon and brothel owner, but also a sporting figure. In San Francisco itself he kept a stable of six horses. Sometimes Wyatt would enter races himself. There is a record of him winning a harness race at Santa Rosa.

Between the years 1890 and 1897, the Earps had four different addresses in San Francisco. These were 145 Ellis Street, 720 McAllister Street, 514A Seventh Avenue, and then 1004 Golden Gate Avenue.

According to Sadie in here book called 'I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus', she and Wyatt got married in 1892. The ceremony was performed by the captain of the yacht belonging to the millionaire Lucky Baldwin, and it was carried out aboard the yacht off the coast of California. Baldwin also owned the racetrack at Santa Anita which Wyatt would go to when he was in Los Angeles.

In the summer of 1896, Earp started writing his autobiography. He was helped by John H. Flood, who was actually an engineer but who worked as Wyatt's amanuensis.

The Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight

At the last moment on December the 2nd 1896, Earp got chosen to referee a heavyweight boxing match that was being held at the Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco. The bout was between Tom Sharkey and Bob Fitzsimmons. Earp had refereed plenty of matches in his time, so this should not have presented him with any problems, but for this match the Marquis of Queensbury rules applied, and he had never refereed a match according to those rules before.

The bout was heavily promoted and was much anticipated by people. The favorite to win was Fitzsimmons, and he was naturally the one on whom most money was bet.

Wyatt got into the ring carrying his Colt 45 revolver in a holster, and not surprisingly the weapon had to be taken from him. He claimed that he had simply forgotten that he was carrying the gun. When the fight got under way, Fitzsimmons, who had a longer reach and was nimbler than Sharkey, began to dominate the other man. Eventually in round eight, he hit Sharkey with a punch for which he was famous - the solar plexus punch. This is essentially a blow just blow the front-center of the ribcage, and it can easily incapacitate a man if delivered accurately and hard. Sharkey fell to the canvas, and there he grabbed at his groin and cried foul.

Earp stopped the fight and declared that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey when the latter was down. Not surprisingly, this decision was greeted with derision from the audience. There is, however, a Marquis of Queensbury rule that says, “A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes,” and it is not at all certain that Sharkey was not hit in this position by Fitzsimmons. If Earp did see such a blow, then he was right to do what he did, which was to award the fight to Sharkey. The latter was carried out of the ring, essentially incapacitated.

Fitzsimmons immediately sought and obtained an injunction preventing the prize money from being shared out until a court could decide who was the rightful winner of the bout. However, a judge ruled that prize fighting was illegal in San Francisco. Therefore the court could not decide who was the winner.

With this messy situation hanging over him, Wyatt left San Francisco, never to return. For several weeks there was coverage in the newspapers that was critical of him, that mocked him, and which impugned his honesty. He was labeled a crook and a cheat by The San Francisco Call. It was alleged - although there appears to be no evidence - that Wyatt had some financial interest in the fight's outcome. It was also said that when Fitzsimmons afterwards confronted Earp about his refereeing of the bout, Wyatt pulled his gun on him.


In the autumn of 1897, Wyatt and Sadie went to Nome in Alaska to join in with the Alaska Gold Rush. There he ran a canteen until the summer of 1899. In September, he and another man called Charles E. Hoxie built a saloon. They called it the Dexter Saloon. It was wooden and had two floors, and was the first such building to be erected in Nome. It was the biggest, most luxurious saloon in the town. It was about twenty-one meters by nine, and the ceilings were almost four meters high.

As usual, Earp ran a brothel upstairs, and as usual this is something that is omitted from the generally accepted record of Earp's life.

People Wyatt got to know in Nome were the writers Wilson Mizner, Rex Beach and Jack London. He also became friends with the boxing promoter Tex Rickard.

Records show that Wyatt got arrested in Nome for being drunk and disorderly, but he wasn't taken to court over the incident.

There was a report that in 1903 he was in Dawson City in the Yukon, where he had gone to play faro as it was a place at the center of the booming Klondike Gold Rush, and he was stopped by a Canadian Mountie and told not to carry his pistol in public. Wyatt refused. An interesting detail is that the Mountie was described as being only one meter fifty centimeters tall, whereas Earp was over one meter eighty centimeters tall. In the newspaper report of the incident, Wyatt was said to have a reputation of being 'a gunfighter'.

Wyatt and his wife went back to California in 1901. Apparently they took with them a fortune of $80,000. In February of 1902 they went to Tonopah in Nevada. Again the reason was that it was a boom town because there was a gold rush on. Again Wyatt opened a saloon. He called it the Northern Saloon. He also got himself appointed as a deputy U.S. Marshal. His boss was Marshal J. F. Emmitt. As the boom continued, Wyatt made money from his saloon and gambling den (it isn't known if he also ran a brothel) and from mining interests. Eventually the boom ran out of steam.

