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Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 - January 13, 1929) was an American Old West lawman and gambler in Pima County, Arizona Territory, and a deputy marshal in Tombstone. He worked in a wide variety of trades throughout his life and took part in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which lawmen killed three outlaw Cochise County Cowboys. He is often erroneously regarded as the central figure in the shootout, although his brother Virgil was Tombstone city marshal and deputy U.S. marshal that day and had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, marshal, and soldier in combat.

Earp was also a professional gambler, teamster, and buffalo hunter, and he owned several saloons, maintained a brothel, mined for silver and gold, and refereed boxing matches. He spent his early life in Pella, Iowa. In 1870, he married Urilla Sutherland who contracted typhoid fever and died shortly before their first child was to be born. During the next two years, Earp was arrested for stealing a horse, escaped from jail, and was sued twice. He was arrested and fined three times in 1872 for "keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame". His third arrest was described at length in the Daily Transcript, which referred to him as an "old offender" and nicknamed him the "Peoria Bummer", another name for loafer or vagrant.

By 1874, he arrived in the boomtown of Wichita, Kansas where his reputed wife opened a brothel. On April 21, 1875, he was appointed to the Wichita police force and developed a solid reputation as a lawman, but he was fined and dismissed from the force after getting into a fistfight with a political opponent of his boss. Earp immediately left Wichita, following his brother James to Dodge City, Kansas where he became an assistant city marshal. In the winter of 1878, he went to Texas to track down an outlaw, and he met John "Doc" Holliday whom Earp credited with saving his life.

Earp moved constantly throughout his life from one boomtown to another. He left Dodge City in 1879 and moved with brothers James and Virgil to Tombstone, where a silver boom was underway. The Earps clashed with an informal community of outlaws known as the Cowboys. Wyatt, Virgil, and their younger brother Morgan held various law-enforcement positions which put them in conflict with Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton who threatened to kill the Earps on several occasions. The conflict escalated over the next year, culminating in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881 in which the Earps and Doc Holliday killed three of the Cowboys. In the next five months, Virgil was ambushed and maimed, and Morgan was assassinated. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and others formed a federal posse which killed three of the Cowboys whom they thought responsible. Wyatt was never wounded in any of the gunfights, unlike his brothers Virgil and Morgan or his friend Doc Holliday, which only added to his mystique after his death.

Earp was a lifelong gambler and was always looking for a quick way to make money. After leaving Tombstone, he went to San Francisco where he reunited with Josephine Earp and she became his common-law wife. They joined a gold rush to Eagle City, Idaho where they owned mining interests and a saloon. They left there to race horses and open a saloon during a real estate boom in San Diego, California. Back in San Francisco, Wyatt raced horses again, but his reputation suffered irreparably when he refereed the Fitzsimmons vs. Sharkey boxing match and called a foul which led many to believe that he fixed the fight. They moved briefly to Yuma, Arizona before joining the Nome Gold Rush in 1899. He and Charlie Hoxie paid $1,500 (about $51,000 in 2018) for a liquor license to open a two-story saloon called the Dexter and made an estimated $80,000 (about $2 million in 2017 dollars). The couple then left Alaska and opened another saloon in Tonopah, Nevada, the site of a new gold find. Around 1911, Earp began working several mining claims in Vidal, California, retiring in the hot summers with Josephine to Los Angeles. He made friends among early Western actors in Hollywood and tried to get his story told, but he was only portrayed very briefly in one film produced during his lifetime: Wild Bill Hickok (1923).

Earp died on January 13, 1929. He was known as a Western lawman, gunfighter, and boxing referee. He had a notorious reputation for both his handling of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight and his role in the O.K. Corral gunfight. This only began to change after his death when the extremely flattering biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal was published in 1931. It became a bestseller and created his reputation as a fearless lawman. Since then, Earp has been the subject of numerous films, television shows, biographies, and works of fiction which have increased both his fame and his notoriety. Long after his death, he has many devoted detractors and admirers. His modern-day reputation is that of the Old West's toughest and deadliest gunman of his day.

Early life

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born on March 19, 1848, the fourth child of Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey. He was named after his father's commanding officer in the Mexican-American War, Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp, of the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers. Some evidence supports Wyatt Earp's birthplace as 406 South 3rd Street in Monmouth, Illinois, though the street address is disputed by Monmouth College professor and historian William Urban. Wyatt had seven siblings: James, Virgil, Martha, Morgan, Baxter Warren, Virginia, and Adelia; as well as an elder half-brother from his father's first marriage, Newton.

In March 1849 or in early 1850, Nicholas Earp joined about 100 other people in a plan to relocate to San Bernardino County, California, where he intended to buy farmland. Just 150 miles (240 km) west of Monmouth on the journey, their daughter Martha became ill. The family stopped and Nicholas bought a new 160-acre (65 ha) farm 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Pella, Iowa. Martha died there on May 26, 1856.

Nicholas and Virginia Earp's last child, Adelia, was born in June 1861 in Pella. Newton, James, and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11, 1861. Their father was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, so Wyatt and his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren, were left in charge of tending 80 acres (32 ha) of corn. Wyatt was only 13 years old, too young to enlist, but he tried on several occasions to run away and join the army. Each time, his father found him and brought him home. James was severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, and returned home in summer 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later followed the family to California.

California

On May 12, 1864, Nicholas Earp organized a wagon train and headed to San Bernardino, California, arriving on December 17. By late summer 1865, Virgil found work as a driver for Phineas Banning's stage coach line in California's Imperial Valley, and 16-year-old Wyatt assisted. In spring 1866, Wyatt became a teamster transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. From 1866 to 1868, he drove cargo over the 720 miles (1,160 km) wagon road from Wilmington through San Bernardino, then Las Vegas, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.

In spring 1868, Earp was hired to transport supplies needed to build the Union Pacific Railroad. He learned gambling and boxing while working on the rail head in the Wyoming Territory, and he developed a reputation officiating boxing matches and refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Professor Mike Donovan on July 4, 1869, in Cheyenne, Wyoming in front of 3,000 spectators.

