50 Things You Don’t Know About… Wyatt Earp

wyatt-on-phoneThe truth behind the legend.

  1. Wyatt Earp was never a town marshal or a county sheriff. (He was the assistant marshal in Dodge City, Kansas, and a deputy U.S. marshal in Arizona.)
  2. Wyatt’s only known run for office was when he ran against and beat his half brother Newton for constable of Lamar, Missouri, in 1870.
  3. There is no official record of Wyatt being legally married to two of his three wives. And two of Wyatt’s so-called wives have been accused of being “on the line” (prostitutes).
  4. Wyatt’s full name was Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, after his father’s commanding officer in the Mexican War, Wyatt Berry Stapp.
  5. It was snowing the day Wyatt was born.
  6. Wyatt was sued three times for claim jumping in Eagle, Idaho.
  7. Wyatt claimed in his autobiography that he used a telephone in Tombstone to call Benson. (Most researchers believe he wasn’t recalling his time there correctly since Earp had left Arizona by late March 1882, and telephone lines from Tombstone to Benson weren’t completed until years later.)
  8. Wyatt liked to eat ice cream at Tombstone’s Ice Cream Saloon on Fourth Street. (The Earps and Doc Holliday walked past it on their way to the fight near the O.K. Corral.)
  9. There were five Earp brothers (not including their half brother Newton), who became known as “The Fighting Earps.” Four were shot in gun battles and two died. Their father Nicholas Earp was kicked by a mule. Only one Earp went through life without a scratch—Wyatt.
  10. Wyatt and two of his brothers, Morgan and Virgil, were often mistaken for one another. They were about six feet tall and weighed within three pounds of each other (at around 158 pounds).
  11. Wyatt had no children—one of the few times in his life he shot blanks.
  12. Wyatt was a longtime boxing devotee. In addition to the infamous bout he refereed in San Francisco (discussed later),  he also refereed boxing matches in Tijuana, Mexico
  13. Wyatt was a bartender longer than he was a lawman.
  14. Wyatt was accused of stealing schoolhouse funds (over $200) while acting as Lamar’s constable.
  15. Wyatt was arrested for stealing a horse in 1871.
  16. Wyatt was incarcerated for horse stealing but escaped from jail and was never caught. Two other defendants in the horse-stealing affair were exonerated, or at least never convicted.
  17. In 1872, Wyatt was arrested at least twice for consorting with prostitutes in Peoria, Illinois (see new Wyatt discovery, p. 37).
  18. In 1874, several women named Earp were arrested for keeping a “bawdy house” in Wichita, Kansas. It is believed they were in the employ of some of the Earp men.
  19. In 1876, while Wyatt was playing cards in a Wichita saloon, his revolver slipped from its holster and discharged as it hit the chair. According to a local newspaper, the ball “passed through [Wyatt’s] coat, struck the north wall then glanced off and passed through the ceiling.”
  20. That same year, the Wichita city council accepted the police committee’s recommendation, which stated that policemen Wyatt Earp and John Beherns had been collecting money in the town and had failed to turn it over to the city. Wyatt had already skipped town for Dodge City.
  21. Wyatt made $75 a month as the assistant marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. (For comparison, a cowboy usually made $30 a month and a soldier’s monthly wages were $13.)
  22. In the Spring of 1877, Wyatt hauled wood in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, and claimed to have made $130 a day in the process.
  23. On the night of City Marshal Fred White’s fatal shooting in Tombstone, Wyatt wasn’t heeled (armed) and had to borrow a weapon. Thanks, in part, to Wyatt Earp’s testimony, bad man Curly Bill Brocius was exonerated for the killing.
  24. Although lionized for single-handedly standing off a mob in the Johnny-Behind-The-Deuce affair, Wyatt isn’t mentioned in any known newspaper accounts of the incident.
  25. According to his sister-in-law, Allie, Wyatt once hid in the kitchen to avoid having to buy raffle tickets he had promised a local school teacher, Miss Wynn
  26. The so-called Gunfight at the O.K. Corral didn’t occur there. It took place in a vacant lot west of the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral. How did this happen? See next entry.
  27. Part of the reason the O.K. Corral has been mistakenly identified as the site of the famous Tombstone shoot-out is that Wyatt Earp made a map of the fight in 1926 and drew the fight’s location in the wrong place (at the O.K. Corral’s rear entrance).
  28. Wyatt didn’t wear a holster at the famous fight. He testified at the subsequent hearing that he had pulled his pistol from his overcoat pocket.
  29. The only persons not hit by gunfire in the O.K. gunfight were Ike Clanton (who ran away after the first salvo) and Wyatt Earp (who stayed until the bitter end).
  30. Wyatt and Doc Holliday were jailed for over two weeks during the legal hearing about the gunfight. (Virgil and Morgan were exempted because of their wounds.)
  31. After their 1882 so-called Vendetta Ride to avenge the death of Morgan Earp, Wyatt and Doc left Arizona as wanted men. They then had a falling out. One possible explanation is that a drunken Holliday complained about Wyatt’s Jewish girlfriend (see True West, December 2001), asking if Wyatt was becoming a “Jew boy.
