A couple of years ago, I was reading about the life of one of my heroes, Ernest Hemingway. Reading his life story made me realize how much had changed in the world since he was young. He came of age in a world that was the equivalent of the Wild West. The world was full of adventure, but adventure was limited to small, local issues. Hemingway’s generation had to make decisions about global issues, like the Cold War, the Space Race, the Vietnam War, or the civil rights movement. All of these things had huge implications on their lives. They had to make decisions about the lives of others, not only those far away but those right beside them as well. I wanted to know what these men knew
Many of us have certain photos, quotes, songs, or other things that tie us to a certain time in our lives, whether it be childhood, high school, college, etc. That’s exactly what “These Men Knew Them When…” is all about, as it takes a look at the people who helped shape the world around us.
The late 19th century was a time of great change in American life, with the passage of the Homestead Act, the transcontinental railroad, and the birth of the telephone. And the biggest change of all was the emergence of the automobile, which had arrived at the end of the decade. It would become the symbol of progress, but was it really the most effective way to get around the country? A new exhibit at the Bancroft Library makes that all into a fascinating historical study.
In Nome, Alaska, Wyatt Earp poses with former Tombstone Epitaph editor John Clum. The Kansas Historical Society (KHS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Kansas
Before, during, and after their turbulent time in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his family were connected with a variety of Western personalities. Bat Masterson and his brothers, Doc Holliday, Bill Tilghman, Fred Dodge, Luke Short, “Buckskin Frank” Leslie, “Rawhide Jake” Brighton, Bob Paul, Jim Leavy, John Behan, Clay Allison, and John Ringo are among the lengthy list of fellow sophisticates. Outside of that group, they met a variety of people, including writer Jack London, film actor William S. Hart, boxing promoter “Tex” Rickard, businessman “Lucky” Baldwin, mining magnate George Hearst, and oil entrepreneur Ed Doheny. The Earps’ connections to such notable individuals need a closer examination.
Any discussion of Earp ties should begin with a mention of George Whitwell Parsons (at top, second from left), a renowned Western diarist who wrote extensively about his time in Tombstone during the Earp period. Parsons was well-established in Los Angeles by the late 1880s, where he became a Chamber of Commerce tycoon, headed several mining information bureaus, was active in church affairs, served as an officer in and president of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, and spearheaded a campaign to mark water sources in the desert. In a period when powerful people pushed for Santa Monica to become a port city for the Los Angeles region, Parsons fought to preserve the beautiful beach town. San Pedro ended up obtaining the port facilities, thanks in part to his persistent efforts. He admired Wyatt Earp from their Tombstone days and remained so after the legendary lawman and his common-law wife Josie relocated to Los Angeles. In his six decades of journals, he made many comments on the Earps. It’s no surprise he was a pallbearer at Wyatt’s burial in 1929. That year, Parsons ceased keeping a journal.
The majority of references to Wyatt in the two decades following Tombstone come from San Diego and San Francisco, where he indulged in his customary pastimes of gambling, mining, horse racing, and general sportsmanship. However, when family relatives moved to Colton and San Bernardino, and Wyatt, Virgil, and James became more involved in the boxing and horse racing circuits, the brothers—and sometimes their father Nicholas—were attracted to Los Angeles.
It’s impossible to say how many times these guys may have crossed paths in Los Angeles, even if it was only by chance. There are hints that encounters will take place at the Agricultural Park horse racing grounds.
Several important Tombstone figures had taken leadership positions in the affairs of Los Angeles. The downtown Hollenbeck Hotel (dubbed the “Headquarters for Arizonans”) was run by Albert Bilicke, while Remi Nadeau built L.A.’s first four-story structure (the Nadeau Hotel, which also boasted the first elevator in town). Hyman Solomon managed the cuisine at the Nadeau. In Tombstone, the three had already established a name for themselves.
Bilicke’s Cosmopolitan Hotel served as the Earps’ emergency headquarters in the aftermath of the O.K. Corral gunfight, and the family subsequently conducted Morgan’s burial rites there. Bilicke and Earp had completed mining transactions in the same building during calmer times. The Cosmopolitan hosted General William Tecumseh Sherman, who had succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as commanding general of the Army in 1869 when Grant was elected president, in April 1882, after the Earp/Holliday group had departed Tombstone on their vengeance trip. Local elites wined and dined the general at Bilicke’s hotel, including Tombstone Epitaph editor John Clum, attorney Ben Goodrich, and Oriental Saloon owner and local politician Milt Joyce. Diarist Parsons, whom Sherman personally asked to join him to Fort Huachuca, chronicles Sherman’s visit to Tombstone and territory inspection trip. Bilicke was a passenger on the RMS Lusitania when it was attacked and sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, one of the incidents that sparked World War I. He was assassinated, but his wife survived. The Earps had sold mining land in Tombstone to Nadeau, a prominent shipper in the area. As the Earp group departed town on their vengeance ride, Solomon, a businessman and member of the Tombstone Common Council and Cochise County Board of Supervisors, had given a Winchester to the rifleless Holliday.
