Among the thousands of stampeders who tried to cash in on the Klondike Gold Rush was a professional gunfighter named Wyatt Earp. Yep! The same guy who carved his name in the American history books for his celebrated role in the epic gunfight at the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp?
He was born in Illinois in March, 1848. In 1864, he moved to California, where he got a job driving horse-drawn wagons carrying supplies for prospectors.
In 1876, he moved to Dodge City, Kansas, where he became a dealer at the famous Long Branch Saloon. On the fateful day of October 26, 1881, a feud that had been going on for some time, between the Earp brothers and a gang led by Ike Clanton, culminated in the most celebrated shootout in western folklore - the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The famous gunfight was not in the O.K. Corral. It actually took place in Harwood's lumberyard, down the street from the rear entrance to the corral. It lasted thirty seconds. When the gunsmoke cleared, Frank and Tom McLaury lay dead, and Billy Clanton died later from chest wounds.
At the trial, the four Earp brothers were found innocent. In 1886, Wyatt and his wife Josie settled in San Diego. Wyatt bought real estate and continued his passion for gambling. By the spring of 1897, all of California was buzzing with the news of the richest gold strike in the world. This was music to the ears of the aging gambler, gunfighter and gold-seeker.
Wyatt and Josie headed north with thousands of others in 1897. The first part of the voyage to the goldfields ended in Wrangell, Alaska, as rough a town as Wyatt Earp had ever seen. He stayed there that winter and in the spring of 1898, set out for Dawson City around the coast of Alaska and the Yukon River. By the time they reached the town of Rampart on the Yukon River, freeze-up has set in. There the Earps spent the winter of 1898-1899. In the spring, Earp worked as the manager of a small store in St. Michael on the north Alaskan coast. He wanted to reach Dawson City, but decided that the Klondike staking rush was over. So the Earps settled in Nome.
In 1901, after two years running the famed Dexter saloon in Nome, the Earps returned to the southern states. He and Josie spent their summers in Los Angeles where they became pals with early day Hollywood heroes. On January 13, 1929, Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles. He was eighty years old.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: From the OK Corral to the Nome Gold Rush