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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wyatt Earp - Seattle days

Much has been written about Wyatt Earp's time in both Dodge City and Tombstone, but it is seldom that one comes across an article looking at the period Earp spent in Seattle during the dying days of the century that had seen both the birth and taming of the Wild West.

The Seattle Star, on November 25th 1899 ran the following headline:


The newspaper article went onto to praise Earp, making  reference to his past as a lawman in the tough frontier towns, but rival paper, The Seattle Daily Times only made brief mention of the story but did state that Earp had a reputation as a bad man, Both newspapers mentioned the Bob Fitzsimmons/Tom Sharkey prize fight of 1896 in which Wyatt, as referee was accused of cheating. Earp had even ended up in court accused of fraud over the fight but although no charges stuck against him, he had been smeared in the newspapers of the time.

Now Gambling was illegal in Seattle but there were three gambling houses in town which were run by a combine owned by John Cosindine. The gambling houses would pay off police, make good any fines to the city and were prepared to crush anyone who tried to step on their toes.

Into this mix came the famed lawman of the West, a man known for his prowess with guns, a man considered a killer by just as many people as those who saw him as a hero of the olden days. Once more Wyatt Earp was putting himself on the firing line for potential violence.

Earp with his partner, a local man named Thomas Urquhart opened their gambling den, The Union Club on Second Avenue. But when Cosindine heard about the club he sent a man around to inform Earp that he should take his gambling interests to another town. Wyatt was told that he would have to pay protection money to Police Chief C.S. Reed which Earp refused, saying, "you fellows are paying enough. Why should I add any? If Reed closes me down he'll have to close you all up too." The irascible Old West lawman was once again sticking to his guns and preparing himself for anything anyone cared to throw at him.

Trouble though didn't come in the shape of mobsters but in the form of summons and court orders - and these were not only aimed at Wyatt's interests but Cosindine's also. A crackdown on vice and corruption in the city saw all of the gambling houses served with court papers but although Urquhart's name appears on historical court papers Earp's name is nowhere to be seen, suggesting he somehow escaped all the legal troubles of the period. Earp grew bored of Seattle and moved back to San Francisco where the gambling laws were far more relaxed.

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