Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen


Old West, Wyatt Earp live on

through Ariz. Historical Society

PAUL L. ALLEN Citizen Staff Writer

Few names conjure up Old West magic more than Wyatt Earp’s, immortalized in fiction and film as the consummate gunfighter.

Though Earp himself has long since gone on to his reward (he died in Los Angeles on Jan. 13, 1929) and is most often associated with Tombstone, facets of his legacy remain here in Tucson:

• The killing of Frank Stilwell near the railroad depot on Toole Avenue in March 1882.

• Two of his firearms, including a shotgun and a .45 Colt revolver.

• Some of his personal effects, including his wedding ring and a pipe that he smoked during his later years.

Details of the killing of Stilwell are preserved in newspaper accounts and in what apparently is a never-ending succession of Earp history books.

The firearms and other personal effects are preserved by the Arizona Historical Society – kept in a locked vault when not on display at the museum at 949 E. Second St.

Wyatt Earp the man and Wyatt Earp the legend bear marked contrast to one another. Fiction would have us believe that Earp was a sharpshooting, fast-draw artist involved in gunfights as routinely as the rest of us go out to lunch.

In reality, other than the notorious gunfight on Oct. 26, 1881, at Tombstone’s OK Corral, and Earp’s efforts during the next few months to avenge his brothers’ shootings, he seldom used his gun except as a club to ”adjust the attitude” of drunken ne’er-do-wells.

The Tucson railway shooting of Stilwell came as a result of the ambush slaying of Morgan Earp on March 18, 1882, in Tombstone.

Earp, brother Warren, John H. ”Doc” Holliday, and friends Jack Johnson and Sherm McMasters had stopped in Tucson on March 20 en route to Colton, Calif., to bury Morgan Earp. On the morning of March 21, 1882, Stilwell’s body was found riddled with bullets about 100 yards north of Porter’s Hotel at the side of the railroad tracks.

According to a newspaper account in the Tombstone Nugget, Stilwell was hit with four rifle balls and two loads of buckshot – one delivered at such close quarters that his coat was powder-burnt.

The Tucson Weekly Citizen of March 28, 1882, noted: ”He was buried this afternoon, the coffin being conveyed to the grave in an express wagon, unfollowed by a single mourner.”

The railroad depot was destroyed by fire in 1907, but the existing depot was built atop its foundation.

The Earp memorabilia came to the historical society in 1988 through a donation by Mary Louise Ellsworth, widow of famed arctic explorer Lincoln Ellsworth.

Ellsworth became fascinated with the Earp legend and even named his ship Wyatt Earp. In the 1930s, he befriended Earp’s widow, the former Josephine Sarah Marcus, known affectionately as ”Sadie” by her husband and other family members.

Through that friendship, Ellsworth acquired the items that his widow later donated to the society.

The collection also included some correspondence between Earp’s widow and Ellsworth and some family photographs and documents.

A Sept. 11, 1937, letter from Josephine Earp to Ellsworth, telling him she was shipping him Wyatt’s handgun, has created some confusion. In the letter, she tells Ellsworth she is sending Wyatt’s .41-caliber Colt revolver, which she said Wyatt referred to affectionately as his ”baby pony.”

She added that Earp had carried the revolver in Wichita, Dodge City and Ellsworth, Kan., and in Tombstone.

The firearm sent, however, was a .45-caliber Colt revolver with a 7 1/2-inch barrel. It originally was shipped from the Colt factory on Jan 30, 1883 – 15 months after the notorious OK Corral shootout.

The confusion and apparent contradictions between the firearm described and the firearm sent led one spokesman for Christie’s Appraisals of New York City to suggest that Josephine Earp had acquired the revolver after Earp’s death and sent it to Ellsworth to satisfy his interest in her husband.

However, it should be noted that more than four decades had passed between the Tombstone days and the time Josephine Earp sent the firearm to Ellsworth – enough time for memory to fade and confusion to set in.

It also is worth noting that Josephine Earp, according to comments from her husband, ”doesn’t even know which end of a gun the bullet comes from.”

Cochise County author and Earp scholar Glenn G. Boyer, who was personally acquainted with several of Earp’s relatives, said the revolver was, in fact, owned by the Tombstone lawman.

The editor of Josephine Earp’s memoirs, ”I Married Wyatt Earp,” and many other Earp-related books, Boyer – who is not known for mincing words – said, ”Christie’s doesn’t know its ass from third base – and you can quote me on that.

”She (Josephine Earp) said it was presented to him by Jim Hume of Wells Fargo, and I think he probably did. Christie’s was just being sour grapes about something they didn’t get hold of themselves.”


Some pieces of Wyatt Earp memorabilia preserved by the Arizona Historical Society include his shotgun, pistol, pipe and wedding rings. The collection was donated by the widow of famed arctic explorer and Earp enthusiast Lincoln Ellsworth. Ellsworth had come into the items after befriending Earp’s widow, the former Josephine Sarah Marcus, known affectionately as ”Sadie.”

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service