Although William Randolph Hearst, editor of the San Francisco Examiner, subsequently feuded with the Earps in public, Hearst’s father, George, knew Wyatt from his mining days in Tombstone. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
It’s impossible to say how many times these guys may have crossed paths in Los Angeles, even if it was only by chance. There are hints that encounters will take place at the Agricultural Park horse racing grounds. One of the races was named the Nadeau Handicap in July 1890, and horses belonging to both Wyatt Earp and Lou Rickabaugh, a former partner of Wyatt’s in the gambling concessions at Tombstone’s Oriental Saloon, were entered in other races. The Hollenbeck Stakes was held the next month at the racecourse, and the former bar partners had horses competing.
Nadeau had died in 1887, leaving his commercial interests to his middle son George, which included a named racetrack that was mainly used for trotter exercise. The area’s biggest vineyard and newest distillery were two additional Nadeau holdings that would have piqued the Earps’ attention.
During the half-century that ended in 1930, the Curtis family of San Bernardino must have run across Earps many times. In 1864, they joined the California-bound caravan headed by the cantankerous Nicholas Earp and his family, a journey chronicled in Sarah Jane Rousseau’s journal. In San Bernardino County, the Earps and Curtises did not seem to be socially intimates, but they did travel in similar circles. Nicholas was a judge of the peace in Colton, and Virgil was the head of police, while James operated a bar in San Bernardino. William Jesse Curtis, the patriarch of his family, was the district attorney of San Bernardino County at the same time. Jesse, his son, became the district attorney after him and subsequently served on the California Supreme Court.
Dr. George E. Goodfellow, a horse lover and specialist in treating bullet wounds, treated the Earps after the O.K. Corral shootout. (Photo courtesy of Don Chaput)
In Los Angeles, the Earps were certain to run across other famous Tombstoners. Lewis W. Blinn, a timber merchant from Tombstone, rose to become the lumber king of southern California, with 40 yards and banking holdings in Los Angeles and San Pedro with Parsons. Dr. George E. Goodfellow, who treated the Earp brothers’ many wounds at Tombstone, resided and traveled in the Los Angeles region until passing away in the city in 1910. Goodrich, who had represented Ike Clanton as a prosecutor in the post–O.K. Corral gunfight “Spicer Hearing” in 1881 and served in the Arizona Territorial Legislature, later bounced between Tombstone and Los Angeles, where he was the go-to lawyer for Eliphalet Butler Gage and Colonel William C. Greene’s mining empires.
Attorney William J. “Will” Hunsaker, who practiced law in Tombstone during the Earps’ stay, was elected mayor of San Diego in 1888 and rose through the ranks of California legal circles to become president of the California Bar Association. He was a pallbearer at Wyatt’s burial (see picture at top of article), and until Hunsaker’s death in 1933, Josie confided in him about her personal and financial problems—probably too frequently, since he was unlikely to accept payment for his services. Tom Fitch, a key participant in the O.K. Corral hearings, resided in Los Angeles for a long time but seems to have had little interaction with the Earps.
Rancher Henry Clay Hooker, who died in 1907 in Los Angeles, was “in contact with Wyatt for years after he left Tombstone and was one of his closest friends,” according to Josie. Forrestine, Hooker’s former daughter-in-law, told Wyatt she would “inform the world” about his significance, but all she got was a sloppy manuscript.
Clum, a former editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, went to San Bernardino in 1886, where he dabbled in real estate and mixed with the Earps. From 1898 until 1909, he worked as a mail inspector and postmaster in Alaska, when he met both Wyatt and Parsons. In 1928, Clum relocated to Los Angeles, where he paid Wyatt occasional visits. He was a pallbearer at Earp’s burial and talked with him the night before his death. In 1932, Clum died in Los Angeles.
Early in 1882, Wyatt met George Hearst as he was looking into mining sites in and around Tombstone. Later, when then-US Senator Hearst and his son William Randolph Hearst were heading the Examiner in San Francisco, Wyatt reconnected with him. When the Hearst newspaper company established an office in Los Angeles in 1903, it chose the Bilicke Building as its location, reinforcing the ancient Tombstone ties.
