The Last Days of Kate & Doc

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The Last Days of Kate & Doc

The Last Days of Kate & Doc

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Was Kate “Big Nose” Elder with Doc Holliday in Tombstone during the Earp-Cow-boy troubles that led up to the deadly shootout of October 26, 1881? Kate said she was, but after the gunfight she left town and never returned.
— Painting “The Last Days of Kate & Doc” by Bob Boze Bell, Photo of Kate Elder and All Other Art by Bob Boze Bell, Photos/Maps Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted —

Kate Elder was a working girl. Throughout most of her young life, she was employed as a soiled dove—a woman of ill fame, a sporting gal, a prostitute. It was Kate’s relationship with John Henry (Doc) Holliday that brought her notoriety and lifted her out of the role of a mere courtesan to that of common-law wife to the well-known gambler, gunfighter and dentist.

Kate’s story of her life on the frontier as a soiled dove, and her time with one of the West’s most recognizable characters, has value. She was in her eighties when she dared to recall all that had transpired since she’d left Hungary, where she was born, up to the events preceding the historic gunfight near the O.K. Corral. Kate claims to have witnessed the famous gun battle in October 1881. What she said happened between she and Doc leading up to the incident, and what transpired afterwards with outlaw John Ringo, adds another controversial layer to the historic event.

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Kate “Big Nose Elder.”

It was a chilly evening in mid-March 1881. Kate had traveled from Globe, Arizona, where she had a business, to Tombstone to see Doc. According to her, she made the trip at his request. Doc had taken up residence on Sixth Street in a small boardinghouse positioned between a funeral parlor and a winery.

Kate said that a holdup, in which driver Bud Philpot and a passenger were killed, occurred during her visit to Tombstone. One of the four suspects in the stage robbery and the double killing was William Leonard, one of Doc’s friends he had met in Las Vegas, New Mexico. When Leonard relocated to southern Arizona he fell in with a bad crowd and began robbing stages. It wasn’t long before Doc was implicated in the crime. His friendship with Leonard, and a visit he had made to his home near Tombstone, made him look suspicious.

A group of outlaw cow-boys, including well-known Cochise County, Arizona, residents Ike Clanton, Pete Spencer, Frank Stillwell and Curly Bill Brocius, encouraged the rumor of Doc Holliday’s involvement in the robbery. An article in the March 24, 1881, edition of the Arizona Weekly Citizen implicated Doc in the crime as well. Three of the robbers were headed to Mexico. “The fourth is at Tombstone and is well-known and has been shadowed ever since his return.” Doc was furious. Many suspected him of taking part in the robbery, and that included Kate.

“I thought that after the holdup things looked very suspicious about the Earps and Doc,” Kate recalled later. “Something tells me Doc was in with Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan in that affair. One night after we retired, Warren Earp came after Doc and said that Wyatt wanted to see him at his home. Doc was gone for almost two hours, and when he returned I could see that he was very much put out about something. He kept saying, ‘the damned fool! I didn’t think that of him.’ And later he said, ‘I have to get up early in the morning, but I will think about it.’ This was after the holdup.

“In the morning, after we had our breakfast, Doc said. ‘Well, I don’t know what I am going to stack up against today. I am getting tired of it all.’”

Kate knew he was referring to the fact that several people believed he was one of the men who robbed the stage. She tried to convince Doc to leave town with her, but he refused. “Wyatt Earp had a powerful influence over Doc,” Kate noted years later, “which I came to realize when I could not overcome that influence and induce Doc to return to Globe with me.”

By the beginning of April 1881, Kate had left Tombstone and traveled back to her business in Globe. According to Kate, Doc sent for her a second time in June 1881. Doc invited Kate to spend Independence Day with him, and she happily accepted. Kate and Doc were reunited just before the holiday, but their time together was less than civil. His tuberculosis, which had been somewhat in remission when they lived in New Mexico, was now causing coughing fits that brought up blood. To deal with the aggravation, Doc drank to excess. Kate drank right along with him. The pair was not shy about arguing in public. The fight the couple had on July 4 ended in name-calling and cursing. Angry and crying, Kate staggered to the room she shared with Doc. The plan she had to sleep until she was no longer intoxicated was interrupted when John Behan stopped her before she reached the hotel.

