Wyatt Earp in San Diego: Life After Tombstone, by Garner A. Palenske, Graphic Publishers, Santa Ana, Calif., 2011, $39.95
Wyatt Earp and his common-law wife, Josie, had quite a life after the turbulent Tombstone years (1879–82), dealing in saloons, gambling and mines in California, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Nevada and Alaska. One of Wyatt and Josie’s most intriguing, and least documented, stops was San Diego. The Earps stayed there from the fall of 1886 until the summer of 1890, when they left to follow the horse racing circuit. But the Earps would return to the city to tend to properties Wyatt retained until the late 1890s. Garner Palenske lives in San Diego and spent four years researching the Earps’ tenure in that city. The result, as Tombstone historian Ben Traywick points out in the foreword, is a 204-page work “revealing many incidents totally unknown to the public at large.”
No longer a lawman, Wyatt concentrated on making money, legally and illegally, during his San Diego years, and he managed to do so without shooting anyone or being shot at, even though it was a wide-open town that by 1885 reportedly had one of the worst crime rates in the country. The pro-gambling faction had control in San Diego, and according to the author, “Wyatt was one of the main power brokers, because he held a strong influence over the law enforcement and executive branches of city government.” San Diego Mayor William Hunsaker was a good friend of Wyatt’s, and Wyatt’s relationship with City Marshal Joseph Coyne “resulted in the unofficial rule that police were not to enter saloons, except to address issues unrelated to gambling.”
Wyatt ran several gambling houses, including one above the Union Saloon. Thriving financially, he invested in San Diego real estate, buying at least 10 lots between 1888 and 1890. At one point he returned to Arizona Territory to make still more money on gold mining operations in the Harquahala Mountains. The 1890 San Diego directory lists the “Lion of Tombstone” as “Wyatt Earp, capitalist.” His San Diego years were good ones. He made money, as he had in Tombstone, but he avoided gunplay in saloon, corral or vacant lot—yes, good for him, though not necessarily for certain readers.