Lucky Baldwin, a buddy of Wyatt’s in Alaska and California, had a life as colorful as any of the Earps. (Photo courtesy of the California State Library)
The Baldwin-Earp alliance included almost the whole Pacific Coast. Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, a wealthy real estate and mining businessman, was well-known for his eponymous San Francisco hotel, his thoroughbred racehorses, his arrogance, and his womanizing (he was twice shot by women, once in a courtroom drama). Lucky and Wyatt initially met in the 1880s in San Diego racing circles, and subsequently in the Los Angeles racing scene (where Earp and Rickabaugh trained some of their horses on the Baldwin Ranch), as well as the San Francisco racing-gambling community (negotiations for the 1896 Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight, controversially refereed by Earp, took place at the Baldwin Hotel). In Nome, Alaska, in 1900, Lucky and Wyatt met over a few drinks at the Earp-run Dexter Saloon. Until Baldwin’s death in 1909, Wyatt, Josie, and Lucky maintained touch in the Los Angeles region.
Author Jack London was inspired by his experience in Alaska to create Call of the Wild, but he and Wyatt were unlikely to meet until they both arrived in California. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive) )
It’s incredible how many famous people Wyatt and Josie met in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Sid Grauman and Alexander Pantages, famous for their movie theaters, were there in the start of their careers, trying to earn a living by entertaining miners, and saw Wyatt at best serving drinks or sitting at a faro table in Nome. Others, like as Rickard, a boxing promoter, would continue to work with Wyatt in Nevada and California. Although some claim that Call of the Wild author London met Wyatt in Alaska, it is more probable that they met in California.
When in Alaska—perhaps while snowed in with Josie and Wyatt—novelist Rex Beach concocted The Spoilers, but the riches evaded him. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
While snowed in for weeks in the boomtown of Rampart, playwright, raconteur, and serial entrepreneur Wilson Mizner (another pallbearer at Wyatt’s funeral; see top of article) spent many a tipsy evening with the Earps. Rex Beach, a hapless prospector, entertained them with his mandolin (Josie called it a banjo). Beach had more success as a writer, with his best-selling Nome epic, The Spoilers, being adapted for theater and screen five times. U.S. Marshal Cornelius L. Vawter and his wife Sarah were also in Rampart and Nome with Wyatt and Josie. Marshal Vawter was one of the main characters in The Spoilers’ primary narrative element, the Nome gold claim scam. He was connected to Williamson Dunn Vawter, an important pioneer in both Pasadena and Santa Monica, through chance.
Washingtonians John Harte McGraw and Eugene M. Carr, who were working nearby gold claims and often socialized with the Earps, were among those snowed in with Wyatt and Josie at Rampart. McGraw had just served as Washington’s second governor and was a former King County sheriff, while Brig. Gen. Carr had resigned as commander of the Washington National Guard to join the gold rush.
Tod Sloan, a well-known jockey, galloped into Wyatt’s life in California, where he raced a number of the lawman turned thoroughbred owner’s horses. (May 18, 1899, Vanity Fair)
The number of Californians associated with Earp is especially remarkable. Tod Sloan, a jockey from northern California, was one of the associates. In 1895, he rode numerous horses for Wyatt at San Francisco’s Bay District Track, and went on to become one of America’s and Britain’s most successful jockeys.
Southern Californians were also a part of the Earp story. Edward L. Doheny, a Los Angeles oil developer in the early 1900s, was a multimillionaire. He seems to have met Virgil in the late 1870s in Prescott, Arizona Territory, where Virgil worked as a constable and stagecoach driver while Doheny tried unsuccessfully to be a painter and prospector. Wyatt was a small participant in the Kern County, Calif., oilfields in the 1920s, which may have introduced him to the oil mogul. Doheny made news in 1922 when he was involved in the Teapot Dome Scandal (together with Harry Ford Sinclair of Sinclair Oil). He was twice acquitted of bribing New Mexico politician turned US Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall for oil leasing rights, but both Fall and Sinclair were sentenced to jail for their involvement in the scheme. Doheny and his second wife Carrie made additional news in Los Angeles for their charity. They gave the property for Doheny State Beach at Dana Point, California, which was immortalized in the Beach Boys’ 1960s songs “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” A widowed Josie Earp allegedly called Doheny to the point of harassing him when her funds were tight.