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Burning the Midnight Oil
When Doc arrives in Tombstone, there is no record of him practicing dentistry at all. Instead, he gambles full-time, often with Kate standing over his shoulder. The two of them are inseparable for periods of time. Other times they need to be separated.

According to Kate, “Sheriff Johnny Behan took me to Judge Spicer’s Justice of the Peace office, and the judge put me through the third degree. He asked me about the Earps and Doc Holliday. How did Doc act the evening of the holdup? He was referring to the stage holdup where Bud Philpot and a passenger were killed. Did the youngest or which one of the Earps came to me for Doc’s rifle? Did Doc change his clothes that afternoon and what did Warren Earp say, if anything? How long had I known the Earps?

“Then suddenly he asked me, ‘Are you sure that Doc Holliday was with the Earps at the holdup?’

“Then I told the judge I was positive of nothing and would not swear to anything Spicer said. He felt sure that the Earps and Holliday were in that holdup. I asked him why he did not question Mattie [Blaylock] and Alice Earp, that he knew Morgan Earp was the Wells Fargo messenger on that stage. The judge then got out of patients [sic] with me and threatened me. I said, ‘I can’t tell you any more.’”

Once Kate sobered up she wasted no time walking back any statements she might have made about Doc that implicated him in the stage robbery and death of two people. She insisted she was coerced into reporting anything negative about Doc. All murder charges against Doc were dismissed on July 9. The judge reviewing the case determined there was no evidence to show Doc had a part in the crime.

Kate planned to leave town as soon as she knew Doc was out of harm’s way. She was aware she wasn’t wanted in Tombstone. “It was after that,” Kate noted later, referring to her arrest by Virgil Earp, “Wyatt Earp became anxious to get rid of me. Several days later [once she was released] a gambler named J. M. Nichols, also known as Napa Nick, invited me to go for a buggy ride with him, but I declined. Mattie Earp, Wyatt’s wife, later told me in Globe that I was lucky in refusing the buggy ride, as Napa Nick had instructions to get rid of me in some lonely canyon.”

Sometime between late August and September 9, 1881, Kate and Doc reunited and traveled to Tucson to enjoy some time together. It wasn’t until late October that one of the Earps tracked down the couple at a popular saloon on Meyer Avenue in Tucson. According to Kate, on October 25, 1881, she was standing behind Doc watching him deal cards when Morgan Earp arrived on the scene. “The day before the fight took place in Tombstone, Wyatt sent Morgan to Tucson to tell Doc that he was wanted in Tombstone the following day,” Kate said later. “Morgan found us at Congress Hall where Doc was trying his luck at [the] faro bank. He took Doc aside and delivered the message from Wyatt.

“Then Doc came to me and told me that he would take me to our hotel, as he had to go back to Tombstone, but that he would come for me later on. I would not have it that way, though, and told him that if he was going to Tombstone I was going with him. We left on a freight for Benson and from there drove to Tombstone in a buckboard. Doc and I had a room in the building owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fly, who also had a photograph gallery there. It was on Fremont Street next to the back entrance of the O.K. Corral. We got to the room after midnight. Doc left me there, he and Morgan going away together.”

Doc and Morgan set off for the Alhambra Saloon, where Wyatt was waiting for them. Wyatt informed Doc of the difficulties he had with Ike Clanton. He told Doc about those difficulties and warned him to be on his guard.

