Lawless lawman

wyatt_earp2-207x288NOTE: When I first fancied myself a reporter, I became obsessed with picking at scars and probing the underbelly for dirty secrets often ignored or glossed over by local media. This fixation is reflected today in my historical fiction, which focuses on revealing factual incidents that politicians and flack artists often disdain. I thought it would be fun to share, in a series of posts, a few of my research discoveries—some of which become amplified in my novels.

Wyatt Earp
While working as a City Council aide in the late 1970s, I supported SOHO’s efforts to protect San Diego’s Grand Horton Hotel, which tagged for destruction to accommodate Horton Plaza. During that campaign, I learned that the hero of the O. K. Corral and noted frontier lawman Wyatt Earp had resided at the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel, a cowboy inn that—with the Grand Horton—was salvaged and reconstructed in Gaslamp.

Earp, I learned, moved to San Diego from Tombstone with his wife, Josie, and set out to make his fortune, by means legal and illegal, as a businessman and real estate mogul. He encountered little difficulty making his way in a city controlled by a pro-gambling faction and reputed to be one of the most crime-ridden locales in the country at that time. Besides acquiring ten properties between 1888 and 1890, the former lawman became a successful gambler, landlord of four saloons and gambling halls, and reportedly the proprietor of a brothel.

At that time, according to author Garner A. Palenske, Wyatt was one of the city’s main power brokers, who held a strong influence over law enforcement and city politicians. Palenske contends that Earp’s ties to the mayor and city marshal led to an “unofficial rule that police were not to enter saloons, except to address issues unrelated to gambling.”

As for the City, I have learned that its reputation as a seat of crime and corruption extended many decades into the future. More in that vein to follow.


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