Tom Mix, one of the few real cowboys to appear in Westerns, was a buddy of Wyatt Earp’s and a horse racing fanatic. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Tom Mix was a recognized friend of the Earps and attended horse races with Wyatt and Josie. He was one of the few real Western cowboys to have appeared in films. William S. Hart, the most famous Western star of the silent period, was the couple’s main Hollywood contact. From his ranch north of Los Angeles, Hart met and corresponded with them on a regular basis. He had been urging Wyatt to write his autobiography and have a genuine film produced about his life for years. At Earp’s funeral, both Mix and Hart acted as pallbearers.
Film actor William S. Hart, the top hand of the silent cinema period, encouraged Wyatt to write his memoirs and have a film produced about his adventures. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History)
Richard “Dick” Gird, who earned a fortune building up the Tombstone mining area and then founded Chino, Calif., in 1910, reunited with Wyatt via the Los Angeles horse racing circuit in the early 1890s.
However, not all former Tombstonians in the Los Angeles area adored Earp. His relationship with mining executive Gage, miner/cattleman John Van Vickers, or banker John Vosburg, for example, has yet to be established by historians.
On Wyatt Earp’s list of friends is one of the world’s most successful book publishers. Alexander M. “Aleck” Robertson, a bookseller, came in Tombstone in 1881, just before the famous O.K. Corral shootout, and established his shop on Fifth Street between Allen and Fremont. London, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Robert Louis Stevenson all worked with Robertson as a publisher and close collaborator. At subsequent years, he entertained old Tombstoners such as Earp, Parsons, Blinn, Buckskin Frank Leslie, and others in his enormous San Francisco book store.
Nashville is where I was born. Buckskin Frank, Franklyn Leslie, was a famous Western character who worked as a Tombstone saloonman and faro player, as well as a government scout and prospector. He was a well-known gunfighter who murdered a few people (including a female paramour, for which he served six years in the Yuma Territorial Prison). Leslie killed Mike Killeen on June 22, 1880, while staying at Bilicke’s Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tombstone. He married Mary, a chambermaid at the hotel, Killeen’s widow, a few days later. Buckskin Frank and the Earp brothers saw each other nearly every day throughout their stay in town.
Because his studio abutted the empty lot behind the O.K. Corral—the site of the 1881 shootout—you might say C.S. Fly knew the Earps up close. Ike Clanton hid in Fly’s studio when the shooting broke out, and the photographer personally disarmed Ike’s critically wounded brother Billy.
Other Tombstone Earp allies went on to become nationally well-known personalities. Nellie Cashman, a restaurateur/hotelier/miner, lasted another quarter century as an entrepreneur after leaving Arizona Territory in 1898, as shown by mentions in mining magazines and The New York Times. After attempting and failing to capture Wyatt and Warren Earp, Holliday, and his vengeance posse at the Cosmopolitan as they departed Tombstone for good in 1882, Tombstone City Marshal David Neagle went to California. Neagle murdered a former California chief justice during an attack in 1889 while acting as a bodyguard for a US Supreme Court associate judge. In a case with far-reaching consequences for the supremacy of federal law over state law, the Supreme Court ultimately decided in Neagle’s favor. C.S. Fly, a photographer known for his rare pictures of the frontier Southwest and Mexico, began his career in Tombstone. Fly’s studio abutted the empty land behind the O.K. Corral, the site of the 1881 gunfight, so you might say he knew the Earps well. Ike Clanton sheltered in Fly’s studio during the shootout, and the photographer physically disarmed Ike’s critically wounded brother Billy.
Ike Clanton was killed six years later in Arizona Territory by well-known Western lawman and investigator Jonas V. “Rawhide Jake” Brighton. In 1893, the lawman played a key part in putting a stop to the Sontag-Evans gang’s depredations in California. Brighton worked as a police officer and constable in the Sawtelle neighborhood of Los Angeles, as well as at the Old Soldiers’ Home, where he lived, after 1900. Because James was selling illegal alcohol and his father Nicholas and oldest son Newton also resided in the Old Soldiers’ Home, he would have seen the Earps nearly every day in Sawtelle. Corporal Brighton is interred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery beside his wife Mary and Sergeant Nick Earp (the former Sawtelle Veterans Cemetery).
Key Pittman was a prominent Earp acquaintance who had no connections to California. Pittman met Wyatt in Nome, where he prospected and worked as the city’s first attorney. In 1902, both men landed in the silver boomtown of Tonopah, Nevada, after fleeing Alaska. Pittman made a name for himself as a U.S. senator from Nevada, where he served for almost 30 years. The politician, a known lush, probably likely frequented the Earp-run Dexter Saloon in Nome and the Northern Saloon in Tonopah.