Doc turned his attention to playing cards and drinking whiskey. He didn’t give the matter much thought until he ran into Ike at the restaurant adjacent to the saloon. It was after one in the morning, and Doc was less than sober. He cursed at Ike, which started a verbal sparring between the two. According to Ike Clanton, Doc called him a “damn son-of-a-bitch” and told him to “get his gun out.” Ike indicated in his eyewitness account of the matters leading up to the street fight that he left the eatery after his encounter with Doc. He noted that Morgan was watching the pair verbally abuse one another and that Morgan had his hand on his pistol. Seeing he was outnumbered, he left the building knowing that war between the Earps, Holliday and the cow-boys was on the horizon.

“Doc and Ike Clanton had some words in a restaurant,” Kate recalled about the events of the first night she returned to Tombstone in late October 1881. “In the morning Ike Clanton came to Fly’s photograph gallery with a Winchester rifle. Mrs. Fly told him that Doc was not there. Doc was not up yet. I went to our room and told Doc that Ike Clanton was outside looking for him and that he was armed. Doc said, ‘If God lets me live long enough to get my clothes on, he shall see me.’

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“After the fight was over, Doc came in, and sat on the side of the bed and cried and said, ‘Oh, this is just awful—awful.’” — Big Nose Kate

“With that he got up and dressed. Going out he said, ‘I won’t be here to take you to breakfast, so you had better go alone.’ I didn’t go to breakfast. I don’t remember whether I ate anything or not that day.

“In a little more than a half an hour the shooting began. This lady-friend and I went to the side window, which faced the vacant lot. There was Ike Clanton, young Bill Clanton, Frank McLowry [sic], and his brother Tom on one side, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday on the other. Before the first shot was fired, Ike Clanton ran and lost his hat and left his young brother and the McLowry boys to fight it out.

“I was at the side window looking on and saw the fight. Doc had a sawed-
off shotgun. He fired one barrel, but after the first shot something went wrong. He threw the gun on the ground and finished the fight with his revolver. I saw him fall once. His hip had been grazed by a bullet. But he was on his feet again in an instant and continued to fire.

“Bill Clanton and the McLowry boys were killed. Morgan and Wyatt [She meant Virgil Earp.] were wounded. It’s foolish to think a cow ‘rustler’ gunman can come up to a city gunman in a gunfight. After the fight was over, Doc came to our room and sat on the side of the bed and cried and said, ‘Oh, this is
just awful—awful.’ I asked, ‘Are you hurt?’ He said, ‘No, I am not.’ He pulled up his shirt. There was just a pale red streak about two inches long across his hip where the bullet had grazed him. After attending to the wound, he went out to see how Virgil and Wyatt [She meant Morgan this time.] were getting along.”

On October 29, 1881, a coroner’s inquest was held, and a summary of the evidence was compiled. Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers were charged with killing the McLaurys and Billy Clanton. Doc and Wyatt were confined to the county jail.

While the inquest was being conducted, Kate befriended Johnny Ringo. Ringo was a hard drinker who had been indicted for one murder and had been involved in several others. Kate remained in the room she and Doc had shared at Fly’s boardinghouse, and it was there that Ringo found her. Doc was residing at the Cosmopolitan Hotel while out on bail. Morgan and Virgil were staying at the Cosmopolitan recuperating, and their families were with them. Doc and Wyatt had decided to stay to protect them from any cow-boys who might sneak in and try to kill the brothers.

“I kept close to my room at Mrs. Fly’s during the Earp-Holliday trial hearing before [the] justice of the peace,” Kate recalled years later. “John Ringo visited me there twice. I gave him a tumble both times. The second time he visited me he advised me to leave the camp, but I told him I did not have enough money to go back to Globe, as Doc had lost all my money playing against faro while we were in Tucson.” Kate also noted in 1935 that she had $100 at the time of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and gave $75 of it to help with Doc’s bail.

“Ringo said that some of the Clanton gang were watching for Doc to come to our room and intended to get him there,” Kate added in her memoirs. “Ringo told me ‘if I haven’t enough money, here is fifty dollars.’ So I left that evening.

