Renegade Roads

Following Wyatt Earp

From Needles, California, to Tombstone, Arizona.


Heavily armed men are lying in wait for me when I pull into the Holiday Inn Express—enough to make me nervous.

I try to make it to my room unobserved, but a black-hatted hombre tracks me down and instructs me to mosey over to the lobby.

A Colt Single Action Army is a mighty good persuader. Which causes me to think:

  1. It’s a lot easier to pack iron in Tombstone, Arizona, today than it was when the Earp brothers called the shots.

  2. Wyatt Earp is still The Man.

I don’t mean Hugh O’Brian or Kurt Russell, but the bona fide Wyatt, whoever he was. Love him or hate him, no one ignores him 124 years after a 27-second set-to hurled three men into eternity and Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp into Western folklore.

Wyatt brings out more passion, and the historian, in all of us than any other Old West figure. I spent an hour in San Diego, California, talking to a man who had opened an Earp museum. In Parker, Arizona, a resident gave me tours of Earp’s old mining claims across the Colorado River in California. In Tucson, I listened to an impassioned Earp-o-phile berate my boss as an Earp hater. (“No,” I argued, “you’ve never heard him sing the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp theme song.”)

And now I’m in Tombstone, waylaid by vigilantes.

California connection

My Earp trail starts in Needles, California. Actually, the real Earp journey begins in Monmouth, Illinois, where Earp was born in 1848, and continues all across the West before ending at Colma near San Francisco, where Earp’s ashes were interred in the Hills of Eternity Cemetery in 1929 (wife Josephine Marcus was buried there, too, in 1944).

Alas, with gas prices as volatile as Doc Holliday’s temper, we’ll focus on Arizona and southern California.

An e-mail to the Needles Chamber of Commerce about any Earp sites goes unanswered. Well, Needles is better known as the hometown of Spike, Snoopy’s brother. Besides, this was brother Virgil’s territory. Virgil and wife Allie opened Earp’s Hall in the nearby boomtown of Vanderbilt. Virgil even ran for constable of Needles in 1893, but he lost.

Down the road in Colton, however, the Earps are anything but forgotten. In 1864, 16-year-old Wyatt joined his father’s wagon train from Pella, Iowa, arriving seven months later in the San Bernardino Valley. The Earps would continue to have a presence in the area.

Colton’s home of the Earp Society—a nonprofit group gung ho on preserving the Old West. Part of that preservation comes in the form of Wyatt Earp’s Old West Days every October, which is a worthy event for Earp-o-philes.

From Colton, Wyatt’s trail leads to Los Angeles. In the summer of 1865, young Wyatt drove a stagecoach between L.A. and San Bernardino, and Wyatt would have an on-again, off-again relationship with the City of Angels for the rest of his life. He peddled his life story around L.A. in the early 1900s, befriended William S. Hart and Tom Mix, and died in a rented bungalow downtown.

Any L.A. trip means heading over to the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West and Hart’s retirement home, La Loma de los Vientos, in Newhall. But if you really want Earp country and Earp sites, visit San Diego, where the most famous photo of Wyatt was taken.

In style in San Diego

Wyatt spent many nights at the Horton Grand Hotel back when it was the Brooklyn Hotel. In the 1880s, the Horton—a replica of the Innsbruck Hotel in Vienna, Austria—served the elite while the Brooklyn housed the working class. In the late 1970s, both hotels were saved from demolition, moved brick by brick and stored in a warehouse until they were rebuilt as the Horton Grand Hotel in 1986.

The Horton remembers Wyatt,...

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