Wyatt Earp is best known as the fearless frontier lawman of Wichita and Dodge City, Kansas, and as the principal survivor of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. But the Marshall Earp of legend accounted for only about 5 years of Wyatt’s long and eventful life.
He spent most of his years traveling and living in the deserts of the Southwest with his four brothers Virgil, Morgan, James, and Warren, as well as his wife Josie. His lifelong passion for mining, gambling, and sports led him from one boomtown to another across the span of the western frontier and into the 20th century.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois on March 19, 1848. In 1864 he moved with his parents to Colton, California near San Bernardino, where he was employed as a teamster and railroad worker. He returned east and married in 1870, but after the sudden death of his new bride, he drifted the Indian Territory working as a buffalo hunter and stagecoach driver.
In 1875 he arrived in Wichita, Kansas where he joined the police force. In 1876, he moved to Dodge City, Kansas where he became a faro dealer at the at the famous Long Branch Saloon and assistant marshal. It was here he met and became lifelong friends with Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday, as well as establishing his reputation as a notable lawman and gambler.
The photo at top right comes from the National Archives of the United States. Taken around 1890, the picture posed past and present “Peace Commissioners” of Dodge City (Kansas). Left to right: Charles Bassett, W.H. Harris, Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, L. McLean, Bat Masterson, and Neal Brown. Masterson was a close friend of Wyatt and spent much time in Tombstone before returning to Kansas in 1882. Luke Short, another friend, and part-time lawman and part-time gambler, spent time in Tombstone and left a victim in Boothill.
Leaving Dodge City with his second wife, Mattie Blaylock, in 1878, Wyatt traveled to New Mexico and California, working for a time as a Wells Fargo agent. In 1879 he assembled with his brothers and their wives in the new silver mining town of Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt planned to establish a stage line here, but upon discovering that there were already two in town, he acquired the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon.
Thereafter, Wyatt took up prospecting in earnest, staking claims just outside Death Valley and elsewhere in the Mojave Desert. In 1906 he discovered several veins that contained gold and copper near Vidal, California on the Colorado River and filed numerous claims there at the base of the Whipple Mountains.
Wyatt spent the winters of his final years working these claims in the Mojave Desert and living with Josie in their Vidal cottage. He and Josie summered in Los Angeles, where they befriended early Hollywood actors and lived off real estate and mining investments.
On Jan. 13, 1929 Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles at the age of 80. Cowboy actors Tom Mix and William S. Hart were among his pallbearers. Wyatt’s cremated ashes were buried in Josie’s family plot in Colma, California, just south of San Francisco. When Josie died in 1944 at the age of 75, she was buried there beside him.
His brother Virgil (photo left) became town marshal, while Morgan took a job with the police department. It was here that Wyatt met his third wife JOSIE (Josephine Marcus Earp – photo right), who remained with him until his death.
On October 26, 1881, a feud that had developed between the Earp brothers and a gang led by Ike Clanton culminated in the most celebrated gun-fight in western folklore — the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Three of the Clanton gang were killed, while Ike and another wounded member escaped. The three Earp brothers — Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan — along with Doc Holliday survived. Both Morgan and Virgil were wounded, and Virgil was later terminated as marshal for his role in the homicides.
In March 1882 Morgan Earp was gunned down by unknown assassins. Wyatt, along with his brother Warren and some friends, embarked on a vendetta during which all four suspects were eventually killed.
After being accused of these murders, Wyatt and Josie fled Arizona to Colorado. Then made the rounds of western mining camps over the next few years. They turned up in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho and in 1886, settled briefly in booming San Diego, where Wyatt gambled and invested in real estate and saloons.
In 1897 Wyatt and Josie headed for Nome Alaska where they operated a saloon during the height of the Alaska Gold Rush. They returned to the states in 1901 with an estimated $80,000 and immediately headed for the gold strike in Tonopah, Nevada, where his saloon, gambling, and mining interests once again proved profitable.