“After the O.K. Corral fight, the Clanton and McLowry gang gave notice that they would get revenge on the Earps and Holliday. John P. Clum, who was mayor of Tombstone, was notified that he was on the list, and he left the camp. Virgil was the first they got. He was shot from
ambush; the bullet failed to reach a vital spot, but he was laid up for a while with a shattered arm.

“Morgan was the next victim. At the time he was playing pool in the Palace Saloon. The back door of the place was half-glass, painted white. Someone scratched off enough of the pain [sic] to see through and fired through the door, killing Morgan. I understand that the killer was one of the Clanton gang by [the] name of Stilwell.”

Kate left town in November 1881 before Doc’s fate had been determined. She tended to her business in Globe and never again returned to Tombstone.

“The Last Days of Kate & Doc” is excerpted from Chris Enss’s soon-to-be-released book, According to Kate: The Legendary Life of Big Nose Kate, Love of Doc Holliday (TwoDot, 2019).

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Pleasant Valley

Pleasant Valley: An Unpleasant Place for Sheriff Mulvenon“Look out down below boys.”

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A map of Pleasant Valley, Arizona, by Miguel Otero.

Following the fatal shootout with the Tewksbury’s and Jim Roberts at the Middleton Ranch, John Blevins had some second thoughts about security at the ranch on Canyon Creek. The ranch had been a lair for horse thieves but with the killing of his brother Hamp and mysterious disappearance of his father Mart, he decided to relocate the family to a little cottage in Holbrook until things cooled off a bit. It would turn out to be a fateful decision.

Graham partisans struck again in the early dawn of August 17th, 1887.  While on their way back from Holbrook, several of the Tewksbury fighters including Ed, Jim and Jim Roberts were camped near the Tewksbury Cherry Creek ranch. Roberts had gone out on the camp horse to gather the rest of the horses that had been hobbled for the night. He’d climbed to a high spot and looking down, saw several Graham partisans edging towards the camp.

He called out to the others, “Look out down below boys.”

Ed and Jim, who were just crawling out of their blankets, grabbed their rifles and opened fire, killing several. Harry Middleton was wounded as was Joe Ellenwood. Middleton was taken to the Graham ranch where he died. Ellenwood took a bullet in the rear.  Years later Ed recalled that during the gunfight Ellenwood had patted his rump in a defiant gesture so he obliged by putting a bullet where the man was indicating. “He jumped ten feet” laughed Ed.

That same day eighteen-year-old Billy Graham was allegedly shot by Tewksbury partisan, Jim Houck, who was also an Apache County deputy for Sheriff Owens. According to Houck the two met on the Payson Trail and Billy went for his gun and Houck had to shoot him.  Graham rode back to ranch, arriving with his intestines hanging out and died soon after.

Since Houck was a deputy and could not get in trouble for shooting Billy, he confessed to the shooting, but it’s likely Ed Tewksbury shot Billy and Houck’s confession was to save Tewksbury from a murder charge. On his death bed Billy identified Tewksbury as the man who shot him. Two men who testified at the inquest swore that Tewksbury was the shooter.

The coroner’s inquest ruled Billy died at the hands of Ed Tewksbury but nothing came of it after Houck claimed he killed Billy.

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Billy Mulvenon.

Yavapai County Sheriff Billy Mulvenon was under pressure to go to Pleasant Valley and put an end to the killing. He rode in with a four man posse but was visited by a lone rider one night who advised him to turn around and leave or he would be killed. Off in the distance were other riders. Mulvenon ignored the advice and rode on. The next day he met another group of armed men who gave him the same warning. He realized this group was the other faction in the feud. This time the sheriff heeded the advice and returned to Prescott.