Lawman and marriage

In the spring of 1868, the Earps moved east again to Lamar, Missouri, where Wyatt's father Nicholas became the local constable. Wyatt rejoined the family the next year. Nicholas resigned as constable on November 17, 1869 to become the justice of the peace, and Wyatt was appointed constable in his place.

In late 1869, Earp courted 20 year-old Urilla Sutherland (c. 1849-1870), the daughter of William and Permelia Sutherland who operated the Exchange Hotel in Lamar. They were married by Earp's father on January 10, 1870, and Wyatt bought a lot on the outskirts of town for $50 where he built a house in August 1870. Urilla was about to deliver their first child when she suddenly died from typhoid fever. In November, Earp sold the lot and house for $75. He ran against his elder half-brother Newton for the office of constable and won by 137 votes to Newton's 108, but their father lost the election for justice of the peace in a very close four-way race.

Lawsuits and charges

Earp went through a downward spiral after Urilla's death, and he had a series of legal problems. On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri filed a lawsuit against him and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar which funded local schools, and he was accused of failing to turn them in. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against him alleging that he had falsified court documents concerning the amount of money that Earp had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgment. The court had seized Cromwell's mowing machine and sold it for $38 to make up the difference between what Earp turned in and what Cromwell owed. Cromwell's suit claimed that Earp owed him $75, the estimated value of the machine.

Earp, Edward Kennedy, and John Shown were charged with stealing two horses on March 28, 1871 from William Keys while in the Indian country, "each of the value of one hundred dollars". On April 6, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the horse theft, and Commissioner James Churchill arraigned him on April 14 and set bail at $500. On May 15, an indictment was issued against Earp, Kennedy, and Shown. John Shown's wife Anna claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life to persuade him to help. On June 5, Kennedy was acquitted while the case remained against Earp and Shown. Earp did not wait for the trial but climbed out through the roof of his jail and headed for Peoria, Illinois.

Arrests in Peoria

Earp was listed in the Peoria city directory during 1872 as a resident in the home of Jane Haspel, although Stuart N. Lake took notes of a conversation with years later in which Earp claimed that he had been hunting buffalo during the winter of 1871-1872. Peoria police raided Haspel's home in February 1872 and arrested four women and Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. The men were charged with "keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame", and they were later fined $20 plus costs. Both Earps were arrested for the same crime on May 11, and each was fined $44.55. The Peoria Daily National Democrat reported that Earp had been arrested once more on September 10, 1872, and this time he was aboard a floating brothel that he owned named the Beardstown Gunboat. A prostitute named Sally Heckell was arrested with him, and she called herself his wife. She was likely the 16 year-old daughter of Jane Haspell.

Some of the women are said to be good looking, but all appear to be terribly depraved. John Walton, the skipper of the boat and Wyatt Earp, the Peoria Bummer, were each fined $43.15. Sarah Earp, alias Sally Heckell, calls herself the wife of Wyatt Earp.

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By calling Earp the "Peoria Bummer", the newspaper was putting him in a class of "contemptible loafers who impose on hard-working citizens," a "beggar," and worse than tramps. They were men of poor character who were chronic lawbreakers, and Peoria constables probably considered him to be a pimp. Earp wrote Lake that he "arrived in Wichita direct from my buffalo hunt in seventy-four," so he may have hunted buffalo between 1873 and 1874, although there is no evidence that he ever hunted buffalo.

Wichita, Kansas

In early 1874, Earp and Sally moved to the growing cow town of Wichita where his brother James ran a brothel. Local arrest records show that Sally and James' wife Nellie "Bessie" Ketchum operated a brothel there from early 1874 to the middle of 1876. Wyatt may have been a pimp, but historian Robert Gary L. Roberts believes that he was more likely an enforcer or a bouncer for the brothel. When the Kansas state census was completed in June 1875, Sally was no longer living with Wyatt, James, and Bessie.

Wichita was a railroad terminal and a destination for cattle drives from Texas. The town would fill with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating the end of their long journey when the cattle drives arrived, and lawmen were kept busy. When the cattle drives ended and the cowboys left, Earp searched for something else to do. The Wichita City Eagle reported on October 29, 1874 that he had helped an off-duty police officer find thieves who had stolen a man's wagon. Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal's office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (or police chief), making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon. In late 1875, the Wichita Beacon newspaper published this 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.

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Earp was embarrassed on January 9, 1876 when he was sitting with friends in the back room of the Custom House Saloon and his single-action revolver fell out of its holster and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. "The ball passed through his coat, struck the north wall then glanced off and passed out through the ceiling." He persuaded biographer Stuart N. Lake years later to omit it from his book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.

Earp's stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876 when former marshal Bill Smith accused him of using his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Earp beat Smith in a fist-fight and was fined $30. The local newspaper reported, "It is but justice to Earp to say he has made an excellent officer." Meagher won the election, but the city council voted against rehiring Earp. His brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, and Earp left Wichita to join him.

Dodge City and Deadwood

After 1875, Dodge City, Kansas became a major terminal for cattle drives from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City under Marshal Lawrence Deger around May 1876, and he spent the winter of 1876-77 in the gold rush boomtown of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory. He and his brother Morgan left Dodge for Deadwood on September 9, 1876 with a team of horses, but they arrived there to find that all the land was already tied up in mining claims, so Morgan decided to return to Dodge. Instead of gambling, Wyatt made a deal to buy all the wood that a local individual had cut and put his horses to work that winter hauling firewood into camp. He made about $5,000 in profit but was unable to file any mining claims, so he returned to Dodge City in the spring.

He rejoined the Dodge City police in spring 1877 at the request of Mayor James H. Kelley. The Dodge City newspaper reported in July 1878 that he had been fined $1 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell, who "heaped epithets upon the unoffending head of Mr. Earp to such an extent as to provide a slap from the ex-officer", according to the account. Bell spent the night in jail and was fined $20, while Earp's fine was the legal minimum.

