Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Wyatt Earp's Letters to Bill Hart.
•Written at a time when the sun was setting for both.

Magazine article (Photoplay magazine, April 1921, pg. 47) sent by William S. Hart to his friend Wyatt Earp in December 1926. Article claims Hart's middle name is Shakespeare; Hart doesn't confirm or deny it in his hand-written note to Earp.

Thousands of words have been penned about the famed Wyatt Earp; much fewer have been written by him. In fact, I had seen none at all until I came across the Earp letters at the William S. Hart Ranch (now a park and museum) in Newhall, California.

There are about two dozen of these historic letters written by Wyatt Earp to the late movie idol, William S. Hart. Most of them are in long hand but a few are typed. The Earp letters reveal his politics and anger over what he called the many untruths which were in print concerning his colorful life.

On Nov. 13, 1928 Wyatt Earp wrote, "Here is something that will make you laugh. I picked [Al] Smith for the winner of the election; just in my mind, you know, so it didn't cost me anything — no new hat to buy nor any peanuts to roll along the thoroughfare with a tooth-pick nor anything else to make me wish I hadn't. It just furnishes my friends a lot of fun by guying me. Hoover will make an excellent president, and the nation will have no regrets at having chosen him."

More Wyatt Earp
From True West & SCVTV

Bob Boze Bell
Click image to watch True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell's presentation, "Wyatt Earp: Hero or Villain?" at the 2011 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.

On Nov. 16, 1924 Earp wrote to his friend Bill, "Even the paragraph about Doc Holliday shooting a man in Los Angeles was without foundation. Holliday to my positive knowledge never had been in Los Angeles."

Published here, for the first time, are some of the most interesting letters which Wyatt Earp penned to America's favorite "strong and silent" cowboy.

Oct. 21, 1920

My Dear Hart:
    I am sending you the quirt that I promised you some time ago and I am also adding a word of apology for the delay. My time has been so occupied with business affairs during recent weeks requiring my absence. I just did not get the opportunity to mail the quirt to you. Although I have though of you. I believed I explained to you the quirt was made a number of years back in 1885 by a Mexican woman who was serving time in the penitentiary at Yuma, Arizona for the murder of her husband so you can see that a good quirt was made by a bad woman. It ought to stand hard usage and last a lifetime and I am sure it will. In your leisure moments may you occasionally remember that this is just a token of appreciation from me who hold you in deepest regards and esteem.

    Your friend,
    Wyatt S. Earp
    4021 Pasadena Ave.
    Los Angeles, Calif.

This interesting letter was written by Mrs. Wyatt Earp, and it shows her concern over her husband's press image.

Friday March 24, 1922

Dear Mr. Hart:
    I wish to thank you most sincerely in your very kind thoughts in contradicting the nasty and ugly articles which appeared in the Sunday Times of March 12, 1922 regarding my husband. Mr. Earp only yesterday did learn of the unpleasant affair. I have called in the Times staff and have made it very plain to them that every untruth must be corrected and printed in the same sensational manner. I feel deeply indebted to you for your kindness to us. It was a mighty big thought of yours and we highly appreciate it.
    I am leaving for the mines today where my husband is at present and fully acquaint him of all this unpleasant affair and also tell him your genuine kindness to him. Accept our heartiest congratulations and wishing you and your wife every happiness in the world of which you are more than worthy. I wish to thank you once more for all you have done.

    Very sincerely,
    Mr. and Mrs. Earp

The article mentioned in Mrs. Earp's letter made Wyatt Earp mad as hell. It had at least one glaring untruth. It said that Wyatt Earp was killed in Colton, California. He was very much alive at his mine in Vidal, California. I made a copy of the article from the files of the main library in Los Angeles. Here it is in full.

