Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City
Wyatt Earp's Kansas Cowtown Years
Wyatt Earp came to Kansas in the early 1870s. Many claims were made by Stuart Lake in Frontier Marshal (1931) about Wyatt's activities. Lake claimed that Earp had met men like Wild Bill Hickok while he was in Kansas. This claim remains unsupported bt contemporary evidence. Many claims made be Lake for Earp are not supported by real facts. Consequently, we cannot be sure that some or all of these events as told by Lake were accurate or even true.
In his book Lake initiated Wyatt into the fraternity of frontier lawman by telling a "story" about Wyatt arresting the notorious Texas gunman Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas during 1873. No real evidence of this has ever been found and the contemporary newspaper accounts of the incident discuss in detail Thompson's arrest. Wyatt Earp is not mention whatsoever. Also, Ben Thompson's own account of the incident, which was published in 1884, does not identify Wyatt Earp has having been the man who arrested him.
What we really know and can prove based on contemporary evidence is that Wyatt Earp was in Wichita by 1874. The Wichita City Eagle on October 29, 1874, referred to Wyatt Earp as acting as a private officer for M. R. Moser. He had been hired along with John Behrens to collect some money owed him. According to the newspaper account Earp and Behrens were successful in obtaining the funds.
Wyatt Earp appointed to Wichita police force (April 21, 1875)
Wyatt Earp was appointed to the Wichita police force on April 21, 1875. He was paid a salary of $60 a month. Wyatt Earp began to receive recognition in the town's newspapers. These accounts commented on the performance of his official duties. Clearly, he was capable of doing his duty and received the proper credit. Wyatt Earp was becoming a respected police officer in the town. However, he was far from famous at this time throughout the west. The Wichita newspapers mispelled his name as "Erp" during his stay in the town.
Wyatt Earp's pistol falls from its holster and discharges when it hits the ground (January 9, 1876)
Wyatt Earp quickly established himself as a respected police officer in Wichita throughout 1875. However, no all reports of his activities were high points in his life. On January 12, 1876, the Wichita Beacon reproted that Wyatt Earp (on Janaury 9) had clumsily allowed his pistol to slip from his holster, falling to the ground and discharging.
Wyatt Earp dismissed from the Wichita police force (April 1876)
As the Wichita town election approached, Wyatt Earp was involved in an altercation with the man who was running against his boss Mike Meagher. The incident caused enough controversy that Wyatt was fined $30 and cost for the incident. He was then dismissed from the police force. According to the Wichita Beacon on April 5, 1876, the fight was started because William Smith had made a comment concerning Wyatt's brothers being summoned by Marshal Meagher to be appointed to the police force.
On April 19, the city council heard nomination for men to be appointed to the police force. The council appointed C. Richey and Dan Parks. Wyatt Earp was nominated for hiring but the council voted against hiring him again. A motion was made to reconsider his nomination but the second vote ended in an even split. the meeting was then ended and the motion table for the time being. The council next met on May 8, allowing $40 to be paid to Wyatt Earp for services in April. Apparently, Marshal Meagher had allowed Earp to act in some official capacity during this time.
Wyatt Earp accused again for failing to turn over money he had collected as an officer (May 1876)
After Wyatt had left Lamar he was accused of not having turned over all the money that he had collected while a constable. Wichita town official made the same charge against Wyatt in May 1876. On May 10, the police committee filed a report that recommeded that "the script of W. Erp & J. Behrns be with-held from payment until all moneys collected by them for the city be turned over to the city treasurer." The committed also recommeded that the vagrancy act be enforced against the "two Erps." This was probably a reference to Bessie and Sally Earp. These two women had been fined for prostitution earlier in 1875. They were later known as Jame and Wyatt's wifes in Tombstone.
Wyatt Earp becomes a deputy at Dodge City (May 1876)
On May 24, 1876, the Wichita Beacon commented: "Wyatt Earp has been put on the police force at Dodge City." Ironically, this article appears to be the first time that the Wichita newspaper actually spelled Wyatt Earp's name correctly. Not much contemporay evidence has been found to support Wyatt's activities as a deputy in Dodge City during 1876-1877. Earp was listed as a deputy marshal in the Dodge City newspapers as late as March 31, 1877. However, the following month he is no longer included in the newpapers as a memeber of the police force.
It is believed that Wyatt may have gone to Deadwood, South Dakota during this period. Lake made many exaggerated claims about Wyatt in Deadwood. Many writers have portrayed Earp as a famous lawman at this point and that his mere appearence on the gold stages riding shotgun kepts outlaws from attempting to rob the wagons. In reality, Wyatt Earp at this time was far from well known as a lawman and had no real reputation that was known throuhgout the west. He was probably one of several men who were employed to prevent robberies and his actions were no more spectacular than the others.
Wyatt re-hired to the Dodge City police force (July 1877)
Wyatt was re-hired to the Dodge City police force in July 1877. The comments by the Dodge City Times on July 7, 1877, concerning his being given this position, do indicate that he was well liked and respected as an officer in the town. On July 21, 1877, the Times reported that Wyatt had an altercation with a tough woman name Frankie Bell, slapping her. Wyatt was fined $1 dollar for the offense.
Wyatt heads to Texas (January 1878)
Wyatt was no longer on the Dodge City police force by January 1878. He was reported by the Ford County Globe on January 22, 1878, as being at Ft. Clark, Texas. Wyatt's activites during this time are vague. By May 11, 1878, the Dodge newspapers were reporting that Wyatt was back in Dodge City. On May 14, the Times commented that Wyatt had been appointed Asst. Marshal. On June 4, the affirmed the appointement. Wyatt's salary was $75 per month.
Texan cowboy George Hoy shot and eventually dies of his wounds (July 1878)
In July 1878, a Texas cowboy named George Hoy became rowdy in the town and started shooting his pistol. Officers Wyatt Earp and Jim Masterson responded to the disturbence. As Hoy was trying to leave the town Earp, Masterson, and an unidentified man fired shots at the Texas cowboy. One of the bullets hit him and he fell from his horse. He later died from medical complications as of the result of his wound. Who had actually delivered the shot that struck Hoy is impossible to really know. Some writers credit Wyatt with hitting Hoy. Thus, giving him credit for killing his first man.
In October, actress Dora Hand was killed. A Texas cowboy named James Kennedy was believed responsible. He fled the town. A posse quickly went in pursuit of Kennedy. The posse included Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. The officer succeeded in finding Kennedy who was shot in the shoulder and was captured. He was later acquitted of the charge.
Earp's salary was increased to $150 for the months of October and November. However, by December it had been reduced to $75 per month. Earp quit the police force and left Dodge City by the end of December 1878.
Wyatt returns to Dodge City and is rehired to the police force (May 1879)
Wyatt returned to the town and was again hired to the police force in May 1879. His salary was now $100 per month. On May 10, 1879, the Times reported an incident in which Wyatt Earp tried to arrest three men. Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson came to his aid.
Wyatt Earp continued to work as an Assistant Marshal until September 1879. On September 9, 1879, the Ford County Globe commented that Wyatt Earp had left Dodge City and was heading to Las Vegas, Nevada. Earp was reported as still at Las Vegas on September 30, 1879. By November he was in Arizona.
Throughout his time in Kansas Wyatt Earp had shown that he was a capable law office and he became well respected. However, he was far from famous in the west by the time he left Kansas.