Recently, I finished reading Black Hats, a delightful fantasy in which Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson head to New York City to help out the son of their own pal, “Doc” Holliday. It’s fiction, of course, but there are many facts woven into that delightful narrative.
How much do we really know about these three men who have become legends, their names synonymous with the Old West, courage, honor, and death? We’re all familiar with the gunfight at the OK Corral, and the many movies and TV series about them, but what are the little-known facts about their lives?
According to Wikipedia, one was born in Illinois, one was the cousin of Margaret Mitchell, and one wasn’t even an American. Here are some other facts I found.
WYATT BERRY STAPP EARP (1848-1929)
The man who would become the marshal of Deadwood was born in Monmouth, Illinois, and named for his father’s commanding officer in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Wyatt had a half-brother and sister and five full siblings. In 1865, he got his first job as a driver for Phineas Banning’s Stage Line in Imperial California. In 1869, he got his first job in law enforcement when his father became constable of Lamar, Missouri. In 1870, at the age of 22, he married Urilla Sutherland only to have her die ten months later in childbirth. From 1875 onward, he appears in various court cases and newspaper articles as the arresting officer in Wichita and Dodge City.
In 1877, he left Kansas for Texas and in a saloon in Ft Griffin, Texas, where he met a young gambler named “Doc” Holliday. Wyatt and his brothers moved to Tombstone in 1979 and the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in 1881. The Earps and “Doc” Holliday were tried twice for murder but acquitted both times but the deaths began a vendetta which would cost Morgan his life and severely wound Virgil.
Though he never again had a legal marriage, Wyatt wasn’t immune to women’s charms. In the West at that time, common-law marriage was the norm and in 1888, and he was noted as having “cohabited” with several prostitutes during his sojourns in various states. While Wyatt settled down in San Francisco with Josie Marcus, a former prostitute and laudanum addict who became his common-law wife for the next 46 years until she died of what was believed to be a laudanum overdose.
During the time he lived in California, Wyatt participated in the Gold Rush, wrote his memoirs, and became friends with many movie stars, including a young extra named Michael Marion Morrison who, as John Wayne, would model his screen persona after Wyatt.
Wyatt died of prostate cancer in 1929. William S. Hart and Tom Mix were pallbearers at his funeral. He was cremated and his ashes buried in a Jewish cemetery because Josie was Jewish.
Nineteen actors have portrayed Wyatt Earp in the movies and on television.
BARTHOLOMEW MASTERSON (1853-1921)
“Bat” Masterson was born in Quebec, Canada and early on changed his name to “William Barclay Masterson” because he hated the name “Bartholomew.” He had seven siblings. The family moved from Canada and finally settled in Kansas.
Bat was a buffalo hunter and army scout before his first gunfight in Sweetwater, Texas. In 1877, he moved to Dodge City where his brothers were lawmen and eventually became a deputy for Wyatt Earp. Later, he was sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, South Pueblo, Colorado, and marshal of Trinidad, Colorado. For several years in between, he earned a living as a gambler before visiting his old friend Wyatt in Tombstone and becoming involved in the infamous gunfight.
In 1891, he purchased the Palace Variety Theater in Denver and married actress Emma Walters. He also managed the Denver Exchange Club. Bat began writing for George’s Weekly, a sporting newspaper and opened the Olympic Athletic Club to promote boxing. In 1902, he arrived in New York City where he was appointed deputy marshall of South New York by President Teddy Roosevelt until 1912.
Bat died of a heart attack while working on a column for the New York Daily Telegraph, for whom he was a sportswriter. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Damon Runyon was one of his honorary pallbearers.
Nine actors have portrayed Bat Masterson and he has been featured in Dell Comics.
“DOC” HOLLIDAY (1851-1887)
John Henry Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia and grew up in Valdosta. In 1872, he received a dental degree from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and opened a practice in Atlanta. He was related to writer Margaret Mitchell, who is said to have based the character of Ashley Wilkes on her tall, blond cousin. “Doc’s” mother died of tuberculosis when he was 14 and in 1872, he was also diagnosed with the disease which he is believed to have contracted from her. Given only a few months to live, he moved to the Southwest because of the warmer, drier climate, opening a dental office in Dallas. Finding no patients who wanted a tubercular dentist, he began to gamble instead.
