Wyatt Earp History Page

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Clay Allison Incident

    On July 27, 1878, about 3:00 o'clock in the morning, a rowdy cowboy named George Hoy and two or three others were shooting off their pistols preparing to leave Dodge City.  Policemen Wyatt Earp and James Masterson, and an unknown individual, fired at the the cowboys as they rode away.  George Hoy was wounded during the shooting and fell from his horse.  About a month later he died from the affects of the wound.

    Eighteen years later, on August 16, 1896, the San Francisco Examiner,  published a newspaper account, based on Wyatt Earp's recollections, relating to the Hoy shooting and subsequent events.  The newspaper would allege that rowdy George Hoy was actually an assassin sent to kill Earp, and since Hoy did not succeed, the notorious Clay Allison was sent for to do finish the job.   The San Francisco Examiner stated:

Undeterred by Hoyt's fate, the plotters sent for Clay Allison, and the noted Colorado gun-fighter hastened to Dodge City to kill the City Marshal. Let not the gentle reader, unused to frontier ways, jump to the conclusion that Allison was a hired bravo. It was reputation he was after, not money. To have killed me would have meant for him to bask in the chaste effulgence of frontier fame for the rest of his days.

    Despite the articles pronouncement that Allison was out to increase his reputation by killing the "City Marshal" Wyatt Earp, it should be noted that Earp was not the City Marshal at that time or at any time, and Wyatt was far from being well-known throughout the frontier.  

    The San Francisco Examiner went on to describe Wyatt's supposed encounter with the notorious Clay Allison:

And so Clay Allison came to town, and for a whole day behaved like a veritable Chesterfield. But the next morning one of my policemen woke me up to tell me that the bad man from Colorado was loaded up with rum and searching for me everywhere with a pair of six-shooters and a mouthful of threats. Straightway I put my guns on and went down the street with Bat Masterson. Now, Bat had a shotgun in the District Attorney's office, which was behind a drug store just opposite Wright's store. He thought the weapon might come in handy in case of trouble, so he skipped across the street to get it. But not caring to be seen with such a weapon before there was any occasion for it, he stayed over there, talking to some people outside the drug store, while I went into Webster's saloon looking for Allison. I saw at a glance that my man wasn't there, and had just reached the sidewalk to turn into the Long Branch, next door, when I met him face to face.

We greeted each other with caution thinly veiled with insouciance, and as we spoke backed carelessly up against the wall, I on his right. There we stood, measuring each other with sideway glances. An onlooker across the street might have thought that we were old friends.

"So," said Allison truculently, "you're the man that killed my friend Hoyt!"

"Yes, I guess I'm the man you're looking for," I said.

His right hand was stealing round to his pistol pocket, but I made no move. Only I watched him narrowly. With my own right hand I had a firm grip on my six-shooter, and with my left I was ready to grab Allison's gun the moment he jerked it out. He studied the situation in all its bearings for the space of a second or two. I saw the change in his face.

"I guess I'll go round the corner," he said abruptly.

"I guess you'd better," I replied.

And he went.

In the meantime ten or a dozen of the worst Texans in town were lying low in Bob Wright's store, with their Winchesters, ready to cover Allison's retreat out of town, or help him in the killing, if necessary. From where he had stationed himself Bat Masterson could see them, but I did not know they were there. After the encounter with Allison I moved up the street and would have passed Bob Wright's door had not Bat, from across the street, signalled to me to keep out of range. A moment later Allison who had mounted on his horse, rode out in front of Webster's and called to me.

"Come over here, Wyatt," he said, "I want to talk to you."

"I can hear you all right here," I replied, "I think you came here to make a fight with me, and if you did you can have it right now."

Several friends of mine wanted me to take a shotgun, but I thought I could kill him all right with a six-shooter. At that moment Bob Wright came running down the street to urge Allison to get out of town. He had experienced a sudden change of heart because Bat had crossed over to him with these portentous words: "If this fight comes up, Wright, you're the first man I'm going to kill." Allison listened to the legislator's entreaties with a scowl.

"Well, I don't like you any too well," he said. "There were a lot of your friends to be here this morning to help me out, but I don't see them round now."

"Earp," he continued, turning to me and raising his voice. "I believe you're a pretty good man from what I've seen of you. Do you know that these coyotes sent for me to make a fight with you and kill you? Well, I'm going to ride out of town, and I wish you good luck."

And so Clay Allison made his exit. Ten days later he reappeared within a mile of town and sent a messenger asking my permission to come into Dodge and attend to some business regarding his cattle. I sent him word that he was welcome to come so long as he behaved himself. He availed himself of the offer, and for two weeks behaved like an exemplary citizen. It was a fourteen days' wonder, for Allison had never in his life before conducted himself like a Christian. Indeed, it had been his practice to force every store, saloon and bank other than those he patronized to close up during such time as he honored a frontier town with a visit.

    Wyatt's claim was accepted as true and would be repeated in Stuart Lake's Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal (1931) and countless other books.  Today, there is little or no evidence the supports the Wyatt's Clay Allison story. However, the Dodge City Times of September 21, 1878 did report that on the night of September 19, "A disgraceful row occurred in the afternoon, in which it is said the officers failed to appear."  Thus, the contemporary evidenve suggest that Clay Allison did not back down to Wyatt Earp or any of Dodge City's policemen.

    More recently, researcher Roger Myers found an interview published with a dateline of "Topeka, January 17, [1903]."   The man interviewed was Chalk Beeson, a Dodge City resident during 1878, and the article stated that he was the man that handled Clay Allison: 

Topeka, Jan. 17. (Special.) ... Chalk Beeson is dean of the outfit. He migrated to the Western plains with the buffalo.... "The noted Clay Allison with his gang of untamed cowboys came to Dodge one day to start some trouble," continued Beeson. "They soon found it. Erp was marshal at the time. He notified the boys to be on guard. I saw that a clash was coming."

"Dick McNulty and myself held a brief conference. Something had to be done, and done quickly to prevent a wholesale killing. We took our lives in our hands and went to Allison and his gang and told them, as friends, that they had better not start anything. We argued with them while the lines were forming for a general battle. They finally yielded and handed us their guns, which we kept until they got ready to leave town. After giving up their guns they were in no danger. No one there would be so mean as to jump on to them when they were unarmed. That was against the rules of civilized warfare as construed in Dodge."

    According to this account, it was Chalk Beeson and Dick McNulty that stopped the tense situation in Dodge City involving Allision, not Wyatt Earp.  

    The saga of Wyatt's claim to have backed down Clay Allison has the same flavor as the ficticious arrest of Ben Thompson by Wyatt Earp.  Like Wyatt's imaginary arrest of Ben Thompson in 1873, Wyatt's 1896 Hoy-Allison story is a Wild West windy.

Your host is Steve Gatto, author of The Real Wyatt Earp (Edited by Neil Carmony) (2000), Johnny Ringo (2002), Curly Bill, Tombstone's Most Famous Outlaw (2003).  Steve's latest work, Hurled Into Eternity, The Story of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has not yet been released.

Portions of the text appearing on this site come from the above books.
"bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place."  Tombstone Epitaph