Best Little-Known Collection
Wyatt Earp Collection,WYATT EARP IS Arizona's very own Elvis Presley--a real man made unreal, snatched away by the legend that's grown up around him.
Arizona Historical Society
Just how big the West's greatest sheriff has become is evident every day at the Arizona Historical Society research library. The sign-in ledger has a space where each library-user is supposed to write in the subject they're studying. Flip through the pages and see how many of those lines are filled in with Earp, or Tombstone (which, let's face it, means Earp), or O.K. Corral.
Visiting historians, both armchair and scholarly, are reading the Society's Wyatt Earp collection, the best free read in town. It's a varied assortment of newspaper articles, memoirs, period letters and documents penned in that lavish handwriting of days gone by, plus a bunch of photographs.
My favorite is one photo of the old sheriff wearing a suit and posing next to a Packard automobile (probably about 1925). By the way, Earp was never photographed holding a gun, so don't bother looking. Truth be told, Wyatt was far less interested in firearms than faro, a table game popular with frontier gamblers. This begins to explain why Wyatt Earp was much more than a lawman. He was a compulsive gambler, never could hang onto a dime.
That's true. It's right in the collection. The great lawman was arrested several times, too: once for stealing horses in Arkansas; another time in Tombstone by his brother, Virgil, the real boss in Tombstone.
Wyatt, by the way, never was marshal of that fabled mining town. He was a U.S. deputy marshal, a Wells Fargo shotgun guard and Virgil's deputy. Even at the O.K. Corral, Virgil was the man in charge, not Wyatt.
If you read on, you'll discover Wyatt got himself into more trouble in San Francisco, in 1896, when he was refereeing a heavyweight boxing match between Tom Sharkey and Bob Fitzsimmons. Wyatt loved boxing.
But when he gave the fight to the underdog Sharkey, claiming Fitzsimmons threw a low blow, hell broke loose. Charges flew that Wyatt, whose reputation as a big-time gambler was well-known, was in on a money-making fix.
When they cleared the ring, Wyatt was found to be carrying a pistol in his back pocket. He was fined $50. Then there was that arrest at a crooked faro game in L.A. in 1911.
Okay, so Wyatt's armor has some holes. Elvis' does, too. But what's remarkable is how both men are such big draws after so many years, bigger dead than alive.
And like the King, Wyatt can still pack a room, even if it's the Historical Society's library. Some days it's like Graceland in there.