Wyatt had mining claims near Death Valley and also in other parts of the Mojave Desert. He found deposits of gold and copper in 1906 near the town of Vidal on the Colorado River near the Whipple Mountains in the Sonoran Desert in California. There he filed over one hundred mining claims.

That summer Wyatt and Sadie went to Los Angeles. It was a city they would regularly return to for the summers. There are records of them renting places to stay - at least nine different places - between the years 1885 and 1929.

Back in Vidal, they bought a cottage to live in during the autumn, winter and spring when they were not in Los Angeles. Wyatt's mines, collectively known as 'Happy Days', were just a few miles to the north in the Whipple Mountains. This cottage was the only permanent home that Wyatt and Sadie owned in all the time that they were married.

The Happy Days mines were not a great success, but they provided Wyatt and Sadie with some income. Wyatt also had a stake in Kern County Oil that provided them with some income.

In 1910 at the age of 62, Wyatt and a former Los Angeles detective named Arthur Moore King were paid $10 a day by the Los Angeles Police Department to do things which could not be done within the law, such as going over into Mexico to bring back criminals who were wanted in Los Angeles. Apparently the two men carried out their work very competently, and did the tasks they were appointed to do. This stint as what might be called 'an unofficial police officer' got Wyatt involved in his last ever armed confrontation.

In October of 1910 Wyatt was asked by former Los Angeles Police Commissioner H. L. Lewis to lead a posse that would protect the surveyors of the American Trona Company as they tried to seize control of mining claims on the edge of Searles Lake. These claims were very rich in potash, and they were being held in receivership for the California Trona Company. Wyatt's posse and the group it guarded were essentially claim jumpers, and they were met with armed resistance from representatives of the California Trona Company. Arthur Moore King later wrote that it was 'the nerviest thing he had ever seen'. Wyatt produced a Winchester rifle and let off a shot at the feet of a Federal Receiver named Stafford W. Austin. Apparently Earp said, “Back off or I'll blow you apart, or my name is not Wyatt Earp.”

The owners of the mining claims called for a U.S. Marshal. He arrested his men - twenty-eight people in total, and issued summonses against them for contempt of court. They were then sent away.

After this the dispute over the mining claims continued, developing into what became known as the Mojave Desert's 'Pot Ash Wars'.


Wyatt was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on July the 23rd 1911. The charge against him was that he had tried to cheat a real estate broker called J. Y. Peterson in a rigged faro game. Since Peterson had refused to hand over the money supposedly won from him, a crime had not actually been committed, so the charge against Earp was changed to one of vagrancy.

Later Earp moved to Hollywood. There he became a film consultant on several silent cowboy movies. His work was voluntary and unpaid, however. Then some time in the early 1920's he was awarded the honorary title of Deputy Sheriff for San Bernardino County in California.

Wyatt's Death

Wyatt was the last surviving participant in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and he was the last of the Earp brothers to die. He died at his and his wife's home, which was an apartment located at 4004 West 17th Street in Los Angeles on January the 13th 1929. He was 80 years old. The cause of death was either prostate cancer or chronic cystitis.

The Associated Press wrote an obituary for him. They said he was 'a gun-fighter whose blazing six-shooters were for most of his life allied with the side of law and order'.

At his funeral , his pallbearers were Jim Mitchell - a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, and also a Hollywood screenwriter - the writer Wilson Mizner, W. J. Hunsaker - a well respected Los Angeles attorney, as well as Wyatt's attorney in Tombstone - George W. Parsons - one of the founding member of 'The Committee of Vigilance' in Tombstone, and a friend of Wyatt's in the Klondike days - Tom Mix - the film star - William S. Hart - another film star, and John Clum - a friend of Wyatt's from his Tombstone days, a former mayor there, and editor of The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper. Mitchell wrote up Wyatt's obituary for the Los Angeles Examiner.

Wyatt's widow Sadie (Josephine) didn't attend the funeral service because she was too overwhelmed by grief at losing her husband.

Wyatt was cremated and his ashes were interred at his wife's family plot. Because Sadie's family were of Jewish background, the plot was at a Jewish cemetery called Hills of Eternity in Colma in California. When Sadie herself died in 1944, her ashes were interred alongside her husband's.

The owner of The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper, John Clum, who was a mayor of Tombstone while Wyatt was wrote a book entitled 'It All Happened in Tombstone'. In it he described Wyatt Earp thus:

Wyatt's manner, though friendly, suggested a quiet reserve. Frequently it has happened that men who have served as peace officers on the frontier have craved notoriety in connection with their dealings with the outlaw element of their time. Wyatt Earp deprecated such notoriety, and during his last illness he told me that for many years he had hoped the public would weary of the narratives - distorted with fantastic and fictitious embellishments - that were published from time to time concerning him, and that his last years might be passed in undisturbed obscurity.