Tasker Oddie, Nevada’s governor and senator, was a mining buddy of Wyatt’s from his Tonopah days. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
There’s more to the Nevada angle than meets the eye. Tasker Oddie, a one-term governor and two-term U.S. senator who was instrumental in the development of the Tonopah mining region, was one of the most powerful Nevada politicians of the time. Senator Oddie recounted from his Washington office in 1928 that “Wyatt Earp and 15 men of same spirit were gathered to defend our rights against squatters.”
The Rev. Endicott Peabody was another famous Earp friend who had no known California ties. He arrived in Tombstone shortly after the O.K. Corral battle, established the famous St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and became involved in the social and athletic circles of the town. Later in life, he praised the Earp brothers for their contributions to law enforcement. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a previous student of the reverend’s at Massachusetts’ renowned Groton School for Boys, as did cousin Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons) married Peabody, who became a nationally recognized figure in education.
Referee Virgil Earp (at right) protested with a pistol when heavyweight champion Jim Corbett (at left) entered the ring to pour ungentlemanly insults on a sparring partner’s opponent. (June 18, 1892) (Police Gazette)
Boxing hero James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, a world heavyweight champion and eventual entrant into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, was another nationally recognized person with Earp connections. Virgil Earp had a strong relationship with Corbett. Corbett was at San Bernardino in May 1892, according to legend, giving an exhibition and watching other bouts. When Corbett interfered in one of these fights, his sparring partner was being crushed. As soon as he stepped into the ring, he began kicking and abusing the challenger. Virgil Earp, the referee, ordered “Ungentlemanly Jim” to stop. Corbett, on the other hand, screamed at Earp and rushed on him. This is a bad concept. “Paralyzed by the sight of a huge Navy pistol in Earp’s hands,” one newspaper wrote, “Corbett did not strike very wisely.” The story made national news throughout the country.
Jimmy Swinnerton, an editorial cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst at the time, mocked Wyatt for his contentious judgment as referee in the Bob Fitzsimmons-Tom Sharkey fight in 1896. (Photo courtesy of David D. de Haas)
Judge James G. Swinnerton and his son Jimmy, a rising cartoonist at William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner, were all too acquainted with Wyatt Earp while judging the contentious 1896 Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight. Judge Swinnerton was part of the conspiracy that sought to reverse Earp’s shock victory for Tom Sharkey over Bob Fitzsimmons in the aftermath of the bout. At the same time, Jimmy was satirizing Earp in the Examiner with scathing cartoons. Swinnerton went on to become a well-known cartoonist for newspapers in San Francisco and New York. He is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the Comic Strip,” since he created his first for Hearst in 1892. Jimmy became known as one of the Southwest’s premier “Painters of the Desert” after becoming a personal friend and favored employee of the famous newspaper publisher (and Earp acquaintance). Victor Clyde Forsythe, a fellow desert painter whose parents and uncle were merchants in Tombstone in the early 1880s—contemporaries with the Earp brothers in Tombstone and subsequently in Los Angeles—befriended him. Based on his parents’ journals, Forsythe painted a well-received, realistic portrayal of the “Gunfight at O.K. Corral” in 1952.
Riley Grannan stood out in the sports world of bookies and “plungers” (high-risk gamblers) from New York to San Francisco. Grannan was well-known among the Earps. Grannan was among many who slammed Wyatt’s decision in the aftermath of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey bout. Wyatt and his brother James bumped into Grannan at a nearby racetrack a few days after the fight. James cursed Grannan and insisted that they fire it out with revolvers since he was drunk. Wyatt defused the situation by apologizing for his brother’s reaction.
Another family with such varied, powerful, and historically relevant Western ties would take a long time to find. And to think that in the early 1900s, the Earps would reunite with many of them for one final hurrah. WW
Don Chaput, a regular writer to Wild West, is the author of Virgil Earp: Western Peace Officer and co-author of Cochise County Stalwarts: A Who’s Who of the Territorial Years with Lynn R. Bailey. In the October 2022 edition, his essay “Clusters of Earps” was published. Historynet.com has an Art of the West article on Victor Clyde Forsythe by David D. de Haas. The Earps Invade Southern California: Bootlegging Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the Old Soldiers’ Home, published by the authors in 2022, is a good place to start (reviewed in the February 2022 issue and online at Historynet.com).
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