The adult Wyatt Earp is known to be pictured wearing a lawman’s badge in only one photograph-the famous 1870s shot of him and Bat Masterson in Dodge City, where they both served as lawmen during some of that Kansas town’s wildest days. But the photo above shows Wyatt (born March 19, 1848,in Monmouth, Ill.) as a child, wearing two stars on his shirt and carrying some rope in his pocket just in case of trouble! With him is his mother,Virginia (1821-1893), who is said to have possessed much common sense and a soft spot for children, animals and the sick. Her marriage to Nicholas Earp produced five sons and three daughters.
In his later years, Wyatt Earp formed a close relationship with a young man named John Flood. While he started out as Earp’s personal secretary, Flood ultimately became the son Wyatt never had. Before his death in 1929, Earp gave many of his personal possessions to Flood. Likewise, prior to his own death in 1958, Flood turned over most of his Earp material to his confidant, researcher and collector John Gilchriese.
When Gilchriese decided to sell his collection in 2003, he inventoried countless items with San Francisco auctioneer Doug Johns. Upon showing Johns this remarkable photograph, Gilchriese identified young Wyatt Earp and his mother. Johns then reached for the photo, to add it to the items he would soon be taking to San Francisco for auction. ‘Nope,’ Gilchriese said: ‘I’m not ready to let that one go.’
And he never did. The photo was in his possession until his death in 2004. Only then did his family turn over the image to be sold at auction. Gilchriese never allowed it to be published in his lifetime. In 2005 it was published in the Johns’ Western Gallery catalogue, but this marks the first time the photo has been seen in a national publication.
This article is a supplement to the October 2006 Wild West ?Westerners? department. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!