By J.M. Scanland

    "This old type faded out with the 'round-up' of the Earp, Dalton and Evans-Sontag gangs. The Earps were not really of the western bandit type, for they usually remained in the background, while their confederates confronted danger. They were of the swaggering kind now seen on the movie stage.
    "In the Earp gang were four brothers, Virgil, James, Wyatt, and Morgan with J. (Doc.) Holladay and Frank Stilwell. This gang had been driven out of Dodge City, Kan., by the late Bat Masterson, then Chief of Police and a noted gunman. The gang selected Tombstone, Arizona as the base of their operations.
    "Soon after arrival Virgil Earp was appointed Deputy United States Marshal and Wyatt Earp Chief of Police. This gave them an advantage and being gamblers they naturally sided with their own. Trouble arose between them and Sheriff John Behan, who tried to 'clean up' the town. Trouble began when four cowboys refused to recognize the right of the Earp gang to rule the town. The cowboys were Bill and Ike Clanton and Tom and Frank McLowry. The Earps ordered the cowboys out of town and they were preparing to leave when they were waylaid and a gun battle followed during which Virgil Earp was shot in the leg, Morgan Earp in the shoulder and Ike Clanton was killed. The town was aroused and Frank Stilwell, who led the stage robberies, brought the trouble to a climax when he informed against his partners, because the Earps would not divide fairly. In a gun battle that followed, Stilwell killed Morgan Earp. A few months later another stage was robbed, and the driver, 'Bud' Philpot, was killed. ...
    "Stilwell after his confession had gone to Benson. As the train bearing the Earp gang entered the station, Stilwell was on the platform, Virgil Earp stepped off, shot and killed Stilwell and the train passed on. There was no arrest.
    "The Earp gang then came to Calif. 'Doc' Holladay located here. Virgil and Jim Earp went to San Bernardino, where one opened a saloon and dance house and the other a faro game. Wyatt Earp located in Colton where he was killed. Finally the authorities suggested that Virgil move on. He moved, leaving a trail of debts. He died at Goldfield with his boots off."

The article must have been quite a shock to the Earps. In a later letter you'll read where Wyatt Earp did something about what he called so many untruths. In this next letter Earp tells of his joy at the birth of William S. Hart Jr. The meaning of the first part of the letter isn't clear.

Los Angeles, California
Oct. 16, 1922

Mr. William S. Hart
8341 De Longpre Drive
Hollywood, Calif.

Dear Mr. Hart:
    After a long absence I have now returned to the city for a short stay. It must all come to you with mixed joy. I wish to make no comment because I am your friend and I know you have nothing to regret. You have hosts of friends Mr. Hart and the world thinks of you with a spirit of great loyalty [more] now than it ever has.
    But I can rejoice with you in the great happiness that comes to you as a father. In this you are especially blessed. Your son is likewise because he has a good father. I say this modestly and if his purposes in life are as noble, he will be a success. It is the earnest [wish] of Mrs. Earp and myself that he shall live to be all of that.
    I trust your recent illness is just of the passing sort and that you will be yourself again within a few days. Mrs. Earp joins me in best wishes.

    Sincerely yours,
    Wyatt Earp

In the next letter Mrs. Earp tells Hart that her husband wishes to dedicate a book to him — a book about which few Western buffs will ever reach total agreement.

2703 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland, Calif.

Mr. William S. Hart
Newhall, Calif.

My dear Mr. Hart:
    Am inclosing a letter from Mr. Lake which is self explanatory. I was rather surprised Mr. Leussler told him he had spoken with me. If you will recall it was agreed that he was not to tell ... we had met. I cannot understand that and so presuming your good nature for your valuable advice in this matter, will you kindly return the inclosed [sic] letter to me.
    I tried to get in touch with Mr. Leussler three times, but was informed he was south and would not be back until the end of the week. I would like to get in touch with him as I cannot get any information from Mr. Lake.
    I want to thank you Mr. Hart for all of your wonderful kindness to Mr. Earp and myself. And it shall be my great pleasure to follow Mr. Earp's wishes in having his book dedicated to you — a real friend.
    Trusting you and your dear sister are in good health. I am with kindest regards.

    Most sincerely yours,
    Josephine Earp

Another letter from Mrs. Earp would come under the heading of "fan mail."

Dec. 18, 1923

My dear Mr. Hart:
    Just a line to congratulate you upon your new picture "Wild Bill Hickok." I saw it twice with several friends and each time the house was packed. When you appeared upon the screen the applause was wonderful. Am happy to say that you have staged a remarkable "come back."
    Trusting your future pictures will be as successful as your first.

    With kindest regards
    I am sincerely yours,
    Mrs. Wyatt Earp

William S. Hart often contacted his friend during Wyatt's stay at the mines.

Oct. 21, 1925

Mr. Wyatt Earp
Vidal, Calif.

