In New Mexico Earp reconnected with Masterson, who joined their party in traveling to Colorado, where Wyatt soon returned to dealing faro games in Trinidad, in a saloon Masterson owned. Later Earp went to Gunnison, to open another faro game there. In 1886 Earp saw his former friend Doc Holliday in Colorado when Doc was nearing the end of his battle with tuberculosis. Earp began a pattern of traveling and settling temporarily throughout the west, chasing dreams of silver mines, copper mines, and other ventures, frequently with brothers James and Warren accompanying him, as well as Josephine Marcus, his common-law wife. He continued to flirt with being a lawman from time to time, his reputation well known to his contemporaries.
In 1887, Wyatt and Josephine moved to San Diego, California, arriving in that town before the railroad did, which gave him an opportunity to cash in on the real estate boom the railroad’s arrival created. Wyatt invested in San Diego real estate, building saloons and gambling halls, and while some were likely brothels as well, he maintained an air of respectability in his businesses. He returned to his former profession as a boxing referee, and began to invest in racehorses. By the end of the 1880s the San Diego real estate market collapsed, the town’s population began to dwindle, and Wyatt and Josephine moved to San Francisco.
In San Francisco, Earp began to sell his various holdings in San Diego in order to obtain cash with which he could pay taxes on those he kept. As his real estate mini-empire dwindled, he began to manage a stable, training and running race horses for other owners, since he could no longer afford his own. During a six-year period in San Francisco, he and Josephine lived at four different addresses. Their relationship was often strained, and he called her “Sadie” rather than her preferred Josephine when he was trying to get under her skin, but they remained together despite his philandering and her excessive gambling (and losing).
35. He was accused of fixing a boxing match in 1896
In December 1896, a fight which was advertised as being for the heavyweight championship of the world (not yet an official title) was scheduled for the Mechanic’s Pavilion in San Francisco. Earp was a late choice to referee the fight, between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey, which was to be held under the Marquess of Queensberry rules. Although Earp had a long familiarity with the rules, the most recent fights he had refereed had used the older and less strict London Prize Ring Rules. After an alleged low blow, Earp stopped the fight and awarded it to Sharkey, and the outraged crowd responded with cries of the fight being fixed. The fight, reported nationally on sports pages and in magazines, brought about a renewed interest in Wyatt Earp.
36. Earp defended himself against accusations of being an outlaw
The Sharkey decision and the controversy surrounding it led to newspapers and magazines dredging up old and for the most part forgotten news stories about Wyatt Earp and his brothers, in which many accused the Earps of being stage robbers, embezzlers of taxes, and in general criminals. Less than a decade after the fight a doctor involved in the deception admitted that the fight had been fixed and that he had been paid to treat Sharkey so as to make it appear the fighter had suffered a low blow, for which he received $1,000. By then Earp was known nationwide, and in response to the stories of his admittedly checkered career, he began to issue stories of his own to counter them.
In the aftermath of the Sharkey fight, Wyatt and Josephine traveled to Alaska to escape the general condemnation in San Francisco and to try their luck at striking gold. By 1899, Wyatt operated a store as an employee of the Alaska Commercial Company, selling cigars and beer to miners and prospectors. The following year Wyatt and a partner built the Dexter Saloon, a two-story saloon and brothel, in Nome, Alaska Territory. Among his customers was the novelist Jack London. During 1899 Wyatt was arrested at least twice in Nome, and late in the year he relocated yet again, this time to Seattle, where his presence drew the attention of local newspapers in November.
38. Earp’s reputation both helped and hampered him in Seattle
While in Seattle, Earp found himself the subject of debate by the city’s newspapers, with some calling him a tough lawman and others little more than a desperado himself. His plan to develop a saloon and gambling house ran into considerable opposition from some local authorities, but he managed to obtain the support of others, and it opened toward the end of the century, and soon drew attention from the newspapers and local authorities for the large crowds it attracted and the often riotous behavior within. When prodding from newspapers and local groups did not move the city government to act, the state did, and Earp’s saloon, gambling house, and brothel were closed, with the furnishings seized.
39. He was hired to work for the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910.
At the age of 62, Wyatt Earp was hired to perform tasks for the LAPD which were “outside the law”. These included, for example, crossing the Mexican border and capturing individuals who were wanted in California, returning them to Los Angeles. Wyatt continued in the role until his health began to wane. In Los Angeles, Wyatt met several stars of the budding film industry and provided advice to Douglas Fairbanks and William Hart on how to portray characters in the developing genre of the western. In 1916 he met with director and actor Charles Chaplin at the home of a mutual friend, and the man who created the Little Tramp later reported being impressed with the man who created a myth.
In his lifetime, Wyatt Earp found tales of his exploits and miscreant deeds reported in newspapers and the pulp magazines and novels of the day. In his later years, he tried to reshape the record with exaggerated or simply made-up stories of his own. He was not a great marksman, he broke the law as he saw fit, and his sense of honor did not preclude him from fixing prizefights or absconding with tax dollars. The famed long-barreled Buntline associated with him only appeared at his side in movie and television portrayals of his myth. He remains famous and infamous, well-known and little understood, lawman and lawbreaker, a symbol of the American West of the late 19th century.
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