Wyatt Earp’s Final Showdown | HistoryNet

Searles Valley at Sunset scaled

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp stood toe to toe with Stafford Wallace Austin, court-appointed receiver of the bankrupt California Trona Co. The date was Oct. 23, 1910, and Earp, the “Lion of Tombstone,” had been diminished to working as a employed gun for a spurious survey celebration in southern California’s desolate Searles Valley. Although 62 and gray-haired, he retained the raw-boned, bodily intimidating presence of his youthful days in Arizona Territory. “What are you doing on this camp?” Earp demanded.

Earp’s concern was comprehensible. Accompanying Austin have been 4 males armed, he recorded in his journal, “with all of the weapons they may gather.” Confronting them have been, Austin recalled, “the best-equipped gang of declare jumpers ever assembled within the West. It consisted of three full crews of surveyors, the mandatory helpers and laborers, and about 20 armed guards, or gunmen, underneath the command of Wyatt Berry Stapp.” The gunmen included Earp’s good friend and someday deputy Arthur Moore King, a former Los Angeles police detective. At stake have been mineral claims of great value.

Valley namesake John Wemple Searles, a luckless Forty-Niner, had arrived in Southern California within the early 1860s and settled within the neighborhood of present-day Trona. Although he was searching for gold and silver, what he discovered within the surrounding dry lake mattress was borax, a invaluable mineral with many makes use of. Searles filed claims on the property, and by 1873 his San Bernardino Borax Mining Co. was in manufacturing. He hauled his product 200 miles south to the port of San Pedro in large wagons drawn by legendary 20-mule groups. When the Southern Pacific Railroad reached the desert city of Mojave in 1876, the wagon journey was shortened to about 80 miles. In 1895, nonetheless, weak demand prompted Searles to promote his agency to Francis “Borax King” Smith, of the Pacific Coast Borax Co., who shuttered the operation the subsequent 12 months.

Stafford and Mary Austin Wedding Photograph
Stafford’s spouse, Mary Hunter Austin (proper), was well-known in her personal proper as a nature author centered on Southern California. (Desert Gazette)

For greater than a decade varied operators made repeated unsuccessful makes an attempt to economically mine the lake for not solely borax but in addition potash, soda ash, trona and sodium sulfate. By 1910 the claims have been underneath the management of California Trona, which had borrowed closely to finance development of two experimental vegetation to facilitate mineral restoration. The corporate went bust earlier than finishing the vegetation. When the claims went into receivership, federally appointed receiver Austin got here to safe the property from competing claimants.

Born in 1862 and raised in Hawaii, Austin was an 1886 graduate of the College of California, Berkeley. 4 years later he met and married his spouse, famous creator Mary Austin, in Bakersfield. In 1892 they settled in Lone Pine, Calif., on the foot of the Owens Valley. There Wallace taught faculty and was later elected superintendent of Inyo County faculties. In 1905 valley residents banded collectively to confront Los Angeles officers over town’s acquisition of water rights within the valley. Civil engineer William Mulholland had used straw consumers and different underhanded means to allow town to pipe Sierra Nevada runoff to a reservoir within the San Fernando Valley. When Owens Valley locals woke to what was occurring, they sought to cease the venture. However Mulholland and firm had dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s. Development continued on the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which in the present day offers one-third of town’s water wants. A 12 months later the estranged Austins left the valley and went their separate methods. Wallace was working as a lawyer in Oakland in 1909 when his agency was appointed receiver of the Searles Valley claims.

Earp’s path to Searles Valley was an extended and winding one. Following the storied 1881 gunfight close to the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and his subsequent vendetta experience, he returned to Dodge Metropolis, Kan., for some time to assist out politically embattled saloon proprietor and good friend Luke Brief. He subsequently turned up in Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona, Nevada and Alaska, largely engaged within the saloon and playing corridor enterprise whereas looking for his fortune mining for silver and gold. Though he’d carried out his share of “lawing,” as he referred to as it, Earp didn’t really feel significantly referred to as to police work. However for him and his brothers alike it had proved a dependable, albeit dangerous, technique to make a residing when their entrepreneurial ventures failed, as they normally did.

By 1910 he was dividing his time between Los Angeles and Vidal, a southern California settlement down close to the Colorado River, the place he held mining claims. The Los Angeles Police Division typically employed him and Arthur King, at $10 a day every “off the books,” to trace down fugitives. Whereas the division strictly adhered to authorized means, Earp, as was his customized, didn’t. He and King even introduced again needed males from Mexico, extradition legal guidelines be damned, not that the division requested any questions. The companions’ status for fulfillment landed them a job within the fall of 1910 heading up a safety workforce to guard survey crews employed by Los Angeles legal professional Henry E. Lee. Performing on behalf of an Jap mineral concern, Lee sought to maneuver in on the Searles Valley claims held by the bankrupt California Trona.

As receiver of the struggling firm’s property, Austin was legally in possession of the claims and, in actual fact, actively engaged in bettering the property and coping with collectors, as required by regulation. Lee should have recognized that, however the potential of incomes hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from the idle mineral claims loomed giant. Given the 20 armed guards he’d employed to guard his survey crews, he clearly anticipated resistance. When Lee’s surveyors arrange camp and went to work, Austin “thought-about it essential to make some present of power in defending our claims.” At dawn on October 23 he and 4 armed males visited the camp.

After issuing his verbal problem, Earp sought to wrest away a shotgun carried by considered one of Austin’s males. Austin in flip drew a pistol and ordered Earp to launch the shotgun, which he did. However issues have been simply heating up. “I’ll repair you!” Earp barked.

Wyatt Earp in 1910s
After this final encounter, Earp spent the rest of his life in relative consolation and safety attempting to get into the film trade. (HistoryNet Archives)

From that time within the standoff accounts range. In accordance with King, Earp ducked into a close-by tent, emerged with a Winchester rifle and once more squared off with Austin. “Again off or I’ll blow you aside,” he stated, “or my title is just not Wyatt Earp!” He then fired the Winchester into the bottom beside Austin—“the nerviest factor I had ever seen,” King famous—forcing the latter to again down and depart. Austin had a unique recollection. “Simply as issues appeared to have quieted down,” he recalled, “one of many excited jumpers by accident discharged a gun. Nobody was harm, however it was a really tense second for all of us. Having did not dislodge the enemy, the subsequent day I referred to as for a U.S. marshal, and when he arrived, the declare jumpers have been all arrested and despatched dwelling, together with Wyatt Berry Stapp, none apart from the well-known marshal Wyatt Stapp Earp.” Two years later Lee put collectively one other survey crew, however a federal court docket intervened to guard California Trona’s claims.

Austin’s actions stored the agency afloat, and the mineral works have remained in operation to today. In 1914 he was appointed Trona’s first postmaster, and 4 years later American Trona, the successor to California Trona, employed him as its Los Angeles workplace supervisor. As for Earp, the Searles Valley “potash battle” represented his final recognized armed confrontation. He’d spend his waning years hobnobbing with Hollywood sorts and attempting to get a movie made from his storied life.

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