My dear friend Wyatt Earp:
    I am mighty glad to hear from you. I am returning Mr. Sutton's letter which I presume you want to keep. Sutton has been a great admirer of my pictures for many years. I have many letters from him. His account of the opening of the Strip from the Oklahoma side is most interesting. The picture which I have just finished, "Tumbleweeds," shows the action which takes place on the other side starting at Caldwell, Kansas.
    Mr. Wilstach the man who is writing the Hickok articles wrote to me a couple of weeks ago for some information which, fortunately, I was able to give him. One of the things he wanted to know was the whereabouts of Bat Masterson when Hickok was killed. I was able to tell him Masterson told me personally he was in Denver at the time.
    When you return please let me know and I sure would be glad to see you and Mrs. Earp.

    Always your friend,
    William S. Hart

It is interesting that Wyatt Earp wrote a script which he hoped could be adapted with Bill Hart in the starring role — one which would give the public a good image of himself.

Oakland, Calif.
July 3/25

Mr. William S. Hart
Hollywood, Calif.

My dear Mr. Hart:
    I am inclosing two letters for your perusal. I thought you may be interested in reading the letters I received from Mr. Hays.

From Bob Boze Bell

Wyatt Earp Book
Click image to order The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp by True West's Bob Boze Bell
    In reference to the letter from Mr. Hammond, you will notice that he says he will write to Scribner's and tell them the article published was not correct. I am tired of seeing so many articles published concerning me which are untrue.
    I have just received word that the script which I am having written will be ready in a short time. As soon as I receive the same, I will immediately forward it to you as I am very anxious to get your judgment on it. I know there is not one better qualified to pass upon it than yourself. I am in hopes that the material in the script will be available for your use.
    I am sure that if the story were exploited on the screen by you, it would do much towards setting me right before the public which has always been fed up with lies about me. It is just such articles as were published about me being in Dawson, when I have never been there, that have put me wrong before the public. I have been in Nome and several other places in Alaska, but never in Dawson.
    I trust you are in good health, and [that] I may have the pleasure of hearing from you soon, with my very kindest regards, I am,

    Sincerely yours,
    Wyatt S. Earp

Wyatt Earp, it seems, never forgot a bad press release. It has been five years since he was insulted by the Times article but he finally caught up with the author.

Los Angeles, Calif.
Nov. 18, 1927

Mr. William S. Hart
8341 De Longpre Drive
Hollywood, Calif.

Dear Mr. Hart:
    A few weeks ago Mrs. Earp and I returned to Los Angeles after a long visit up north. I always like to get back to the sunshine again although I shall have to say that my health was much improved up around the bay this summer.
    I know you will be interested to hear about my visit to Mr. J.M. Scanland. You may recollect he is the author of that tale which appeared in the Los Angeles Times several years ago, and about which you so vigorously protested.
    After a search of more than two years, my friend finally located him and together we called at his residence on Berkeley Street. Mr. Scanland is an old man. He expressed regret over the incident and offered apologys [sic] and amends and gave me a type written retraction of the story he very willingly signed.
    It does beat the band how the truth will be warped and mistated [sic] over a period of years.

    Sincerely yours,
    Wyatt Earp

This concluding letter is the last that Wyatt Earp wrote to his good friend, William S. Hart. Earp died six days later on January 13, 1929 at his home in Los Angeles near Crenshaw and Washington Boulevards.

4004 West 17th St.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Jan. 7, 1929

Mr. William S. Hart
Horse Shoe Ranch
Newhall, Calif.

My dear friend Bill Hart:
    This morning's newspapers announces [sic] the passing of Tex Rickard. Poor Tex it seems sad that he should be cut down, or his years cut short; just at the time when life was at its full tide. Such is the fate that happens to many men when they are going strong. Jack Dempsey has lost his best friend. All of which reminds us that the world moves on, and age must make way for ... youth.
    Mingled with the Holiday cheer came the sad message that my brother Newton died. That was just a week before Christmas; he was buried on the twentieth at Sacramento. Ninety-one years — that is a wonderful age.

    Your friend,
    Wyatt S. Earp

Webmaster's Note: William S. Hart was one of Wyatt Earp's pallbearers. The others were F. Dornberger, George Parsons, John Clum, Wilson Mizner ... and Tom Mix.

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