40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

Larry Holzwarth - June 14, 2019

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Josephine “Sadie” Earp, the last of Wyatt’s several wives, remained with him for 47 years. Pinterest

34. From real estate magnate to stable manager

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).

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Earp’s career as a boxing referee came to an end when he was suspected of fixing a fight. PBS

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.

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Earp took steps to rehabilitate his reputation nationwide following the rigged fight. University of Nebraska

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.

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Earp joined the Yukon Gold Rush, but arrived too late to stake a claim and ended up working in a cigar store. Wikimedia

37. The Yukon Gold Rush

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.

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
By the time the Earps settled in Seattle the city featured electric streetcars and other modern conveniences. Wikimedia

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.

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
William Hart was an early silent film star and a friend of Wyatt Earp’s late in the latter’s life. Wikimedia

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.

40 Facts About the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp beside a 1926 Packard limousine which belonged to his friend, film star William Hart. True West Magazine

40. He tried to control his own 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.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Wyatt Earp”. Complete Program Transcript, The American Experience. WGBH, November 2010

“Who Was Wyatt Earp?” Allen Barra, American Heritage Magazine. December 1998

“Wyatt Earp 1848-1880: The Untold Story”. Ed Bartholomew. 1963

“The Truth About Wyatt Earp”. Richard E. Irwin. 1993

“Wyatt Earp – The Peoria Bummer” Tom Correa, American Cowboy Chronicles. August 11, 2016

“Wyatt Earp Dropped from Wichita Police Force”. This Day in History (April 19) History.com online

“The Real Wyatt Earp: A Documentary Biography”. Steve Gatto. 2000

“Wyatt Earp’s Tribute to Bat Masterson, the Hero of Dobe Wells”. Wyatt S. Earp, San Francisco Examiner. August 16, 1896

“Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier: Wyatt Earp”. W. B. “Bat” Masterson

“Why the West Was Wild”. Nyle H. Miller and Joseph W. Snell. 2003

“Wyatt Earp: A Biography of the Legend. Volume 1: The Cowtown Years”. Lee A. Silva. 2002

“Wyatt Earp: A Biography of the Legend. Volume 2: Tombstone Before the Earps”. Lee A. Silva. 2010

“The Earp Brothers of Tombstone”. Frank Waters. 1960

“Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Posse”. Peter Brand, HistoryNet.Com. March, 2007

“Tombstone: Wyatt Earp, The OK Corral, and The Vendetta Ride”. Sean McLachlan. 2013

“Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife”. Edward C. Meyers, Ted Meyers. 2010

“Murder in Tombstone. The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp”. Steven Lubet. 2004

“And Die in the West: The Story of the O. K. Corral Gunfight”. Paula Mitchell Marks. 1989

“Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth”. William B. Shillingberg. 1976

“The Earp-Holliday Trial”. Douglas Linder. Famous Trials. 2015

“The Earps: Josie and Wyatt’s 47 year odyssey”. Harriet Rochlin & Western Jewish History. Online

“10 Earp Vendetta Ride Myths”. Peter Brand. True West Magazine. 2018