On August 19th, 1887, Mulvenon left Prescott leading another posse into Pleasant Valley with warrants for the Tewksbury’s after the Middleton Ranch fight. They trailed them into the Sierra Ancha Mountains with no luck so the sheriff and his posse returned to Pleasant Valley intending to watch the Tewksbury ranches and wait until they returned. They hid their horses in a thicket and scouted the area on foot. When they returned their horses were missing. On foot they were forced to walk to the Tewksbury ranch and sheepishly ask to borrow some horses and saddles. The message from the Tewksbury’s came through loud and clear:

If you sons of bitches will get out of this country and leave us alone you can have your own horses and saddles.”

Once again, the sheriff was forced to leave Pleasant Valley with his tail between his legs. Next time he’d bring a small army.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

Boom Town Belles

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Boom Town Belles in the Old WestWhat kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive?

Old West Theatre Performers Boom Town Belles True West Magazine
Lotta Crabtree.

What kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive?  Were any of these financially successful?

They were very popular in the entertainment-starved West and the good ones made a lot of money. Shakespearean plays were always popular as was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Citizens in the mining towns had money to spend and they loved to show the eastern cities how sophisticated and up to date they were.

Pretty women because were the most popular and many became very rich. Caroline Chapman was one of the first real actresses to head west. Following her first performance in San Francisco the audience carpeted the stage with poke sacks filled with gold.

Maria Eliza Rosanna Gilbert from Limerick, Ireland took the stage as the exotic Lola Montez. She could spin whoppers as good as any prospector. She had the dark, sultry beauty and exquisitely molded features of the women of Spain.  So, she invented a line of Spanish ancestors and a fraudulent girlhood spent in Seville. Another whopper she told was that she was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron.

In California, Lola became quite rich doing her famous “Spider Dance.” She performed the dance in Spanish costume with full, short skirts and flesh-colored tights.  The dance began with Lola wandering on stage then becoming entangled in a spider’s web. Suddenly she discovered a spider, (made of rubber, cork and whalebone) on her petticoat.  Attempting to dislodge the bug, she shook her petticoat furiously. On examining her skirts, she discovered other spiders and she shook her skirts with similar fury, revealing her tights.

During the 1850s this was daring to make the rowdy audiences shout “Higher! Higher!” as Lola searched beneath her skirts for the evasive spiders.  She’d kick a leg high into the air as if to squash a spider on the ceiling, and then she’d kick the other.

Finally she succeeded in shaking off all the spiders and stamped them to death on the floor.  Thunderous applause greeted her as she took her bows. She then stripped a silken garter off a shapely leg and tossed it into the audience.

In the mid-1850s Caroline became so annoyed with the attention given Lola Montez and her Spider Dance, she decided to burlesque the dance.  Her uproarious performances transformed Lola’s act from high sensuality to low comedy.

Lotta Crabtree was a pretty, red-haired Irish lass whose girlish innocence on stage made her rich. Whatever she lacked in talent she made up in image—a lamb among wolves and pure as the driven snow. She had an overprotective stage mother who, fearing they might steal the heart of her meal ticket, kept the wolves away.

As Lotta grew older, she took a fancy to smoking fancy cigarillos.  She also introduced gaminelike bits into her performances—showing off her knees by pulling off her stockings, rolling off divans with a flurry of lifted petticoats and wearing the briefest skirts.  She is believed to be the first actress to smoke on stage and the first to expose her bare legs on stage. She was the Shirley Temple of her time.

For thirty-five years, Lotta was the perennial little pet of the Western theater, and when she retired at the age of forty-four she still wore her red curls.  She lived alone with Mother, who had saved most of Lotta’s enormous earnings. After Mother died, it was too late for romance in her life. When Lotta died in 1924, she left behind a fortune of four million dollars that went to charity.

Adah Isaacs Menkens innocent appearance belied her wild and wicked lifestyle. Mark Twain wrote about her appearance in Virginia City in the play “The Mezappa” where she rode across the stage on a horse in a flesh-colored bodystocking that made her appear nude. Afterwards her adoring audience showered the stage with gold and silver.