Subsequently, he lived in Cheyenne, Denver, and Deadwood, where a hot temper, the drinking he used to control his cough, and a fatalistic attitude as to whether he survived or not, contributed to his gaining a reputation as a gunfighter. In 1877, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life in a gunfight in Dodge City and the following year, Wyatt returned the favor and a friendship was born.
Perhaps not as popular with the ladies because of his ill health and temper, “Doc” had a long-term relationship with Mary Katherine Hornoy, also known as Big Nose Kate.
Because of his friendship with the Earps, “Doc” was also present during the OK gunfight and was tried with them and acquitted or the subsequent deaths. Big Nose Kate reported that after the killings he went to his room and wept. Now dependent on whiskey and laudanum to control his symptoms, “Doc” spent the rest of his life in Colorado, dying at the Glenwood Hotel in Glenwood Springs, at the age of 36. He was buried the same day in Linwood Cemetery.
Twenty-one actors have portrayed “Doc” Holliday on the screen and TV.
(Source of this blog from articles on these subjects to be found on the Wikipedia website.)
Blurb for NEBRASKA: Vengeance from Eden, a western written to commemorate Nebraska’s sesquacentennial of statehood:
In the little Texas border town of Rosarita, saloon owner Race Jago is killed by a stranger who has just ridden into town. Arrested and tried for the crime, Luke Brennan refuses to give a motive or defend himself. Because there were twenty-seven witnesses, the judge has no choice but to sentence him to hang.
While Brennan awaits execution, deputy Kipling Wakefield tries to convince his prisoner to tell him the reason he shot Jago in cold blood. Finally, in the late night hours before his sentence is to be carried out, Brennan reluctantly tells Kip his story…of a man’s love for his wife, a father’s desire for revenge, of a hatred destroying two lives…the story of a man who believes there is nothing left for him to do but die, and learns, almost too late, there is always something to live for.
Marietta picked a rose, still curled into a tight bud, placing it in his lapel. “Something to remember me by while you’re travelin’ back to Nebraska,” she said. She looked away quickly, not wanting him to see how thought of his leaving was affecting her.
He touched the rose, wanting more than that memory to take back with him. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Miss Silvestre…”
“Oh, look…” she interrupted, glancing down. There was a dandelion growing out of a crack in the stones. She bent and picked it. “Are you in love, Mr. Brennan? Let’s see.”
She held it under his chin.
“What are you doing?” Brought out of his selfish thoughts, he asked it as he laughed at what he considered her foolishness.
“If you’re in love, the yellow’ll reflect on your skin.” She studied his chin,
thinking how determined it looked as Luke’s mouth tightened into a stern straight line. There was a definite cast of yellow against that sun-darkened flesh.
“Well,” she moved away, feeling a deeper sinking in her heart. “It appears you are.”
He didn’t answer, just thought, To Hell with this foolishness. Tell her! With a fierceness startling them both, Luke caught her by the shoulders, looked into her eyes and
said, “Miss Silvestre, I’ve something to say before I go.”
“Yes, Mr. Brennan?” She might’ve been shocked by his touching her, but Marietta recovered quickly. She stood very still, looking up at him, allowing a slight frown to form as she realized how very intense and serious he’d become.
“I-I just want you to know…that the days I’ve spent here…in your father’s house…with you…have been the…most enjoyable…of my life…” He felt like a locomotive running out of steam, the strength with which he started his declaration deserting him in mid-sentence. “…and…while I realize I don’t have a chance of ever being anything more than just…a friend to you…” I’m saying it all wrong, damn it, he thought in despair, stammering and stupid-sounding. She’ll think me a fool. He finished, misery in each syllable, “I’ll cherish these moments forever.”
He could hardly believe it when Marietta stepped back, escaping his hands to look up at him and smile, the yellow flower she held sending its glow against her own throat.
“Whatevuh makes you think you don’t have a chance, Mr. Brennan?”
Posted for Toni Sweeney. It’s Friday All!