Gambling was illegal in Seattle in 1899, but three gambling houses existed in a combine run by gambling kingpin John Considine. The established gamblers paid their fines to the city and county and were prepared to crush anyone who dared enter their territory and open up a gambling house.
No one opposed the combine until late November of that year, when a Westerner best known for his gun-related activities in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 18 years earlier made his presence felt in Washington’s largest city. The Seattle Star ran the following item on November 25 about the new gambler in town:
SHERIFF FROM ARIZONA TO OPEN A GAMBLING HOUSE
Considine’s Combine Greatly Disturbed
over the Outlook.
The New Man Refuses to Put Up
Says He Will Run in Spite of Opposition
Won’t Knuckle to Chief of Police
Reed or Anybody Else
The “sheriff from Arizona” was Wyatt Earp, who indeed had been a lawman in Arizona Territory, including the post of deputy sheriff of Pima County under Sheriff Charles Shibell. Since then he had been mostly a capitalist—saloon keeper, gambler, horse breeder, boxing referee, etc.—in such places as Colorado, Idaho Territory, San Diego, San Francisco and Alaska Territory. Now, Earp was going to open a new gambling house in Seattle’s tenderloin district. The Seattle Star, in almost purple journalistic jargon, described the new man on the scene: “Wyatt Earp, a man of great reputation among the toughs and criminals, inasmuch as he formerly walked the streets of a rough frontier mining town with big pistols stuck in his belt, spurs on his boots and a devil-may-care expression upon his official face.”
The Seattle Daily Times had a different approach. That newspaper announced in a very small article that Wyatt Earp, who had a reputation in Arizona as a “bad man,” was going to open a gambling house. Both the Times and the Seattle Post Intelligencer mentioned Earp’s boondoggle with the Tom Sharkey–Bob Fitzsimmons fight in 1896 San Francisco, where Wyatt was the referee who awarded the decision to Sharkey on an alleged foul. Fitzsimmons had knocked Sharkey out. Wyatt, among others, was accused of fraud by the Fitzsimmons side. The case had gone to court and although there was no ruling by the judge regarding Wyatt’s role, he had been smeared in the press. The Post Intelligencer described Earp as a “quiet sort of individual, good natured and does not talk much.”
Wyatt Earp took on a partner in his new Seattle venture, Thomas Urquhart. He was a well-known sporting man in Seattle and had supposedly been around the area for several years. Earp and Urquhart opened the Union Club at 111 Second Ave. South, near Yesler Way. Urquhart would continue to run the Union Club after Earp went back to Alaska in the spring or summer of 1900.
Upon learning that Earp intended to open a gambling house, the Considine combine sent a representative to inform Wyatt that he should take his interests outside of Seattle. The gamblers suggested if he really did intend to open in Seattle, he should check with Police Chief C.S. Reed. The assumption on their part was that Reed would not find Earp acceptable. The police chief had taken an extended vacation at this particularly dicey time in Seattle’s history, and Wyatt had no intention of waiting for his return. Earp, according to the Seattle Star of November 11, 1899, told them, “You fellows are paying enough, why should I add any money?” Furthermore, Earp boldly stated, “If Reed closes me up, he will have to close you all up too. See.” The newspaper recognized the threat to the gambling fraternity, stating, “Of course Earp expects a war to the knife to be waged up on [sic] him by the combine, but as his fighting powers are said to be so good and his wind excellent, the chances are that he will put up a pretty strong defense, and may come out the winner.”
Gambling had been shut down in Seattle in April 1899, but in September it had been reopened with John Considine as leader of the gambling trust. While gambling was still illegal, it was permitted under certain conditions. The leading gamblers laid down the rules during a September meeting in the office of Police Chief Reed, and these rules were in place two months later when partners Earp and Urquhart opened their doors:
No. 1 No minors allowed to participate.
No. 2 No drunks admitted.
No. 3 Must place door-tenders.
No. 4 No crap or blackjack games.
No. 5 Police to notify when fines are due.
No. 6 Doors to close at 3 a.m. except on
Saturday night. When business
must close at midnight.
No. 7 No entrance to gambling games
from any saloon.
The city was reaping a bountiful harvest in fines, and the gambling houses employed about 1,000 men. Gambling was big business in Seattle, and the established proprietors had a promising future. In October 1899, the Star interviewed a gentleman identified only as a “well known sporting man” who claimed to be an insider in the gambling fraternity: “Several days ago I overheard a conversation between Dave Argyle, one of the proprietors of the White House, in which he stated that the Seattle gamblers ‘cut up’ $50,000 in their last monthly settlement, and if permitted to run until April, would clear between $350,000 and $300,000 above all expenses including ‘hush money.’”
The Seattle Star sent a reporter around to the gambling houses on December 12, 1899, and reported in next day’s edition: “Earp and Urquhart’s new house, the Union Club…is having a large patronage. When it was first opened, about two weeks ago, five games were run. Last night the management placed several new games on the floor.” The newspaper reported the following fines from the police records:
The Standard, fourteen games $400
White House, six games $200
Horseshoe, eight games $250
Clancy House, five games $175
Union Club, five games $175
In January 1900, Seattle became the scene of what the Daily Times described as a “Gambler’s War.” Clancy House—not part of the original combine of the White House, the Standard and the Horseshoe—was shut down because John Clancy was running lotteries, one of the prohibited forms of gambling. Clancy had a beef: The other houses were running prohibited types of games, and therefore he should be allowed to run his lotteries. In reality, all gambling was illegal, but enforcement was selective. Determined to not let others have their cake, Clancy swore out complaints against the Standard and the Horseshoe. Indeed, those two houses were both shut down, according to the January 28 Seattle Post Intelligencer. It was expected that Earp and Urquhart’s Union Club would be next if the proprietors did not close of their own accord. The Post Intelligencer reported on February 1, 1900, that the Standard and Horseshoe had reopened. The same article indicated that evidence was being gathered to swear out warrants against Earp and Urquhart as well as the California Club run by David Argyle. No charges were filed against Earp and Urquhart in that particular round.
