OGDEN — A letter found in Colorado seems to say Wyatt Earp, hero of the OK Corral shoot-out and legendary Western gunfighter, spent the years of 1914 and 1915 working as a carpenter in Ogden.
Or does it?
There is much about Earp’s life that argues against it. U.S. Census records, for example, cast doubt.
A copy of the letter was sent to the Standard-Examiner last week. Since then the paper’s own investigation, and digging by others, have chased down a pretty full history of Earp and his family in Ogden.
Roger Maw, who lives near Los Angeles, said he discovered the letter in the possession of his aunt earlier this year and was excited to see Wyatt Earp, the gunfighter, writing from Ogden in 1914.
He had taken his mother on a road trip through 11 Western states, he said, and saw so many historic towns that by the time they got to his aunt’s house in Pueblo, “We were talking about all this stuff, and she goes ‘I have a letter written to my grandfather by Wyatt Earp.’ ”
Maw photographed the letter, transcribed it, and spent a lot of time digging to see if it could have been be signed by the real Wyatt Earp.
When Maw decided it was, he forwarded pictures of the letter to Ogden’s Union Station museum, which collects Ogden history.
The letter is dated Jan. 13, 1914, and is addressed to a Colorado mine owner, Burr Lobdell, in Los Angeles. The return address on the letter is 227 27th St., Ogden.
That address now is the site of a church, but in 1914 it was a boarding house. The 1914 Polk City Directory for Ogden shows someone named Wyatt Earp at that address. The 1915 edition shows him living around the corner, at 2547 Grant Ave.
Both show Earp’s occupation as carpenter.
The handwriting is similar to an authentic letter written by Earp in 1921 in the collection of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. It can be viewed at the foundation’s website, www.shapell.org.
That similarity is only the judgment of this reporter, looking at images on a computer screen. Sara Willen, a curator at the Shapell Foundation, said the actual letter would have to be inspected in detail by experts.
Maw said there are things that argue for the letter.
His aunt’s grandfather owned mines in Colorado about the same time that Earp had mining interests there, so they could have met. Earp also lived near Los Angeles, where Lobdell lived.
Maw said he can find nothing that specifically says where Earp lived in 1914. While the city of San Bernardino says Earp lived there from 1908 on, several histories of Earp say he moved around a lot, working his mining claims.
“And I thought it (the letter) would be incredibly interesting to Ogden, Utah, because it puts a date, and at the end it gives his return address, and after all my reading, I didn’t see anything about Ogden, Utah, at all.”
In the letter, Earp says he had just moved to Ogden from Big Creek, Wyo., via Saratoga, Wyo., but the letter is more than chitchat. It sounds like a request for a job.
“We find work very scarce here at present but people tell us there will be plenty of work in the spring,” Earp writes. “They say spring opens here about March and there will be plenty of carpenter work going on.”
He asks Lobdell to visit if he is going back to Colorado and says “if you are already there please let know how times are and if any show to get work as we would like to get a steady position.”
The letter then says Earp’s wife is well, and is signed in flowing cursive that seems to say “W.S. Earp. and Mrs. Earp, 227 27th Street, Ogden, Utah.”
The “S” could be a “C.” Wyatt Earp’s full name was Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp. Maw said Earp sometimes just signed his name W.S. Earp.
Earp is famous in part for his role in the 1881 Gunfight at OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz.
Numerous TV shows and movies have portrayed that event. Kurt Russell played Earp in the 1993 movie “Tombstone.” Hugh O’Brien played the gunfighter in the 1957 TV series “Wyatt Earp.”
After Tombstone, Earp traveled and worked a variety of jobs.
He ran a horse stable in San Francisco, mined in Idaho, was sheriff of Kootenai County in Idaho, speculated in land and ran saloons and gambling halls in San Diego and Alaska.
By the early 1900s, he had mining interests throughout the West, primarily in California and Nevada.
A June 2000 article in the Los Angeles Times about his wife hints they enjoyed a relatively wealthy lifestyle at the time Maw’s letter has him scrambling for work in Ogden.
“Seesawing among gambling, mining and oil ventures, the Earps lived in at least nine Los Angeles rentals as early as 1885 and as late as 1929, mostly in the summer,” the article says.
“The winters they spent mining in San Bernardino County, running off claim jumpers and filing more than 100 mining and mineral claims.”
Earp, for sure, visited Ogden in 1891 to referee a boxing match.
The fight was the Utah heavyweight bout, hosted by the Ogden Athletic Club and held in Ogden’s Grand Opera House. Thousands attended.
George Morrison and Jim Williams were going to duke it out. Before the first bell, Williams protested the selection of referee and, as the Ogden Standard reported, “Wyatt Earp of San Francisco, formerly of Tombstone Arizona, was chosen as referee.”
Earp ended his days in Los Angeles consulting on Western movies. John Wayne reportedly said Earp inspired his own portrayal of gunfighters. Earp died in 1929, and movie star Tom Mix was one of his pall bearers.
Speaking of Earp’s wife, the Ogden City Directory that shows Wyatt Earp living in Ogden in 1914 also shows someone named Della Earp living as a boarder at the same address.
Gunfighter Earp’s third wife was Josephine Sarah Marcus. She was 19, a traveling actress, when she hooked up with Earp in Tombstone. She stuck with him the rest of his life.
Maw said Wednesday that he put a copy of the letter on an Internet discussion board for Western history. On that board another researcher said he had found a listing in the 1920 U.S. Census showing Wyatt C. Earp, 47, carpenter, living with his wife, Virginia, 49, on Grant Avenue in Ogden.
Actually, the 1920 U.S. Census records shows two Wyatt Earps. One, in Ogden, was born in 1873. The other lived in Los Angeles, and was born in 1848.
That same record shows the wife of the Earp in Los Angeles was Josephine.
Bob Boze Bell, executive editor of True West Magazine and author of a book about Earp, said his own researchers say the letter is definitely not from the gunfighter Earp, but all is not lost.
In an email to the Standard-Examiner on Friday, Bell said a friend of his, Jeff Morey, found that Wyatt C. Earp is gunfighter Earp’s nephew.
“Wyatt Clyde Earp was the son of Wyatt’s half-brother — Newton J. Earp,” Morey wrote to Bell.
So there are two Earps, one swinging a six-gun and one swinging a hammer. One helped tame the West, one helped build it.
And both had a history in Ogden.