In October 1877, outlaw Dave Rudabaugh robbed a Sante Fe Railroad construction camp and fled south. Earp was given a temporary commission as deputy U.S. marshal and he left Dodge City, following Rudabaugh over 400 miles (640 km) through Fort Clark, Texas, where the newspaper reported his presence on January 22, 1878, and on to Fort Griffin, Texas.

He arrived at the frontier town on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River and went to the Bee Hive Saloon, the largest in town and owned by John Shanssey, whom Earp had known since he was 21. Shanssey told Earp that Rudabaugh had passed through town earlier in the week, but he did not know where he was headed. Shanssey suggested that Earp ask gambler Doc Holliday, who had played cards with Rudabaugh, and Holliday told Earp that Rudabaugh had headed back into Kansas.

By May 11, 1878, the Dodge newspapers reported that Earp had returned to Dodge City, and the Times noted on May 14 that he had been appointed assistant marshal for the salary of $75 per month, serving under Charlie Bassett. Doc Holliday also showed up in Dodge City with his common-law wife Big Nose Kate during the summer of 1878. Ed Morrison and another two dozen cowboys rode into Dodge that summer and shot up the town, galloping down Front Street. They entered the Long Branch Saloon, vandalized the room, and harassed the customers. Hearing the commotion, Earp burst through the front door to find numerous guns pointing at him; another version of the story has it that only three to five cowboys were there. In both versions, Holliday was playing cards in the back and he put his pistol at Morrison's head, forcing him and his men to disarm. Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day, and the two became friends.

While in Dodge City, Earp became acquainted with James and Bat Masterson, Luke Short, and prostitute Mattie Blaylock who became his common-law wife until 1881.

George Hoyt shooting

George Hoyt (spelled in some accounts as "Hoy") and other drunken cowboys shot their guns wildly at about 3 a.m. on July 26, 1878, including three shots into Dodge City's Comique Theater, causing comedian Eddie Foy, Sr. to throw himself to the stage floor in the middle of his act. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and policeman Bat Masterson responded, along with several citizens, and opened fire with their pistols at the fleeing horsemen. The riders crossed the Arkansas River bridge south of town but Hoyt fell from his horse, wounded in the arm or leg. Earp later told biographer Stuart Lake that he saw Hoyt through his gun sights, illuminated against the morning horizon, and he fired a fatal shot which killed him that day; but the Dodge City Times reported that Hoyt developed gangrene and died on August 21 after his leg was amputated.

Move to Tombstone, Arizona

Dodge City had been a frontier cowtown for several years, but by 1879 it had begun to settle down. Virgil Earp was the town constable in Prescott, Arizona Territory, and he wrote to Wyatt about the opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. He later wrote, "In 1879, Dodge was beginning to lose much of the snap which had given it a charm to men of reckless blood, and I decided to move to Tombstone, which was just building up a reputation."

Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1879 and traveled to Las Vegas in New Mexico Territory with his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim, and Jim's wife Bessie. There they reunited with Doc Holliday and his common-law wife Big Nose Kate, and the six of them went on to Prescott, Arizona Territory. Virgil was appointed deputy U.S. marshal for the Tombstone mining district on November 27, 1879, three days before they left for Tombstone, by U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory Crawley P. Dake. Virgil was to operate out of Tombstone, some 280 miles (450 km) from Prescott, and his territory included the entire southeast area of the Arizona Territory. Wyatt, Virgil, and James Earp arrived arrived in Tombstone with their wives on December 1, 1879, while Doc Holliday remained in Prescott where the gambling afforded better opportunities.

The city of Tombstone was founded on March 5, 1879 with about 100 people living in tents and a few shacks. The Earps arrived nine months later on December 1, and it had already grown to about 1,000 residents. Wyatt brought horses and a buckboard wagon which he planned to convert into a stagecoach, but he found two established stage lines already running. He later said that he made most of his money in Tombstone as a professional gambler. The three Earps and Robert J. Winders filed a location notice on December 6, 1879 for the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid Mine. They also bought an interest in the Vizina mine and some water rights.

Jim worked as a barkeep, but none of their other business interests proved fruitful. Wyatt was hired in April or May 1880 by Wells Fargo agent Fred J. Dodge as a shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they transported Wells Fargo strongboxes. In summer 1880, younger brother Morgan arrived from Montana, and Warren Earp moved to Tombstone, as well. Doc Holliday arrived from Prescott in September with $40,000 (about $1,014,345 today) in gambling winnings in his pocket.

First confrontation with the outlaw Cowboys

On July 25, 1880, Army Captain Joseph H. Hurst asked Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp to assist him in tracking outlaw Cowboys who had stolen six Army mules from Fort Rucker, Arizona. Virgil requested the assistance of his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams, and they found the mules at the McLaurys' ranch. (McLaury was a Cowboy, a term which was generally used in that region to refer to a loose association of outlaws, some of whom also were land-owners and ranchers. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers.) They also found a branding iron which the Cowboys had used to change the "U.S." brand into "D.8." Stealing the mules was a federal offense because the animals were government property.

Cowboy Frank Patterson made an agreement with Captain Hurst, and Hurst persuaded the posse to withdraw with the understanding that the mules would be returned. The Cowboys showed up two days later without the mules and laughed at Hurst and the Earps. In response, Hurst printed a handbill describing the theft, and he charged McLaury with hiding the mules. He also reproduced the handbill in The Tombstone Epitaph on July 30, 1880. McLaury angrily printed a response in the Cowboy-friendly Nuggett, calling Hurst "unmanly", "a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, and a malicious liar", and accusing him of stealing the mules himself. Hurst later cautioned the Earp brothers that the Cowboys had threatened their lives. Virgil reported that McLaury accosted him and said, "If you ever again follow us as close as you did, then you will have to fight anyway." A month later, Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him that they would kill him if he ever followed them as he had done before.