  32. Wyatt and his brother Virgil were pressured to resign their positions as deputy U.S. marshals  because of criticism from the Tombstone townspeople that the Earp brothers were using their offices to persecute their personal enemies.
  33. In 1885, Wyatt and two others were arrested for burglary in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  34. In 1888, Wyatt’s second wife Mattie committed suicide. An acquaintance testified after Mattie’s overdose of laudanum, that Mattie had said Earp had wrecked her life by deserting her and she didn’t want to live.
  35. Wyatt was accused of throwing a prizefight in San Francisco. Acting as a last-minute replacement as referee, Earp called a foul on Bob Fitzsimmons (who was winning handily) and awarded the fight to Tom Sharkey (an upstart sailor). Fitzsimmons sued for the purse but lost on a technicality—prizefighting was illegal in San Francisco. Fitzsimmons fought in the ring for 34 years and lost only one fight because of a foul—the one refereed by Wyatt Earp.
  36. After being searched at the prizefight, Wyatt was discovered with a concealed weapon and was disarmed before the infamous boxing match began. It’s the only time in the history of California boxing that a referee had to be disarmed prior to a fight
  37. Wyatt was in several barroom fights in Alaska and was arrested more than once. In one, he was charged with assaulting and beating a military policeman.
  38. In 1899, in Saint Michael, Alaska, Wyatt managed a canteen that served only beer (at a dollar a drink) and cigars (at fifty cents each). The bar grossed $200 a day, seven days a week and Wyatt received 10 percent off the top.
  39. In 1911, Wyatt and several others were arrested in Los Angeles, California, for bunco steering (running a phony card game). Wyatt was ultimately absolved of complicity, but gave the police a false name, William Stapp. The police department tagged him as a “professional gambler and all-around sharper.” The Los Angeles Times labeled Earp as a card sharp who “devoted his time to fleecing the unwary in card games” and claimed it was Wyatt who conceived of the plot.
  40. One of those also arrested with Wyatt was Walter Scott, who later talked a rich Easterner into building a castle in the Mohave Desert, which became known as Scottie’s Castle.
  41. Wyatt served as a movie consultant on several films, most notably those of William S. Hart and Tom Mix. (This is where the plot from the movie Sunset—starring James Garner as Wyatt and Bruce Willis as Tom Mix—came from.)
  42. Wyatt and his third wife Sadie (late in life she would demand to be called Josie) wintered across the river from Parker, Arizona, for numerous years up until the late 1920s. Marion Beaver, an old-timer in Parker, remembers Earp walking across the railroad trestle over the Colorado River to come into town for rhubarb pie.
  43. Wyatt periodically traveled from his Happy Days Mine (located near Vidal, California) to Needles, California, where he would join in card games and invariably fleece soldiers on their payday.
  44. Photos of Earp’s favorite camping spot (near his Happy Days Mine) show that the legendary frontiersman set up camp in a wash. This is the last place anyone who knows about flash floods would camp. Even worse, in the book I Married Wyatt Earp, Mrs. Earp tells of a flash flood almost washing them away (Wyatt’s brother ended up in a tree). Wyatt Earp’s lack of knowledge about the dangers of the desert boggles the mind.
  45. Late in life, Wyatt decided to pursue culture and read Shakespeare. His comment: “That feller Hamlet was a talkative man. He wouldn’t have lasted long in Kansas.”
  46. In Wyatt’s feeble attempts at writing his life story (he dictated his memoirs to a secretary named John Flood, Jr.), he overused the word “Crack!,” a popular replacement for “Bang!” When describing the classic O.K. gunfight in Tombstone, Earp used Crack! 102 times to depict how many shots were fired.
  47. The historical record says “around 30” shots were fired at the gunfight near the O.K. Corral. Earp claimed in his autobiography: “So rapid were the flashes [from the guns] that the heat of the metal extended back into the butts of the forty-fives until the palms of the gunners began to burn.”
  48. President Teddy Roosevelt was indirectly responsible for making Wyatt Earp an Old West icon. The president invited various Old West characters to the White House (Geronimo and Pat Garrett, to name two). When Bat Masterson visited, he told Teddy, “The true story of the West will never be known until Wyatt Earp talks.” Roosevelt’s press secretary, Stuart Lake, overheard these remarks and later went West to find the 80-year-old former lawman. The resulting book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, posthumously enshrined Earp in the pantheon of Western icons. Thanks to that book (and Walter Noble Burns’ book, Tombstone), Earp now stands shoulder to shoulder with the legendary Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok.
  49. Wyatt’s last words were, “Suppose…suppose….”
  50. Wyatt’s ashes are buried in a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California, beside his third wife Sadie.

What do you think?

Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.