Wyatt Earp History Page

Wyatt Earp

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Wyatt Earp History Page

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When Did Wyatt Earp Become a
Deputy U. S.  Marshal In The Arizona Territory?

      Wyatt Earp told conflicting stories about what law position he held upon his arrival in Arizona.  In a 1896 San Francisco Examiner article Wyatt claimed that he was appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal by Marshal Crawley Dake when he arrived in Arizona in 1879:
But as luck would have it I stopped at Prescott to see my brother Virgil, and while there I met C. P. Dake, the United States Marshal of the Territory. Dake had heard of me before, and he begged me so hard to take the deputyship in Tombstone that I finally consented. It was thus that the real troubles of a lifetime began.
        In a 1926 deposition, Wyatt stated that when he came to Arizona he became a Deputy Sheriff for Pima County and was not appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal until late 1880:
I was made deputy sheriff on my way to Tombstone. I stopped off in Tucson. I had some friends in Tucson from Kansas. I had left Dodge City, Kansas, where I had been chief of police of Dodge City for four years before and I went to Tombstone and quite a number of my friends were living in Tucson. I had quite a big outfit and I camped out in the edge of town. I went uptown and met some of those friends and the sheriff there, his name his was Chabelle, I was camped down there and he and another man came down there to see me and the Sheriff prevailed upon me to take the deputyship. I told him I had just got away from that kind of a life at Dodge City and I didn't want to go back to it, but he told me- put it up to me in a glowing way that it would be just the same as being sheriff of the county. He said, “You have got all that country over there and there is money in it." Finally  I accepted the deputyship and I went over there as a deputy sheriff.
      Wyatt essentially told the same story of his arrival in Arizona, but flip-floped Dake and the Deputy U. S. Marhal position with Shibell and the Deputy Sheriff position.  Yet, Wyatt was not appointed a Deputy U. S. Marshal or Deputy Sheriff when he arrived in Arizona.  His appointment as Deputy Sheriff happened on July 27, 1880, well over six months after Earp arrived in Arizona.  And Wyatt wasn't appointed an official Deputy U.S. Marshal by Dake until December 29, 1881, following an attack on his brother Virgil, who was a Deputy U. S. Marshal and was seriously wound in the assasination attempt.
       On at least one occasion Wyatt was reported by a newspaper to be a Deputy U. S. Marshal prior to December 1881.  Nonetheless, these reports likely were the result of Wyatt merely aiding Virgil and acting under his authority.  At most he was an assistant to Virgil at times prior to December 1881 and not an official Deputy U. S. Marshal prior to his appointment in December 1881.  Indeed, when Wyatt read a prepared statement at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral hearing on November 16, 1881, he made the following comments about his background:
(Q) What is your business and profession?

(A) Saloon Keeper at present.  Also have been Deputy Sheriff and also a detective.
       Wyatt Earp was clearly not an official Deputy U. S. Marshal in Arizona at the time.  Otherwise Earp would have mentioned his position at this time.  Likewise, he was not a former Deputy U. S. Marshal in Arizona either--he would have mention this former capacity as he did with his past Deputy Sheriff position.  Thus, it is clear that Wyatt Earp did not become an official Deputy U. S. Marshal until December 29, 1881.

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