Becomes deputy sheriff

County Sheriff Charles A. Shibell appointed Earp as deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, Arizona on July 28, 1880, which included Tombstone, and Earp passed his Wells Fargo job as shotgun messenger to his brother Morgan. Wyatt did his job well, and his name was mentioned nearly every week from August through November in The Tombstone Epitaph or the Nugget newspapers. The deputy sheriff's position was worth more than $40,000 a year (about $1,014,345 today) because he was also county assessor and tax collector, and the board of supervisors allowed him to keep 10-percent of the amounts paid.

Town marshal shot

On October 28, 1880, Tombstone town marshal Fred White attempted to break up a group of five late-night, drunken revelers shooting at the moon on Allen Street. Deputy Sheriff Earp was in Owens Saloon a block away, though unarmed. He heard the shooting and ran to the scene, borrowed a pistol from Fred Dodge, and went to assist White. He saw White attempt to disarm Curly Bill Brocius and the gun discharged, striking White in the groin. Earp pistol-whipped Brocius, knocking him to the ground, then he grabbed Brocius by the collar and told him to get up. Brocius asked, "What have I done?" Fred Dodge arrived on the scene, and he recalled what he saw in a letter to Stuart Lake years later:

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.

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Earp altered his story later on, telling John H. Flood, Jr. that he did not see Brocius's pistol on the ground in the dark until afterward. The pistol contained one expended cartridge and five live rounds.

Brocius waived a preliminary hearing so that his case could be transferred to Tucson District Court, and Virgil and Wyatt escorted him to Tucson to stand trial--possibly saving him from a lynching. White, age 31, died of his wound two days after his shooting. On December 27, 1880, Earp testified that White's shooting was accidental. Brocius expressed regret, saying that he had not intended to shoot White. Gunsmith Jacob Gruber testified that Brocius's single-action revolver was defective, allowing it to be discharged at half-cock. A statement was introduced which White had made, stating that the shooting was accidental. The judge ruled that the shooting was accidental and released Brocius. Brocius, however, remained intensely angry about how Earp had pistol-whipped him, and he became an enemy to the Earps.

Loses reappointment

Earp served as deputy sheriff for eastern Pima County for only three months because Democrat Shibell ran for re-election against Republican challenger Robert H. Paul in November. The region was strongly Republican and Paul was expected to win. Earp was a Republican and expected that he would continue in the job. Given how fast eastern Pima County was growing, many expected that it would be split off into its own county soon with Tombstone as its seat, and Earp hoped to win the job as the new county's sheriff and continue receiving the 10% of all tax money collected. Southern Pacific was the major landholder, so tax collection was a relatively easy process.

On November 2, 1880, Shibell unexpectedly won the election by a margin of 58 votes under suspicious circumstances. James C. Hancock reported that Cowboys Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo had served as election officials in the San Simon precinct, although biographer David Johnson places Ringo in New Mexico with Ike Clanton on November 1, the day before the election. Curly Bill had been arrested and jailed in Tucson on October 28 for shooting Marshal White, and he was still there on election day. The home of John Magill was used as the polling place. The precinct only contained about 10 eligible voters (another source says 50), but the Cowboys gathered non-voters such as the children and Chinese and had them cast ballots. They then gave names to all the dogs, donkeys, and poultry and cast ballots in their names for Shibell. The election board met on November 14 and declared Shibell the winner.

Earp resigned from the sheriff's office on November 9, 1880, and Shibell immediately appointed Johnny Behan as the new deputy sheriff for eastern Pima County. Behan had considerably more political experience than Earp, as he had served as Yavapai County sheriff from 1871 to 1873. He had been elected to the Arizona Territorial Legislature twice, representing Yavapai Country in the 7th Territorial Legislature in 1873 and Mohave County in the 10th in 1879. Behan moved to the northwest Arizona Territory, where he served as the Mohave County recorder in 1877 and then deputy sheriff of Mohave County at Gillet in 1879.

Robert H. Paul filed a lawsuit on November 19 contesting the election results and alleging that Shibell's Cowboy supporters Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury had conspired in ballot stuffing. Chief Justice of Arizona C. G. W. French ruled in Paul's favor in late January 1881, but Shibell appealed. His lawsuit was finally resolved in April 1881 when the election commission found that a mysterious "Henry Johnson" was responsible for certifying the ballots. This turned out to be the same James K. Johnson who had been shooting up Allen Street the night when Marshal White was killed. Moreover, he had testified at Curly Bill's preliminary hearing after he shot Fred White. The recount found that Paul had 402 votes and Shibell had 354, and Paul was declared the winner of the Pima County sheriff election. However, the election was a moot point by then, as Paul could not replace Behan with Earp because Cochise County was created out of the eastern portion of Pima County on January 1, 1881.

Behan wins election

Earp and Behan both applied for the new position of Cochise County sheriff, which paid the office holder 10% of the fees and taxes collected, as did the Pima County sheriff job. Earp thought that he had a good chance to win because he was the former under-sheriff in the region and a Republican, like Arizona Territorial Governor John C. Fremont. However, Behan had greater political experience and influence in Prescott.

Earp later testified at the O.K. Corral hearing that he and Behan had made a deal. He said that Behan and he agreed that, if Earp withdrew his application, Behan would appoint him as under-sheriff. Behan received the appointment in February 1881, but he did not keep his end of the bargain and instead chose Harry Woods as under-sheriff, who was a prominent Democrat. Behan testified at first that he had not made any deal with Earp, although he later admitted that he had lied. He said that he broke his promise to Earp because of an incident which occurred shortly before his appointment when Earp learned that Ike and Billy Clanton had one of his prize horses which had been stolen more than a year before. Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse and overtook Behan along the way, who was riding in a wagon. Behan also was heading to the ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike Clanton. Accounts differ as to what happened next, but Earp testified that Billy Clanton gave up the horse when Earp arrived at the ranch, even before being presented with ownership papers. According to Behan's testimony, however, Earp had told the Clantons that Behan was on his way to arrest them for horse theft. The incident embarrassed both the Clantons and Behan, and Behan later testified that he did not want to work with Earp and chose Woods instead.


