What's Wyatt Earp Doing in Colma?
Did you know that Wyatt Earp, the infamous American lawman, is buried in Colma?
Wyatt Earp is best remembered for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral that took place in Tombstone, AZ on October 26th, 1881. At that time, Wyatt's brother Virgil was the City Marshall of Tombstone. Virgil, along with Wyatt, their brother Morgan and friend Doc Holliday were at odds with a group of "cowboys" that had been in town for several weeks. According to a report from the SF Chronicle dated October 27th, 1881, on the morning of October 26th, one of the cowboys had been arrested for carrying concealed weapons. After paying his fine, he made threats against the Earps. Virgil then requested that his brothers and Doc Holliday accompany him to disarm the cowboys. As Virgil told the cowboys to give up their guns, one of them, a man named Frank McLaury, drew his pistol. Wyatt Earp shot first hitting Frank in the waist. This set off a 30-second shootout between the men that resulted in the deaths of brothers Frank and Tom McLaury and their friend Billy Clanton.
It was reported that citizens believed that the Earps and Holliday were justified in their actions, and that it was a case of "kill or get killed." However, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were arrested on murder charges a few days later. Some witnesses had come forward and stated that the McLaury brothers and Clanton had their arms in the air when Holliday took the first shot. Though Morgan and Virgil also had warrants out for their arrests, they were not taken into custody as they had been injured in the shootout. Following weeks of investigation, the charges were dropped and the courts found the actions of the Earps and Holliday to be justifiable. In 1957, an SF Chronicle article questioned whether Earp was in fact "a nerveless hero of the law or a hardened gunslinger who used the law to mask an outlaw career."
Wyatt Earp eventually gave up law enforcement. He went on to marry a woman named Josephine Marcus who was from a prominent well-to-do Jewish family in San Francisco. Wyatt and Josephine lived in San Francisco from 1890 to 1897. They eventually settled in Los Angeles where Wyatt befriended Western movie stars like Tom Mix and William S. Hart and other notable people in the film industry. Movie producers would often turn to Earp for technical advice and locale recommendations for their Western film projects. Little did he know that he would be glorified as an American hero in many future Western films and tv shows, and portrayed by famous actors, such as Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.
Wyatt Earp died at his home in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929. Josephine's family owned a plot in the Jewish cemetery, "Hills of Eternity Memorial Park" in Colma, and although Wyatt wasn't Jewish, he had agreed to be buried there. After his Los Angeles funeral, his body was cremated and his ashes were buried in the family plot. When Josephine eventually passed, her remains were also interred in the same grave. The location of Earp's grave was not publicized until the spring of 1957. In July of that year, thieves stole Wyatt and Josephine's tombstone. They had also unsuccessfully attempted to steal the urn containing Wyatt's ashes. The tombstone was found a few months later on Skyline Blvd near San Bruno.
The tombstone pictured above is not the original tombstone that was stolen. That one is said to be on display at the Colma Historical Association. The current tombstone was placed sometime in the 1990s.