Friday, October 26, 2012

The Arps at the O.K. Corral?

October 26, 2012

This is one of those dates that most of my friends remember even more than they remember their mother-in-law's birthday. In some cases even more than their wife's birthday. Most certainly their anniversary. Well, you get the drift.

This is the day three men were hurled into eternity in the duration of a moment.

I've spent decades now examining what led up to the Gunfight Behind The O.K. Corral and I've spent much of that time studying what led up to the fight, but it has only been recently that I've become fascinated with what happened AFTER the Vendetta Ride and before the publication of Frontier Marshal.

Like many Old West enthusiasts I always assumed the gunfight was always a big deal in certain circles and only became a bigger deal after Frontier Marshal and the movies. But as we began digging into the 1920s for our cover story on "Wyatt On The Set" earlier this year I saw the evolution of the Wyatt Earp legend with new eyes. Most know that Earp had a checkered association with Hollywood and was in fact admired by Hollywood royalty, but the obscurity of Earp by the turn of the century and up to the time of his death is pretty breathtaking.

Two days ago I received an excerpt of a book published in 1932 from Paul Hutton who recently discovered it while looking for materials for his Apache book. The author L. Vernon Briggs visited Tombstone in 1882 and then published these travelogues in a book featuring trips to Arizona, New Mexico, California and Mexico. There are several rich insights. He comes in on the train from California and eats at the Palace Hotel in Tucson (he saved the menu, and tells of the wine list!). Here is the Tombstone part that I wanted to share (keep in mind he is visiting mere months after the O.K. Corral fight):

"But until recently there has been much lawlessness and disorder in Cochise County, which has arisen from the misconduct and criminal deeds of deputy U.S. Marshals, according to the opinion prevalent in Tombstone.

"These men are now all occupying felon's cells on charge of murder—men who, under the cover of legal authority and supported by representatives of the general Government, interfered with the duties of the Sheriff, physically attacked supervisors, and shot down unarmed men in cold blood. . .It was during this time when the rule of these official desperadoes was at its height, when they were backed by a district judge, a postmaster, and a newspaper, that the candidate for Governor visited Tombstone with a petition; afterwards came the Tombstone city election, at which the law-abiding citizens, by an overwhelming vote, rebuked the Deputy Marshals, and the result has been the arrest of those Deputy Marshals for murder.

"One hears the story of the celebrated Arp family who, until recently, with the authority of the law to back them up, contaminated civil and criminal jurisprudence in the Territory. . .Only a few months ago these men, officers of the law, slaughtered in cold blood unarmed and innocent citizens in the streets. The Arps are said 'to have carried the commission of legally constituted authority in their pockets, refined knavery in their heads and hearts, blood in their eyes, shot guns and revolvers in their hands, and raped the law which they had sworn to execute.'"

This last quote, within a quote, is unattributed (the book is self-published) but must be from the Nugget or a pro-cowboy newspaper.

Several years ago there was an article in the Arizona Republic about an aged woman from southern Arizona who claimed the name Earp was pronounced to rhyme with Harp. This seems preposterous to modern ears, but perhaps there was a faction in Cochise County who derisively referred to their enemies with a twist on the pronunciation? If true, it obviously was already flourishing in 1882.

"Would Earp by any other name sound so brave?"

—old Vaquero Question