Interest in mining and gambling

Losing the undersheriff position left Earp without a job in Tombstone; however, he and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area. In January 1881, Oriental Saloon owner Mike Joyce gave Earp a 25-percent interest in the faro concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer. Gambling was regarded as a legitimate profession at the time. Earp invited his friend Bat Masterson to Tombstone to help him run the faro tables in the saloon, and he telegraphed Luke Short in June 1881 to offer him a job as a faro dealer. Masterson remained until April 1881, when he returned to Dodge City to assist his brother Jim.

Stands down lynch mob

Michael O'Rourke (Johnny Behind the Deuce) killed Henry Schneider, chief engineer of the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company--he said in self defense. Henry was well-liked, and a mob of miners quickly gathered, threatening to lynch O'Rourke on the spot. Stuart Lake told a story in his book about how Earp single-handedly stood down the large crowd. But the Epitaph gave primary credit to Ben Sippy for calming the crowd, assisted by Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Johnny Behan. The story by Lake giving credit to Earp added to Earp's modern legend as a lawman.

Stagecoach robbers kill two

Tensions between the Earps and both the Clantons and McLaurys increased through 1881. On March 15, 1881, at 10 pm, three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach reportedly carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (or about $659,324 in today's dollars). (The amount of bullion the stagecoach actually carried is questioned by modern researchers, who note that at the then-current value of US$1.00 per ounce, the bullion would have weighed about 1,600 pounds (730 kg), a significant weight for a team of horses. According to Wells Fargo agent John Q. Jackson, a stagecoach typically carried an Express Box containing bullion weighing only 100 to 150 pounds (45 to 68 kg).)

The holdup took place near Benson, during which the robbers killed popular driver Eli "Budd" Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig.

The Earps and a posse tracked the men down and arrested Luther King, who confessed he had been holding the reins while Bill Leonard, Harry "The Kid" Head, and Jim Crain robbed the stage. They arrested King and Sheriff Johnny Behan escorted him to jail, but somehow King walked in the front door and almost immediately out the back door.

During the hearing into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt testified that he offered the US$3,600 in Wells Fargo reward money ($1,200 per robber) to Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury in return for information about the identities of the three robbers. Wyatt testified that he had other motives for his plan, as well; he hoped that arresting the murderers would boost his chances for election as Cochise County sheriff. Wyatt told the court that he had taken the extra step of obtaining a second copy of a telegram for Ike from Wells Fargo assuring that the reward for capturing the killers applied either dead or alive.

According to testimony given by Wyatt and Virgil, both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton agreed to provide information to assist in capturing Leonard, Head, and Crain, but they never had a chance to fulfill the agreement. All three suspects were killed when attempting other robberies.

In his testimony at the court hearing, Clanton said Wyatt did not want to capture the men, but to kill them. Clanton told the court that Earp wanted to conceal the Earp family's involvement in the Benson stage robbery. He said Wyatt swore him to secrecy, and the next day, Morgan Earp asked him whether he would make the agreement with Wyatt. He said that four or five days afterward, Morgan had confided in him that he and Wyatt had "piped off $1,400 to Doc Holliday and Bill Leonard", who were supposed to be on the stage the night Bud Philpot was killed. During his testimony, Clanton told the court, "I was not going to have anything to do with helping to capture--" and then he corrected himself "--kill Bill Leonard, Crane and Harry Head". Clanton denied having any knowledge of the Wells Fargo telegram confirming the reward money.

September stagecoach robbery

Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased when Cowboys robbed the passenger stage on the Sandy Bob Line in the Tombstone area on September 8, bound for nearby Bisbee. The masked robbers shook down the passengers and robbed the strongbox. They were recognized by their voices and language. They were identified as Deputy Sheriff Pete Spence (an alias for Elliot Larkin Ferguson) and Deputy Sheriff Frank Stilwell, a business partner of Spence's. Stilwell was fired a short while later as a deputy sheriff for Sheriff Behan (for county tax "accounting irregularities").

Wyatt and Virgil Earp rode with the sheriff's posse attempting to track the stage robbers. Wyatt discovered an unusual boot heel print in the mud. The posse checked with a shoemaker in Bisbee and found a matching heel that he had just removed from Stilwell's boot. A further check of a Bisbee corral turned up both Spence and Stilwell, who were arrested by sheriff's deputies Billy Breakenridge and Nagel.

Spence and Stilwell were arraigned on the robbery charges before Justice Wells Spicer, who set their bail at $7,000 each. They were released after paying their bail, but Spence and Stilwell were rearrested by Virgil for the Bisbee robbery a month later, on October 13, on the new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier. The newspapers, however, reported that they had been arrested for a different stage robbery that occurred (October 8) near Contention City. Occurring less than two weeks before the O.K. Corral shootout, this final incident may have been misunderstood by the McLaurys. While Wyatt and Virgil were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearing, Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp, telling him that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or the McLaurys again.

Gunfight on Fremont Street

On Wednesday, October 26, 1881, the tension between the Earps and the Cowboys came to a head. Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and other Cowboys had been threatening to kill the Earps for several weeks. Tombstone city Marshal Virgil Earp learned that the Cowboys were armed and had gathered near the O.K. Corral. He asked Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday to assist him, as he intended to disarm them. Wyatt had been deputized by Virgil a few days prior as a temporary assistant marshal, Morgan was a deputy city marshal, and Virgil also summoned Holliday to help. Around 3 pm, the Earps and Holliday headed towards Fremont Street, where the Cowboys had been reported gathering.

They found five Cowboys in a vacant lot adjacent to the O.K. Corral's rear entrance on Fremont Street. The lot between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio was narrow--the two parties were initially only about 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) apart. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled the gunfight. Tom and Frank McLaury, along with Billy Clanton, stood their ground and were killed. Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back that nicked both shoulder blades and a vertebra. Virgil was shot through the calf, and Holliday was grazed by a bullet.

