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Shoshone History
Wyatt Earp...Early day Shoshone County
Dec 10, 2004, 22:37

Wyatt Earp, one of the early day western lawmen whose reputation has been embroidered by television, played a role in the early days of the Shoshone County mining district.

And while he was a deputy sheriff here, he was better known as a saloon keeper and one of the few – perhaps the only – man to attempt to “jump” a claim staked by A. J. Prichard, the man who discovered gold in the Eagle-Murray-Prichard area.

Earp was here with two brothers, James C. and Warren Baxter Earp. Although they were here for only one summer –probably from January to Sept. 26, 1884 – there are a number of records to indicate the days they spent here were busy.

Wyatt Earp apparently came to the district with considerable money, judging by the purchases he made. But after he left, the county commissioners took title to a tent and improvements in Eagle City because he failed to pay the taxes of $8.67. This was in spite of the despite the fact Earp once was a tax collector himself.

The earliest record dealing with Earp was an ejectment action brought by Prichard alleging that Earp and others jumped one of his claims. Prichard alleged this occurred on Feb. 1.

Contrary to best television practice, the alleged claim jumping was not settled by gunfire but in court. Prichard sued Earp on June 9, 1884, for recovery of the claim and won.

Earp was more successful in another dispute over a claim. A similar suit on May 20, 1884, was brought against him and his friends for allegedly taking forcible possession of a mining claim on March 15, 1884. This time Earp and his friends obtained judgment.

It might be unfair however, to class Earp and his gang as claim jumpers in the commonly accepted sense of the phrase. Prichard, according to letters he wrote, offered to locate claims for friends and associates in the Liberal League even though these people were not in the district. Early day mining laws prohibited this, and perhaps Earp was the only man with sufficient strength in those days to contest Prichard’s actions.

W. Payne sued him on April 30, 1884, over possession of town land in Eagle City, alleging two men with revolvers made forcible entry onto the land. A jury on July 18, 1884, upheld Payne and awarded him $25. The judge trebled this judgment and Earp paid it on Aug. 14.

Payne sued Earp again on May 14, 1884, over title to land in Eagle City. Earp lost again, and it cost him $33.61 in addition to the property.

The dispute over this land apparently resulted in one of the famous early-day gun battles in Eagle city before it was settled.

Wyatt Earp and his brother, James, emerged as heroes in this gun battle, according to newspaper accounts, but the present day observer, with the benefit of more information, is inclined to wonder.

Earp always had the same partners while in this district, various accounts show. They were James C. Earp, John Hardy, J. E. Enright, Alfred Holman and Daniel Ferguson.

According to the complaint filed by Payne against Earp, Payne owned the land in question and leased it to two saloon keepers, Sanford and Owens. These two men sold the saloon tent on the property and the contents to Earp for $132. Earp kept the tent on the land after the lease expired and Payne demanded return of the land.

An article in the April 5, 1884, Spokane Falls Review, described the gun fight as one in which seven or eight men took part and in which 50 shots were exchanged. The only casualty, however, was a John Burdett, a carpenter, who was not seriously injured.

The newspaper said there were two accounts of events leading up to the dispute. According to one account, Philip Wyman sold the town lot to Enright Holman and Ferguson, the partners of Earp and Payne.

According to the other account, Sam Black sold the property to William Buzzard.

Nevertheless, Buzzard was starting to build a hotel and lodgeing house on the property when Enright went to the property and was ordered off by Buzzard, “a Winchester backing up the order,” the Review said. Payne got the same treatment, after which Enright, Payne, Holman and Ferguson armed themselves and headed for the property. Buzzard, his partner, Charles E. Gable, and an unnamed Irishman, equally armed, defended the property in the gun battle from behind logs on the land, and the reporter counted 37 bullet holes in the logs after the fight.

Wyatt and James Earp, according to the newspaper account, “took a prominent part as peacemakers. With characteristic coolness, they stood while the bullets from both parties flew about them, joked to the participants upon their poor marksmanship and although they pronounced the affair a fine picnic, used their best endeavors to stop the shooting.”

In addition to jumping claims, Earp also located a number of claims in the gold fields. Records show he located the Consolidated, Grizzly Bear, Dividend, Dead Scratch and Golden Gate lode claims and two placer claims, while James Earp located one claim.

Evidence that the Earps had money when they came to the district is gathered from these bills of sale that have been found:

Wyatt and James Earp and others paid $500 for 10 acres of placer ground on Prichard Creek to Florence McCarthy; they purchased for $2250 from Fay Buzzard a circular duck tent 50 feet in diameter and 45 feet high, together with improvements and fixtures; they purchased from Buzzard for $500 a town lot in Eagle City; paid Frank Crozier $500 for a one-half interest in the Bloomfield Placer claim; and purchased five acres in Dream gulch for $1000.

Only one mention can be found of Earp’s activities as a deputy sheriff in the district. That was on June 20, 1884, in connection with a murder.

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