Bill Dixon wrote this about Earp:

Wyatt was a shy young man with few intimates. With casual acquaintances he seldom spoke unless spoken to. When he did say anything it was to the point, without fear or favor, which wasn't relished by some; but that never bothered Wyatt. To those who knew him well he was a genial companion. He had the most even disposition I ever saw; I never knew him to lose his temper. He was more intelligent, better educated, and far better mannered than the majority of his associates, which probably did not help them to understand him. His reserve limited his friendships, but more than one stranger, down on his luck, has had firsthand evidence of Wyatt's generosity. I think his outstanding quality was the nicety with which he gauged the time and effort for every move. That, plus his absolute confidence in himself, gave him the edge over the run of men.

In 1907 Bat Masterson described Wyatt thus:

Wyatt Earp was one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusions, that what goes for courage in a man is generally fear of what others will think of him – in other words, personal bravery is largely made up of self-respect, egotism, and apprehension of the opinions of others. Wyatt Earp's daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn't enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others, and it is his own good report he seeks to preserve …. He never at any time in his career resorted to the pistol excepting cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fists, and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by nature.

Public Opinion

Opinion about Wyatt Earp has fluctuated over the years. In 1882, after the killing of Curly Bill Brocius, the Tucson Star newspaper said that in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the cowboys were shot after they had put their hands up to surrender. The shootings, it said, were 'cold blooded murder'.

Wyatt was often on the receiving end of bad press during his lifetime for his killings, and for his morally dubious or criminal behavior, and has continued to be so after his death. His wife: The falsehoods that were printed in some of the newspapers about him and the unjust accusations against him hurt Wyatt more deeply than anything that ever happened to him during my life with him, with the exception of his mother's death and that of his father and brother, Warren.

The Fort Worth Gazette wrote on April the 16th 1894 that Virgil Earp and John Behan bitter enemies. Behan, it said, was 'an honest man, a good official, and possessed many of the attributes of a gentleman'. Virgil, however, Earp, was the 'head of a band of desperadoes, a partner in stage robberies, and a friend of gamblers and professional killers'. It then described Wyatt as 'the boss killer of the region'.

The Fitzsimmons-Sharkey boxing match clearly tarnished Wyatt's reputation.

In 1899 when Wyatt opened a gambling den in Seattle, Washington, the Seattle Daily Times said that his reputation in Arizona was that of being 'a bad man'.

In 1922 on March the 12th the Sunday Los Angeles Times printed an article entitled 'Lurid Trails Are Left by Oldentime Bandits'. It was written by J. M. Scanland. In it he said that Frank Stilwell was in league with the Earps but he then informed on their illegal activities, and that was why the Earps shot him. The paper later published a retraction and correction of this version of events.

Wyatt wanted to present himself to the world in what can either be seen as a better or a more accurate light, or both.

A writer called Walter Noble Burns was going to write a book about Doc Holliday, and in connection with this he asked Earp, in the September of 1926, to help him with information, but Earp was uncooperative. Burns then went to Tombstone to do research, and decided that he would be better off writing a book about Wyatt Earp. Again he approached Wyatt for help, and on the 27th March 1927 Wyatt sent a letter eleven pages long giving what were purported to be facts about his life and the incidents in it. However, Wyatt's wife then tried to stop Burns publishing his book, hoping instead that Wyatt could publish his own account of his life.

Burns's book, called 'Tombstone, An Iliad of the Southwest', came out towards the end of 1927. Wyatt was referred to as 'The Lion of Tombstone'. Some readers felt that Burns was attempting to whitewash Wyatt's reputation.

Other books about Earp

William M. Breakenridge published a book called 'Helldorado: Bringing Law to the Mesquite' in 1928. It was actually ghost written by a writer of Westerns called William MacLeod Raine. Breakenridge did in fact go to Los Angeles to interview Wyatt, but when the book came out, it described Wyatt as a seedy individual who was a murderer, thief, pimp and a gambling cheat.

Wyatt and Sadie were very displeased and complained about the book's falsifications (as they claimed). Certainly Breakenridge was open about his dislike of the Earps, and it seems he was envious of Wyatt's fame or notoriety.

In 1955 in Argosy Magazine, Edwin V. Burkholder, a writer specializing in what is sometimes called 'The Wild West', wrote an article about Earp. He said that Earp was 'a murderer' and 'a coward'. Similarly, under different names - 'J. S. Qualey' and 'George Carleton Mays' - he wrote other critical, derogatory articles about Earp in Real West magazine. He falsified evidence to support his claims.