Charged with murder

On October 30, as permitted by territorial law, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Justice Wells Spicer convened a preliminary hearing on October 31 to determine if enough evidence existed to go to trial. In an unusual proceeding, he took written and oral testimony from about 30 witnesses over more than a month.

Sheriff Behan, testifying for the prosecution, said the Cowboys had not resisted, but had thrown up their hands and turned out their coats to show they were not armed. He said that Tom McLaury threw open his coat to show that he was not armed and that the first two shots were fired by the Earp party. Sheriff Behan insisted Doc Holliday had fired first using a nickel-plated revolver, although other witnesses reported seeing him carrying a messenger shotgun immediately beforehand.

The Earps hired an experienced trial lawyer, Thomas Fitch, as defense counsel. Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols. He detailed the Earps' previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys and explained that they intended to disarm the cowboys. He said they fired in self defense. Fitch managed to produce testimony from prosecution witnesses during cross-examination that was contradictory, or appeared to dodge his questions, or in which they said they could not remember.

After extensive testimony, Justice Spicer ruled on November 30 that there was not enough evidence to indict the men. He said the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and that Holliday and Wyatt had been deputized temporarily by Virgil. Though the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputations had been tarnished. The Cowboys in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as robbers and murderers and plotted revenge.

Cowboys' revenge

On December 28, while walking between saloons on Allen Street in Tombstone, Virgil was ambushed and maimed by a shotgun round that struck his left arm and shoulder. Ike Clanton's hat was found in the back of the building across Allen Street from where the shots were fired. Wyatt wired U.S. Marshal Crawley P. Dake asking to be appointed deputy U.S. marshal with authority to select his own deputies. Dake granted the request in late January and provided the Earps with some funds he borrowed from Wells, Fargo & Co. on behalf of the Earps, variously reported as $500 to $3,000.

In mid-January, when Earp ally Rickabaugh sold the Oriental Saloon to Earp adversary Milt Joyce, Wyatt sold his gambling concessions at the hotel. The Earps also raised some funds from sympathetic business owners in town. On February 2, 1882, Wyatt and Virgil, tired of the criticism leveled against them, submitted their resignations to Dake, who refused to accept them because their accounts had not been settled. On the same day, Wyatt sent a message to Ike Clanton that he wanted to reconcile their differences, which Clanton refused. Clanton was also acquitted that day of the charges against him in the shooting of Virgil Earp, when the defense brought in seven witnesses who testified that Clanton was in Charleston at the time of the shooting.

The Earps needed more funds to pay for the extra deputies and associated expenses. Contributions received from supportive business owners were not enough. On February 13, Wyatt mortgaged his home to lawyer James G. Howard for $365.00 (about $9,256 today) and received $365.00 in U.S. gold coin. (He was never able to repay the loan and in 1884 Howard foreclosed on the house.)

After attending a theatre show on March 18, Morgan Earp was assassinated by gunmen firing from a dark alley through a door window into a room where he was playing billiards. Morgan was struck in the right side. The bullet shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and lodged in the thigh of George A. B. Berry. Another round narrowly missed Wyatt. A doctor was summoned and Morgan was moved from the floor to a nearby couch. The assassins escaped in the dark and Morgan died 40 minutes later.

Wyatt Earp felt he could not rely on civil justice, and decided to take matters into his own hands. He concluded that the only way to deal with Morgan's assassins was to kill them all.

Earp vendetta ride

The day after Morgan's assassination, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp formed a posse made up of his brothers James and Warren, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Jack "Turkey Creek" Johnson, Charles "Hairlip Charlie" Smith, Daniel "Tip" Tipton, and John Wilson "Texas Jack" Vermillion to protect the family and pursue the suspects, paying them $5.00 a day. They took Morgan's body to the railhead in Benson. James was to accompany Morgan's body to the family home in Colton, California, where Morgan's parents and wife waited to bury him. The posse guarded Virgil and Allie through to Tucson, where they had heard Frank Stilwell and other Cowboys were waiting to kill Virgil. The next morning, Frank Stilwell's body was found alongside the tracks riddled with buckshot and gunshot wounds. Wyatt and five other federal lawmen were indicted for murdering him, and Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued warrants for their arrest.

The Earp posse briefly returned to Tombstone, where Sheriff Behan tried to stop them. The heavily armed posse brushed him aside. Hairlip Charlie and Warren remained in Tombstone, and the rest set out for Pete Spence's wood camp in the Dragoon Mountains. Pete Spence was absent, but they found and killed Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Two days later, near Iron Springs (later Mescal or possibly Cottonwood Springs), in the Whetstone Mountains, they were seeking to rendezvous with a messenger for them. They unexpectedly stumbled onto the wood camp of Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Diehl, and other outlaw Cowboys.

According to reports from both sides, the two sides immediately exchanged gunfire. Except for Wyatt and Texas Jack Vermillion, whose horse was shot, the Earp party withdrew to find protection from the heavy gunfire. Curly Bill fired at Wyatt with a shotgun, but missed. Eighteen months prior, Wyatt had protected Curly Bill against a mob ready to lynch him, and then provided testimony that helped spare Curly Bill from a murder trial for killing Sheriff Fred White. Now, Wyatt returned Curly Bill's gunfire with his own shotgun and shot Curly Bill in the chest from about 50 feet (15m) away. Curly Bill fell into the water by the edge of the spring and died.

After emptying his shotgun at Curly Bill, Wyatt fired his revolver, mortally wounding Johnny Barnes in the chest and wounding Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys' gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him get to cover.