Court records show that city officials charged Urquhart, along with H.B. Kennedy, proprietor of the Horseshoe Club, with conducting gambling games on January 10, 1900, February 13, 1900, and March 12, 1900. This all occurred during the time when Wyatt Earp was Urquhart’s partner in the Union Club. For whatever reason, Urquhart was not charged in his business with Wyatt.
Apparently, Wyatt made a big enough splash in the community to be referenced in a Seattle Daily Times story of December 4, 1899, about the welterweight championship bout between Peter Jackson and Arthur Walker. The betting was heavy and many well-known sporting men were expected to be in attendance. Wyatt Earp was given top billing, followed by John Considine. Wyatt had not only waltzed into Seattle and opened a gambling house, apparently against Considine’s wishes, now he had seemingly bypassed Considine in local celebrity status.
As a resident of Seattle, Wyatt possibly had at least one acquaintance from his Tombstone days. George F. Spangenberg was in the cutlery business in Seattle in 1898 and lived there for many years. A George F. Spangenberg owned the gun shop in Tombstone where Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were seen prior to the famous October 26, 1881, street fight near the O.K. Corral. Both the Arizona Spangenberg and the Seattle Spangenberg were born in New York City between 1855 and 1859. Arizona’s Spangenberg is known to have gone to Portland, Ore., in 1891, so it is possible he continued on to Seattle after that. Although Wyatt probably did not know it, he was acquainted with another Seattle resident, Annie Argyle, the wife of gambling club proprietor David Argyle. Annie had lived in Tombstone as the wife of Jack Crabtree, brother of Lotta the famous actress. Wyatt later testified in the Lotta Crabtree will case verifying his acquaintance with Jack and Annie and the birth of their child who was contesting Lotta’s will (see “Pioneers & Settlers” in the June 2007 issue of Wild West). Wyatt would have known Argyle but probably never met his wife. The sporting men generally kept their family life apart from business.
Prior to the local election in 1900, the Seattle Daily Times was very outspoken against Mayor Thomas D. Humes, who was running for reelection. It was on his watch that gambling was allowed to continue in Seattle, and a March 3, 1900, article in the Times let the public know that the gamblers had contributed $2,000 to Humes’ campaign. George Cotterill, a temperance leader, lost to Humes, but the days of open gambling were numbered, at least temporarily.
Rumors suggested that Humes had gained support and votes by promising his councilmen that he would clean up some of the vice in the tenderloin district. Shortly after the election, one of the councilmen declared that gambling in Seattle must end. In conjunction with that declaration, temperance leader J.L. Meade, with the support of the YMCA, filed complaints against the proprietors of the clubs. On March 23, 1900, the state of Washington filed charges in the Justice Court against the gamblers; among others, “Tom Urquhart and Dave Wyatt, [sic] Earp” were charged with “conducting as proprietor a certain gambling game.” Each gambling house was served separately. Warrants were issued, and Urquhart was served, but no mention is made in the court record of Wyatt being served. Urquhart appeared with his attorney William Parmelee (who represented one of the madams in another vice crackdown). After a couple of continuances, Urquhart, through his attorney, pleaded nolo contendere. Urquhart was fined $75.
All the furnishings were confiscated from the clubs that had been charged, and by order of the Superior Court, all the gaming paraphernalia was to be anted up for a large bonfire. Roulette wheels, green-clothed tables and the attending chairs were put to the torch, and a dark cloud of smoke—cheered by some, but not all residents—rose above the city. Wyatt’s investment in the tools of the trade and furnishings is unknown. By the time the charges were made in March 1900, Wyatt may have already left for San Francisco. In Seattle, officials were enforcing not only the gambling laws but also a law against prizefighting. There wasn’t much left for Wyatt in the Washington city. His livelihood had gone up in smoke, and his favorite sport had gone dark. Seattle couldn’t have been much fun anymore. In late April, the San Francisco Call reported Wyatt was involved in a bar fight in that California city, so it is known he went to San Francisco sometime after he left Seattle and before he returned to Alaska.
The crackdown on vice in Seattle was short lived. Gambling was thriving again by the end of April. Urquhart, Clancy and Argyle had all reopened. Apparently some of the roulette wheels had escaped the pious bonfire and were soon back in operation. As the records show, Considine, Argyle, Urquhart and others were in and out of court. They paid fines and dealt with the nuisance of clubs being closed and gambling paraphernalia confiscated. The lure of money kept them coming back court date after court date.
In the spring or summer of 1900, Wyatt Earp was back in Seattle with his wife, Sadie, to catch SS Alliance and return to his saloon in Alaska. Seattle was again a wide-open town with saloons, gambling, fast women, sporting events on which to bet and the camaraderie of the sporting crowd. Rules were made to be broken in Seattle, and the tenderloin was the place to break them. Wyatt Earp, though, was only a transient character in the tenderloin’s history. He entered the Seattle gambling fraternity with passion, fortitude and resilience, and he slid out with nary a whisper.
California resident Pam Potter is a descendant of Tom and Frank McLaury of Tombstone fame. Her primary sources were Seattle newspaper archives and city records; researcher Tom Gaumer assisted her. Suggested reading: Pioneer Square: Seattle’s Oldest Neighborhood (2005, Pioneer Square Community Association).
This article was written by Pam Potter and originally published in the October 2007 issue of Wild West Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to Wild West magazine today! This post contains affiliate links. HistoryNet may receive a portion of purchases.