March 23, 2009

Wyatt Earp...

In some of the older Soapy Smith biographies there are references that Soapy and the infamous lawman/gambler, Wyatt Earp, knew one another. While it is true that there are several instances in which they occupied the same towns together, as of yet there is no provenance. Perhaps the best link between the two men was the mutual friendship of Bat Masterson.

For decades there has been an ongoing debate as to whether Earp was one of the good guys, or one who leaned more towards the outside boundaries of law and order. On several discussion forums I partake in there is a definite hostility between some of the pro-Earp ("Earpites," "Wyatt worshipers") and anti-Earp ("Cowboy apologists") posters. I am one of those few who are stuck in the middle. Because I believe that Earp most likely had connections with Soapy, or performed the same type of illegal operations, I tend to lean towards an interest in studying Wyatt's history. In fact next week I will be camping at one of his mines in California and topping it off with a bar-b-que at his old home in Vidal, California. However, because I see him as more of a law breaker than law enforcer, I am not considered a nice person by some of the pro-Earp groupies. I tend to have more friends in the anti-Earp camps although not one of the "cowboys" of Tombstone, Arizona had any connection to Soapy and his gang.

Beyond the times Wyatt Earp was arrested for operating or being involved in bunco games and swindles there are several circumstantial bits and pieces that I find very interesting.
  • The Earp brothers were accused in the newspaper of being in league with bunco gang boss, "Big Ed" Burns. Pro-Earp historians discount this by stating that at a later date Virgil Earp arrested Burns. Being arrested by lawmen, even those accepting graft, was an expected hazard for bunco gangs. On the day of the gunfight near the OK Corral, it was Burns who approached Waytt Earp and warned him that the "cowboys" were gathering in the corral and threatening violence. Burns later joined up with the Soap Gang and Burns followed Soapy to Denver, Creede, Colorado and Skagway, Alaska.
  • "Texas-Jack" Vermillion, who rode with Wyatt Earp on his killing "vendetta," also joined up with Soapy Smith in Denver as a capper (shill). Vermillion was with Soapy at the shootout at the Pocatello train depot in 1889.
  • When Wyatt and Doc Holiday fled Arizona, one of the places they went for protection from extradition back to Arizona was Albuquerque, New Mexico. The lawmen protecting Earp were Sam and Lou Blonger, who later became Denver's number one bunco organization in the 1900s-1920s. In the 1890s the Blonger's worked closely with Soapy Smith's reign of power.
  • When Wyatt Earp died in 1929 one of his pal-bearers was Wilson Mizner, a known con man who belonged to the Soap Gang in Skagway, Alaska in 1897-1898.
Is it just me or does this all seem a little more than just coincidence.


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