According to Lake, Earp told him both sides of his long coat were shot through, and another bullet struck his boot heel. Ed Colburn wrote in a letter published in the Ford County Globe on May 23, 1882 that he had visited with Wyatt and Warren Earp in Gunnison, Colorado. In the letter he relayed Earp's story about how his overcoat was hit on both sides of his body by a charge of buckshot and that his saddle horn was shot off. John Flood wrote,

The saddle-horn had been splintered, his coat hung in shreds, there were three holes through the legs of his trousers, five holes through the crown of his sombrero, and three through the brim.

wyatt-earp-kevin-costner-

Earp was finally able to get on his horse and retreated with the rest of the posse. Some modern researchers have found that most saddlehorns were by this time made of steel, not wood. Wyatt told several versions of the story in which he had trouble remounting his horse because his cartridge belt had slipped down his legs. Earp was never wounded in any of his confrontations, which added to his mystique.

Leaving the Cowboys behind, the Earp party rode north to the Percy Ranch, but were not welcomed by Hugh and Jim Percy, who feared the Cowboys; after a meal and some rest, they left around 3:00 in the morning of March 27. The Earp party slipped into the area near Tombstone and met with supporters, including Hairlip Charlie Smith and Warren Earp. On March 27, the posse arrived at the Sierra Bonita Ranch owned by Henry Hooker, a wealthy and prominent rancher. That night, Dan Tipton caught the first stage out of Tombstone and headed for Benson, carrying $1,000 from mining owner and Earp supporter E. B. Gage for the posse. Hooker congratulated Earp on the killing of Curly Bill. Hooker fed them and Wyatt told him he wanted to buy new mounts. Hooker was known for his purebred stallions and ran over 500 brood mares that produced horses that became known for their speed, beauty, and temperament. He provided Wyatt and his posse with new mounts, but refused to take Wyatt's money. When Behan's posse was observed in the distance, Hooker suggested Wyatt make his stand there, but Wyatt moved into the hills about three miles (5 km) distant near Reilly Hill.

The federal posse led by Wyatt Earp was not found by the local posse, led by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, although Behan's party trailed the Earps for many miles. In the middle of April 1882, the Earp party left the Arizona Territory and headed east into New Mexico Territory and then into Colorado.

The coroner reports credited the Earp party with killing four men--Frank Stilwell, Curly Bill, Indian Charlie, and Johnny Barnes--in their two-week-long ride. In 1888, Wyatt Earp gave an interview to California historian H. H. Bancroft during which he claimed to have killed "over a dozen stage robbers, murderers, and cattle thieves" in his time as a lawman.

Deals Faro in Colorado

After killing the four Cowboys, Wyatt and Warren Earp, Holliday, McMaster, "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson, and Texas Jack Vermillion left Arizona. Wyatt never returned to Tombstone. The group stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they met Deputy U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson, Wyatt's friend. Masterson went with them to Trinidad, Colorado, where Masterson opened a faro game in a saloon and later became marshal.

Wyatt dealt faro at Masterson's saloon for several weeks before McMaster, Vermillion, Warren Earp, and he left in May 1882 for Gunnison, Colorado. The Earps and Texas Jack set up camp on the outskirts of Gunnison, where they remained quietly at first, rarely going into town for supplies. In Gunnison, they were reported to have pulled a "gold brick scam" on a German visitor named Ritchie by trying to sell him gold-painted rocks for $2,000.

Wyatt and Holliday had a serious disagreement "when Holliday said something about Earp becoming 'a damn Jew-boy.'" They parted ways in Albuquerque. Holliday and Dan Tipton rode on to Pueblo, Colorado, while the rest of the group headed for Gunnison.

Holliday and Wyatt met again in June 1882 in Gunnison after Wyatt intervened to keep his friend from being arrested on murder charges they all had pending against them for killing Frank Stillwell in Tucson. Earp saw Holliday for a final time in the late winter of 1886, where they met in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel. Josephine Marcus described the skeletal Holliday as having a continuous cough and standing on "unsteady legs."

Reunites with Sadie in San Francisco

Sadie, traveling as either Mrs. J. C. Earp or Mrs. Wyatt Earp, left Tombstone for her family in San Francisco via Los Angeles on March 25, 1882. This was one week after Morgan Earp was assassinated and five days after Wyatt set out in pursuit of those he believed responsible.

In July, Wyatt traveled from Colorado to San Francisco, where Josephine was living with her half-sister Rebecca and husband Aaron Wiener, and where his brother Virgil was seeking treatment for his arm. Wyatt remained in San Francisco for about nine months until early 1883, when Josephine and he left San Francisco together for Silverton, Colorado, where silver and gold mining were flourishing. It was the first of many mining camps and boomtowns in which they lived. Josephine, or Sadie as Wyatt liked to call her, was Wyatt's common-law wife until his death 46 years later.

Mattie asks for divorce

Wyatt still owned a house in Tombstone with his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, but she waited for him in Colton, where his parents and Virgil were living. During the summer of 1882, she sent Wyatt a letter saying she wanted a divorce. She had met a gambler from Arizona and he had asked her to marry him. Wyatt, who did not believe in divorce, refused. She ran away with the gambler anyway, and he later abandoned her in Arizona.

She moved to Pinal City, Arizona, where she resumed life as a prostitute. Mattie struggled with addictions and committed "suicide by opium poisoning" on July 3, 1888.

Dodge City War

During what became known as the Dodge City War, the mayor tried to run Earp's friend Luke Short, part owner of the Long Branch saloon, first out of business and then out of town. Short appealed to Masterson, who contacted Earp. On May 31, 1883, Earp and Josephine went with Bat Masterson, Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green to Dodge City to help Short.

Short was in Kansas City to appeal to Governor George Washington Glick for help, but to no avail. When he returned, Short's allies marched up Front Street into Short's saloon, where they were sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog" Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for 10 days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused to compromise. When Short returned, there was no one ready to turn him away. Short's Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without a shot being fired.