These are but a few of the talented women who came west to “mine the miners.”

Jack Swilling

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Jack Swilling might well be called Arizona’s “Forrest Gump” because seems to have had a penchant for being involved in a number of historic events in Arizona’s early history.

In 1858 he was a prospector at Gila City, site of the first gold rush. When Tonto Apache and Yavapai Indians raided the new camp, Jack was elected leader of a group of rangers whose mission was to protect the prospectors.

A couple of years later he was in Pinos Altos, New Mexico, where miners were being attacked by Mimbres Apache under the leadership of the great chief Mangas Colorados. Jack was elected lieutenant of a militia group who called themselves the Arizona Rangers.

During that time the Civil War broke out Southern forces from Texas invaded New Mexico and the rangers were drafted into the Confederate Army. Lieutenant Jack Swilling joined a force of some 100 Texans who arrived in Tucson and created the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Jack was familiar with the land and proved invaluable assisting the Texas guerilla tactics along the Gila River trying to impede a Union force of some 2,000 troops from California who were coming to retake Arizona.

The Union forces vastly outnumbered the Rebs and in a few weeks, drove them out of the New Mexico Territory. Jack remained in New Mexico where he was recruited by the great mountain man and explorer, Joe Walker, to guide them into the unknown central mountains of Arizona.

Walker’s party was looking for gold in an area where few white men had ever dared to travel. At Pinos Altos, near today’s Silver City, New Mexico, they encountered Jack’s old nemesis, Mangas Colorados and his Mimbres Apache. During a parley, Jack managed to get the drop on the old chieftain and turned him over to the Union troops occupying New Mexico.

Following the encounter with the Mimbres Apache Jack would guide the Walker party up the Hassayampa River where, in 1863, they discovered rich deposits of gold that led to the founding of Prescott a year later. That same year Arizona became a territory and Prescott was chosen to be the capital city.

Jack also became a founder of another rich gold strike near the Hassayampa, Wickenburg. He was also with the party that found gold at Rich Hill, a few miles north of Wickenburg. It was the richest single gold strike in Arizona history.

Then in late 1868 he led another group into the Salt River Valley. This time they weren’t looking for gold but for farm land. With mining camps and military post springing up there was a great need for farm products. They cleaned out the ancient canals originally dug by the Hohokam Indians some 1,500 years earlier and by 1870 a new community rising out of the ashes of an old civilization the future capital city of Phoenix was born.

Jack Swilling is a name that goes almost unrecognized by Arizonans today. Much of what is known about him today comes from tall tales, lies and half-truths. He was a tall, powerful man, brave, generous to a fault, a wonderful family man and for the most part was respected by his contemporaries. Swilling was the stuff of legends and certainly deserves a better place in history.

Vendetta Ride’s Forgotten Man

 https://truewestmagazine.com/the-forgotten-vendetta-rider/
painting earps vendetta cowboys riding by bud bradshaw
“Earp’s Vendetta” painting by Bud Bradshaw.

His name was O.C. “Harelip Charlie” Smith, and he may be the least known member of Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride.  But the Connecticut native—nicknamed because of a cleft palate—had a remarkable career of his own.

Smith was the only Vendetta Rider to return to Tombstone, where he served as a lawman for many years.  He helped track the perpetrators of the Bisbee Massacre and went after train robbers in 1887. One reason that he might be forgotten:  there are no known photos of Charlie Smith.

Wyatt Earp Donation

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Sitting with Wyatt Earp Never-before-seen biographer materials donated to the Tombstone Courthouse.

Wyatt Earp True West Magazine

Dreams of a “fly-on-the-wall” moment in Western history certainly include sitting with Wyatt Earp in the 1920s as he set the record straight about his life and legend, including
his take on the 1881 Gunfight Behind the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.

During Sunday visits to the Los Angeles cottage Wyatt shared with his wife, Josephine, Wyatt’s secretary John H. Flood Jr. captured every word.