Virgil Earp's widow, Allie Sullivan Earp, was interviewed by a writer called Frank Waters to help Waters with his book 'The Earp Brothers of Tombstone'. Waters, like Breakenridge, portrayed Wyatt as a murderer, con artist and thief. He also described him as itinerant, a card sharp, and a bigamist, and also as an exhibitionist and figure of ridicule who ended his life in poverty. (It's true that Wyatt did indeed have little income towards the end of his life.)

Allie Earp was so distraught by the way Waters had twisted her words that she threatened to shoot him. In 1960, thirteen after she had died, he re-published the book as 'The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp.' It was seen as being a nasty, malicious attempt to smear the Earps.

An author named S. J. Reidhead tried to find out about Waters, his hatred of the Earps, and the source material for his book. Reidhead published his findings in a book called 'Travesty: Frank Waters Earp Agenda Exposed'. It turned out Waters's work was a fabrication unsupported by any probing research or documentation. There was no explanation for Waters's negative stance towards the Earps, with whom he did not appear to have any prior connection.

A writer named Ed Bartholomew published a book entitled 'Wyatt Earp, The Untold Story' in 1963, and then a book called 'Wyatt Earp: Man and Myth' in the year 1964. Again, like Waters and Breakenridge, he came out against Wyatt.

William Urban, a Professor of History at Monmouth College in Warren County in Illinois reviewed a book about Earp called 'Inventing Wyatt Earp. His Life and Many Legends' written by Allen Barra. Urban pointed out that there were factual inconsistencies when what was in the book was compared to contemporaneous accounts of events depicted.

To counter the continual bad press he got, Wyatt asked his friend William S. Hart, the famous cowboy movie star, if Hart would make a film about his life. Hart said that Earp should first of all get a writer to write his life story as it really was (or as he wished to see it portrayed). So in 1925 Earp got John H. Flood, Jr., to put his biography down on paper. The next year, in February, Hart then asked The Saturday Evening Post to publish it. Unfortunately Flood's writing was awful, and the biography got rejected by one publisher after another.

In 1931, two years after Wyatt's death, Stuart Lake published his book 'Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal'. Lake's work presented Earp in a heroic light. Lake interviewed Earp eight times before he died, but really Earp only gave Lake the barest details of his life.

As mentioned before, Wyatt and his wife pressurized Lake not to mention her or Earp's former 'common law' wife, Mattie Blaylock, in the book.

Wyatt always maintained that when he killed men, the crime in that area ceased or decreased dramatically, so he must surely have done something good by bringing about those people's demise.

Wyatt's false reputation for being a teetotaler

Josephine (Sadie) wanted her husband portrayed as a teetotaler. Partly this was because Prohibition was in force for a certain part of his life. But he did in fact drink sometimes. Occasionally a friend of his, Charlie Welsh, would disappear from his family for a few days to go on drinking sprees, and Wyatt would go with him.

How Wyatt Earp is seen now

Wyatt is seen as the lead figure in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, yet it was his brother Virgil who was in charge that day and took all the decisions. It is largely Lake's book that is responsible for this error. Josephine Earp's book 'I Married Wyatt Earp' also led to her husband being viewed in a romantic, heroic light. The book, published in 1976, was actually edited by an amateur historian named Glen Boyer. The book was published by the University of Arizona Press.

Writer Tony Ortega wrote a lengthy investigative article for the Phoenix New Times in 1998. For it, he interviewed Boyer. The latter confirmed that the book was essentially a work of fiction created by himself. In the year 2000, the University of Arizona Press withdrew the book from publication. Boyer produced another fictionalized account in his book 'Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta'. For this he fabricated a journalistic source in Tombstone.

Film and television

Earp was first depicted in film in the 1923 movie 'Wild Bill Hickok', starring William Hart as Wild Bill Hickok and Bert Lindley as Earp. It was released by Paramount.

Lake's book was adapted into a movie in 1934 called 'Frontier Marshal'. Josephine Earp got her husband's name removed from the film, getting his character to be called 'Michael Wyatt' instead. The film was re-made in 1939. Randolph Scott play the Wyatt Earp character.

Later, Stuart Lake wrote another book about Wyatt. This one was called 'My Darling Clementine', and John Ford turned it into a movie in 1946.

Between 1955 and 1961 there was a television series called 'The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp' for which Lake developed the scripts. The series starred Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt.

A well know film is 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral', starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp. It came out in 1957. It is this film that probably did most to make people regard Wyatt as a heroic figure.

Over the years, other actors, including Guy Madison, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, James Garner, Jimmy Stewart, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner have portrayed Wyatt in films.

On television, series which to a lesser or greater extent portrayed Wyatt included The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, Broken Arrow, Johnny Ringo, and Gunsmoke.


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