Idaho mining venture

In 1884, Wyatt, his wife Sadie, his brothers Warren and James, and James' wife Bessie arrived in Eagle City, Idaho, another new boomtown created as a result of the discovery of gold, silver, and lead in the Coeur d'Alene area (it is now a ghost town in Shoshone County). Wyatt joined the crowd looking for gold in the Murray-Eagle mining district. They paid $2,250 for a 50 feet (15 m) diameter white circus, in which they opened a dance hall and saloon called The White Elephant. An advertisement in a local newspaper suggests gentlemen "come and see the elephant".

Earp was named deputy sheriff in the area including newly incorporated Kootenai County, Idaho, which was disputing jurisdiction of Eagle City with Shoshone County. There were a considerable number of disagreements over mining claims and property rights, which Earp had a part in. On March 28, several feet of snow were still on the ground. Bill Buzzard, a miner of dubious reputation, began constructing a building when one of Wyatt's partners, Jack Enright, tried to stop the construction. Enright claimed the building was on part of his property. Words were exchanged and Buzzard reached for his Winchester. He fired several shots at Enright and a skirmish developed. Allies of both sides quickly took defensive positions between snowbanks and began shooting at one another. Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp and his brother James stepped into the middle of the fray and helped peacefully resolve the dispute before anyone was seriously hurt. Shoshone County Deputy W. E. Hunt then arrived and ordered the parties to turn over their weapons.

Around April 1885, Wyatt Earp was reported to have used his badge to join a band of claim jumpers in Embry Camp, later renamed Chewelah, Washington. Within six months, their substantial stake had run dry, and the Earps left the Murray-Eagle district. About 10 years later, after the Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight, a reporter hunted up Buzzard and extracted a story from him that accused Wyatt of being the brains behind lot-jumping and a real-estate fraud, further tarnishing his reputation.

San Diego real estate boom

After the Coeur d'Alene mining venture died out, Earp and Sadie briefly went to El Paso, Texas, before moving in 1887 to San Diego, where the railroad was about to arrive and a real estate boom was underway. They stayed for about four years, living most of the time in the Brooklyn Hotel. Earp speculated in San Diego's booming real estate market. Between 1887 and around 1896, he bought four saloons and gambling halls, including one on Fourth Street and two near Sixth and E, all in the "respectable" part of town. They offered 21 games, including faro, blackjack, poker, keno, and other Victorian-American games of chance such as pedro and monte. At the height of the boom, he made up to $1,000 a night in profit. Wyatt also owned the Oyster Bar located in the first granite-faced building in San Diego, the four-story Louis Bank Building at 837 5th Avenue, one of the more popular saloons in the Stingaree district. One of the reasons it drew a good crowd was the Golden Poppy brothel upstairs. Owned by Madam Cora, each room was painted a different color, like emerald green, summer yellow, or ruby red, and each prostitute was required to dress in matching garments.

Wyatt had a long-standing interest in boxing and horse racing. He refereed boxing matches in San Diego, Tijuana, and San Bernardino. In the 1887 San Diego City Directory, he was listed as a capitalist or gambler. He won his first race horse, Otto Rex, in a card game and began investing in racehorses. He also judged prize fights on both sides of the border and raced horses. Earp was one of the judges at the county fair horse races held in Escondido in 1889. As rapidly as the boom started, it came to an end, and the population of San Diego fell from a high of 40,000 in 1885 when Earp arrived to only 16,000 in 1890.

On July 3, 1888, Mattie Blaylock, who had always considered herself Wyatt's wife, committed suicide in Pinal, Arizona Territory, by taking an overdose of laudanum.

San Francisco horse racing

The Earps moved back to San Francisco in 1891 in part so Sadie could be closer to her half-sister Henrietta's family. Earp developed a reputation as a sportsman and a gambler. He held onto his San Diego properties, but when their value fell, he could not pay the taxes. He was forced to sell the lots. He continued to race horses, but by 1896, he could no longer afford to own them. He raced them on behalf of the owner of a horse stable in Santa Rosa that he managed for her. From 1891 to 1897, they lived in at least four different locations in the city: 145 Ellis St., 720 McAllister St., 514A Seventh Ave. and 1004 Golden Gate Ave. In Santa Rosa, Earp personally competed in and won a harness race.

Later relationship with Josephine

Josephine wrote in I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus, that Wyatt and she were married in 1892 by the captain of multimillionaire Lucky Baldwin's yacht off the California coast. Raymond Nez wrote that his grandparents witnessed their marriage, but no public record of the marriage has been found. Baldwin, a horse breeder and racer, also owned the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles, which Wyatt--a long-time horse aficionado--frequented when he was in town.

Earp's relationship with Josephine Marcus was at times tempestuous. Josephine gambled to excess and Wyatt had affairs. He had a mischievous sense of humor. He knew his wife preferred Josephine and detested "Sadie", but early in their relationship, he began calling her by that name. Wyatt's good friends in the Welsh family did not appreciate Josephine's gambling habits. They noted that she received an allowance from her family (likely her only living relative, half-sister Rebecca and husband Aaron Wiener) and gambled it away, often leaving Wyatt hungry.

In the 1920s, Wyatt gave Sadie signed legal papers and filing fees to a claim for an oil lease in Kern County, California. She gambled away the filing fees and lied to Wyatt about what happened to the lease, which later turned out to be valuable. Distrustful of her ability to manage her finances, Wyatt made an arrangement with her sister Henrietta Lenhardt. Wyatt put oil leases he owned in Henrietta's name with the agreement that the proceeds would benefit Sadie after his death. In February 1926, the oil well was completed and producing 150 barrels a day. Henrietta's three children refused to keep the agreement after their mother's death and kept the royalties to themselves. Josie sued her sister's estate in an attempt to collect the royalties.

Sadie later developed a reputation as a shrew who made life difficult for Earp. Sadie frequently griped about Wyatt's lack of work and financial success and even his character and personality. Wyatt often went on long walks to get away from her. He was furious about her gambling habit, during which she lost considerable sums of money. Each may have engaged in extramarital affairs. Josephine could be controlling. A relative of Wyatt joked that nobody could convict Wyatt of cold-blooded murder because he had lived with Sadie for almost 50 years.

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