For nearly 100 years, those shorthand notes—along with an early typed manuscript of Earp’s biography and photos of the last years of the Earps’ lives—have been in private hands.

Now the public can become a fly-on-the-wall to Wyatt’s version of his days in Arizona, Kansas and Colorado, thanks to a donation to the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park by Eric Weider, former owner and publisher of Wild West magazine.

“This is as close as you can get to talking to Wyatt Earp, and hopefully will contribute to the knowledge of the West,” Weider says.

That “coming home” is thanks to two persuasive Arizonans. First, Gordon Anderson, owner of Tombstone’s Larian Motel, was dismayed to learn Weider intended to donate the collection to Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and asked that the courthouse be considered. Weider was lukewarm to the idea until he talked with Arizona State Parks and Trails Curator Joanne Brace.

“I was really impressed with her enthusiasm. And she was so responsive, she got me to rethink my plan,” Weider says.

Thrilled with that decision, Brace says,  “This is one of, if not the most, significant item ever given to Arizona State Parks and Trails. Everyone who’s interested in Wyatt Earp will find their way to Tombstone to see this display.”

The location is particularly significant, since Wyatt watched the two-story Victorian-style courthouse being built. He and his brothers arrived in Tombstone in 1879 and left in the spring of 1882, as the courthouse was under construction.

The collection includes Wyatt’s description of his move from Kansas to Tombstone, and his decision to abandon law enforcement work: “So I purchased a Concord coach, two wagons and sixteen head of horses and started for Arizona for the purpose of starting a stage line.

Arizona is calling the donation the Josephine Earp Collection because it includes 33 of her handwritten letters—in her “messy handwriting,” as Weider puts it—including one expressing her grief when Wyatt died at the age of 80, on January 13, 1929: “I am telling you Mr. Flood I am sick grieving over my husband and after this is all over and I have my property all fixed up, I really don’t care what happens to me as I have lost my best friend.

Weider stipulated the collection be available to the public. “We know the legend,” he says, “but this is a look at the real people.”

Jana Bommersbach has earned recognition as Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She cowrote the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written two true crime books, a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate.

Judge Roy Bean

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Judge Roy Bean Justice West of the Pecos.

Judge Roy Bean True West
Judge Roy Bean

When a passenger train pulled into the little town of Langtry to take on water the passengers had about twenty minutes to flock to the Jersey Lillie and wet their whistles. Bean advertised ice cold drinks but the saloon had no ice so he’d put large chunks of clear glass in them to provide a tinkling sound. It’s assumed the noise provided the desired psychological effect.

When the conductor shouted “All aboard,” Bean would deliberately linger when giving the passengers their change. Most gave up and rushed to board the moving train. The judge considered it gratuity and stuck it in his pocket.

However, the judge had little tolerance when the shoe was on the other foot. When a local restaurant owner who owed him some money didn’t pay up Bean waited until his café was full one evening then stood by the door and acted as cashier. When enough money was collected to satisfy the debt he kept on collecting, considering the excess as interest owed.

Judge Bean had no problem exceeding his authority as justice of the peace either when it came to marrying couples. He defended that by declaring he was saving his constituents the cost of having to travel to the county seat at Del Rio.

He also granted divorces justifying that by declaring he’d married them and he had a right to rectify his error. Once two couples came in the saloon requesting divorces. Divorces, like marriages cost two dollars each. As they headed for the door he noticed they’d swapped partners. He called them back to court, informed them fornication outside the marriage was illegal and he’d have to fine them or perform two more marriages. This time he charged them five dollars each.

Sometimes this business of divorce got complicated. One evening he stopped by Mrs. Dodd’s boarding house to eat. “You look awfully tired Judge,” she opined, “what’s been happening?”

“I’m tired” he replied. “I divorced two couples today then swapped ‘em around and remarried them. Then I spent the rest of the day dividing up the children.”