American Legend, Wyatt Earp . . . .had a lot of miles under his belt prior to his arrival in San Diego in the late 1800's. He displayed his courage at an early age where as a teenager, his first job was as a stagecoach driver in California. He was later a buffalo hunter out of Illinois where he met his longtime friend Bat Masterson. His reputation as a fearless and determined lawman was established in Wichita and Dodge City Kansas as he tamed these cities thought of as some of the wildest in the west.
In Tombstone, Earp took part in the famous shoot-out at the OK Corral where three of his enemies died. He could have been directly responsible for the shooting deaths of at least 5 men in his lifetime. Wyatt left Tombstone soon after the OK Corral and started a lifelong journey throughout the western frontier, settling in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Nome, Alaska.
According to Kenneth Cilch's book, Wyatt Earp The Missing Years, Wyatt came to San Diego between 1885 and 1887 and could have remained here as late as 1896. He was accompanied by his third wife Josie who he met in Tombstone, Arizona. She was an actress and possibly a dance hall girl and she accompanied him in his many travels until his death in 1929.
He was an active businessman in addition to a gambler and was engaged in a variety of real estate ventures, capitalizing on the land boom in the mid 1880's. Earp leased four saloons and gambling halls in San Diego, the most famous was his Oyster Bar located in the Louis Bank of Commerce on Fifth Avenue. He was listed as a capitalist (gambler) in the San Diego City Directory in 1887 and among his other winnings, he won a race horse.
During these times the Stingaree District was the heart of entertainment for the city and offered all kinds of diversion and vice. There was gambling, saloons, gunmen, prostitutes, speculators, and honest and dishonest gamblers. Mixed in among settlers who came in droves were tourists who crowded the train lines so much that some weekend vacationers didn't make it home to Los Angeles until Tuesday or Wednesday. Another big draw for the city was its close proximity to Tijuana where one was sure to find prize fights, bear and bull fights, and all varieties of gambling. Learn more about the colorful History of the Gaslamp
A major part of the Stingaree District is included in the footprint of the Gaslamp Quarter. Officers patrolling the area would not venture far apart as the level of danger was pronounced in San Diego's red light district. Many of the restaurants and dance halls were open 24 hours, and their business was best from midnight until 3:00 am.
Adalaska Pearson, in his oral history from the San Diego Historical Society dated 1928, described the scene as "crazy with gambling fever developed from fortunes made in real estate, saloons and gambling houses." He also added that "Crime was rampant. Murder, theft, robbery, fights and general licentiousness was the order of the day, hold-ups were a daily occurrence." But this type of frenzied activity didn't last too long as there was coming a period of dormancy to the overheated and overpopulated area.
As the boom became a bust in 1888 the population began to dwindle as rapidly as it had increased. It shrank from 40,000 in 1885 when Earp arrived, to just 16,000 in 1890. Shortly after Earp won his race horse "Otto Rex," he and Josie became interested in horse racing and they traveled the circuit. It is rumored that Wyatt himself even raced twice and won one race.
Earp left San Diego during this major period of decline and late in life spent time as a consultant to the burgeoning motion picture industry, even taking a part as an extra in a western. Wyatt passed away in Los Angeles in 1929 at the age of 80. Josie survived him and lived until 1944.
Gaslamp began it's remarkable renaissance long after the Wyatt Earp days - learn more about the Gaslamp Renaissance
Special thanks to Kenneth Cilch author of "Wyatt Earp: The Missing Years"
For more information on the History of the Gaslamp - visit our partners at the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation
William Heath Davis House
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