The golden years of gunfighters
Most people who know me well know I have a tremendous interest in and love for history, and in particular the history of the Old West. Not only do I like the real thing in terms of actual events but also the fiction and western movies. One thing l enjoy about northeastern New Mexico is its tremendous history, with Santa Fe being founded in 1610; that’s three years after Jamestown and a decade before Plymouth.
Naturally, when you think of the Old West it conjures up visions of outlaws, lawmen and gunfighters. Often the lawmen and gunfighters were one and the same. Three in particular come immediately to mind: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson. These were interesting characters and although they were gunfighters each died with their boots off. Well, except for Bat Masterson, but we’ll get to that later.
Wyatt Earp is probably best known for his participation in a 30-second shootout in a vacant lot near the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, in October of 1881. He and his two brothers, Virgil and Morgan, along with Doc Holliday confronted the Clantons and McLaurys in an attempt to disarm them and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s fairly well known that Wyatt went on what’s called his Vendetta Ride to extract revenge on those he blamed for the wounding of Virgil and the murder of Morgan subsequent to that OK Corral affair. What’s less well known is Wyatt’s life after he left Arizona.
Wyatt and his wife, Josie, ventured to Alaska to seek their fortunes and while there owned saloons with Wyatt participating in one of his favorite activities, gambling. After spending years in Alaska, Wyatt headed to Hollywood. While there he became great friends with Western star William S. Hart spending hours teaching him to quick draw.
Another of the people Wyatt befriended in Hollywood was a young propman and aspiring actor named Marion Morrison. We know him today as John Wayne. Wayne later said he based his portrayals of Western lawmen on his conversations with Earp.
Wyatt died in 1929 having outlived the Old West by a number of years and never acquiring the fortune he so desperately wanted.
Doc Holliday was a consumptive dentist who turned to gambling when his coughing began interfering with his dental practice. It’s said Doc contracted tuberculosis while in dental school, but what’s more likely is he got it from his mother who also died of the disease.
Doc was known as a fearless gunman but as he himself said he was dying a little each day so it didn’t really matter if he died by a bullet or his incurable disease. One was perhaps quicker than the other.
After experiencing many adventures after Tombstone, Doc died with his boots off in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Glenwood Springs was the location of one of the country’s largest sanitariums for the treatment of tuberculosis. Because he died in the middle of a hard winter he was buried in a vacant lot in town because they couldn’t get up the hill to the cemetery. He was supposed to be moved later, in the spring, however, when spring came the town had spread and Doc’s burial site was lost, even though he has a formal plot and headstone in Glenwood Springs’ cemetery.
Bat Masterson was one of the legendary lawmen of the Old West serving for a time as marshal of Dodge City. Bat also participated in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls where Quanah Parker and his Comanche warriors along with a number of Cheyenne and Kiowa fighters attacked buffalo hunters.
Bat eventually went back east and settled in New York City. During his time there Bat became good friends with President Theodore Roosevelt visiting him numerous times in the White House. He lived until 1921; another individual who outlived the Old West by a number of years. Bat died with his boots on at his desk where he worked as a sports columnist for the New York Telegraph.