By the early 1870s, Wild Bill Hickok was a national celebrity and, in fact, basically lived off that notoriety for the last two years of his life. Like all celebrities, people flocked to him, bought him drinks and fawned over him. After his death in 1876, many a Westerner claimed to know him. It became almost a touchstone, or badge of authenticity, to have even seen him.
In the book, "Frontier Marshal," on page 43, the author Stuart Lake quotes Wyatt Earp as saying he met Wild Bill in Kansas City, in 1871. The dates don't quite work (Earp was in Peoria, Illinois working in, ahem, beaver procurement) and historians wonder if Lake was trying to tie the two together to make Earp look better. Earp author, Casey Tefertiller, doesn't think Earp made the claim, but that Lake put the words in Earp's mouth.
On the other hand, Casey maintains, "There is a brief mention that Earp met Wild Bill in passing. I think it is in the disputed Adelia Earp Edwards memoir, which I think is probably real. I would have to dig it out to be certain. I think it very possible that Earp met Wild Bill in passing, perhaps long enough to shake hands."
There is another Earp connection to Hickok, and that is, in 1924, Western movie star William S. Hart returned to the silver screen after a two year absence, with a story written by himself, "Wild Bill Hickok." Hart supposedly used Wyatt as a consultant on the film and Hart included many frontier characters Earp did know, like Chalk Beeson, Charles Basset, Bill Tilghlman and Luke Short. In fact, an actor portrays Wyatt in the film, and it's the first portrayal of Earp on film.
Here is a newspaper clipping Casey Teferteller found and shared with me:
The irony is that after Earp's death and the publication of "Frontier Marshal" Wyatt rose from being an obscure, regional character, to superstar status as a lawman-gunfighter. Today, he stands shoulder to shoulder with Wild Bill Hickok. Amazing what a good book, or two, can do to enhance a person's reputation.
—Old Vaquero Saying